Startup Grind’s Alex Gordon-Furse, Director of the Startup Program, recently caught up with Leitha Matz, Founder and COO of Zuper, the winner of “Best Grind Startup” at Startup Grind’s 2019 Europe Conference. Together they dig into what Zuper’s been up to since their big win (hint: a lot!), new goals and challenges ahead, and the Fintech trends to watch out for in 2020.
– It’s been almost 8 months since the Europe Conference, where you won our Grind Startup Program! I’m excited to hear where life has taken you and Zuper during that time. For the benefit of our readers, let’s start with this: In a few sentences, what does Zuper do?
Zuper helps people do more with their money, leveraging machine learning to give them control and insights across bank accounts, and helping them to save so they can improve their finances and build a stronger future.
We believe that saving is critical to both financial security and goal achievement. So our mission is to focus on innovative ways we can make it faster, easier, and more effective for people to save.
– The Fintech market is pretty hot right now. So what makes Zuper different?
There are a few other companies that focus on either personal financial management (PFMs) or moving banking into the digital space (the neobanks), but we see Zuper as a holistic project.
When you need to address your finances, it should be a seamless digital experience that serves you end-to-end and allows you to focus on improving your broader financial health.
A lot of people are still using notebooks or Excel spreadsheets to manage their finances, but these days, we live in an era of data management algorithms that can categorize your transactions, predict your income and expenditure patterns, warn you about upcoming bills or unused subscriptions, and pre-approve you for a loan. So we emphasize the efficiency digitization brings, and that means our users can then focus on the bigger decisions in their lives.
– I’d love to know how Zuper came to be. What was the problem you saw and what led you to your ‘aha’ moment?
Interestingly, our founding team came together as a group of people with non-financial backgrounds. Our team’s experience ranges from ecommerce to real estate, natural language processing and IOT.
But consumer finance is a topic we were all excited about. At the time, we saw the EU’s regulatory requirement for financial institutions to give consumers access to their financial data (PSD2). That was such a great opportunity to rethink the experience and rebuild finance management from the ground up.
And of course, these days, we’ve also recruited a bunch of very experienced financial professionals to work with us on the banking operations. But I believe consumer focus really drives the company.
I also think we’re all passionate about this idea that applying machine learning to financial data can help people to make better decisions. So creating usable, enjoyable tools that help everyday people to thrive and make the most of their money rather than upselling or overselling them on products they don’t need… that’s what’s really satisfying for us.
– What milestone are you most proud of so far?
Of course there’s always a big thrill when we solidify a great corporate partnership, open a new office, or win an award, like the one from Startup Grind — and thank you so much for that! But for me, seeing our product/market fit click into place has been the biggest validation of all.
Germany is a notoriously tough market for new product adoption, specifically when it comes to something as sensitive as financial management. So when we logged our first 100,000 users and tripled our user base, I think we all felt a sigh of relief as well as real pride that everything we’ve been working so hard to build is actually making a difference in people’s lives.
– And what have been the biggest challenges of your journey?
There’s no end to new challenges! That makes every day an adventure. But interestingly, the resolution to one of our big challenges actually turned into one of our greatest strengths.
When we envisioned the company, we thought we’d all be co-located in Munich. But as we started looking for talent, we found wonderful people everywhere in the world. We’ve hired across Europe and from the Philippines to Brazil, so we’ve actually been international from the start. This has been inspiring and perspective-broadening and a great way to bring lively conversations to the table.
These days, we have a team of 42 people who speak 18 different languages. And although we have three offices, we work from all over the world. This also means product internationalization is a very natural process for us. We’re excited to open Zuper in five new countries this year.
– Zuper won “Best Grind Startup” at Startup Grind’s 2019 Europe Conference. What are some big things that have happened since?
The win at Startup Grind Europe was an incredible moment and it landed in the middle of an extremely busy year for us.
After the European conference:
- We completed work on the back-end systems to launch our banking operations in 2020.
- Our monthly retention after two months increased to 80% (so we’re doing quite well in keeping long-term users!).
- We won a startup video competition with HYGH that gave us outdoor video display ads across Berlin.
- We launched our AI/ML lab and met with the VISA Data Science team in London to begin working on collaborations.
- The Google for Startups program selected Zuper for acceleration, networking, and mentorship.
- We also secured API partnership that will help facilitate our 2020 European/US expansion.
We’re in the middle of our Series A raise right now and Startup Grind has been so supportive in making VC introductions and connecting us to the right resources. Our CTO, Marko, and our CPO, Jelena, will also join me in exhibiting at the Startup Grind Global Conference. We’re hoping to make some great connections there as well.
– What are the biggest trends you’re seeing in your industry right now?
To be fair, a lot of people haven’t been following European finance trends. I might just be a real geek for this stuff, but I think this is an extremely interesting time for banking and payments.
There were a lot of reactions to the last global financial crisis, particularly in the preparations made to prevent or minimize future damage. But I believe it also spurred regulators to think about what else could (or should) change to strengthen the financial system.
As a comparison to the US, Europe has a similar GDP: $18.8 trillion, about 22% of the global economy. And if you read the media, you’ll see an alphabet soup of European regulatory acronyms like GDPR, which was the General Data Protection Regulation, PSD2, the exciting second episode of the European Payment Services Directive, and the recent deadline for updates to SCA (Secure Customer Authentication). But ultimately, what I’m seeing is that for new financial products like Zuper that want to gain proper licensing, Europe actually has a much smoother regulatory environment than the US.
The Asia-Pacific Region is on a whole different level, but you can see Europe pushing forward in payments innovation and neobanking. Whereas in the US, Square, Robinhood, etc. have had a lot of trouble receiving licensing and that has real consequences in both profitability and the customer experience.
I think we all saw that on a large scale with last year’s outage at Galileo, the payments processor that serves some of the US neobanks. That was awkward for a lot of people.
– Given everything you’ve been going through, what advice would you give to other founders?
Sometimes startup founders are paranoid that someone is going to steal their idea or their pitch or their staff. And I have to tell you that yes, that will happen.
But the thing to remember is that a great idea, positioning, or slide deck is not the same as the enormous effort of gathering and nurturing a great team, crafting a culture, producing a product that people love, and breaking through the tough times into real growth.
I really believe persistence and luck are just as critical to success as ideas and talent. So yeah, there are people who will copy you. But they’re not you, and if you’re constantly growing, innovating, building, and listening to your customers, they’ll always be behind you.
– Finally, I’d love to hear about the next big goal you’d like to accomplish on your journey?
Most importantly, we need to find a great partner for our Series A. That’s going to set us up for a really exciting year of growth. We’re working on that right now, as well as expansion into France and the US later this spring.
We’re also opening up a US waiting list! If anyone wants to be the first to test Zuper in the US, sign up at https://www.getzuper.com/us-beta.
– Best of luck with everything. I’m looking forward to continuing to work with you and helping you where we can. Here’s to a successful decade!
Thank you! And please pass on my thanks to the whole Startup Grind team for everything they do to organize events, make connections, and promote great startups. They’ve all been so generous, and it’s such a pleasure to collaborate with your team.
Be sure to say “Hi!” to Zuper at Global 2020 on February 12th, where they’ll be exhibiting at booth #215 in the Google for Startups tent. They’ll also be pitching live on the Mainstage at 11:45am on Feb. 12th. Check them out and cheer them on!
Q&A with Zuper, Winner of “Best Grind Startup” at Startup Grind’s 2019 Europe Conference was originally published in Startup Grind on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
Jeremy Webb Startup Grind - Medium https://medium.com/startup-grind/q-a-with-zuper-winner-of-best-grind-startup-at-startup-grinds-2019-europe-conference-624ddb103224?source=rss----f5c95cc981bd---4