In a recent interview, we had the privilege of delving into the remarkable journey of Daniel Macklin, an accomplished entrepreneur whose path led him from the world of banking to the forefront of fintech innovation.
His latest, Venture, has attracted funding from top-tier investors like Fenway Summer Ventures, Greycroft, QED Investors and General Catalyst.
In this episode, you will learn:
- Early exposure to finance and a global perspective shaped Daniel’s trajectory from banking to entrepreneurship.
- Stanford University’s dynamic entrepreneurial ecosystem provided the spark for SoFi’s inception.
- Urgency and focused execution were pivotal in SoFi’s successful launch, emphasizing the importance of timely delivery.
- Strategic equity distribution laid the groundwork for SoFi’s rapid growth, offering a crucial lesson in startup financing.
- Boards should offer support and resources while respecting the expertise of the management team, fostering a symbiotic relationship.
- Open and honest communication within a founding team is essential for early-stage startups to navigate challenges effectively.
- Summer’s mission to guide borrowers through student loan management reflects a commitment to broader financial empowerment beyond refinancing.
For a winning deck, see the commentary on a pitch deck from an Uber competitor that has raised over $400M (see it here).
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About Daniel Macklin:
Daniel Macklin has diverse and extensive work experience. He is currently the President of a company, starting in 2023.
Daniel is also a Venture Advisor at AI Fund, a VC firm focused on accelerating AI adoption, and a Board Member at ValidMind, a company that automates model risk management for financial institutions.
Prior to these roles, Daniel served as the CEO US at Salary Finance from 2019 to 2022. He was also a Co-Founder of SoFi, a financial technology company valued at more than $18 billion after going public in 2021.
Additionally, Daniel has experience as a Board Member, Advisor, and Investor in various companies, and they worked at Standard Chartered Bank as a Globetrotting Banker. He also holds a Master of Science in Management degree from Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Daniel completed their Bachelor of Arts in Business Economics from Durham University between 1995-1998. Daniel then pursued further education at Stanford University Graduate School of Business as an Alfred P. Sloan Fellow for the academic year 2010-2011.
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Connect with Daniel Macklin:
Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
Alejandro Cremades: Alrighty hello everyone and welcome to the deal maker show. So today. We have a really amazing founder a founder that he actually founded a company that you’re all Goingnna recognize sofi incredible journey and incredible rocket ship he’s been up to you know, many more things you know after that and we’re going to be talking about the latest be business that he’s right now involved with. But again we’re going to be talking about really good stuff. You know think about raisingcing money in the early days. What happens when you raise a lot of money in his case I mean they raised over a billion. Ah, also you know we’re going to be talking about what is life now. You know, being back with with that company. There is more at the earlier stages and what are some of those things that they that they’re dealing with but again you know all the good stuff that we like to hear about building scaling financing ah and all of that. So. Without far ado. Let’s welcome our guest today Daniel Mackling welcome to the show so then you were born in Cambridge they in the u k give us a walk through memory lane. How was life growing up.
Dan Macklin: Hello Ajandro Great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Dan Macklin: I was great I grew up I was born in Cambridge and then grew up just outside London to brothers and sisters and very happy happy childhood and yeah, my dad worked in the city of London in in banking and now I was kind of I don’t know why but I always felt like that was going to be. My career. So so that’s what I ended up doing after after university.
Alejandro Cremades: So obviously you um, definitely did university you did business business and economics there and then from there you also went into the world of banking you know where you were for twelve years I mean that sounds like ah like a long time. You know I would never have thought that you would think about. Shifting years. But but there while you were in banking for 12 years also you got to experience being in London being in Singapore you know that the international approach too. So I guess how do you think that your perspective opened up. You know, being able to see the world from. Different venues and also what did you learn during those 12 years in banking.
Dan Macklin: It was great. I was very lucky I joined a bank called standard charted bank which although it was a british bank and on the the london stock exchange. It was really international most people in the u k had never heard of it. And it was in 70 countries around the world. So I joined because I knew I’d get the opportunity to travel and that was important to me and and like you mentioned I I managed to work for a couple of years in Singapore managed to work with my then or live with my then very young family in China and got to visit probably more than 20 countries in Asia africa in the Middle East so I learned a lot I mean I learned a lot about banking at different places I I learned a lot about people in different places and I enjoyed the fact that that someone was paying me to do that and and and letting me stay in fancy hotels around the world and and give me a very nice lifestyle. So yeah, it was great I met my wife through the bank. Um. Twelve twelve really good years and a lot to be thankful for.
Alejandro Cremades: Now 12 years you know is ah is a lifetime and so why at what point do you realize hey I think that maybe going to an m and a program is say to to our Nba program is the right step you know for me in at this point in time.
Dan Macklin: Yeah, yeah.
Dan Macklin: Yeah, this is where I got to give some credit to my wife she she encouraged me to to think about it and actually did my gmat while we were living in in Singapore back in around 2005 and then I got a good job back in London so I kind of put that to one side. And actually it was the fact that the gmat was coming up to its 5 year expiry I thought I don’t know I have to go through that again. So if I’m ever going to do this I need to do it now. But by that stage I was a bit older than the average and Nba kind of candidate. You know like I say I got 1112 years experience but I found this really great program at Stanford. There’s only 3 schools. Mit and London business school that offer it where it’s a full time program. But it’s a 1 ne-year program and I convinced the bank to sponsor me to go there. So I thought you know in a way risk freee go there have a great year in California with my with my family. And then come back to the bank and and and you know be better for that experience. Um, so I’m I’m glad I kind of pushed for that I’m glad my wife pushed me to do that because then the second half of my career another 12 years is is completely ah attributal to the fact that I was at Stanford like the rest of it would not have happened had I been. Sitting in Shanghai still working working for a back.
Alejandro Cremades: Now Obviously it’s time for watch pivottal because there you know he gave you a fantastic network that gave you that nice push into the world of entrepreneurship and and with a bang you know because obviously sofi you know what came out of that. So How did the ah Band. You know come together for Sofi. How. Did you guys stumble upon this and and how did you all come together. You know and ah United to form the company.
Dan Macklin: Yeah I think just just on on Stanford obviously the education is great. The class are great I think more than anything though I was lucky to be in a number of classes where we have entrepreneurs that would come in and talk about their experience and many of them. Some selection selection bias here but most of them were successful entrepreneurs and then they’d started something and either sold it or it was ah an ongoing concern and I suddenly realized well that they’re smart people but they’re not you know, completely different to me and I think it made it much more tangible I could see that. Yeah, maybe maybe I could do this and it and it got the you know the cogs whirring in the brain and at the same time we were going through a class that was I think it was called evaluating entrepreneurial opportunities which was basically come up with an idea for a company use your classroom time to you know, push that idea and. And develop that idea and long story short that idea that that we came up with turned into into sofi so you know I have a lot to be thankful for Stanford for and the whole kind of infrastructure and ecosystem there enables people to to think big and come up with ideas but then to actually make progress on those ideas. So yeah, there were 4 of us in this class together who became the 4 co-founders of of the company six months later
Alejandro Cremades: I mean for you as you mentioned you were already quite advanced in your career after 12 years at a bank you know, taking the leap of faith and going into something that is starting from nothing you know with children. It sounds like a crazy move probably for many people.
Dan Macklin: Yeah.
Alejandro Cremades: So how were you able to get your wife to be Okay, you know with that leap of faith and and with the uncertainty that you had in front of you. Thanks.
Dan Macklin: It’s a good question and and as I think back I’m kind of impressed more impressed as the years go on with myself and my wife that that we took that risk because if you look at the law of averages. You know most companies don’t make it and at the point in time in which I resigned from my bank over email. Um, in kind of April of the year I was graduating and I always joked that that was the most expensive email I’ve ever had to send because as soon as I resigned I then was responsible for for paying the not insignificant tuition fees that that Stanford were charging me. So so that ah you know along with many other things. It was a big decision. Um, so so. So yeah I think in a way. Um, you get caught up in in in in the entrepreneurship feelings and vibes that are going on at at Stanford, everyone’s thinking about starting a company and it probably gives you an outsized perception of success or an outsized kind of predictability of success. But. Again, it’s a really good decision that I made in my life to do that wasn’t easy. My wife was extremely supportive. But yeah, we were leaving something where I was in an expat life with education for my kids paid for and fancy house page 4 and a driver and all this kind of stuff living living a really really fun. Life. Give it up for a company that at the time had not raised any money did not have any customers and had no product. So so it was a big leap. Um, but sometimes you got to go with your gut and and I’m glad that I did.
Alejandro Cremades: So then tell us about the early days of sofi. So um, obviously you guys met there in school you come together and and and I guess why the 4 of you. I mean was there like any particular you know, reasoning on how the 4 of you came together. You know in terms of backgrounds or fit I mean why the 4 are you coming together.
Dan Macklin: It’s a good question I’d like to pretend there was a whole load of science behind it. But I don’t know that there was there were 3 of us in the class that I was in Mike who was who ended up being the Ceo Ian who ended up effectively being the cto and myself and and. You know maybe I’m getting to the weeds. We thought we needed to find someone from the regular Two-year Mba program to qualify for this course so we kind of did ah interviews. Um, for for the the you know the the younger slightly less experienced ah classmates that we had and fortunately one of them. Who was called Jim joined us. But I think they were probably interviewing us as much as we were interviewing them like who are these slightly older dudes and and and what what are they on about so so we were lucky to get Jim but to come back to your question I’m not sure. Yeah, we we got together around this class we wanted to do this class. We liked each other we thought we had you know complementary skills. But um, but you know it wasn’t like there was a beauty parade or something and and and then it could have been very different. It was it kind of was just the way it was and and and and and it worked um. But but yeah I can’t pretend that there was some massive amount of science behind it.
Alejandro Cremades: So what were the early days like of ah of a company like Sofi what did that look like.
Dan Macklin: It it was it was a blessing and a curse that our product was at the beginning providing student loan. So so the the company morphed into some other areas it evolved but the the very first product was lending money to students while they’re at school and we started off with Stanford. So the blessing and the curse was that we graduated in the whatever it was first week of June of of 2011 and we needed to get our product up and running before the start of the next academic year. Whatever that was first of September so we had about three months to get it up and running if we missed it then everyone. But you know the the students going into that next academic year would have made their decisions. Their financing decisions. They would have taken loans elsewhere and we would have had to wait another year and you know and we didn’t have the resources to to do that. So in looking back I think actually that was a great thing that was the blessing the blessing was that we had a finite amount of time to get this company up and running and that really gave us focus. We had post-it notes one for every day of the of the ninety days or so until that that day with basically deliverables that we needed to achieve and I think that was good because sometimes what I’ve seen with other companies. But I’ve worked with or advised that haven’t yet launched their product. There’s always a temptation to wait a bit longer make it a bit better. Get a bit more you know, ah kind of proof points as to whether the market’s ready for it and sometimes you just got to go with it and sometimes having that forcing factor like we had.
Alejandro Cremades: And what was like a to raise money for a company like so far I guess that for before we we actually address that one you know, just for the people that are listening to get it. What ended up being the business model of sofi.
Dan Macklin: Can can be a really good thing.
Dan Macklin: At the beginning it was raising money from individuals so that they could invest in a portfolio of loans to current students so it was kind of that that peer-to-peer model that that lending club and prosper had had started at the time and and we were. Tying it to a more specific affinity group kind of in this case, Stamford alumni basically lending money to current Stanford students and and the thesis was that that they understood the borrowers in some way and that the market wasn’t pricing correctly and we could give the students a better rate. But we could also give a good rate of return to those investors. Um the business ended up morphing a little bit. We ended up taking institutional money in order to lend because it was frankly too complicated and difficult and timely and ah and lengthy to to kind of get it from individuals but but that was the original thesis. Um, and then to come back to your question. What was complicated is at the beginning we were raising money on two levels. We were raising money for the company. You know to pay salaries to buy computers to keep the lights on but we were also raising money to be able to lend and that’s really difficult to do so anyone who’s in the lending business will know that. Doing those 2 things at the same time is difficult because it’s chicken and egg. You know, no one will give you the money or very few people will give you the money to lend until they can look at some record of of delivery and say well. How do you know? if you can lend money how do ah how do you know? if you’re going to get paid back. Yeah at the same time you can’t prove that until you get the money. So.
Dan Macklin: So without deep pockets yourselves to start with It’s quite hard to convince those those first few investors but but we managed it. We managed to get $2000000 from investors to to then lend that $2000000 to 100 students which was tough to do. But but we managed to do it during that three month period
Alejandro Cremades: And as you were ah you know perhaps raising money for you know for our lending companies. You were saying what were some of the mistakes you know now looking back that that you think you guys made.
Dan Macklin: Why I think I mean look everything is easy in hindsight. But I think one of the major mistakes that we made was giving away too much of the company at the beginning. So so I mentioned the 2000000 that we raised to lend alongside that we raised 4000000 inequity that that was kind of out. We called it our a round I don’t know if seed rounds existed then but we we didn’t have a seed. We just went straight into a we were originally trying to raise 2 and we were going to give away a third of the company for that and then we and ah so excuse me a quarter of the company. And then we ended up raising double that amount because we had the interest but instead of changing the terms we gave we gave away like 50% of the company. So um, look looking back so far. It’s been good to me. It’s been good to lots of people. it’s it’s a multibillion dollar public company now. So so so I’m not complaining but we did. Give away quite a lot of the company at the beginning when perhaps we didn’t need to.
Alejandro Cremades: And what about raising a lot of money you know what are they pros and cons when you raise you know over a billion like you guys did with sofi.
Dan Macklin: Yeah, yeah, it took us a few years to get there but but you know within a year of existing we raised a 100000000 and within I think it was 4 years of existing we we did raise a billion that would that was softback money. Um, and I but you know I would say the pros and cons. Gives you the opportunity to be ambitious. We could do things that other companies in the space couldn’t do we could throw money at problems and try things that the risk I think is that you then get sloppy and you know you’re you’re doing too many things. You’re not concentrating. You’re over hiring in the wrong areas because you can because you’ve got the money so you know I I often get asked this from companies I I work with or have work with should we raise more should we raise less and and I think you you can raise more but just have an idea what you? what? you’re going to do with it and be disciplined enough that once. Money’s in your bank account. You’re you’re not going to waste it and and that can be hard I you know we wasted some of it. We made mistakes. But ultimately we went out hard and we developed a brand a really respected brand in the industry ahead of other companies that had less money and I think if you look now many of those companies aren’t around. And some of that is due to the fact that we had more money than they did and we were able to get out there in a bigger way.
Alejandro Cremades: So obviously here an absolute rocket ship. You know I think that even at the time. Ah, ah the dev valuation peaked for um so fight he was like close to 9000000000 which is a really incredible you know building a company like this I guess why leaving. You know why in 2017 after pushing this thing from inception for you know, close to 7 years you decide that to turn the page.
Dan Macklin: Yeah, it’s a good question and it probably took me six months to kind of go through that thought process myself before actually pulling the trigger and doing it and and I think and I’ve spoken to other founders who’ve who’ve who’ve done similar things and and there’s some. Similarities in the stories. But there’s always some differences as well. I do think it’s a pretty personal decision for me. Um I really loved the time at sofi it was you know like a baby to me and I cared for it deeply but um I didn’t frankly I didn’t see the. The ipo or the exit happening anytime soon you know and in hindsight that that that was born out to be correct. The ipo ended up being in 2021 so what I didn’t want to do was kind of hang around just for that and and slowly go stale I wanted to leave at a time. Where I was fired up where people thought well of me and you know by that time we had a very competent management team. It wasn’t like we and we were 1500 people. So so me leaving wasn’t going to endanger the company in any way and I wanted to do other things as well and and some of it’s a cliche about spending more time with your faculty but I had kids who. You know it wasn’t like we were working every hour that the that god sent but but we were working hard I was working hard and and I wanted to do some other things and and take some time out so it felt like a good time. The company was in good hands and um I certainly didn’t want to be going stale.
Dan Macklin: And I wanted to go out on a high. So so I’m pleased that I was able to do that.
Alejandro Cremades: So in this case I mean you took some time off and basically you know like between a few stints and a few advisory roles. You know, then you ended up landing on summer which is the company that right now you’re pushing. And it sounds like he was an intern of Sofi you know the one that founded the company and that’s how you guys got connected but I guess before we in get to speak about summer I want to talk about the ah some of the dynamics that you have experienced you know while being a board member or or from being an advisor What do you think you know makes abort you know, effective you know when it comes to dynamics.
Dan Macklin: Yeah I’ve been I’ve lucky been lucky to be on the board of a few companies and I’ve seen obviously the boards at um, at so far and at salary finance where I was for a few years and and then more recently at summer and I think ultimately the board should be helping not hindering. And I think sometimes boards can mean well, but they can ask information they can ask too many questions you know to sound interested and maybe they are they are interested. But ultimately it’s not really helping the company. So I think boards should offer advice when solicited. But but more generally kind of just get out the way of of what the of what the Ceo and the founding team and and the management team are trying to do as long as that’s you know a sensible strategy because I think usually the Ceo and the management team know more about that business than the board does and and you should in a perfect situation. Respect that they do know more and and kind of let them get on with it and and and ask how can we help? you know who can we connect you to what can we do to maybe help with hiring. Um, you know what can we help connect you to a ah Pr firm. Whatever it is as opposed to just kind of asking questions. That that just take time to respond to what you don’t want is a board meeting that is just a kind of takes three weeks to prepare for and and then isn’t really helping anybody which I have seen months or twice.
Alejandro Cremades: Now for you. Why did you go with perhaps joining summer as opposed to launching another business of your own because as the saying goes once an entrepreneur always an entrepreneur. So why.
Dan Macklin: Yeah.
Alejandro Cremades: Going with summer.
Dan Macklin: So um, it’s a great question and it’s something that I did think about and look being being an entrepreneur and and and starting something or being involved with with starting something is really difficult those first couple of years are the most difficult they’re the most risky. When you’re trying to get product market fit seeing if what your what your idea has any any relevance whatsoever. So so to some degree I was taking a bit of a risk out of it like going with something that’s a few years old has got over that first hump and then the the bit that I really like is that growth stage once once once there is product market fit. Then it’s about okay, how do we get this into the hands of as many people as we can. So I think you know that to answer your question. That’s why I didn’t ah start something again. This was more tangible this was there I could see the opportunity. But yeah, the the read I mean the backstory is is interesting. Summer. Was started by a guy called will Seeley who was my intern at sofi in the summer of 2016 so I’m now president of the company but you know fish and I report to him and we’re kind of managing the company together. But yeah, i’m’m I’m reporting to someone who used to be my intern so it’s a little bit of ah it’s a little bit of an unusual story. But he essentially built what I wanted to build at Sofi but we had too many competing priorities. So I’ve always kept in touch with him I’ve always kept abreast of where the business was and yeah he was talking to me about being an investor I invested and then I thought actually I think I want to join because because I really like what’s going on here.
Alejandro Cremades: So what some are doing What is the business model of summer. So.
Dan Macklin: That was that was about six months ago yeah summer has a digital basically at so far. Our main business was was refinancing loans for for student loans for individuals. The reality was you needed a pretty good credit score and a pretty good salary to be able to do that so fires. Does many other things now but that was the the core initial business. But what that meant was we help lots of people we so far help lots of people in a really big way. Um, but it was probably only 10 to 15% of the general population that had student homes. So really what summer is doing is addressing the other 85 or ninety percent of people. Have student loans but may not be able to refinance them for for various reasons. So so we have a digital platform that that redefines their student loan management and it guides them through paying those loans helps them on getting those loans forgiven and the benefits process to maximize any debt relief. So. What does that mean? Basically there are 120 federal and state level programs that exist today that offer reduced payments and loan forgiveness to anyone with a student loan. The problem is most people have no idea that they exist they don’t know if they qualify so we’re a bit like Turbotax.
Dan Macklin: But for student loans people give us a few pieces of key information who they are where they live where they work etc and critically what student loans we have they have and then we give them a customized recommendation that says you are eligible for forgiveness. Do this, you are if they work in the public Sector. You may be able to get income driven repayment a reduced payment. Do this. It’s very customized based on who they are.
Alejandro Cremades: So with summer you guys have raised quite a bit of money already I mean 20000000 plus ah so I guess for this given your experience with raising money before How do you guys go about racing money. You know there’s time around I mean what were some of the things that you were looking for and how did you go about getting the right people for the right reasons.
Dan Macklin: Yeah, without getting too much into the weeds of the business summer’s ah, a bit strange in that it’s been around about four or five years but um student loans until very very recently very recently no one had to pay them back during covid president Trump canceled basically student loan payments for What was a temporary period and that temporary period kept getting extended so for three and a half years no one in America has had to pay back their student loan so that was tough for summer during that period because that was their business so in a way the business was a little bit on ice for for a few years um and and as such was was waiting for the time that has just happened where suddenly this market has reopened people are now having to pay back their loans and it’s a really great time to to be investing in in in summer and to be working here. So I’ve been you know I was lucky I joined at a time where I could see that this. Ah, return to to form was happening or that all this timeliness was was just about to to become a factor and that loans student loans would start to become repayable again. Um, so that’s the message to to the investors that that I’ve been speaking to over the last few months is is that we’re in a brand new market now and people need help. Um, and and summer is is able to provide that help and and the results are great. We. We’ve saved people over the last few years more than one point three billion dollars by having their loans forgiven helping them to have their loans forgiven or to reduce the payment so so yeah the pitch basically to investors is.
Dan Macklin: There’s more to do. There’s more people out there and we need help to to get out to to a much bigger group of people.
Alejandro Cremades: And what is it like now you know that you’re able to go into more of the earlier stages and you know be able to ah face with being with limited resources and and and especially in this environment. You know how are you guys you know navigating.
Dan Macklin: It’s fun. Ah we were. We had our top team together in New York last week and we were talking about. Well how do we get we work with employers. So so we we work with employers who offer summer to their employees so we were discussing. How do we get more employers to know what we do and as to why this is important and we were. You know, just brainstorming ideas about how to get their attention and it’s it’s kind of like on the ground ah basic kind of stuff at many levels. Not not always necessarily the most sophisticated marketing techniques because I think sometimes when you’re an early stage company. That’s what you need to do. Um, and that’s what I enjoy so so lots of ideas being thrown around some of them will work some of them won’t work but but trying them seeing what what takes off seeing what gets an impact that’s that’s the stuff that ah that interests me as opposed to just you know. Knowing what works and cranking it out an ever increasing scale. But yeah to come back to so far. That’s one of the reasons I I left because we it was getting into a bit more of a a kind of machine a big machine and and I enjoy the early stage stuff. It’s a bit more chaotic.
Alejandro Cremades: So then now I guess say as you’re looking back and incredible experience that you’ve had in the operating side. Let’s say you had the opportunity of me putting you into a time machine and you’re able to go back in time and all of a sudden you are right there in Stanford maybe ah.
Dan Macklin: The.
Alejandro Cremades: But of those reces you know between classes with with your ah you know who became your cofounders with your cofounders you know Sofi and you’re able to give all of you one piece of advice before getting started without business or with a business. But will that be and why given what you know now.
Dan Macklin: Ah, that’s a tough one because there’s probably more than one. Um, but I think probably that the main one would be to ensure that you as a founding team check in very regularly. In an honest fashion about what everybody’s feeling. That’s not to say that we didn’t do that. But but I’ve seen other businesses around. Um if if you’re not kind of honest with each other then things can suddenly move in one direction and and and stuff can happen. So So um.
Dan Macklin: Maintaining close contact and that’s difficult because when when you’re you know you’re racing at one hundred miles an hour and everyone’s doing stuff. It’s not always easy to to talk everything through there simply isn’t time but but having those honest conversations as early as possible if if something’s going astray if you feel like the. The strategy is not quite where it should be of of the execution is and you know don’t wait and think well maybe I’ll bring this up tomorrow because the problem is only going to get bigger tomorrow and you simply don’t have time to say just just have a culture awake and bring this stuff up very quickly very openly. Um, and and get and and solve things very quickly. We actually did a lot of that very well but there always room for improvement.
Alejandro Cremades: So for the people that are listening Dan I would love to reach out and say hi. What is the best way for them to do so.
Dan Macklin: I probably on Linkedin ah Macklin Dan I think is my profile on Linkedin at summer you can find me there. Um, yeah, that’s the best way.
Alejandro Cremades: Amazing! Well hey done. Thank you so much for being on the deal maker show today. It has been on on earth to have you with us. Thanks.
Dan Macklin: Ah, thank you out Andro but enjoyed it.
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