Startup Spotlight Q&A: Zuper
Jelena Vukadinovic, co-founder + CPO of Zuper, spent 10 years in product management, building consumer facing products in various industries, and finding solutions to complex user problems. And I’ve always wanted to do it from level zero, and build up a company from the ground up.
Four years ago, when he was approached by his co-founder of Zuper to build a product that helps millennials reach their financial goals it sounded like a perfect opportunity to do that.
At Zuper, we help people reach goals by aggregating various bank accounts, identifying spending categories, set budgets, setting saving goals and basically digesting your personal finance for you so you can focus on doing other things; and then making sure to keep you informed if things are not going according to your goals.
— In a single sentence, what does Zuperdo?
Zuper helps millennials reach their financial goals by leveraging the capabilities of Open Banking and using AI to provide useful and personalized advice.
– How did Zuper come to be? What was the problem you found and the ‘aha’ moment?
A lot of FinTechs have focused on making finances and banking available in users' pockets, which is great. But we realized that none of them actually make the user more financially successful. And we realized that we personally and other millennials like us need is guidance on making smarter financial decisions, so we’ve built a solution for it.
Over time we’ve learned that people don’t know how to make financial decisions and often have no real grasp on how well they’re really doing financially. And the more we talked to them, the more we understood that the core issue is that no one really helps them get better and provides valuable insights.
So we started thinking of ourselves as a financial coach — you tell us your goals and we help you get there through personalization and timely messaging. Our product has helped me build up my first savings so I figured it can do the same for others as well.
— What sets Zuper apart in the market?
We provide users with a view of their finances across all their bank accounts and then advise them based on the financial goals they want to achieve.
Being constantly on top of user’s finances and providing them with proactive advice and warnings is what our users are most excited about — our app doesn’t require them to do much themselves, they set up the rules and we keep them in the loop on how well they’re doing.
We do bill and subscription recognition and predict if they’re at risk of going into overdraft — and this helps many users cancel contracts they don’t use anymore and optimize their finances through it.
— What milestone are you most proud of so far?
Each milestone in our growth has been valuable — reaching 200k downloads of our app was the one I remember everyone got very excited about.
Building what your users need is always exciting and we keep pushing towards new ways to help reach financial goals, so we’re hoping to have some big milestones reached this year that we can’t talk much about yet.
— Have you pursued funding and if so, what steps did you take?
We’ve been privately funded so far, but are looking to close a Series A in the upcoming months.
– What KPIs are you tracking that you think will lead to revenue generation/growth?
As a B2C company, you often need to focus on growth first in order to reach revenue. We’re mostly focusing on growth right now — of both users and retention and understanding what brings us the best retention possible in order to provide the wanted experience to our users.
— How do you build and develop talent?
We’ve been a remote-first company since the very beginning which has enabled us to hire the best people for the team, regardless of where they are or where they want to be.
It’s given us all the flexibility to organize our working schedules however it fits each individual on the team — from being able to take kids to school or take care of them in some parts of the day; to be able to go on a trip across South America for half a year.
Having this flexibility is what also helps the team stay motivated and having a culture that embraces learning and making mistakes for the sake of learning has given us the tools necessary to constantly get better at what we do.
— What are the biggest challenges for the team?
As much as we love being remote, it also comes with different thinking when it comes to hiring — if you want to build an A-grade company you need an A-grade team. But in remote that comes with additional questions around potential hires self-motivation and self-discipline to get the work done without being in an office space and face to face with people.
There are certain differences in how people approach work when remote and communication become an even more important asset. So making sure we nail down the cultural fit is incredibly important to us.
As we’ve been doing this for a few years now, we’ve learned to recognize these characteristics much better and to focus on questions around these remote-first aspects of work a lot more than we did four years ago when we were starting off.
— What’s been the biggest success for the team? How did you celebrate?
Hitting the 200k downloads of our app has been a big win that showed us that what we are building is on the right track for our client base.
As remote teams do, we celebrated with a bunch of excited and party emojis on our Slack channel — beer and champagne ones included :)
— What’s something you’re constantly thinking about?
Given the year that’s behind us, I think the global pandemic is something that is fairly often on my mind — both with how it affects me and those around me personally, but also the effect it will have on the market and the industry.
We’ve seen drops in investments that did recover afterward, and we’ve seen an even bigger shift to online and mobile banking and also remote work, which I think are great changes.
As we’re a financial company, we’re currently trying to understand how the economic impact will affect our target audience and how their needs and priorities might change based on it, and of course, how can we best help overcome those.
Outside of the pandemic, I think about our team quite often and how to best provide them with the tools they need and the ‘playground’ to do things and experiment to reach the next level of growth.
— What advice would you give to other founders?
Rome wasn’t built in a day — and neither will your startup.
It takes time and effort and grit to power through the ups and downs. And it’s sometimes not easy to remember that it never goes smoothly for anyone. There are barely any examples of a startup just massively taking off — we’ve seen the rejection emails from investors Airbnb founders went through in their early days and they’ve achieved massive success afterward.
Keeping in mind that things won’t always go super smooth and that you have to power through it and keep building not just your product, but your audience all the time is something I have to remind myself often, and it always helps power through the ‘downs’ of this journey.
— Have you been or are you part of a corporate startup program or accelerator? If so, which ones and what have been the benefits?
We just finished our 3-month program with the German Accelerator US. It’s an accelerator meant to help German companies set up and get started in the US market and it’s been fantastic!
The program ran virtually given the global situation, but everyone on the team and the mentors they work with have been great and extremely helpful. We’ve spoken to amazing people and learned a lot from them, it’s really made a difference in how we plan and do things now.
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