Nick Baum of Tremendous: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder

An Interview With Doug Noll

Doug Noll
Authority Magazine
10 min readMay 6, 2023


Figure out what work you dislike. As a founder, you have to wear many hats. It’s important to try to stop doing the work that drains you by hiring or outsourcing those tasks to someone who actually enjoys it. For me, I disliked doing ops work, and I did it for way too long. Bringing on Ben Kubic, our VP of Business Operations, was huge: he took over all the ops and did a way better job.

As part of our interview series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nick Baum, CEO and Co-Founder of Tremendous.

Nick Baum is the Co-Founder and CEO of Tremendous, a payouts platform that helps businesses send money to people. Nick launched Tremendous in 2010, growing it from a small consumer gifting product to an enterprise service used to send millions in payouts around the world. Prior to Tremendous, he worked in finance as a quant. He graduated from Dartmouth College with degrees in Computer Science and Mathematics.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Growing up, I loved building computer programs with friends. We’d spend hours on end taking turns coding. We built drawing applications and other little things. The collaborative building process was fun, and I liked the idea of creating something that could (theoretically) be used by other people. After college, I worked in finance for a few years, but it lacked the tangible output and collaboration that I loved so much. I wanted to get back to a place where I was building something real with a team. Naturally, this led to my becoming a founder.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

When we participated in Y Combinator, other founders didn’t totally get our idea. Before we pivoted to Tremendous, the business was called GiftRocket. The idea for GiftRocket was essentially that it’d be a consumer location-based gift app: users would go to a specific location (like a restaurant) and redeem their funds. The app worked kind of like a gift card. When we first launched, we would explain our idea to other people and get blank stares in return. It was pretty discouraging.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

I wouldn’t say they were “so hard”, but working with committed co-founders helps you get through periods of difficulty and inertia. Also, we had friends, family and investors who encouraged us. Ultimately, we made the pivot to helping businesses send rewards and payouts to people rather than following through with a consumer-focused gift card platform. That pivot made all the difference. Things really took off when we started focusing on businesses rather than consumers. And the rest is kind of history.

So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Things are going great. We have an exceptional team, and a profitable and growing business. We’ve had a handful of near-death moments that required resilience. In fintech, there are compliance hurdles to get over, and you’re often reliant on partners to navigate them. We were unlucky with several of these partners — they got shut down, so we frantically had to find new ones. We even had a prominent payments attorney tell us, “there’s no shame in shutting down due to regulatory restrictions.” That was tough to hear. But we immediately replaced that attorney, as well as our previous payments partner, and opted to continue to fight another day.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

There was a time when we tried launching a “concierge service” through our gifting product. We allowed customers to call our personal cell phones and ask us to do a bunch of different stuff — sometimes they’d ask us to book reservations, other times they’d ask for directions. Our learning there was that our time isn’t infinite. And some things just don’t scale.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

There are several things that make our company different, but I think it all boils down to two things:

1 . We hire people for their judgment and expect them to use it

An example of this would be our expense policy. We don’t make people pay for business expenses on their own cards, and then fill out and submit detailed expense reports to get reimbursed, which I know is typical. Instead, we give everybody a company card. And we give them free reign to charge any business expenses to the card. They don’t have to ask for permission. All we ask is that they include a receipt for any expense over $75, and a short memo for all transactions. We just stress the importance of everyone acting in the company’s best interest. And we haven’t had any problems with this policy. For us, it’s a great way to demonstrate our trust in every employee.

We also trust people to start contributing to the team immediately after getting hired. We don’t make people sit through weeks of training, or give them insignificant starter projects to ramp them up. We invite them to get in the weeds right away. One of our engineers, Tony, wanted to add Sorbet, a type checker for Ruby, to our codebase. This was in his first week. Adopting and rolling out Sorbet across the engineering org was a significant undertaking, but we told him to write up a doc and prove out the value and see if he could get everybody on board. And he did. Again, he was barely a week into his tenure. But we want new hires to know they can have a huge impact and experiment and bring new ideas to the team. That’s why we hired them.

2 . Our commitment to building a great remote culture

We have a fully-remote, high-documentation, low-meeting work culture. We span the Americas, we rarely hold meetings, and we do almost all of our collaboration on an asynchronous basis. This is an intentional decision. Our goal is to build the most productive possible environment for self-starters. Our culture isn’t for everybody, but the people who do enjoy working this way really love it here. We respect and value everyone’s autonomy, we give people plenty of flexibility, and we prioritize focus time rather than live collaboration. It’s really working for us. And I’m proud of the environment we’ve built here.

The other side of the coin is that we also host offsites twice a year where we get the whole team together in one place. This year we went to Medellin, Colombia, and in September we’re heading to Lisbon, Portugal. Because we’re so autonomous, it’s important that we carve out time for people to build authentic relationships. And we firmly believe there’s no better way to do that than to get together in person and spend a good 5 days hanging out. It’s one of the perks people appreciate most. And it’s a core tenet of our culture.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I don’t have industry-specific advice, but I’d stress two things for anybody starting a business. First, find people you like working with. It’ll make everything easier and more fun. The other thing is, have a hobby. And don’t let it slip, even as you get really busy.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I’m especially grateful to my Dad, for his strong belief in my abilities. Which was sometimes only loosely tethered to reality. But I’ve always appreciated his support.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Some of our customers are nonprofits who use Tremendous to disburse funds for a variety of good causes. One of our customers, United Way, distributed $482,000 to more than 1,900 grocery workers across 50 states as part of the Grocery Worker’s Appreciation Fund. We also give people the option to redeem their payouts as a donation to charity. This option is popular among C-Suite executives and other people who don’t really need $50 for doing an interview or a product demo. It’s great to know our product is being used to do some good.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1 . You don’t have to raise money. After we completed Y Combinator, we raised a seed round because it seemed like the thing to do. There were 40 other companies in our batch and they all seemed dead set on raising as much money as possible. We went with the crowd rather than making an intentional decision about whether to raise. It complicated things for several years until we bought out our investors.

2 . Recruit, recruit, recruit. Finding good people is hard, and it takes time for them to ramp up. There are a million problems to focus on at a startup, and it’s tempting to focus on ones that have immediate impact. Recruiting is an investment, and a very worthwhile one — it should be at the top of the list once you find product-market fit.

3 . Sales is an important skill worth learning. We avoided the B2B space because we didn’t want to sell. For a team of product-oriented founders, sales seemed foreign and unpleasant. It was an embarrassingly naive belief. I really enjoy doing sales now — it’s awesome to learn about customer problems, solve them, and build relationships.

4 . Focus intensely on culture. I don’t love the word “culture” because it sounds cultish, and it’s usually the most cultish companies that tout it. But people who like what they do, and the company they work for, and the people they work with — they tend to be better at their jobs. They tend to stick around, and they tend to care. And it makes a difference when people care about what they’re doing. I know for me, I prefer working with people who are really invested in what we’re building here.

5 . Figure out what work you dislike. As a founder, you have to wear many hats. It’s important to try to stop doing the work that drains you by hiring or outsourcing those tasks to someone who actually enjoys it. For me, I disliked doing ops work, and I did it for way too long. Bringing on Ben Kubic, our VP of Business Operations, was huge: he took over all the ops and did a way better job.

Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?

I’d emphasize that it’s really important to enjoy the wins. That’s why you’re doing this. And the other thing is to always share big wins with the team. It’s a group effort. We’re all working together, every day, toward the same goal. And it’s always way more fun and way more gratifying to celebrate together.

In terms of the lows, I always try to envision the worst case scenario for any outcome. And then I remind myself that it’s usually not that bad.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I currently have 29 Twitter followers, so I dispute the premise. Regardless, my movement would be called the “unsolicited candor movement.” It would encourage honest interpersonal feedback and its dispassionate receipt. Thoughtful feedback is rare and exceptionally useful.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

About the Interviewer: Douglas E. Noll, JD, MA was born nearly blind, crippled with club feet, partially deaf, and left-handed. He overcame all of these obstacles to become a successful civil trial lawyer. In 2000, he abandoned his law practice to become a peacemaker. His calling is to serve humanity, and he executes his calling at many levels. He is an award-winning author, teacher, and trainer. He is a highly experienced mediator. Doug’s work carries him from international work to helping people resolve deep interpersonal and ideological conflicts. Doug teaches his innovative de-escalation skill that calms any angry person in 90 seconds or less. With Laurel Kaufer, Doug founded Prison of Peace in 2009. The Prison of Peace project trains life and long terms incarcerated people to be powerful peacemakers and mediators. He has been deeply moved by inmates who have learned and applied deep, empathic listening skills, leadership skills, and problem-solving skills to reduce violence in their prison communities. Their dedication to learning, improving, and serving their communities motivates him to expand the principles of Prison of Peace so that every human wanting to learn the skills of peace may do so. Doug’s awards include California Lawyer Magazine Lawyer of the Year, Best Lawyers in America Lawyer of the Year, Purpose Prize Fellow, International Academy of Mediators Syd Leezak Award of Excellence, National Academy of Distinguished Neutrals Neutral of the Year. His four books have won a number of awards and commendations. Doug’s podcast, Listen With Leaders, is now accepting guests. Click on this link to learn more and apply.



Doug Noll
Authority Magazine

Award-winning author, teacher, trainer, and now podcaster.