Neil Patel

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Kurtis Lin has been involved with several successful startups that have had great exits. His latest venture aims to disrupt the way our credit and borrowing power is valued, by using more data. Pinwheel has acquired funding from top-tier investors like Indeed, Coatue, First Round Capital, Upfront Ventures, and Franklin Templeton Investments.

In this episode, you will learn:

  • 11-star experiences
  • Making fundraising easy
  • Pinwheel, and the fourth credit bureau


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For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) that I recently covered. Thiel was the first angel investor in Facebook with a $500K check that turned into more than $1 billion in cash.

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The Ultimate Guide To Pitch Decks

Moreover, I also provided a commentary on a pitch deck from an Uber competitor that has raised over $400 million (see it here).

Remember to unlock for free the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.

About Kurtis Lin:

Kurtis Lin works as a Co-Founder & Chief Executive Officer at Pinwheel, which is a Financial Software company with an estimated 40 employees; and was founded in 2018.

Kurtis is a part of the Executive team within the C-Suite Department, and his management level is C-Level.

Kurtis is currently based in New York City, United States, and used to work at Volvo Group and SKF.

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Connect with Kurtis Lin:

Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:

Alejandro Cremades: Alrighty hello everyone and welcome to the dealmaker show. So today. We have a really incredible successfully exited founder. You know he’s done. It. You know multiple times successfully and today we’re gonna be talking about what he’s doing with his rocket ship. You know the the new baby now that he’s launched not long ago. But but again you know the whole thing of building scaling financing and exiting you know which we like to hear we’re gonna be covering it in detail so without further ado. Let’s welcome our guest today Curtis Lin welcome to the show. Thanks.

Kurtis Lin: Thanks Ajara! It’s quick to be here a longtime listener and excited that I finally get to participate in the show.

Alejandro Cremades: Well, we are excited to have you Curtis now in your case hey you were born in the bay area but born to immigrant parents. How was life growing up.

Kurtis Lin: I Think it was like a lot of other immigrant kids in that I feel like every day was a challenge of how do I further assimilate myself I think about like a lot of the things that I was into like ah streetwear getting Jordans. Ah you know like trying to. Read all the same watch the same shows that my friends did to kind of fit in but there was always this kind of feeling of like having to really prove myself that I think is kind of a common thread to the rest of my my life.

Alejandro Cremades: Now in your case. Um you had this energy going on and they thank God you know to pokemon carts. You know they you know had a had a difference had an impact in you. So how how how is that.

Kurtis Lin: So first of all I have to apologize to my parents because they were even though they were tough parents. They were good parents and I put them through how like in fifth grade I set the record for detention hours. For the school like in the history of the school. It was like one ah hundred and fifty de attention hours and it was because I was just like so I feel like I had all this chaotic energy where I was like you know I want to do stuff I want do I want wanna sit in this classroom and just be told what to do right? And so. And needed to find a way to translate that energy into something that was actually productive and for me I’ve always been someone who once I set my eyes on something I’m like I have to have that right? So for all my ninety s kids out there. The thing was pokemon cards right? and the like holy Grail of pokemon cards was. This charzar card the holographic one that was like the the cremeda the crema pokemonk cards I had very stingy traditional asian parents who were not going to spend any money to buy me packs and the way you get them is buy these packs and you hopefully you you get that card. So I had to figure out how to get there and what I basically did was every day I would take my lunch and I would trade it for pokemon cards and that’s so I started with like a couple like really bad ones like the you know the normal peach choose scrollr. Whatever once and then is over time I kept on trading up and trading up and across.

Kurtis Lin: Ah, span of about a year I eventually traded my way into after many days of empty stomach and and and you know lack of lunches ah to my to ah the polographic charge art card and that was like the.

Kurtis Lin: Crowning achievement of my childhood and I still have that card in my like childhood bedroom on the wall. So. It’s like something that I’m like deeply proud of but also. I didn’t realize this but the value of those cards are now like pretty high I gotta eat. They’re like fifteen thousand for one of those cards. So like it actually ended up being a great long-term investment too.

Alejandro Cremades: Well, yeah. I mean I’ve seen that there is even some pokemon cards that go in the millions I mean I mean unbeliev unbeli now now in your case you know you ended up going to Uc a and still you know like.

Kurtis Lin: Yeah I unfortunately work one of those but one day

Alejandro Cremades: You were still in school. You know now you were like even thinking about launching stuff and in fact, you launched you know your your very first company there so where did that on entrepreneurial drive come from.

Kurtis Lin: Yeah, so a couple things I’ll say number 1 is the college experience I think is different for everyone but I had a really ah inspirational football coach when I was in high school who basically told me listen there’s a lot of lessons. You’ll never learn in the classroom. And I really internalize that because throughout I think with a lot of other children, especially immigrant children. You’re kind of like told by your parents like you got to get straight a you got to do all these things like that’s that’s the expectation and so I did all of that throughout high school and like you know gone to a great college that I’m you know deeply proud of to have gone to. Once I got there I realized I was like I don’t really like want to spend as all my time in the classroom I actually want to like build more social skills I want to be like somebody who’s more holistic and so I really spend a lot of my time in pursuits outside of the classroom and just like tinkering with stuff right? And so um. I think about what we were doing I’ve always had these ideas of like I wonder like what would happen if we tried this or tried that or like I think the world should really work this way and it was the first time that I actually had you know a lack of pretal supervision to actually do something so I was like great like let me go play around with that and so my two friends and I started this company that basically. Built a piece of hardware that would attach to your bike frame to prevent bikefab. So like think lojack. But for bikes right? This is like back in 2011 when the technology was like not fantastic, but what we basically did was ah built this thing and frankly.

Kurtis Lin: I like to you know, playfully call it a dumpster fire of a business because my two co-founders were amazing technically and I was the quote unquote business guy and I had no right being the business guy like if I had the expense that I have now going back. In fact, that could have been a totally different business and could have. You know, been huge, but basically I cut my teeth on just like learning like what a p and l is like how to sell to enterprise customers what channel distribution meant and all these things I’ve just like tried to figure out how to make something from 0 to one but we eventually ended up selling the Ip to Verizon and. Just that whole journey really showed me hey like you can really make something of yourself if you just kind of take an idea you have and just try your best to actually make it happen and it’s really as simple as that once we did that like I was hooked from that point forward I was like all I want to do is just do startups from now on like I just want to continue to create.

Alejandro Cremades: So 1 thing there that that I thought it was really interesting that you ah you you and I you know we’ve we’ve talked about it of line is how first time founders they think about product in second time founders they think about distribution. Why do you think that’s that happens.

Kurtis Lin: I think when you’re a first time founder you’re which is by the way. A great thing. You’re very idealistic right? You have this view of the world that you want to make a reality and you should never lose that that vision is like so critical to being a good leader and people people come to a company because they believe in your vision that you’re selling them. With that in mind you are like most people think about vision from a product perspective right? Like what does the world look like when we’re successful when you ask that question. It’s really hard to think about how does distribution get you to that any vision. It’s always about like what are we building that makes that reality happen. And so I think it’s only with all the scar tissue of having done it multiple times that you realize that the world is full of people. Society is full of people and the way that things go from 0 to one are that people have to decide that they want to use it and people have to use your product and then share it with the world. And so the distribution becomes a much more compelling thing to get to the true outcome that you’re looking for and I mean I’m sure a lot of b two b founders can relate to this I’m a consumer guy generally by like Dna I have had so many bd b deals done. Where the lesser frankly crappier product was picked because of the relationship because of the you know dynamic that exists between the businesses and it just really underlies the point that it’s not just the best product wins in the market. It’s just not true.

Alejandro Cremades: Now now in this case for you I mean you guys you know at least obviously I’m sure that as you were saying you guys would have done things differently there. Um, you know, but you ended up you know at least you know selling the ip and the technology which you know hey first say company first day outcome. And 1 thing led to the next you know you you find yourself in in San Francisco and eventually you know after being of always some startups there. You know you end up founding looks so how was that journey of of you know. Coming up with the idea you know the team and then all of a sudden you know you guys finally bring it to life.

Kurtis Lin: Yeah, so I will just clarify that my cofounder Curtis was really the like progenitor of the company and I and I joined him on that journey. So I fortunately can’t take the credit of being you know? ah 1 of the original founders of the business but the. The idea so I met Curtis through mutual friends and as we started to kind of talk and understand the business. The idea was just so compelling right? like you know when ah, there’s that famous Brian Chesky framework around like the 11 star experience right? and it starts with saying. What is a 2 star or is a 3 star. What is a 4 star or is a 5 star. Um, and let’s just not stop. There. What would an 11 star actually look like and very few products I think out there in the world really deliver that magical experience that make you truly say oh my god like that was amazing right. And so I remember actually trying the lux experience for the first time and for those who aren’t aware. Lots was basically on-demand valet parking so you’re driving around town. You can’t find a parking spot somebody drops or you drop a pit and a ballet comes to pick up your car for you and park it in a nearby garage and then whenever you want your car back whether it’s there or anywhere else. Just drop your pin again, they’re bring a cart back to you and that is a really magical expense if you can execute it well right? like I remember on our website we had this like wall of testimonials but we just had all these tweaks and there were like some of the most influential people in the valley were like oh my god like I tried watch. So first time this is incredible like this is real magic.

Kurtis Lin: And so I think if I just so felt too compelled by that experience and I was like I really want to be a part of this journey and so it was one of those you know fairy tale stories early on where we raised a bunch of we raised the seed at a and a b in very short order in about a year and a half um and so we learned so many incredible. Lessons there but 1 of the key ones I think is ah the experience while magical only gets you so far where sooner or later you have to pay the piper in the sense of it. You got to build a really foundational business that has great union economics and you know. As a lot of folks who work in on demand will tell you on demand business models are they’re tough. They’re like twenty four seven the margins aren’t great and you really have to like grind just to get them the the operational positive margin. You need to be successful. Um, but I I have such tremendous respect for all the operatives who build those types of businesses because they’re just sore right? Ah, ended up raising over 70,000,000 between the c the a and the b.

Alejandro Cremades: And with with looks how much capital did you guys raise.

Alejandro Cremades: And how I I mean we see the the first rounds of financings that that you were exposed to you know in this case, how was that journey especially during the first day. The first rounds.

Kurtis Lin: So I think ah because the experience was so this was kind of like you have to remember the context this was like ah 2014 or 2015 right? So this is like the uber for x era where everyone was really not sensitive yet to. Profitability it was more just like run the uber playbook at the scale and so between having this magical consumer experience and then having this huge tam because parking is a problem everywhere in the world. It was a really compelling story that like you know wasn’t necessarily one that was hard to to see and so I feel like. Frankly, the fundraising part was the part that was kind of part and parcel and pretty easy. The execution of the operational piece ended up. You know, being the the really hard part. But I mean you can you can sell that vision to a fifth grader right? It’s like imaginal world where you never have to worry about parking ever again. And everyone like I think like the key insight for us was you know how you always like to start with like the problem and then you talk with the solution. It was a problem that was universal to everyone even if you didn’t own a car as a kid. You know you’re sitting in the backseat. You think about your parents driving around and like oh there’s no parking spots and you just circle with a block and they over and over right? like that’s a problem that everyone can identify with and so it’s really easy to be able to say like we’re we’re solving that thing right.

Alejandro Cremades: Now in this case I mean obviously it ended up being a nice outcome. You know Volvo ended up buying the company. So at what point does volvo come into the picture and what was that the process like of of going through that acquisition.

Kurtis Lin: Yeah, it’s a really great question. So one of the things that we talk a lot about amongst you know my founder friends and I is this idea that companies are not ah sold. They’re bought and what that means is. You know if you if you’re going around shopping your business like that’s usually a bad time because the best deals are done because there’s a relationship built and somewhere along the way the buyer realizes that there’s such a strategicerative to you know. Acquire that business because it’s going to help them get to their goals much faster that it always is is preemptive or or largely organic right? It’s not like you’re like going around and saying somebody please might right? Those are never the best outcomes and I think ah, the same was was true for us where. All of these big auto oes have been reaching outuch for a long time. They get partnerships like we had 1 partnership with pche and Bmw and other ones and so we had built these relationships with folks including the ones at Bolo we were saying hey like imagine a world where any Volvo owner across the whole world can utilize this platform to get. Car picked up in service. They get their car washed. They get their car had to get like dry cleaning done and brought back to them, etc, etc. Grocery delivery. The the vehicle is an object that can do a ton of tasks. Especially if you’re not the one who has to be with it and there’s so many things you can do to create add-on services.

Kurtis Lin: And so I think they really bought that vision early on and then the key was really just continuing to show progress and the advancement of the platform to the point where they felt like one day they were like we really need this to fulfill our vision of the world and you know that is eventually when things start to come together.

Alejandro Cremades: So the acquisition ended up happening and what kind of clarity that give you into going through a really nice acquisition through ah you know with a nice you know acquire like Volvo I mean that’s ah you know some serious business when it comes to to a big corporation.

Kurtis Lin: I think I think it’s a great question because every founder I’ve talked to has gone through the exhibition process like you’re so tired by the end of the journey right? because you’ve been burning it at both ends for years and years you know seven days a week ah most waking hours of the day that the first moment that you actually get the deal sign and you’re just there is just like trying to unplug not unplug. Let me I think the best way to frame that is to just like step. 1 level back from that level of just like redlining all the time and once you can finally do so I think you started to like actually internalize the lessons that you learned along the way I think the the biggest thing was just ah, think about the average product cycle for vote. It’s. From inception to production release of a car is on average 7 years versus a software company where like that’s a couple hours right? So the whole like ethos of the way that the business is run is so fundamentally different. Because you got to get right? The first time and so they just this all these checks along the way versus the like super fast iterative motion that most startups go through especially if you’re a software solution and so it was really like ah a jarring culture shock for a lot of us like coming in and being whoa like this is a.

Kurtis Lin: Totally different way to operate but what it was also great. Is it kind of made us realize that ah there is a lot of operational excellence in big companies and so being able to get a dose of that and balancing The two was was really great and frankly I Think. Just seeing that platform take off and go global in a way that we we’re never going to do on our own was really cool to see too. So it really rewarding and it was a good closing of the chapter for for that to happen.

Alejandro Cremades: So Then let’s talk about closing of the chapter because after doing the typical vesting and resting you know for for Samis more resting in them for others but I’m sure that here it was hard work. But after that integration happened you know, Basically you know like you ended up. You know, coming up with your next idea with Pin Wheel. So How did the you know the idea come about here you know with your cofounder and how did you guys? Why did you guys think it was meaningful enough to take action.

Kurtis Lin: Yeah, so the first thing I’ll say is I have found this to be true of most founders that I’ve talked to I find myself to be what I call constitutionally unemployable meaning when I have a boss things. Don’t usually go well right? but. I don’t agree with what you’re saying I don’t agree with this approach. We gotta do it this way and you know for better or for worse I think I found that feeling of Oville too right? where it was like there were some amazing people there but I was just like wait. We gotta go this dimension guys come on and I’d be like well no, we have this plan let’s just follow the plan I was like I got I have this fire I have to you know, ah put out or at least feed I should say and so ah, when Curtis and I were at Voville we have both received hsa’s helped savings accounts for the first time and these whole savings accounts you realize are these super powerful financial vehicles. Because they have the triple tax protection and what we also realize is that they’re so hard to use. They’re often run by kind of like older incumbents that don’t really optimize around the consumer experience and people just often don’t have the money to actually prefund the account and use it so we realized you could actually solve that problem. If you just automated the whole experience. So basically what we did was we had people connect their spending accounts with an aggregator like platter finicity or what have you and then we built an algorithm that would monitor their transactions and whenever they made a qualified medical expense. We would flag. It.

Kurtis Lin: Go in their payroll system and just handle all the complexity so that they just got their tax savings added to their paycheck every month without doing any work and what we saw was you’re adding a thousand and two thousand dollars of free money into these people’s accounts every year that’s the difference between. Putting food on the table or making rent on time for a lot of people right? So we’re like we gotta this thing has the potential to really make a positive impact and on the world and so we took that and really kind of ran with it for a while and then interestingly one of the things that we encountered very early on was. We were spending all of our engineering hours. Not actually building product but just building integrations because we would have all these customers coming to us and saying hey this is an awesome idea I really want to use this but my my my company uses Adp or paychecks or workday or one of these other systems. You guys support us and we were like no have this very jenky beta with gusto that’s like duct tape together they’re like well can you you know, build support for us and so we’re looking around. We’re like there’s got to be some api up there that allows us to connect into all these payroll systems to make this thing happen automatically and then we realize that there wasn’t. So we built it ourselves just to power our own app and then this first really major inflection point came about for us where we realized that. Ah there were hundreds of thousands if not millions of other businesses out there both like 1 person fintech startups in their garage or the biggest banks in the world.

Kurtis Lin: That all needed programmatic access of the payroll systems because just think about what’s in there right? There’s such valuable information about who you are how much you make where you work what you pay in taxes. What your health benefits are imagine if that data was portable and could be shared with the consumer’s permission with the bank. Just think about all these you can do right? You can improve verification improve underwriting. You can do real-time use cases you can switch direct deposits the list goes on and on and once we had that realization. We’re like wait a second let’s kill the the hsa app and let’s just focus on becoming that infrastructure provider. Enabling all the players in financial services big or small to build the future of financial services. So it’s an Api and so the way that we make money is much like other apis in that there is a per api call or what we call a transaction fee model.

Alejandro Cremades: And how do you guys make money.

Kurtis Lin: And then we also have because a core part of the business is real-time use cases. Ah,, there’s also a component of it where there’s a subscription model where people can keep an account connected and monitor the account to see hey like is there been a change in their income is there a change in their employment, etc, etc. And that we charge a subscription fee Plus transaction I’m tough to So. It’s a really good question because I feel like anyone who is honest about fundraising in that time this was like.

Alejandro Cremades: Was it easier this time around to raise money.

Kurtis Lin: 19 to the beginning of 22 I mean this was like the the golden era for for founders right? and I think they had to be honest with yourself I would like to believe that I’m like an okay fundraiser but the truth of it is in that market like if you had a decent idea and you were you know Ah, a decent founder. it was kind of hard not to raise right like it was like and so I do think that while I don’t try to dispense advice because I think my experience on that was unique. Ah it goes back to the what we learned at locks which is it’s the storytelling piece right? like and 1 of the things that I just think is so under. Under Understoodd as um, a word but I guess misunderstood I should say is that selling as a skill is a universal thing that people don’t really realize right because think about what you do as a Ceo you have all these constituents you have your employees. You have your investors you have your customers. You have your partners you have you know all these other people in the ecosystem every single one of those folks you are selling something to you’re selling your employees the vision of what this could be become and the value of that equity in the long run you’re selling investors on the story and what their. Investments can return. You’re selling customers on this product working well and they’re making a big impact on their business. You’re selling partners on a shared business outcome with you. Both make a lot of money and and a really product a deep product synergy and for the but market you’re selling that the company is going to be this amazing outcome.

Kurtis Lin: And the number of ceos that I’ve met who you know don’t continue to refine that skill with each step. It’s kind of surprising to me because like that’s literally all you do all day long Year. You’re just selling right? And so I think very luckily because of what I’ve done in the past there was some element of just. Naturally and doing a lot of that that I helped with the fundraising process. But again it was ah it was a unique time that may never happen Again. We’ve raised 77,000,000 to Date. We raised the seed round from our great friends at Fresh Round capital.

Alejandro Cremades: And how much was saying how much have you guys raised late.

Kurtis Lin: Um, and Josh Kaelman for the folks in the and the market who know him along with our friends at upfront as well and our good friend. Greg Benelli there on the series a was from co 2 and the head of the fintech practice Michael Gilroy and then on the b was with ggv. Um, with our great friends Jeff Richards and Tiffany luck. So all amazing partners. Um, we have been really lucky that in our entire journey. We’ve been preempted and I’ve never actually done a real process before but I think again it goes back to what we talked about around m and a when you build relationships and you build them the right way. Ah. You’re constantly feeding your your your pipeline in a way that doesn’t require you to have to actually run a process if you I think do it? well.

Alejandro Cremades: Yeah, no kidding now. Obviously you know to all these investors. You know they saw clearly a vision that was compelling enough for them to you know offer you to lead you around and and to get around done now talking about that if you were to go to sleep tonight. And you wake up in a world where the vision of Pin wheel is fully realized what does that world look like.

Kurtis Lin: That is a fantastic question because we actually just talked about it again as a team at our all hands earlier this week so every single person on the team joined because they have a personal connection to the mission and something that I’m deeply proud of having as a central. Thread across every pitgilly on the team. So when you think about the world today especially in the financial services world. There’s this idea of credit bureaus and these credit bureaus are antiquated because they take ah a single number your Fico Score and they determine everything in your financial life with it. The problem with the bicos score is that it’s basically ah a record of historical performance right? And so when you think about any credit product. There’s 2 questions you always have to ask what is the customer’s willingness to pay and what is the customer’s ability to pay. We talk about.

Kurtis Lin: Willingness fico has been a like proxy for it and it’s okay, not great, but no one has ever actually tried to answer systematically this question of what is the customer’s actual ability to pay and the ability is actually way more important from a risk and undermining perspective and so when we think about this. Our long-term envision is to say we are trying to build the fourth bureau the income bureau so put aside Fico what really matters is answering this question about ability to pay and the way that we do so is by partnering with all of these different payroll providers to say you guys have this information put it into the hands of the customer. And allow them to make their like to bring it to the financial provider and get better financial products right? And so the example I always give is there are like teachers and nurses out there who have really stable jobs who’ve had the same job for four or five years and they have really really. Solid borrowing behaviors but their fico is like five fifty so anytime they go apply for a financial product. They get rejected automatically right? And what we’re saying is give them the information they’ve about the how much they make and how consistent it is give it to the lender at the point of decision. And they could be like actually these people even though they have a fico at five fifty because of the stable income are actually much closer to 7 50 in practice and we should actually feel comfortable lending for them and what we’re trying to do is fix this really broken credit system with a bureau that actually answers all the other questions and builds these really complete profiles.

Kurtis Lin: Versus trying to make all these decisions off of a single number that just doesn’t make any sense.

Alejandro Cremades: Beautiful, beautiful now we’re talking about the future here. So let’s talk about the past doing it with a lens of reflection. Let’s say I put you into a time machine and I bring you back in time I bring you back to that moment where you were still in new cla. You know, wondering what the hell you are going to do with your life after graduating but let’s say you know you had the opportunity of you know, having a sit down with that younger self and being able to give that younger self that younger Kurt 1 piece of advice before launching a business but would that be and why given what you know now.

Kurtis Lin: Wow, that is a really good question I feel like I have like a hundred things I want to tell them right? Ah, but I’m not gonna cheat I I think the most valuable piece of advice. I could say is ah just start I think I historically have always kind of struggled with this thing of like had this idea I overthink it or like oh was no way that’s going to work or whatever. And I’m a perfectionist by nature and so so much of myself is just like if I want to do something I want to do it right? and I think what makes a really good founder is someone who prioritizes progress over perfection like it’s better just to get something out. Just to learn and see and iterate and to be shameless about having a half baked thing out there than to sit there and say I’m gonna spend another six months on this thing to really make it happen because by the time it does the market has passed by someone else has done the same idea or you just don’t even. You have those ideas in your head that you haven’t even validated with customers and I think a lot of people some of the most exceptional people I know are perfection is by nature which is what makes them so good right? like their bar for what they consider to be a deliverable product is so high that it actually hinders you from being able to do anything.

Kurtis Lin: And I think like unlearning that um has been really hard especially because I’m sure a lot of the folks in your audience can relate being raised by. You know these 2 immigrant parents. They set the bar really high I remember I joke with my friends like when you bring home a a poor card full of a’s. The first question to my parents always asked me was like well why aren’t those a pluses and I’m like first of all, there was no a plus right like I got the highest score I could have gotten but it was just that mentality of like excellence is the expectation and I think that is good in many ways. But if you don’t unlearn a part of that. Then it actually prevents you from being able to be a really good entrepreneur and a really good leader.

Alejandro Cremades: I Love that you know I had a similar realization the importance of building on data versus building on assumptions and and look I think that you’re you’re right on on that now for the people that are listening. That would love to reach out and say Hi. What is the best way for them to do so.

Kurtis Lin: Ah, feel free to find me on Twitter at Curtis K U R T S J Lynn L I N um and also feel free to I love getting emails from anyone literally anyone and it’s current at

Alejandro Cremades: Amazing! Well hey Kurtis thank you so much for being on the deal maker show today. It has been an honor to have you with us.

Kurtis Lin: Thank you! The honor is online.

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