In a recent episode of the Dealmakers’ Podcast, Sandy Kemper, a seasoned entrepreneur and former CEO of a reputable bank, shared his remarkable journey from the traditional world of banking to the forefront of fintech and e-commerce. Sandy’s story is not just a personal narrative but a testament to the transformative power of innovation in the financial sector.
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Unearthing Kansas City’s Financial Legacy
Kansas City is a city steeped in financial history, which was once the epicenter of westward expansion. It birthed the trails that paved the way for pioneers venturing to the West Coast, including the Santa Fe, California, and the Oregon trail.
Along with the trails, also came the need for financial services. Sandy’s connection to finance runs deep, as his family founded a bank, UMB Financial Corporation, with roots tracing back to this historical genesis. As he ran the bank, he developed an in-depth understanding of what works and what doesn’t.
In Sandy’s words, “Interestingly, in Kansas City, it was a financial hub even from the beginning of the city because it was the place where all of the westward trails originated… So my connection to finance is long-lived and somewhat interesting from that history.”
From Legacy to Nimbleness
After retiring from the bank after 13 years, Sandy went on to build technology, eCommerce, and fintech companies, which was a pivotal move for him. The challenges of steering a massive ship versus a small startup are worlds apart.
The decision to embark on a journey of creating smaller, more agile companies came from the desire to build cultures from scratch and avoid the inertia that plagues larger corporations.
Sandy reflects on this transition, “When I retired from the bank and decided to go build technology and ecommerce and fintech companies… It would always be day one. It would never be as it was in our company at the bank year you know 101.”
The Pitfalls of Success
Sandy offers a unique perspective on success, viewing it as a double-edged sword. While success brings prosperity, it also carries the risk of complacency and entitlement. This insight highlights the struggle that established organizations face in maintaining their edge in a rapidly evolving business landscape.
He points out, “Success is the grandmother of failure… the darkness inside that success is the inertial momentum that allows you to coast or allows you to think politically or allows you to wonder about your title.”
People start to think more about the size of their offices and parking spaces rather than growing professionally and personally. Success breeds complacency and ossification.
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Building for the Underdog
Sandy’s passion for building solutions that empower small and mid-sized businesses is a driving force in his entrepreneurial journey. His foray into e-commerce was fueled by a vision to level the playing field.
Back in the late 1990s, there was no SaaS, and the behind-the-firewall enterprise solutions were quickly snapped up by the larger companies. He wanted to make enterprise-level solutions accessible to businesses of all sizes who couldn’t pay the high prices for software packets.
This he did by purchasing a license and breaking it down into thousands of different parts. He recalls, “I’ve always had a passion for building things for the underdog… there’s great nobility of cause.”
In his opinion, banks should create commerce because the act of creating commerce would enable the finding of financial products that Sandy’s company enabled. Eventually, he was able to get 200,000 to 300,000 small businesses on the platform sold by 1,000 banks.
Eradicating Risk Underwriting
A fundamental shift in Sandy’s approach to financing came with the realization that risk underwriting can be eliminated. Even though it is a deeply ingrained practice simply by bypassing traditional intermediaries like banks,
Sandy took a sabbatical to spend time on a farm but was quickly back in the saddle with a $50M equity fund for investing in art. This art could be rotated among the investors so they could also appreciate it.
This project got Sandy thinking about the flaws of the financing structure and how to create a marketplace for working capital. And that’s how he came up with the idea for C2FO. Sandy’s platform, C2FO, creates a direct exchange between buyers and suppliers, revolutionizing the flow of working capital. Today, he is the CEO of that unicorn company.
Sandy emphasizes, “Eliminate the need for risk underwriting… create a direct exchange between those who have money, the buyers, the large corporates, and all of their suppliers.”
Global Impact through Empowerment
Sandy looks forward to a world where access to capital is democratized, particularly in emerging economies. By dismantling archaic financial systems, platforms like C2FO have the potential to stimulate economic growth, create jobs, and elevate prosperity in nations where capital is hard to access.
They can accomplish this objective by funding small and mid-sized businesses that employ close to two-thirds of a country’s workforce. Backing them with finances has the potential to bring prosperity to the economy. Moving forward, Sandy hopes to implement this model in countries like Mexico.
Sandy states, “If we could create even half of the demand of this capital… we think we can create $4 to $6 trillion of additional economic growth and GDP for the world just by enabling the flow of working capital without risk underwriting.”
Sandy successfully raised over $400M in multiple rounds of funding for C2FO.
Storytelling is everything, which is something that Sandy Kempe was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend Peter Thiel (see it here), where the most critical slides are highlighted.
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Sandy has journeyed from being a banking stalwart to a fintech trailblazer. His story speaks of how the power of innovation can have a profound impact on global finance. His insights serve as an example for aspiring entrepreneurs and emphasize the importance of listening, humility, and a vision to solve significant problems.
With pioneers like Sandy rooting for small and medium-sized businesses, the future of finance is poised for unprecedented transformation. The legacy of Kansas City’s financial hub lives on through visionaries like Sandy Kemper. People like him reshape the landscape of global finance for generations to come.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- A journey from traditional banking to fintech showcases the evolution of finance, rooted in historical significance.
- Transitioning from a large institution to a startup helped build cultures from day one, avoiding the shackles of corporate inertia.
- A perspective on success as both an enabler and a potential trap highlights the challenges of maintaining innovation within established corporations.
- A commitment to empowering small and mid-sized businesses underscores the nobility in leveling the playing field.
- By eliminating the need for risk underwriting, the platform C2FO pioneers a direct exchange between buyers and suppliers, revolutionizing working capital flow.
- Vision for a world where emerging economies can flourish by democratizing access to capital, stimulating job creation, and driving economic growth.
- Advice to young entrepreneurs emphasizes the importance of silencing self-doubt, balancing fear with optimism, and cultivating humility, coupled with active listening, as crucial ingredients for success.