Neil Patel

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In a recent interview, we had the privilege of delving into the fascinating career of Adam Felesky, a visionary entrepreneur who navigated from engineering to the heart of the financial services and fintech world. Adam’s journey is not just a testament to personal resilience but also a masterclass in spotting opportunities and scaling a business successfully.

His latest project, Portage Ventures, has invested in companies like Agio Ratings, Benepass, Ansel Health, ZILO, and KOHO Financial.

In this episode, you will learn:

  • Adam Felesky’s journey from engineering to fintech pioneer demonstrates the power of embracing unexpected opportunities.
  • The birth of Horizons ETFs Management showcased Adam’s ability to innovate in the financial services industry, leading to rapid scaling and success.
  • Adam emphasizes the crucial role of building a sophisticated team for long-term success, a lesson learned through experience.
  • Transitioning from a founder to an investor, Adam co-founded Portage Ventures with a mission to support and mentor mission-centric entrepreneurs.
  • Portage Ventures, managing over $2.5 billion, has become a fintech investment powerhouse with a diverse portfolio spanning North America and Europe.
  • Adam looks for founders motivated by a mission beyond financial outcomes, seeking to make a difference in their chosen industries.
  • Adam envisions Portage Ventures as the preferred partner for entrepreneurs, providing not just capital but genuine support in scaling their businesses.


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About Adam Felesky:

Adam Felesky is the Co-Founder and CEO of Portage. Adam is responsible for overseeing Portage’s strategy to invest in leading fintech opportunities on a global basis.

Within the investment portfolio, Adam is a board director of Alpaca, Boosted.AI, Borrowell, Clark, Hellas Direct, KOHO, LoanStreet, Socotra, and TheGuarantors and executive chairman for Grayhawk Investment Strategies.

Adam is also a managing partner and a member of the management committee at Sagard, as well as a multi-strategy private asset manager.

Prior to Portage, Adam was the Founder and Former CEO of Horizons Exchange Traded Funds and a director and founding investor of BetaShares Exchange Traded Funds in Australia, which Mirae Asset Management of South Korea acquired.

Prior to this, he worked in JPMorgan’s Derivatives group in New York. Adam began his career in investment banking at CIBC World Markets.

Adam holds a B.Eng. and B.A. in Political Science from McMaster University.

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Connect with Adam Felesky:

Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:

Alejandro Cremades: All righty hello everyone and welcome to the dealmakerr show. So today. We have a very exciting founder founder turned investor to um, you know and ta we’re going to be talking quite a bit about building scaling financing and all that good stuff that we like to hear you know. Also wow was his founding journey. Ah, why he started. You know what he’s doing now with with his company. You know, basically investing you know in the in the fintic you know space and then also what how you really spot a company that is going to be wily successful again. We have a very inspiring conversation ahead of us. So without further ado. Let’s welcome our guest today Adam Felleleski welcome to the show. So originally born and raised in Canada so give us a walk through memory lane I was like.

Adam Felesky: Yeah, great to be with you.

Adam Felesky: Yeah, well look I was born and raised in Western Canada which is as far from the financial services and fintech world as as you can be I was supposed to grow up as an engineer and work in oil and gas and somehow got lost along the way. Um, you know I went to university in Eastern Canada and was fortunate enough to get a job in investment banking that led me to New York and had a great ah great but short career investment banking and then derivatives and. Then kind of that everything took place from there.

Alejandro Cremades: And out of all things. Why did you study engineering What got you into engineering.

Adam Felesky: Because I was so bad at English and I was really good at math and basically was the only thing I was capable of doing.

Alejandro Cremades: That’s amazing. That’s amazing now now in your case you know banking you know that’s quite an interesting approach I think that that ultimately got you into the world of financial Services. You know which is a path that you haven’t really step out of so. Out of all fields. Why did you think that this field you know would be a meaningful one for you to pursue.

Adam Felesky: Look I was one of those kids that grew up trading stocks even back in the 90 s and in those days we were still reading stock quotes and newspapers and I was always just obsessed with the stock market. So I always had ah. A little bit of money that I had at the time invested and so I was just kind of always fascinated by the markets and so even though I I did engineering with the idea as a backup that I could rely on that profession and and probably have ah a decent career. I always knew in the in the deepest sense that I wanted to be closer to the markets.

Alejandro Cremades: So now one of the things that that happened in your career is that you ultimately became a founder you know also in the financial services space and that happened out of all places in Toronto. So what were the sequences of events there that. Need to happen. You know for you to you know, really venture and and into the world of of founding you know I’m bringing a solution. Perhaps you know to a problem that you were seeing and I mean it’s quite the leap you know from the corporate world too. So so walk us through what happened there.

Adam Felesky: Sure I mean 1 1 thing that’s important is I’m from Calgary which is a similar to Texas or a Houston or a Dallas a lot of entrepreneurial spirit so I was always surrounded by by entrepreneurs and. Thought that that was my ultimate destinies to build something myself, but you know felt like I needed to build the foundation before I before I took that leap so banking gave me ah a great view and perspective on different asset classes and what it takes to build a company. Then subsequently went to derivatives which’s actually kind of built more on the foundation of my engineering and mathematics and I loved that because I was trading and and super close to ah the end customers and understanding what what their fears and concerns were and all of that. Um, all those experiences ultimately led to led me to be able to come up with the idea to launch which was horizons and yeah, the the details of that is you know on the derivatives desk we were structuring some of the first. Swap-based mutual funds back in the late 90 s early 2000 and when the market started blowing up some of these funds were the only way to protect yourself or hedge yourself at the time and those were specifically the inverse and leverage inverse funds in the United States and

Adam Felesky: Effectively took that technology and and that concept and productized it in Canada but in in this case, an exchange traded fund form.

Alejandro Cremades: So in this case, the company ended up becoming Horizons Etfs management. So for the people that are listening to get it. What were you guys doing there. Ah how what was the business model. How were you guys making money.

Adam Felesky: Yeah, so we were the first etf manager to launch leverage and inverse exchange trade funds focus on equity indices and commodities. in fact in commodities we were the first leverage and inverse index etfs in the world to be launched. Um, and you know it was a very exciting time. We we kind of went through the momentum of the run up to 8 and then the ultimate collapse. Um, and again our products at the time were were some of the only ways to get downside exposure and unless you were able to use options or. Comfortable shorting. So we had huge momentum timings everything um and we went from a couple hundred million dollars to billions in a very short short period of time and was fortunate that that type of momentum allowed us to branch out and do other adjacencies. So we also. Launched some of the first active exchange trade funds in the world and those are the funds actually that you know amount for probably the largest share of ah horizons assets based today so yet another innovation upon and of upon. And out of an original innovation.

Alejandro Cremades: So what was that the journey like of um, scaling this because I mean going from like as you were saying a couple of hundreds to to in the billions. Um, in no time because of those say. Unforeseeable events that were happening there in no eight I mean I’m sure that from a scale perspective I’m sure that you learned quite a thing or 2.

Adam Felesky: Yeah, well one I I had a very small team I was I started the business when I was 28 years old and I would say Thank God I did because I was so ignorant and I had no preconception of um, what I was competing with. Ah, nor what it would take to survive and you know that ignorance is Bliss and I think um, yeah, that was part of my success ah part of my learnings and it took me a long time to figure it out quite honestly was how to scale the team around me and. You know I continue to think back of the woodves shouldves and could haves and certainly my one of my learnings was probably not building ah a sophisticated enough team around me to take me. You know, further Faster. Ah, than I otherwise did.

Alejandro Cremades: Now in this case, you know for you as well I mean how did you guys go about capitalizing the operation too.

Adam Felesky: Yeah, so when I started that company back in the day vc wasn’t as prevalent in fintech particularly so I actually bootstrapped my company and then found ah a small strategic investor along the way and so that that created a lot of constraints and and quite frankly. I’d say the lack of mentorship that I had relative to what I see in my portfolio companies today. It was pretty isolating and you were making pretty big decisions with relatively little counsel.

Alejandro Cremades: Yeah, because I mean it was a different world too when he came to fintech I don’t even know if the fintech word was a was was coined at that point but because we’re talking about like early like 2005 where and you guys got started. So I guess how do you see the fintech space. You know has evolved from then you know to now almost twenty years ago when it comes to you know Ah they for example, like the reululatory aspect of it. The capital racing aspect of it. Also the the the venture world supporting it. So how do you How do you see it now.

Adam Felesky: There’s a lot to unpack there. But ah, you know there just wasn’t fintech dedicated funds like ourselves and and certainly the generalists didn’t have dedicated fintech partners and then the overall industry from an a perspective was of a fraction of. Of of what it is today. You know I I think you know looking back. We start our first fund in 16 and that was already still kind of pretty early and most of the first models were really about democratizing different solutions within the vertical of insurance. or wealth or banking you know really focused on direct to consumer motions and you know I think that was the right bet I think the incumbents um, you know hadn’t felt ah the the innovation and competition from. Digital type players and it was a great time to start such businesses and you had the tailwind of zrp coming in to allow those businesses to scale so significantly so it was an amazing time to scale some major winners and you know from the wises to the revolutions. To the well simples in our portfolio to the chimes and alberts in the United States ah to the robinhoods etc. Um, and I think that’s you know our views that that was ah fintech 1.0 and yeah, many of those companies continue to be established leaders and.

Adam Felesky: I think it will be very difficult for some of those leaders ah to be rivaled for some time just because the abundance of capital at that time and willingness for people to to to experience a cumulative cash burn in the hundreds of millions of dollars is probably something. That investors. Don’t have appetite for today. So so so we’ve moved on to I think to a different phase and I I think it’s more on the enterprise infrastructure side where now the big f i’s ah you know they’re now finally all on the cloud including insurance companies which wasn’t the case. Even 3 to five years ago we’ve got ai and I think there’s serious. Um, you know continuity risk with some of this infrastructure that these companies have been on for 2025 years and so the spends on it like you see with Jpmorgan you know, fifteen billion plus per year. That’s only going to increase and I think finally we’re getting to a stage of rip and replace of major systems which you know really they were focused on adjacencies and and and tweaking on the edges I think the real spends about to happen.

Alejandro Cremades: Now in your guys’ journey with a company you decided to take I mean you were talking about it. You bootstrapped initially but then eventually you got a strategic on board I mean people use the word as strategic in so many different ways right? and I think that you got to use it carefully I mean I find that people use a strategic. You know to the way that they will label an investor that it is going to be active and it’s going to add value. But obviously the word is strategic really carries a different connotation. So Why do you guys ended up going with a strategic and and what are how how should entrepreneurs look at a strategic investors.

Adam Felesky: Yeah I’ll describe my experience and I’ll describe how we think about strategics today. So my experience was ah one I didn’t have many choices of capital and in this case, it was a strategic that was a publicly trade company. That had made multiple investments in different companies and the ceo at that time was a well-known entity in the market and I viewed their capital as helpful but having a 1 mentor. Um, that was known to the market when you’re 28 years old um you know was a good choice. Um, now in hindsight did I give them too much. Economics was I too bound by their own constraints and and you know them having to answer to public markets that definitely changed and had an impact on my destiny. Um, so I think it’s who’s the strategic and and how big that strategic is in your cap table is the delineation. Um, if you look at today. How we think about strategics I think strategics are actually becoming more and more important if we think about the big. Rip and replaces an infrastructure That’s that’s going to happen and the investments that are going to happen the amount of capital that needs to be invested upfront is significant and you better hope that you’ve got large customers to adopt that technology pretty early or.

Adam Felesky: Ah, one, you’re going to fail or 2 you’re not going to raise money in the first place. So I do think strategics play increasingly important role but at ah at the same time I think it’s so important that an institutional investors at the table. Ah hopefully with a larger ownership and more control rights to ensure that you don’t end up with. Ah, consortium discount or the company not being able to maximize their fair market value.

Alejandro Cremades: So then in your case, how did the whole deal making side translate and into doing I mean doing a real a man a process I mean an acquisition getting the company acquired. So how did that get to that point make us insiders there.

Adam Felesky: I’d I’ve been on the journey for for 7 years at the time. Um I was paper wealthy. Um my strategic investor was having some challenges and so we decided to explore you know. Potential different avenues including a minority investor a control investor and ultimately resulted in a control investor and we sold to ah a korean firm called mary asset management that had huge ambitions globally and. For me, it was an opportunity to continue ah to to expand globally with an even larger balance sheet while taking some risk off the table.

Alejandro Cremades: And how much is the company managing today.

Adam Felesky: So we they sold the australian business called beta shares which is a massive success to ta for ah well over 500000000 so excluding those assets they still manage over 30000000000

Alejandro Cremades: So when it comes to timing. Why did you think I mean you you were saying that I mean you were at it for about 9 years plus um and you were talking about being able to get some liquidity as well for yourself. How? How do you How were you thinking about timing there and perhaps you know I think that this may enlighten. You know some of the founders that are listening right now and really thinking hey maybe should I explore maybe not, you know the same.

Adam Felesky: It’s such a difficult question. Um, every you know you it requires alignment with your investors. So I think it’s so important to have conversations with your investors understand their timelines. Um, and. And if there’s a mismatch be open about it and discuss how you can potentially resolve it in our portfolio often. A Ceo’s lifetime is 5 to 7 years and they ultimately are ready to do something else or they’re they’re exhausted and that’s okay. And um, you know, many times you can change off a management team. You can bring people up elevate them. The Ceo can continue to have a role a chairmanship role. Um and and still be proud involved in the company and not necessarily operate it I think too often.

Adam Felesky: And in my own experience and my regret and to some degree would be equating I don’t I can’t do this anymore with selling the company I don’t think those 2 decisions need to be ah you know congruent that you you can. Move to a different role and and still have a company um continue on and and be very successful and for you the founder the potential to corru more equity value for what you’ve built.

Alejandro Cremades: And oh is he here first company first exit in the you know multiple you know hundred millions which was pretty incredible for you now. 1 thing that is interesting to me here in in your journey Adam is that. Ah, founder is always a founder and in your case you decided to go to the other side of the table. So what was that thing that that thought process behind you know, taking part in in this next chapter in your in your journey.

Adam Felesky: I’m an entrepreneur at Heart I Love meeting other entrepreneurs I Want to support them so it’s somewhat altruistic I wanted to support them I wanted to you know at least ah be a sounding Board. You know, be open honest about all the mistakes I made and hopefully they could learn from some of them. Um, the flip side is you know I think I’ve got a ah curiosity in terms of what’s next and and that drives me and I always want to kind of be at. Ah, the bleeding edge of what’s happening in financial servicess. It’s where I’ve been my entire life. Um, and that’s what gives me adrenaline and and being around smart younger entrepreneurs and learning about their business models really satisfies a hunger that. Intellectually I think I will always have and at the same time.. It’s a way that let’s be honest, It’s if you have success on the investment Side. You can make returns similar to that of an entrepreneur entrepreneur but in this. On this side of the fence in in a more diversified way because you’ve got a portfolio of investments.

Alejandro Cremades: So then let’s talk about the now with port partage right? Like how did you guys really get together here I mean why did it make sense to you doing it with Paul and today what are you guys up to I mean what? what is part Tasha about.

Adam Felesky: Look I met a great partner in Paul. Um, you know he comes from a family that’s got generational wealth and thinking and so he also wanted to make a difference and and saw the opportunity to leverage his. Broader ecosystem which is also financial services in a positive way in me. He had an entrepreneur and operator that had done it and we felt you know together. Ah, we could be an interesting team. So again, somewhat with ignorance. Ah, we we started portage which initially was ah primarily a seed series a fintech focus fund ah with small group of investors and you know we were successful early. Our first investment was a company called well simple which is now. The leading fintech in Canada you know at at that height was valued over 5000000000 and with that momentum. It’s just sort of continued and we’ve learned a lot and and been able to invest in in great companies now all over North America and and Europe re investing out of our third fund about to launch our fourth fund have 75 companies in 13 countries. So if you want to satisfy intellectual curiosity and fintech start a fund that has that type of reach. It’s been awesome.

Alejandro Cremades: So what do you guys have right now in essence on their management. How how big is parttash.

Adam Felesky: We have two point five billion of of a UM in us dollar terms. We’re just about to launch our fourth fund and and then we most recently just launched a later stage vehicle as well.

Alejandro Cremades: So for you guys now as you are obviously developing that pattern recognition to be able to invest in the winners. What do you? What do you typically see or what have you seen repeated on those companies that end up something big.

Adam Felesky: So 1 thing I’d say um, our success is that every partner ah on our team and we have 7 partners has a different background and I think their own experience skews their perspective in terms of what is a winner. But we’re we’re very respectful on our team that each person has an individual knows for success and and and that’s a good thing so we we don’t our investment committee isn’t ah you know doesn’t require a hundred percent consensus we can have. Ah, 1 partner really run with something and I think that’s important so for me because I’m an operator and founder I really get into like why did you come up with this idea. Why are you so passionate about it. What are you going to sacrifice to make it real. Um, and. You know I think probably really understanding that the monetary potential has nothing to do with the inspiration. The best founders I’ve backed are really just mission centric and the the potential future outcome which could be. Wealth is totally secondary and and I look for that.

Alejandro Cremades: And then also like when it comes to like the specific type of company that you guys would like to look at whether is sector stage location. What does that look like.

Adam Felesky: Yeah, at this point we’re pretty flexible. We invest in front and seed stage all the way to series c in the venture side. Our later stage fund series c all the way to pre ipo about 50 to 60% of our portfolios in the Us. 20% of our portfolios in Canada and the rest is in Europe so develop market those two ah major geographies is where we invest and the reason for that is we have a large ecosystem in those countries and when I describe ecosystem. It means portfolio companies. It means where our lps are. It’s where our corporate relationships are it’s where we have regulatory connections and information asymmetries. Ah, all of that together. We think makes us a differentiated investor in in those markets.

Alejandro Cremades: So if you were to go to sleep tonight Adam and you wake up in a world where the vision of partache is fully realized what does the world look like.

Adam Felesky: Yeah, look I I think it’s quite simple. We want to be be the phone call that a founder when he wants to raise capital for someone who they believe will truly help them scale their business and be successful. We want to be the first call. Um, and I think we’re getting closer to that but we have work to do um but you know that’s my dream as entrepreneurs think of portage when they think about bringing in a partner that’s truly going to be a partner.

Alejandro Cremades: So let’s talk about phone calls. Let’s double click on that. Let’s say that you’re able to make a phone call to that younger Adam you know and and that phone call is being received by that younger Adam back in 2005 and you’re able on that phone. You’re able to give that younger Adam 1 piece of advice before launching a business but would that be and why given what you know now.

Adam Felesky: Um.

Adam Felesky: I would probably it would be the things I don’t say actually that would be most important I would worry that older Adam would say you know you should be concerned about this and this is gonna be harder than you think it’s going to be um.

Adam Felesky: I would I would really try and the older out and would really try and hold back and just be supportive and and talk about you know how to surround yourself with amazing shareholders and people and if you believe in the vision and you work really hard. It will become reality and. And just keep your head down and and and focus on execution and ah everything else will come together.

Alejandro Cremades: That’s amazing. So Adam for the people that are listening that will love to reach out and say hi. What is the best way for them to do so.

Adam Felesky: Ah, you could reach out to me at a fellesky at portage you can find me on Linkedin and you can email us at info at

Alejandro Cremades: Amazing. Well hey Adam thank you so much for coming on the show today to share your journey with portage and and such an honor to have you with us today. Thanks.

Adam Felesky: It may been great to be with you.


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