Sankaet Pathak of Synapse On 5 Things You Need To Succeed In The Modern World Of Finance & Fintech

An Interview With Jason Hartman

Jason Hartman
Authority Magazine

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Your team, and the people on it, are your most important asset. A motivated team will solve any problem. I learned that lesson much later in life. I thought for the longest time it was about the product, but you can’t build an exceptional product unless you have a really strong team behind it. A great product is the product of a great team.

As part of my series about the “How to Navigate and Succeed in the Modern World of Finance”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sankaet Pathak.

Sankaet Pathak came to the U.S. from India to study Computer Engineering, Mathematical Sciences, and Physics at the University of Memphis. His experience of not being able to open a bank account due to his immigrant status prompted him to launch a financial technology company that could reduce barriers to entry for underbanked or unbanked individuals everywhere. Today, Synapse services approximately 13 million users and processes over $63 billion in transactions annually. Synapse’s customers range from commercial enterprises launching embedded financial services to early and late stage FinTech companies offering innovative financial solutions that are both accessible and affordable for end users.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

After immigrating to the US, I experienced first-hand the difficulty of opening a U.S. bank account and getting approved for credit without a financial history. I came to the U.S. from India to study Computer Engineering, Mathematical Sciences, and Physics at the University of Memphis.

I did not fit into the traditional financial framework for access to U.S. banking and realized there must be millions of others experiencing the same problem. Synapse was created to provide access to financial services for people all over the globe who have been left behind by traditional banking institutions and to enable developers to create more creative and accessible financial products on our platform.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

In the early days of Synapse, when we were just getting going, we couldn’t afford both an office and a place to live. So we combined them. This led to the neighbors complaining about the people and noise coming from the house every day. We ended up having to find a new office space and had a two-week sprint to move in. That’s also when I learned that while remote work is fine, turning your home into an office where people come to work every day can be really problematic!

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

More than 1.7 billion adults worldwide are underbanked and therefore have no access to earnings on savings, investments, credit, or other tools to build financial health. Synapse has a bold plan to bank one billion people through its platform. The approach is simple. Create a unified banking-as-a-service platform that breaks through barriers to access industry leading deposit, payment, card issuance, credit, lending, and investment services previously available to only upper and middle classes through traditional banks. That’s precisely what we have done. In addition, with the introduction of Synapse Global Cash, we have extended the reach of our deposit, payment and card issuance capabilities far beyond U.S. borders. Synapse Global Cash isa secure cash management account that enables residents in 36 countries to invest, hold and spend U.S. dollars. By empowering people around the globe to open a fully regulated U.S. account, Global Cash can insulate them from monetary concerns in regions experiencing hyperinflation, instability, or negative interest rates. This product will open the door to a wealth of financial services, allowing people around the world to:

  • Receive payments in USD
  • Make international purchases
  • Invest in global markets
  • Participate in foreign exchange and transfers
  • Access family financial services across borders

Thank you for that. Let’s now shift to the central focus of our discussion. Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started what was its WHY, its purpose?

Our mission is to ensure that everyone around the world has access to best-in-class financial products, regardless of their net worth. Our approach to fulfilling our ambitious mission is to empower an industry of innovators who are making access to financial services more equitable, and financial health more achievable and sustainable. We accomplish this by providing the most comprehensive BaaS platform to launch new digital-first financial services through simple-to-use APIs. Our platform breaks through the barriers of compliance bottlenecks, closed access to core banking services, and payment rails, which enables fintech innovators to rapidly and widely extend their products to all corners of underserved and underbanked communities.

Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?

Do something that you can really get behind in terms of mission and impact. You’re not always going to feel like things are going to be trending upwards. In order to go through the ups and downs, you really need to believe that if you don’t fulfill your mission no one else will. Your will to achieve it needs to be the most motivating element for running your business.

If a fellow business leader would ask you for advice about whether to bootstrap or to look for VC capital, how would you help them weigh the pros and cons of that decision?

Be disciplined about raising, and only raise if you feel you cannot make progress without it. Capital buys you things that are otherwise inaccessible to you — hiring people, acquiring tangible goods to build your product (e.g., hardware), etc. You have to weigh that need, and in the early stages of a company, money only buys you accessibility. Don’t think of capital as a characteristic of “you’ve made it” but instead as a means to acquire goods and services that will help your business grow.

I’m a technical founder, so my personal preference has become to raise money for the purpose of scaling the business. Build as much as you can yourself, and then take money to scale.

What measure do you use to determine the value of a company? What advice would you give to other leaders about how to get an optimal evaluation of their business?

The valuation of your business is the inherent value you deliver, and that value is reflective of the revenue you make. I think impact on the world or one’s mission is very often conflated with revenue and profitability. But I don’t think you can achieve the first without the second in a sustainable way or in a way that helps build a generational company.

What would you advise to a founder who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?

Being truthful to oneself is the most important advice to offer. Ask yourself why you are at a standstill and be willing to look into the mirror and figure out the exact reasons. Is it something about your strategy, something in your execution, or something in the market? If it’s something in the market, you should sell, because that will likely not change, and perhaps you have maximized the business potential. That’s rarely the case though — generally you need to double down on hiring great people to help execute and take the best advice you can cultivate on strategy.

What are the most common finance mistakes you have seen other businesses make? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

Viability is very important when it comes to growing your business. Don’t look at vanity metrics, look at revenue. Always have a clear understanding of your burn rate and cash in hand. Deeply understand your margins — what improves your margins and what reduces your margins.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to succeed in the modern finance industry? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Your team, and the people on it, are your most important asset. A motivated team will solve any problem. I learned that lesson much later in life. I thought for the longest time it was about the product, but you can’t build an exceptional product unless you have a really strong team behind it. A great product is the product of a great team.
  2. Operationally, you need to fundamentally understand economics — how money moves and the human psychology around it. If you really want to make something more efficient, you need to understand the inefficiencies just as well. The same applies to monetization — you need to figure out what you can delete to innovate. To understand how to monetize deposits well, you need to understand how deposit interest works. If you really want to reduce risk in payment processing, you need to understand how payment processing works.
  3. Understand compliance very well. For example, my understanding of this area led to Synapse obtaining its broker license and achieving a leg up on regulatory requirements. We know where the market is going, which has helped us build a lot of leverage. We were first to market with a global cash product and credit APIs because of our deep understanding of regulation and compliance.
  4. Be rationally impatient and always plan for delays. You are only as fast as your slowest supplier. I can promise you, if you think you know your supplier, you don’t because your supplier has suppliers of their own. For example, supply chain disruptions on credit cards can slow down how quickly a program can go live, which slows down how quickly you can ramp up revenue, which slows down the promises you’ve made to investors, and so on. So be prepared and set expectations accordingly.
  5. The business of money is lucrative — moving money, storing money, lending money makes money. Always have a plan to be profitable and keep your eye on that goal. Monetization must remain top of mind otherwise your company is at risk of failing.

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

This is a very important question as working to ensure your employees feel engaged, passionate about the mission, valued, and motivated is, and always should be, top priority. Especially in start-ups where you’re always building and launching new things, that risk is very high.

As a leader we have a shared responsibility to manage, and hopefully avoid, burnout. As a baseline, we need to recognize the importance of work/life balance (especially if working remotely), honoring and encouraging vacation time, and creating a work environment that is rewarding and recognizes results. And on the flip side, avoiding pitfalls such as praising more or longer hours, working through a weekend, etc.

Personally, I have found that burnout can sometimes be a function of something that is bothering you and not always a function of how many hours you’re putting in. I would encourage leaders to explore this in their teams as well and if applicable, giving them the space to confront it and helping to build coping mechanisms to handle it.

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 would start a movement to change the curriculum in schools where kids are taught the art of curiosity and learning new things. I believe this is the most important thing we can encourage in future generations as that spirit will help us to be more open and inclusive and to build more innovative and creative solutions.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

LinkedIn

Twitter

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

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Jason Hartman
Authority Magazine

Author | Speaker | Financial Guru | Podcast Rockstar