Why I left a hot startup to start Wise

Six months ago, I did the unthinkable! I quit my job at a hot startup. I’d be lying if I said that was the original plan. The original plan was to continue growing at the startup. That’s what everyone told me I should be doing. Keep at it...Stick it out.

But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t doing what I really wanted to do. If I was going all-in:

  • I wanted it to be for something that I really believed in.
  • I wanted it to be fun, like playing a video game, going from one level to the next, getting better and better.
  • I wanted to have more impact as an individual.
  • I wanted to get together with some amazing folks I knew and just build!
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Stanford GSB's motto of "Change Lives, Change Organizations, Change the World" was inspiring and intimidating at the same time. I felt ready for it. And I started to realize that the longer I waited, the harder it would be to make a lasting impact.

So I did it. I quit. The hope of finding something I’d go all-in made me happy! People who knew me well, saw it was coming! My mom was not thrilled!

And then, the pressure was really on to find exactly what it was that I wanted to put all their newfound time and energy into.

I began searching for problems that needed solving -- ideating 24x7! But not just a solution and not just an idea, I needed (and wanted) a plan.

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So I created a 10 point checklist to keep my idea (and my plan) on track. The product I would create would:

  1. Make me excited to wake up every day.
  2. Solve a problem for me specifically. I had to be a user of the product.
  3. Be built for the future and useful for at least the next 25 years.
  4. Work in a market that already existed.
  5. Offer a new way to solve an old problem.
  6. Naturally progressed the user while creating recurring revenue / multiple revenue channels.
  7. Be something people would love so much that they are happy to pay for (like Amazon Prime)
  8. Be 100% digital (Apps)
  9. Own the customer and re/define that customer’s experience.

Ideas are a dime a dozen -- the fun part is actually putting them to the test. I started by looking at particular industries/verticals where legacy products still ruled the roost. There were tons of problems to solve, but most of them didn’t meet my first (and second) criteria of being inherently interesting to me, being able to scratch my own itch (so to speak).

I love what Uber did to taxicabs (does not sound good, but it’s true. Imagine a world without Uber or Lyft!). Put the power in the customer’s hands, provide a great experience, solve the same ol' problem in a much better way -- for example, getting to the airport on demand (without getting conned!). Aha! That’s #6 on my checklist.

My explorations led me to FinTech and I was pleasantly surprised with the rapid advancements in technology transforming the financial industry, especially in banking and payments. It got me thinking -- what if…...we could build a banking product that can deliver on the promise of putting the customer first (Again #6). And solving real world problems.

The rest is history... Wise was born January 2019 and we have not looked back since.

I will publish a new post each week, on Friday. I will take you through the Wise journey, one chapter at a time -- you have a front row seat! In the next post, I will go deeper into why we think Wise is building the future of banking.

It’s going to be one helluva ride…..stay tuned!

October 27, 2020
Arjun Thyagarajan