Josh Gelinas: “It’s True That Most Twenty-Somethings Are Less Concerned About What They Will Be Doing At 65 years Old”
Josh Gelinas is the Founder of Vestivise, a platform that helps people understand their investments regardless of their financial knowledge. The spark for Josh’s company came when he realized that like many of us he was young and didn’t have any personal experience saving for retirement. I took the time to speak Josh’s about the challenges of creating a company in the FinTech space.
Q: What are some challenges you faced when developing your venture?
When it comes to operating in the financial technology industry, we’ve had to overcome some significant hurdles to get to where we are. Since our product must rely on so many intermediaries, we’ve constantly had to experiment and often fail until landing on something that truly works. We started off with a data aggregation company that many view as the market leader for FinTech, and yet they just did not perform to the standards we required. We also built our MVP using a completely different financial data vendor and then had to make another switch before releasing V1 when we realized the full extent to the limitations of the company’s API. Building a product in finance is challenging technically for sure, but it is also difficult from a legal standpoint as well. The financial regulatory agencies want to be certain consumers are protected from misleading and potentially hostile actors trying to make claims and leverage data improperly. We’ve sought out the best counsel to ensure our compliance, a task that doesn’t come so easily when product development must be constrained at times awaiting legal approval. Additionally, data security is always an important consideration no matter the company, but it is even more important in finance. Solving that initial puzzle was hard, but making sure we don’t lose sight of the continual need to monitor security and improve as we scale is the real challenge. Luckily, our partners provide a great deal of support in establishing the “bank-level security” that we pride ourselves on.
Q: Was there any point when you thought it was over? That you were going to fail?
I can’t say that I’ve ever thought failure was imminently around the corner, but I have felt at times that if we didn’t make a significant choice to evolve, then we would see our future chances greatly diminish. Every day, I hold onto a belief, more aptly — a determination, that the compounding effect of our work will conclude with fireworks rather than dissolution. But that fear of dissolution is a more potent motivator than anything else, and I think the broad idea that it could be our conclusion consciously stirs us as a team at the many rough points and decision-making junctures.
Q: As an entrepreneur how important has flexibility been in developing your venture?
The creative process is much like a science experiment. You start with an idea of what will work and then go through a series of tests to find out. I’ve heard many times about a certain discipline being “an art rather than a science.” It’s true that developing a venture isn’t logical and it’s not so cut and dry, but there’s more science to it than a lot of people realize. I believe that true art, defined broadly as a product of creative effort, arises when one is willing to forgo convention and adapt as soon as necessary. Yet, this adaptation must be governed by some sort of system or process for the greatest outcomes to occur. At Vestivise, two of our three main principles are evolution and organization. The process of evolving is directly a result of flexibility and openness, but it must happen in an organized and sensible way. A good example of this in action is when we decided to recently widen our product’s appeal beyond the 401(k) market to meet individual investors wherever they invest, whether that be through an IRA, brokerage, etc. This evolution will open the possibility of many new types of users, but it will fundamentally change our business model and focus of future product development. We made the choice to be flexible and creative with how we will provide value, but only after significant efforts were undertaken to gather enough information to inform this decision completely.
Q: What was your spark, where did it come from?
I’ve been asked how I got into the retirement investing space many times. It’s mostly because I’m young and don’t have any personal experience saving for retirement. It’s true that most twenty-somethings are less concerned about what they will be doing at 65 years old, but that doesn’t mean we don’t think about money and investing. I started researching finance early-on in high school, and I sought out whatever source of information I could get. In doing so, I ended up wanting to know a lot more about my parent’s investments. I remember distinctly one summer asking my mom what stocks she owned and how they were performing. I was surprised to find out that she didn’t know much about her investments. I got ahold of her account statements, and the first time I read them I realized where all the confusion stemmed from. When asset managers provide incoherent and incomplete reports, retirement savers like my mom are left with uncertainty and confusion. But the problems go deeper because unrealized gains due to excess fees and suboptimal allocations have significant compounding effects. When I finally uncovered the high fees my dad was paying for one of his investment accounts, I knew that this was a big problem. My parents were my spark for Vestivise.
4. What are your non-work habits that help you with your work-life balance?
I prefer to walk to and from the office every day. It’s around a mile and a half, but in Manhattan that’s really nothing. I’ll walk whether it’s raining or snowing. It’s simple and enjoyable because the city gives you something new every time. I also like to cook dinner most nights. I think it has a sort of calming effect that is helpful to manage mental bandwidth.
5. What is your best tip for entrepreneurs?
Before starting a company, truly think about what the commitment means. Everyone wants their company to be successful, especially with startups such as Facebook and Snapchat being so prevalent in our daily lives now. However, the unbelievable outcomes sometimes mask the slow and tiresome process necessary to get there. Warren Buffett said that “someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” Planting that tree is a lot messier than we often think going into it.