The DealMakers podcast features entrepreneurs that have been successful with M&A transactions or capital raising efforts.

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Immad Akhund is the co-founder and CEO of Mercury which is a bank for startups, engineered in Silicon Valley for tech companies. The company has raised over $25 million from investors like Andreessen Horowitz and Charles River Ventures. Prior to this, he cofounded Heyzap which he sold for $45 million. 

In this episode you will learn:

  • The future of fintech
  • Why having a large pool of investors is an advantage
  • Why you should get started in entrepreneurship as early as possible
  • Becoming the Google of banking

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About Immad Akhund:

Immad Akhund is the co-founder and CEO of Mercury which is a bank for startups, engineered in Silicon Valley for tech companies.
 
Prior to this, Immad Akhund was the Co-founder of HeyZap, an app that changed the way games are played together (acquired in 2016 by RNTS). 
 
Immad Akhund was also a Part-time Partner at Y-Combinator in San Francisco and CEO and Founder of a recently created Fin-Tech Startup (August 2017). 
 
Immad Akhund studied Computer Science at Cambridge University in the UK. He was also previously Co-founder and the CTO of Clickpass.com.
 

Connect with Immad Akhund:

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FULL TRANSCRIPTION OF THE INTERVIEW:

Alejandro: Alrighty. Hello everyone, and welcome to the DealMakers show. Today we’re going to be learning quite a bit about all types of sectors. We have a serial founder that has done it multiple times. We’re going to be talking about fintech. We’re going to be talking about pivots. We’re going to be talking about successes, failures; you name it. So without further ado, Immad Akhund, welcome to the Dealmakers show today.

Immad Akhund: Yeah. Thanks for having me, Alejandro.

Alejandro: So originally born in Pakistan, and you were there up until nine, I believe. So how was life there?

Immad Akhund: Yeah. It was early times. I was mostly just playing cricket. Yeah, they were friends or whatever, so it was a nice life. But I’m happy my parents moved to the UK and gave the additional opportunities of that.

Alejandro: I love the cricket part. Whenever I’m in a cap here in New York, I always tell them what’s going on between India and Pakistan. And they get really into it. It’s amazing. Then you moved to the UK. What triggered the move?

Immad Akhund: Yeah. I think, like a lot of immigrants, my family wanted to give us the best opportunities. Whether it’s education or job opportunities that the UK just had and still has a lot more than Pakistan. That’s what inspired my parents to move. It’s, obviously, never easy for families to move country, and they went through a lot of struggle, but that’s part of the things that inspire me to work hard and make them proud.

Alejandro: Was it like a big culture shock for the family?

Immad Akhund: Yeah. Everyone perceives these things differently. It was definitely a culture shock for me. I could speak English, but I wasn’t super-great. No one played cricket, so I had to learn soccer, we call the football. So, yeah, especially those first few years, it was difficult settling into a new place, but eventually, it became home.

Alejandro: At what point did you start to get exposed to computers and develop that love for them?

Immad Akhund: Yeah, that’s a good question. I don’t know why exactly, but my dad bought this very old-school Apple — I guess it was a MacIntosh, back when we were still in Pakistan from the age of seven. Like a lot of kids, the first exposure is through games. I played a lot of computer games, and that was definitely the initial thing, and I didn’t think about it as, “I’m going to be a computer programmer,” or anything. We’ve always had a computer at home. I grew up in the 90s. I was a teenager then. One of the other things that gave me extra exposure was I was always interested in making a little more money on the side. Back then, there was the dot-com bubble, and there were these little silly things you could do to make money. They used to have these bars you could put on your desktop, and they would show ads. As long as you’re moving the mouse, you’d make money from that. It was like this tertiary effect that the dot-com bubble had that there were ways of making money on the internet. We made little websites and tried to drive traffic to it, and all that kind of stuff. That kind of exposure was very much like this initial thing I did as a 14, 15-year-old to try to make money on the internet. That was my real exposure to doing a bit of programming and all that kind of stuff.

Alejandro: Very cool. Then you went into Cambridge. I’m sure that your parents were super proud.

Immad Akhund: Yeah, they were. I definitely was somewhat lucky. I had done some of the programming stuff. It wasn’t something, at that time, I was super passionate about, but I knew I was kind of good at it, so I ended up doing computer science at Cambridge. That decision was definitely formative and being able to have this very unique skill that I could apply to entrepreneurship.

Alejandro: So, applying to entrepreneurship. Why did you decide to apply then at Bloomberg?

Immad Akhund: Yeah, you know, especially in the UK, there isn’t an obvious path to entrepreneurship, at least back in 2006. It wasn’t like you’d go apply to Y Combinator and become an entrepreneur. I thought the thing to do was go do a normal job, and maybe do an MBA, and they’ll teach you how to be an entrepreneur. Then, maybe at that point, you start a company. So that was the part I was thinking. Bloomberg — yeah, I liked even back then, fintech, and Bloomberg is an interesting company where they’re fairly technical and building these fintech tools. 

Alejandro: Got it. I don’t think that you were for long at Bloomberg, so what happened?

Immad Akhund: Yeah. It turns out that I just had a really hard time being a cog in the machine. There were definitely interesting things happening there, but from my perspective, someone would deliver a spec. I would never talk to a customer directly. We’d implement that, and it was very abstract and very uninteresting. You don’t work on like a holistic product and go into it or anything like that. So I quickly got bored, and this is back in 2007. By 2006, TechCrunch was this big thing back then. There would be all these interesting startups. I guess it was Web2.0; they used to call it. It seemed like a lot of fun. A lot of the time, my buddy and I at Bloomberg would see these things and say, “We could build this ourselves.” It was an inspiration to go do it ourselves. Obviously, it’s a lot harder than it seems. But at the same time, it seemed achievable and seemed a lot more fun than working at Bloomberg.

Alejandro: Then right after that, you started your first company, which didn’t really pan out as you had expected. What happened?

Immad Akhund: These initial forays are often more like an educational experience than like I’m building a startup experience. We didn’t have any funding. We knew how to do the programming part, but all the other pieces of like getting customers, making money. We didn’t have a clue. I think it was a great learning experience for me. I spent a lot of time networking, meeting a lot of other great entrepreneurs in the UK, seeing how they were doing it, and even though it didn’t work out, it was actually a fun experience for me where I felt like this was what I wanted to do in the future. In life, you don’t always know what it’s like. What is the future, and what’s the thing that’s going to get you passionate and interested? I quickly realized that just being an entrepreneur and making products, and talking to other entrepreneurs was the thing I was super passionate about in life.

Alejandro: It’s like they say, you either succeed or you learn. So from this first rodeo, what was your biggest learning?

Immad Akhund: We made every basic and non-basic mistake there was to make. I think the biggest real learning for me was that — even now, I would say that back then, especially, you just want to be in the hub, and the greatest technology hub is still San Francisco and Silicon Valley. That was my biggest takeaway. There are only a few VCs there, but forgetting all that kind of fundraising side of things, I think there’s a lot of learning to be had when you’re surrounded by other entrepreneurs that are doing bigger things. There were some good entrepreneurs in London. It was a limited set whereas, this is a ton of great entrepreneurs doing really interesting things in San Francisco. I would say that was my biggest learning to move here, and I was very inspired to do that.

Alejandro: Yeah and the ecosystem there in London has changed a lot. You probably have [08:44].

Immad Akhund: Yeah, I don’t think it’s at all comparable to what it was back then.

Alejandro: Yeah. There are a lot of people now probably listening that are outside of tech hubs like San Francisco, so as they’re now looking at building and scaling their thing, what piece of advice would you give them?

Immad Akhund: I think advice is always tricky because people often try to generalize it and fit it to their experiences. Everyone has their own experiences and their own view on life. I would say to start as early as possible. It’s always good to learn early when you don’t have responsibilities. My only downside back them was like, “I’m not going to make my one-year graduate salary from Bloomberg.” It wasn’t like I didn’t have any major responsibilities or things that — as you get older, you tend to improve your lifestyle, have bigger expenses, and have families, and all that kind of stuff. So starting early makes sense. I guess it depends on what your passion is. If your passion is going to be like, “I’m going be an entrepreneur and do startups,” I think moving to a tech hub, at least for a while, makes sense. Everyone does it their own way, and there’s no one way to do things.

Alejandro: Yeah, because the problem that I see is these founders that are outside of these types of hubs is, access to talent and access to capital is a real hurdle; it’s a beast.

Immad Akhund: For early entrepreneurs, actually, the ways of thinking are more important than even some of assess stuff. We did Y Combinator and my previous two companies. That’s one of the things that’s not obvious, but thinking in the right frame of mind, knowing that customers are the most important thing. This is the kind of growth rate you need to be hitting. These are the things you need to be focusing on — going to conferences, and all of this stuff is a distraction. All of these lists of things that once you know them are obvious, but when you’re early-on in entrepreneurship, and they’re not obvious, like, “What is the thing I should do and focus on it? How should I think about these things? It’s useful to either be somewhere where there are a lot of entrepreneurs thinking the right way or doing an accelerator or something like that, that trains you and gives you patterns for how to make the decisions.

Alejandro: Yeah, absolutely. Going back to your lesson, or perhaps like being in a tech hub, you actually took that to heart, and you moved to San Francisco. Tell us about that.

Immad Akhund: I always say I was very lucky to have Y Combinator. It is a nice stepping stone into moving to Silicon Valley and San Francisco. A) They give you some money. B) They give you a community. All my initial and probably all my friends now are Y Combinator alumni. That was the real enabling factor for me. The U.S. does not make it easy to immigrate here, so there are always tons of Visa issues and all of this stuff to solve. But that was the real enabler for us.

Alejandro: Got it. Because then you decided to go with the next one. What was the next company?

Immad Akhund: Yes. Clickpass was a single sign-on experience and made it easy to log into websites. This was back in 2007. There’s this whole craze around OpenID, and we were an easy to use layer around OpenID and made it easy to log into lots of websites. So that was a sell. We did pretty well. We quite quickly grew to two million users across a bunch of different websites. But there was no real monetization baked into it, and that was the flaw in the initial plan at least.

Alejandro: After that experience because monetizing, sometimes you can have a massive growth and all of that, but if you don’t figure out how to make money, it’s going to be really tough to have a business that is sustainable. How did you learn to look at monetization differently after this experience?

Immad Akhund: That’s a good point. I don’t think, necessarily, I did learn because the first few years of the next startup, we didn’t also monetize upfront. The ecosystem learns in parallel in some ways. That was the phase of, “Let’s do things, have lots of consumers, and we’ll figure out monetization later. Nowadays, it’s different where either you do a B2B thing. But even if you do a consumer-centric thing, you’re monetizing early on. I think there are phases. Even the phases of the company back then, whether that’s Twitter or Facebook, they didn’t monetize early on, and they did end up being big companies. It was definitely doable, but there were, obviously, lots of people who tried to do it and didn’t succeed. 

Alejandro: Obviously, for this one, basically what happened with Clickpass is that you guys made a decision that it was time to go for an exit, and it ended up being an AccuHire, more about talent acquisition. Tell us about that day that the decision was made of pulling the plug somehow.

Immad Akhund: These decisions are often not binary. We did the whole VC, roadshow, just struggled getting anyone to bite. Entrepreneurs don’t talk about it very often, but often these VC things just don’t work out. You spend three months, six months talking to as many VCs as you can get to, and no one’s interested. And it does happen. Maybe not to everyone, but I think if you do it for long enough, eventually, you will have a deal. A lot of the time, when those things happen, you, yourself, know that there’s an issue. Right? Like, “We have two million users, but we don’t know how we’ll make money.” It highlights the underlying issue that you already recognized. At that point, we were like, “We could just give up. We could do something else, or we could try to sell it.” I don’t even know how we kicked off these talent acquisitions. I think maybe we had a few inbounds, and then we reached out to existing investors in the community and tried to make it happen. Those things are always quite hard to get done. It actually took at least six months to get the talent acquisition done. A lot was done by my co-founder, and he did a good job in pulling it off. I decided early on that I just wanted to do another startup rather than go work for someone, which is basically what talent acquisitions work out to be. So I started working on my next thing.

Alejandro: And you waited no time because it was literally almost right around the same month or so. But here, it’s an interesting transition. You go from CTO to CEO. Was that a bit frightening for you?

Immad Akhund: Not really. Even as a CTO, I was doing sales and whatever was necessary, so the transition wasn’t that difficult. One thing that isn’t always obvious to people is people are like, “Oh, why didn’t you take a break?” Back then, especially, your Visa often depends on your company. You can’t afford to take a break because you’ll be thrown out of the country.

Alejandro: Right.

Immad Akhund: Between those three companies, there was no time to take a break. The other fact is, when you’re being an entrepreneur and not succeeding, you don’t have any savings. It’s not like you can go, “Okay. I’m not going to work for two months because I’ve got savings.” A lot of it comes from necessity. I guess back then and now. I always had a lot of energy for entrepreneurship. I think it’s fun. It’s hard for me not to just do it.

Alejandro: Got it. Heyzap, actually ended up becoming your first big success. It had a nice exit. Tell us how you came up with this idea.

Immad Akhund: Yeah. It wasn’t one idea. Heyzap started off in the Flash Gaming world. Back in 2009, Flash Gaming was still a thing, and we were thinking of making a decent — if I pitch it to you now, you’d be like, “What are you talking about.” Back then, it made sense.

Alejandro: Right.

Immad Akhund: So we went through IC with those kinds of Flash Gaming hub kind of idea, and we even raised money from Union Square Ventures. By 2010, and especially 2011, it was super obvious that all of that kind of casual gaming was going to mobile, and we were just on a dying kind of platform. Then we pivoted completely to the mobile gaming social network, still called Heyzap. We did that for a few years. We got a bunch of users; couldn’t get it quite successful, but we started showing advertisements inside the app. That got us into pivoting into Adtech. We did a couple of different ideas there. Eventually, we did something called mobile mediation, which is a way of showing ads in your app, and then figuring out which kind of provider gives you the most money, and maximizing the revenue people make, and giving them nice dashboards through it. That was the final thing we did. We kicked it off the end of 2014. It was very successful in the iOS store all through 2015, like maybe three or four of the Top Ten Apps games were using it. As soon as we had that product/market fit, we had some acquisition interest. We ended up selling to our main competitor, which is called Fyber.

Alejandro: What was that M&A process like?

Immad Akhund: Yeah, it’s super painful. I always tell people the two most painful things of entrepreneurship are trying to sell your company and trying to get VCs. The thing that’s particularly hard about it is, it’s very hard to learn from people when you’re going through an acquisition process. There aren’t that many people who have gone through it, generally speaking, there’s not much on the internet. People tend to be — because they have confidentiality or whatever, the whole brace is very opaque. Every company probably does it different as well as an acquirer. For us, there was a lot of like — it just takes a really long time from the start of talking to an acquirer to having the deal closed at nine months. A lot of that time is under a lot of tension. This company was in Germany, so we were literally talking to them at 11:00 pm about some negotiation point. Then they would talk about it during the day. Then we would wake up at 7:00 am, and talk to them again about the same point and see what they’d agreed to. It was like if you don’t sleep very well in that kind of situation, and it was months and months of this where every night and every morning talking to them to incrementally move the deal forward. It’s not a fun process at all.

Alejandro: And probably nerve-wracking as well when those moments where you feel like the deal is about to fall apart.

Immad Akhund: Exactly. Yeah. Every few weeks. It’s like a compressed entrepreneurship versus sometimes you’re feeling like, “Oh, great. We’re making progress.” Often, you’re like, “This whole thing’s going to fall apart. This is a deal-breaker for us.” You get mentally committed to it. It’s hard to run your company when you’re thinking about this stuff. After a few months in, you’re like, “This is a deal-breaker for me, but I’m two-months committed into this.” It’s really a nerve-wracking process.

Alejandro: Yeah, absolutely. For you, we’re talking a rollercoaster of emotions. Like in the morning, you feel like you’re on top of the world. Maybe at night, you feel like the world is about to fall apart as well, and everything is dark. How have you been able to be comfortable with those moments or deal with those moments as a founder yourself?

Immad Akhund: That’s a good question. Since 2009, I had a very supportive wife who gets it, and I think that’s very useful to have a stable relationship where someone can be supportive like that. That helps. You have to view entrepreneurship a little bit like a game. I know it’s life, and it’s not a game necessarily, but at the same time, if you rephrase your thinking like, “Oh, I’m doing a VC fundraise.” But if you view it as a game, you’re like, “These are the moves I have to make, and this is the outcome it’s going to be, and I’m going to feel great.” But at the end of that, “If this move doesn’t work out, it’s not a big deal because it’s just a game.” Maybe you lose a life point, but you keep going for the next stage. I think that’s one way I view things that makes the rollercoaster less up and down. I’ve been doing this for a long time, as well. I think there are a lot of tools out there. Nowadays, especially, people acknowledge them a lot better, whether it’s meditation or having other entrepreneurs that are going through this with you, and they can talk about. I try to be real with other entrepreneurs when I talk to them. Maybe five or ten years ago, I used to be like, “Oh, yeah. Everything’s great.” Like the whole, everything is awesome syndrome that entrepreneurs tend to get. Nowadays, if I’m struggling with something, I try to be honest about it, and then people have real conversations, and I think you can feel the support structure around it.

Alejandro: And you get to connect, too, with people because when I hear all these founders, and when you ask them how they’re doing, and they tell you that everything is absolutely fantastic, you’re like, “Okay. There’s something off.”

Immad Akhund: Yeah. Everyone has insecurities, so I don’t necessarily judge them for saying it, but at the same time if you want to have a real conversation if you start off with “Everything is awesome, and nothing could go wrong, and I’m really good at everything I do,” then it’s not going to be like a real conversation.

Alejandro: Yeah. So the terms of Heyzap were public. What were the terms of this deal?

Immad Akhund: Yeah. It was a 45-million-dollar acquisition deal.

Alejandro: Very cool. Then after this, you started doing the angel investing and then also was a part-time partner at Y Combinator. How was this phase where you were helping startups, but then somehow on the other side of the table?

Immad Akhund: Yeah. After ten years of being an entrepreneur, I finally did have a chance to rest a little bit. I wanted to reevaluate. I had one kid, and another kid on the way. I wanted to think, “Do I want to do another startup or maybe become a VC?” It was one or the other because I wasn’t going to retire at 33 or whatever it is. I was definitely still very passionate about entrepreneurs and startups. For many years, I’d been going to Y Combinator Demo Day and doing all these things and talking to a lot of entrepreneurs. I wanted to see what it was like being an investor. I finally had some liquidity to try it out. And I had gone from being the CEO of this company and doing everything to being engineering manager of this company. I already had engineers that didn’t need too much managing. So I had some extra time on my hands, so I went for investing with some fervor and ended up investing in like 30 companies in that first year. It was an interesting process. I learned a lot about how to do it, how to pick companies, and whether I enjoyed it or not. In the end, my conclusion was it was actually pretty fun. But it didn’t feel like, especially in San Francisco and especially at the seed stage, it didn’t really feel like I was having a massive game-changing effect like I often found the companies that were very good tended to be good regardless of what advice I gave them on how involved I was. I decided the most impactful thing I could do was do another company.

Alejandro: Got it. And we’re going to talk about Mercury in just a sec. I wanted to ask you here, in terms of picking startups and having that pattern recognition, I think that having been an operator yourself, I think it also gives you an edge over perhaps the guys that just went at it from corporate and started investing. What did you see yourself in those founders that had potential because you have great startups in your portfolio like Rappi or Error Table? How were you able to recognize the ones that had potential from the ones that didn’t?

Immad Akhund: You know, I’m not an expert on this. I think it’s like evolution, and I’m still learning. For me, I think the two things I look for in these early companies is the founder and the market. From the founder’s perspective, which I guess is more of your question, I’m looking for people who have this insatiable drive, especially to solve that particular problem. There are people you meet, and you’re like, “Wow. This person’s unstoppable.” It’s not about whether they went to college or if they worked at Google. There’s this other attribute, and through a series of investments, that attribute is by far the biggest indicator of success rather than market, or current product, or even traction. It’s actually hard to quantifiably tell you how you measure that attribute, but I feel you just feel it in these conversations.

Alejandro: Got it. Just to wrap up this phase in your professional career, what would you say to the folks that are perhaps thinking about joining an accelerator program for startups, based on all this experience that you got from Y Combinator, what would you tell them? Because right now, there’s a lot of noise around accelerator programs and incubators. I think, obviously, Y Combinator is amazing, but how would you recommend them that they filter through the noise.

Immad Akhund: Good question. If it’s like a Y Combinator, or maybe another top-tier accelerator, it’s generally speaking early on in an entrepreneurship career; pretty much a no-brainer from the things you can learn and the connections you can make. Maybe it’s more of a question mark when it comes to new accelerators or things that have less of a proven track record. I think it’s a case-by-case judgment at that point.

Alejandro: Let’s talk about your next rodeo, your latest one, Mercury. Tell us about the incubation process, and how did it come to life?

Immad Akhund: Mercury is different from my other companies. I’ve had this idea to do a bank for startups since 2014 or so. I was very frustrated at Heyzap with the banks we dealt with. The product s**cks, and it never improves. They don’t really care about customer service. They charge you fees for all sorts of random things. So it was a very annoying experience and a lot of other things we dealt with. As the business improved over time, but banking was very stagnant and stale. That was Part 1. Part 2 was we were a marketplace. The way we’d make money is as advertisers used to. They’d pay us a bunch of money, and at the end of the month, we used to pay our developers — around 600 developers. Doing that process with a bank was extremely manual. They didn’t have any APIs to do it. We ended up spending three days at the end of the month, making all these payouts. That was Part 2 of the problem we wanted to solve. Then Part 3 was we were about 18 people, but we didn’t have a CFO or anything like that. So just staying on top of the finances, I was always fairly tricky. The way most startups do it is they receive an Excel spreadsheet from a bookkeeper, and we would be waiting for this Excel spreadsheet to figure out how much money do we have? What’s the health of the business on a holistic level? A bank actually has all of this data already, and they could a much better job of putting all this data together and giving you a nice view on your finances in real-time. So those are the problems I saw, and I was excited about it. It’s also I wanted to do something that was very meaty, and I could do for the next ten years of my life-plus. I thought there’s nothing more scary-sounding than setting up a bank. So maybe I should just do that. That was the formation process. So in 2017, after I was finished with my earn-out at that previous company, I kicked off a fairly long learning process where I obviously knew it from an entrepreneur’s perspective, but I didn’t know how you go execute this thing. I’m a person that learns by talking to people. So I talked to every fintech entrepreneur I could find, every fintech lawyer I could find. It turns out there’s a ton of lawyers; people that worked at banks, people worked at Visa and Mastercard, people who had done Challenger banks in the UK and Europe. When you really dig down, there’s this wealth of knowledge, and often people are more willing to share their experiences than you would expect. Then, everyone I’d speak to, I’d say, “Who else should I speak to then?” They often had two or three other people I should speak to. So it was a viral learning process. Then, eventually, I figured out what the right path for us was, and overtime started digging deeper into it and getting some terms sheets from partner banks. I started doing the initial designs, and in August, we incorporated and got together with a couple of people I had worked with at my previous company. We joined as co-founders, and we kicked it off properly in August 2017.

Alejandro: Tell us about the founding team because now, at this point, you had a lot of experience, you had seen a lot of teams, as well, at Y Combinator, so I’m sure you were very careful as to who you would choose to put in the right seats of the bus.

Immad Akhund: Yeah, for sure. I think the team is by far the most important thing. Five of the eight initial set of people that joined us, including me, all worked together at Heyzap. I had been filtering the best people I’d ever worked with at Heyzap over eight years, so those were just the right people for us to start with. I already knew I could work well with them. I knew what their strengths were. That was the initial set. It’s a little boring in some ways, but in other ways, I think it worked out really well for us, and we still enjoy working with each other. We’ve all been working with each other for seven years now.

Alejandro: Was there a common trait that you were looking for, like one thing that was an absolute must from these people that you were onboarding at the beginning?

Immad Akhund: Yeah, that’s a good point. I think the culture of Mercury describes these common traits like relatively low ego, very humble and helpful, and fairly customer-centric. Like a combination of no BS, but at the same time willing to understand what the underlying problem is rather than just take things a face value. Some of those things, it wasn’t necessarily like a conscious thing. I was like, “Who are the best engineers? Who’s the best salesperson?” etc. It was definitely a very resolved space. I already knew who could produce, and that’s what we wanted.

Alejandro: And here you are, jumping into a super-regulated space. So what was that process of reducing the steep learning curve like?

Immad Akhund: Everything from the outside looks scary. When you’re looking at any startup, you’d be like, “Wow. That seems hard to build or hard to understand.” Regularly, three things sound even harder because it’s out of your control, but at the same time, when it comes to regulations, as a founder, you shouldn’t be making decisions on regulations. You should have lawyers, and then compliance people that are real experts on it dealing with it. A lot of the process for me was finding who are the experts and who I can rely on? I think I probably ended up with 60+ lawyers, and we ended up picking a couple that I’m super happy with. One’s a fintech specialist, and the other one was someone who used to work at FDIC. You have to figure out what you need to know, what you can outsource, who are the right people to outsource to, etc. Learning is always a progress from “Oh, I don’t know anything,” to “Okay. I can understand what the limits of knowledge are and who I can work with this.”

Alejandro: What is the business model of Mercury for the people that are listening so that they get it?

Immad Akhund: Yeah. It’s interesting. In fintech, you’re dealing with money, and everything is related to money and there are ways of monetizing that. We give people a debit card, and we make every swipe like Visa, take a certain percentage. As a cardassure, we get past through something called interchange. That’s one revenue stream for us. We take this float on our checking and saving account — the money that sits in the bank account, and we send that to our partner bank, and the partner bank gives us a rev share on that. That’s our second revenue stream. We also recently launched an API, and for more enterprise use cases for the API, we’re charging a SaaS fee. So that’s our revenue stream.

Alejandro: You guys have raised quite a bit for the company already in these past couple of years. So how much money have you guys raised?

Immad Akhund: We raised six million in our seed round in August 2017, and a couple of months ago, we closed a Series A of 20 million.

Alejandro: Now, you were the founder, then to the investor, then back to the founder. Now you knew to look from the founder’s side to the investor’s side and really understand what’s going on, on the other side. So how did you pick your partners on this one?

Immad Akhund: That’s a good question. As it turns out, both the partners at Andreessen Horowitz and CRV are both previously in Adtech. We have an affinity of how painful it is to be an Adtech company. That helps, but obviously, it is a mystery, the optimizing for that. For me, it’s like human relationships of finding someone that you resonate with. Potentially, you’re going to be working with them for ten years, so you want to feel like they’re on your side. They give you smart ideas and things you can work with. Those are some factors. It’s nice having a firm that has good brand recognition from a hiring perspective and future fundraising perspective. Those are other factors. It’s a process where you throw yourself out there and hope you get someone that you like. 

Alejandro: Yeah. You got great, great investors: Andreessen Horowitz, CRV, and then really great people, too — individuals. You even got people like Bill Clerico from WePay. So you definitely surrounded yourself with knowledgeable people.

Immad Akhund: Yeah. I think, altogether, we have about 100 investors. It’s good to have a large set of people that have some skin in the game and want to help you succeed. 

Alejandro: Absolutely. How do you see the company evolving? If you had to go to sleep and wake up again in a world where let’s say the vision of Mercury is fully realized, what does that world look like?

Immad Akhund: I have a pretty unbounded ambition, so I think the top four banks in the U.S. are worth a trillion dollars. In the future, they will have to be technology companies. Banking is one of the few things where technology companies are not dominant, even though it’s basically dealing with BITS. If I had to go to sleep for ten years, I’d want to wake up in one of those slots taken up by Mercury. We’ll hopefully do a really good job with banking, vison-enabled businesses, and potentially some set of consumers as well. Yeah, there’s an interesting company to build, which is like a Google for banking.

Alejandro: I love it. After all these companies, all these experiences, 120 investments that you’ve done already in startups, as well, yourself as an angel, you’ve seen quite a bit. So if you had the opportunity to have a chat with your younger self, that younger self perhaps coming out of Cambridge that was thinking that one day would start a business, what would be that one piece of business advice that you would give to that younger self before launching a business and why knowing what you know now?

Immad Akhund: I would say that’s a tricky one. It’s hard to do that because all the phases that you go through matter to you. There’s only so much you can give a piece of advice, and that somehow skips a phase because you sometimes have to experience it and learn it. Right?

Alejandro: Yeah.

Immad Akhund: Yeah, I find it hard too — it’s a really good question. I do think about it. In many ways, I did the things that I needed to do, and I don’t know if you could rewrite many of them.

Alejandro: I agree with you. I think that it’s important to go through the pain because that pain and those attempts, at the end of the day, they’re making you grow, and also develop yourself, and ultimately get yourself closer to the success — to the finish line.

Immad Akhund: Yeah. Exactly.

Alejandro: For the folks that are listening, Immad, what is the best way for them to reach out and say hi?

Immad Akhund: I’m on Twitter a lot, @immad. You can reply to me or something like that. You can always email me immad@mercury.co. I’m busy, but I try to get back to people, especially entrepreneurs, if I can be helpful.

Alejandro: Fantastic. Well, Immad, thank you so much for being on the Dealmakers show today.

Immad Akhund: Yeah, thanks for having me, Alejandro.

 

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