People Didn’t Understand the Need for This Founder’s Startup Until the Equifax Hack: With Sanjib Kalita
By Yitzi Weiner and Casmin Wisner
“If you can do something better than anyone else, all other hurdles tend to fall away. Many entrepreneurs get caught in the trap of worrying that someone will steal their idea rather than engaging with the market. Having been an entrepreneur for nearly eight years, I’ve found the community to be supportive because it is a hard and lonely existence. If you truly create a better solution, hurdles tend to fall away.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Sanjib Kalita, CEO & Co-Founder of Guppy. Guppy is the fourth startup he’s worked on, with two successful acquisitions at prior startups. He’s also worked at Google, Intel, and Citi. Sanjib has reinvented his career—having gone from computer chip designer, management consultant, and banker, to entrepreneur in education, fintech, events, and now blockchain.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your backstory?
I am an immigrant and lived under eleven different roofs in India, Puerto Rico, and New York before graduating from high school. Growing up, I was constantly the new kid, having to prove myself and relate to a new group of people while still maintaining focus on who I was regardless of what others thought. It was great preparation for today’s world of constant change.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?
When I first started talking to people about Guppy three years ago and got passionate about how the system needed to change, I probably sounded a bit crazy. When we started developing the product over a year ago, people agreed with the general premise, but didn’t see the driving need for Guppy. After the Equifax hack, people are agreeing with me and telling me that we need to be successful and improve the system.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Most people don’t realize how important credit data is until it’s too late. Five years ago I bought an apartment during the same month I was getting married. Even though I had lived in New York City for twelve years, my credit report said I was married to a man in California and had foreclosed on several properties. It was funny explaining the errors to my wife, but painful fixing the errors at the bureau. I realized how broken the bureau system was. Guppy brings transparency and puts control back in the hands of consumers and account providers like banks or utilities.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are?
Anil Aggarwal, a serial entrepreneur and currently the founder and CEO of Shoptalk and Venture Partner at Oak HC/FT, has been a tremendous friend, mentor, and transformative influence. Anil is an entrepreneurial machine and had a stretch where he sold six companies in twelve years. His focus and single-mindedness is amazing. His willingness to challenge conventional wisdom makes discussions with him refreshing. For all that he’s accomplished, he’s very down to earth, approachable, and a real human being.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’ve been an advisor for MPOWER Financing, a startup that provides student loans to international and DACA students in the United States. They were just an idea when I first met them but now they’ve raised and deployed nearly $150 million in capital, and provided financing to thousands of students who had no other options.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I launched my startup,” and why?
- Don’t be afraid to be different. We wanted the Money20/20 brand to be fun, smart, energetic, and something that industry leaders would want to be part of. We created a hip-hop or rap video about being an entrepreneur in the industry, which was very different for the conservative financial services industry, and we got company CEOs, industry leaders, and media personalities to be part of the video.
- Anticipate what others want, but be prepared to be surprised. When I first started talking publicly about Guppy, I was expecting that smaller banks and companies might be interested, but that bigger banks would not. Within just one week of publicly announcing that we were building Guppy, two of the largest banks reached out to us. Other leading organizations that I thought would want to wait until we were more developed reached out too.
- If you can do something better than anyone else, all other hurdles tend to fall away. Many entrepreneurs get caught in the trap of worrying that someone will steal their idea rather than engaging with the market. Having been an entrepreneur for nearly eight years, I’ve found the community to be supportive because it is a hard and lonely existence. If you truly create a better solution, hurdles tend to fall away.
- Who you work with and spend time with is the most important thing. The founders of my startups have been people I’ve respected, trusted, enjoyed being around, and have been accountable toward. We’ve worked together, solved problems, gotten into heated discussions, and then come back together minutes later to solve the next problem. It’s really difficult to find people like this, so when you do, make the most of it.
- If you think things through, you will be ahead of 95 percent of others. Most organizations simply tend to do what was done in the past. If you actually think for the moment and for yourself, you’ll be ahead of 95 percent of the world. The first year I organized Money20/20, several speakers — CEOs of major companies that spoke at many events—commented to me that this was the best organized event they had ever seen. Each of those moments, I laughed internally to myself thinking, “Great, because this is first time I’ve done this!”
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Bruce Springsteen, Oprah Winfrey, and John Oliver.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
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If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series in Huffpost, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.