The life of a founder is being able to convey clarity to your team, your investors, and your customers while navigating in complete uncertainty.
Speaking with Jeremy felt like a late summer conversation during a walk in the park. He directly shared his love for our articles, and the conversation could not have started on a better foot. Throughout the interview, he made us feel comfortable and shed some light on the roller-coaster life of a founder from Silicon Valley. We left the conversation astonished that such a humble person was revolutionizing FinTech.
Jeremy is the CEO and founder of Finley, a startup simplifying debt capital raise and management. Together with Kevin Suh and Josiah Tsui, they raised $3 million, led by Bain Capital Ventures and joined by Haystack, Nine Four Ventures, TwentyTwo VC, and Y Combinator. Before that, Jeremy was an Associate at Goldman Sachs and a Senior Consultant at Oliver Wyman. On the side, he’s also launched Museum of the Memories, a collection of interactive art installations centered around positivity and childhood nostalgia.
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This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What did you dream of when you were a kid?
Music was a big part of my life growing up. Some kids deliver newspapers as a side hustle, and I played the cello at weddings and events.
I probably wasn’t quite cut out to be a professional cellist; the commitment to hours of individual practice and performance takes a special type of drive! On the other hand, writing music for a living, and scoring films, in particular, seemed like the dream profession.
How did you nurture your passions at university? How would you describe your time as a student?
I’m a proud alumnus of The University of Texas at Austin! I was a curious business student willing to expand my horizons, and I tried out a number of interesting things. I was incredibly fortunate that the university supported me to pursue courses across a number of disciplines while still concentrating in finance.
I was able to intern in commodities trading and represent the school in various case competitions across the country. I really liked that we were pushed to get such hands-on exposure. It allowed me to figure out what I liked but also what I didn’t.
Oh, and of course, I studied in Hong Kong for a term as an exchange student! This was one of the most life-changing experiences!
How was it to live in Hong Kong?
My parents grew up in Hong Kong, but met in school in Houston and settled down in Texas later on. Going back there as an exchange student was like going full circle. It was my first time really spending time with my extended family.
More than that, it was also my first time living outside of Texas for even a few months. As I had family in Hong Kong, my classmates were kidding me saying that I was supposed to feel comfortable there. But, I really wasn’t in the beginning! It took me a while to adapt, but it was well worth it and I grew up a lot in the time there.
Hong Kong is a place that’s near and dear to my heart.
You then moved to consulting and banking, what are the main lessons you took away from those five years?
My first job was at Oliver Wyman, consulting for regional and global financial institutions in strategy, risk, and due diligence.
Being a bright-eyed new grad, I thought that the other side of school would closely resemble Suits or Mad Men, but I realized that the traveling, professional services lifestyle wasn’t for everyone, and that is completely okay!
I’m very fortunate to have discovered early in my career that I thrive in structured, long-term environments rather than in context switching from engagement to engagement. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed the client-facing nature of the job, particularly getting to be in the trenches with clients, identifying actionable steps to help achieve long-term goals.
After that, I started working for Goldman Sachs as an investor in the Special Situations Group, where we invested and provided capital to growing middle-market companies. I helped evaluate investments in everything from fintech & lending companies to waste management, fitness, and software platforms.
I quickly learned that being able to communicate fully formed, thought-out opinions was essential to thrive individually and for the group to succeed. Regardless of the context, prioritizing clear, written, and verbal communication in a team setting is always worth the investment.
At Goldman, the best decisions we made were companies we didn’t invest in.
Why leave such an environment to start your own company? What drove you?
I’ve always had a taste for entrepreneurship. In college, weekends were spent helping friends launch a local escape room, managing finances and fundraising events on behalf of a few Austin nonprofits, and (mostly unsuccessfully) flipping tickets to local music and sporting events. Starting something on my own was always in the back of my mind. It was more about finding the appropriate timing to execute.
Needless to say, I wanted to work on something at which I had a good shot of succeeding. It also needed to be with people equally passionate about the subject matter. What better time to start a new chapter with like-minded people than when the world stopped?
I can probably count on one hand the number of people I would start something with.
Can you give us the aha moment and the vision for Finley?
My role at Goldman Sachs entailed 1) working side by side with companies to understand how a company’s access to capital could unlock growth, and 2) helping companies navigate the financial and legal hurdles to receive and manage capital from financial institutions.
It’s true across industries from software, to retail and fintech that access to capital can create the difference between growth and stagnation.
The aha moment was when Kevin, our CTO, and I were discussing different approaches to helping new-school companies navigate old-school ways of accessing capital. You hear all the time that there’s so much capital available, but it’s super hard for companies to access it in time when they don’t have the know-how for navigating credit agreements and their hundreds of pages of compliance and other rules.
At Finley, we help companies take control of their own growth. We’re democratizing knowledge and tools surrounding the management of debt capital. You don’t need to rely solely on Post-it Notes or a small army of bankers and lawyers to keep track of what’s essentially fine print, and you can finally use software that’s purpose-built for managing debt capital.
Was getting into YC a goal in itself? How was your experience there?
YC definitely motivated and put us in the right mindset. However, it was essential that we committed to work on Finley regardless of the outcome of getting into YC. Zooming out, while YC undoubtedly allowed us to lay the right foundation for the company, it’s only one of the many checkpoints you have to pass as a founder.
We’re very fortunate to have the first of, hopefully, many points of validation from the tech community. We see YC as a checkpoint rather than the goal in itself.
The YC network has given us access to dozens of companies needing to access debt capital. Having the trove of feedback from companies ranging from seed to late stages was invaluable in helping us pinpoint what product to build. We felt that the YC community provided all the data necessary to validate the problem, and batchmates and alumni were incredibly generous with their time in helping us get off the ground.
Fun fact: during the program, we were able to rent a huge office for just the three of us (which seems silly, but start-ups are all about ups and downs and it’s important to celebrate the little things that keep you going).
Giving back seems to be a topic you have at heart. Where does that come from?
Friends and family have been incredibly supportive of all the decisions I have taken in my life. From music to startups, I have always had their support.
I’ve also been fortunate enough to find lifelong peers and mentors in each career setting. If you can take that away from any job, you’ve already hit the jackpot!
It’s thus very natural that I’m giving back to my local community. It’s necessary to challenge yourself in giving back in both time and money. One local organization in which I’ve gotten to play a small role is my county’s Court Appointed Special Advocate program, a volunteer program dedicated to helping children navigate the foster care and justice system.
What’s the Museum of Memories, and how did you come up with the idea behind it?
The Museum of Memories is a collection of interactive art installations centered around positivity and childhood nostalgia. In early 2019, what started as a side project between childhood friends to repurpose an abandoned nightclub, led to the creation of Instagram museums welcoming over 20,000 visitors in Dallas and Minneapolis.
This was my first formal type of incorporated entrepreneurial experience. Although these days my involvement is fairly limited, the team continues to have aspirations of expanding the concept to a number of other destinations.
If you could change one thing in your journey, what would it be?
Being unafraid to make the leap to entrepreneurship earlier!
I wish I had internalized that life isn’t so linear. The path may seem straightforward, with specific milestones, but that’s not the only way!
For aspiring entrepreneurs, we now have access to plenty of resources ranging from YC’s Startup School to software that’s purpose built to handle payroll, accounting, and other functions for early stage companies. Veering from the predefined path remains difficult, but I hope to see more and more resources from the startup community that will enable founders for years to come.
It’s okay not to know the next three steps in your career, take it one step at a time.
I wish I felt more comfortable embracing uncertainty early on, it would have spared me a lot of sleepless nights!
The life of a founder is being able to convey clarity to both your team, yourself, your investors, and your customers while navigating in complete uncertainty.
When was the time you felt the most vulnerable?
At every career inflection point and especially now, I’ve felt the strong pressure to measure myself to others.
I have to remind myself constantly that progress isn’t linear, and that having a small group of friends you can talk to about how to create your own path is really important. You lose that when you only measure yourself against people at work.
What would you do if you only had 30 days to live?
My favorite place in the world is Hong Kong. I would spend every minute there, no question.
Incredible cultural institutions, like horse racing and local museums, and amazing international cuisine while being a short flight away from so many other interesting travel destinations make it my go-to- place on earth.
Between vacations, internships, and classes taken abroad, I’ve probably spent nearly a year total in Hong Kong, but it never seems like enough. I can’t wait to go there again!
Do you have an inspiring figure?
If you were to start a company today, what would be your billion-dollar idea?
My friends and I have a list of businesses we want to start together, but they are definitely not billion-dollar ideas (laughs). From a lifestyle bike shop to a bubble tea store, we will need more than one life to start them all.
One thing that has really fascinated me is how we’re only scratching the surface of fintech. I think opportunities for fintech, in emerging markets specifically, will continue to rise, driven by the current progress in fintech infrastructure and public policy.
The last piece of advice that I’d like to give is that you’re (almost) never too late. Patrick and John Collison of Stripe thought they had missed the train on the internet, and that fintech had limited potential as a result. They were truly convinced they were late. You’re never as late as you think you are.
Our Main Takeaways
- Be adventurous: Jeremy truly discovered his passions by trying out new things and traveling to different places in the world.
- Life is not a linear path: stumbling and taking a step back is part of the process. Never forget that.
- Lean on others and don’t be afraid of trying out entrepreneurship early on: Even if you “fail”, the most valuable things are gaining experience by doing and finding a supportive community that grows with you along the way.
Inspiring story Jeremy, thank you very much.
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