Neil Patel

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Nico Simko, is the co-founder and CEO of Clair, a fintech startup rewriting the rulebook on how paychecks are managed and accessed. His unique multicultural background and international education have lent an extraordinary perspective to his innovative approach in the finance industry.

The venture, Clair, has attracted $195 million in equity and debt funding from top-tier investors like Pathward, Upfront Ventures, Founder Collective, and Kairos HQ.

In this episode, you will learn:

  • The influence of Nico’s multicultural upbringing on the genesis of Clair
  • The challenges and triumphs encountered while building Clair
  • The journey towards securing investment and creating a successful team
  • Nico’s vision for Clair’s future and advice for emerging entrepreneurs.


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    About Nico Simko:

    Nico founded Clair in 2019, alongside two long-term friends, Erich and Alex. The three of them share a vision that the future of retail banking is to harness new data to understand end customers better. Nico’s relentless enthusiasm is what is turning this vision into a reality.

    Nico is originally from Switzerland and Argentina and is a third-generation entrepreneur. Previously at J.P. Morgan, Nico led the M&A due diligence process on a broad range of payments companies for the firm’s Wholesale Payments division. He managed M&A, investment, and partnerships due diligence on 10+ payments FinTechs with a combined valuation of >$25bn.

    Nico holds a B.A in Economics from Harvard University.

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    Connect with Nico Simko:

    Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:

    Alejandro Cremades: Um, alrighty hello everyone and welcome to the dealmakerr show. So today. We have a very exciting founder. You know it’s it’s amazing because you know we both have the ah spanish you know going on I think I have to say that I have a worst much worse accent than his you know so he definitely win on. Nailing it on speaking english not so much like myself you know I’m still intriing. But but again I think that we’re going to be learning a lot you know from his journey. You know, really remarkable. You know they’ve raised quite a bit of money in and building scaling financing all of that good stuff that we like to hear and so without further ado. Let’s welcome. Our guest today. Niko Shibco welcome to the show.

    Nico Simko: Um, thank you so much Aandro Mucharasia is very excited for this conversation. Thank you for having me.

    Alejandro Cremades: So so give us a walkth through memory lane because obviously you have the Argentineian you know vibe going on but obviously it was a little bit of Switzerland you know kicking in. So why? So how was life growing up.

    Nico Simko: Ah.

    Nico Simko: Growing up I didn’t know really where I was from because to make it even more complicated. My mom is french canadian my dad is argentine. They both got a job in Europe I was born there and I decided to do my studies in the Us. So by the time I showed up at the Us. It was a complicated question when people asked where are you from.

    Alejandro Cremades: You So then so then how how was that you know of having like that multi-cultural you know vibe going on and you know I guess that that probably you know gave you access to a different perspective and a way of seeing things mom.

    Nico Simko: Absolutely um I think that when you’re lucky to have multiple languages at home and multiple cultures kind of you know raising you and and and and switching around. Ah, you become a little bit more I would say having the luck of being open-minded because you see the world in a little bit more kind of ah multi-dimensional and multicultural and I think that’s that’s important for the work that I do today because ah you know we deal with 20 to 9 different industries people from all over the plays different ages and that’s just important.

    Alejandro Cremades: They So they tell us about coming to the Us How did that happen.

    Nico Simko: Um, absolutely I did not plan to come to the us in all transparency in high school I want I was preparing to go to medical school in the in in in Switzerland very good public school university system a. But I really like doing sports and I wanted to do to do sports and one of the great ways to do that is to come to the us and I applied early to to Harvard was lucky to get in and it was it was hard to say no after that.

    Alejandro Cremades: And so then so tell us about the experience of going into harvard. You know what was that like because obviously you know tons of history. You know innovation going on you know I’m sure that many classmates you know, went on to do to to go to do great things. So so how was that.

    Nico Simko: It was ah I mean Harvard was an amazing place. Um, it was you know I kind of came from a place where it was easy to get through school it put this way like you know it wasn’t too hard to to get grade. But then suddenly you were just an average student when you showed up there. Um, so that was a little bit. You know a little bit of a humbling ah humbling step. Um, but the people there were just fantastic. Ah you you meet people who you know one of my good friends is now a member of congress in Brazil another one is ah another startup founder. Um, another one is still in the labs doing research in physics and still in in what I would describe breaking atthems. But the nice thing is you have such a diversity of of backgrounds and of of intellectual interest that my favorite classroom which is getting lunch and ah with people from the class and just meeting people who have ah who have a different you know who had a different curiosity than mine. Let’s put it this way.

    Alejandro Cremades: So how was you know that the process like for you you know graduating you know from Harvard and obviously you got your degree there in economics. But then you decided to follow course for corporate America it doesn’t sound that that was as exciting you know to you because you know you ended up being. You know, branching off and doing your own thing but but I mean working at Jpmorganforthreeyears I’m sure that that you know, kind of like open up your I guess your your your way of seeing things now because seeing one of those banks big banks in action and seeing how they work you know I’m sure that that was quite an experience for you.

    Nico Simko: Yeah I I was really debating what to do after school but I felt like going to a big company that had a structured ah ah training program for recent graduates was the right decision for me. Um I felt like.

    Nico Simko: I wasn’t really closing any doors by joining a you know banking training program for twelve weeks and then joining a desk ah and the real secret is when you’re an international student. You don’t have that many options and not that many places sponsor visas for for international students and so especially at the time when I did it. Um, and so for me jp Morgan was a good idea I was lucky there to find a great boss that made me really love one side of this which is the payments and and the and core payments I would say industry and the base at which it was innovating was just so fast. Ah, that it kind of gave me a bunch of ideas and and and the rest is history.

    Alejandro Cremades: Um, so tell us about that moment where all of a sudden you know the idea of branching on your own and and becoming an entrepreneur I mean how did that come about because I’m sure that. You know when you spoke with your parents you know and they had seen that you had followed the incredible you know journey of Harvard and then jp morgan 1 of the top banks and then all of a sudden you call them and you’re like guides you know I’m ah getting my notice. It’s time to ah. You know work out of my bedroom or basement or whatever that was I’m sure that they were like are you sure you want to do this.

    Nico Simko: I mean into this. So it’s funny because for about a year before I before I left my job I would not stop on every single callult you know I think I lost friends I lost family members. My parents were like oh my god he’s boring us to death with this idea of a cart that pays people faster and it could be this huge thing and. And so for about a year I did it so I think by the time that I said I’m quitting and I’m doing it are like well thank god because probably he’s not going to call us a little less and tell us he’s about to do it but he’s going to be a more human you know more normal human being I was lucky that they were they were supportive like obviously you know everybody was very transparent that. You know I took all my savings put in the company. It’s ah it’s ah ah, it’s a huge financial risk that you’re taking but I was up for it because I couldn’t stop thinking about this opportunity and kind of the opportunity drove me out of my my desk at at work unless like I just. Have no idea we’ll figure out I just want to be an entrepreneur that was absolutely not my case I knew exactly what I wanted to build. It is still what we have today today we have you know 7000 businesses using it. But the the idea was pretty simple. Is. You know if you should have a bank that allows you to get your paycheck.

    Alejandro Cremades: So what was that.

    Nico Simko: Ah, whenever you want as long as you’ve worked the hours. The idea that you need to wait two weeks for your paycheck is is is ludicrous and you should find your bank should should offer you the ability to as you clock out of work to get your money right now and that was it.

    Alejandro Cremades: So then? so then I guess for the people that are listening. You know you were talking about the early Days. You know the the lack of you know, perhaps time to to focus on friends or you know relationships like the sacrifices. What ended up being the business model for the people that are listening. You know to really get it. How are you guys making money.

    Nico Simko: Yeah, the business model is um, imagine that you had a hundred work at ah at a at a restaurant where they’re here in New York and you will use every single day a system to clock in and out. It’s usually in ah and an app that you download in your phone. But what will happen one day is you’re going to see a button ah called Claire inside that app and it says today you earned $100 if you wanted right now sign up for this new bank and you can get your money whenever you want and you see that button every day because you click in and out of that app. At some point you say well let me try it out so you open a bank account takes less than 5 minutes and you decide how much you want to get paid every single paycheck on that bank account. Let’s say put 50% of your paycheck and let’s say that is call it a thousand dollars um and then what happens is we’re going to give you every single time you clock out. Ah 50% of your pay immediately. And and that’s it and that makes the reward system excellent. So if you’re starting a new job and that’s say you need to buy a suit ah or you need to buy new shoes that allows you to not have to wait two weeks to do to get your money you can get it immediately and it’s free. All we ask that you do is you bank with us. The bank is free. We have great, great, great. Ah great features in it. But the whole experience is free because we become your primary bank account.

    Alejandro Cremades: So So I guess you know for something like this. It’s not easy because I know you’re dealing with the uncertainty but then also you’re dealing with the Regulatorvoly restrictions as Well, right? So How has it been. You know the balance of both and then also really making sure that you guys were. You know, walking that thin line you know with proper diligence.

    Nico Simko: Yeah, fintech, especially when you’re on the fin side of of fintech which is really building financial services. You can just go fast and break things you have your lawyer in-house and your compliance team is as important as the engineer that wants to go and build everything yesterday. Um, and ah and and we we kind of looked at it from a perspective of assume we have a million people using this. What is the infrastructure that we need and then we went to Mastercard. We went to a bank so that they could hold Fc insured accounts. Ah. Ah, we went ahead and found an ah atm partner and so we started all of these relationships and all of them were the legal contract and then we signed that we got everything settled and then there was what we call Apis which is the ability for us to pull all of these data together in a simple experience. Um, and then that’s how we launched the product. But yes, it was not easy. It’s very difficult.

    Alejandro Cremades: Um, so how was also the journey of raising money because you know something like this I’m sure he was capital intensive.

    Nico Simko: Yes, it is capital intensive the we’re lucky to have fantastic investors with us and a lot of them realize that you know banking especially for hourly workers is kind of on average, really pretty crap. They get. Ah usually they still use. I would say banks that haven’t really innovated in many years so they don’t get great features. Um, and so they they see that like if you’re able to have a good wedge on distribution and a differentied product. You can build 1 of the most category defining companies out there and so for us raising the capital was telling the story and finding the right investors. Ah but it was not easy. Many companies I think fail at that stage. We were just lucky to find the right investors and I think we got a very concise and simple story to tell them.

    Alejandro Cremades: Um, so so how much capital have you guys raised to late.

    Nico Simko: We raised $45000000 in equity and one hundred and fifty million dollars that’s available to make advances to consumers.

    Alejandro Cremades: So what? how does that work. What what does that balance you know, look like you know on raising equity versus you know the money that you guys are using for the actual operations of the business.

    Nico Simko: Yeah, equity is Vc so you go to venture capital funds and you just raise money some of it can be on on safe notes. It was. It was a fraction of what we raise as on safe notes and then most of it is what we what you do like as priced rounds so you have 1 lead investor usually the bigger one that takes a good chunk of the of the round we did that over three rounds. Um, and since our inception and then they lead around and then ultimately that’s how you get you get the funding on the on the consumer lending program that is money that basically sits within our partner bank pathword that is allocated to program. And then what you have to do there is get licenses in many states to be a subservicer. Um, you need to go the way down to like you know going through audits. Ah, there is also ah you know an underwriting and risk committee that you have to to build and that is reviewed by the bank. And then that takes about a year and a half or two years to get done and then when that’s done then the program launches and now you have the money available to advance.

    Alejandro Cremades: Um, so so how does it? How does it also change like obviously you’ve you’ve raised quite a bit of money. How does it change to on the corporate structure side. What does it look like like pre you get money post now you know more formality going on on the corporate structure.

    Nico Simko: Yeah, so the way we went a very typical route which is what we did is for every large round that we went through if there was a new investor. They would be joining the board so me and my cofounders we are. Managing managing the the you know the the board of directors at the company from ah from ah organizational structure and then the investors would just get a seat on the board. Um. So for example, we’re 3 co-founders. We have 3 seats and then we have 2 other lead investors. 1 of them led 2 rounds and then they each have a seat so we have 3 seats for the founders and the employees of the company and then 2 seats for for the investors and that’s how we make decisions. We meet probably quarterly. We usually meet more often informally but we meet quarterly with where we review documents we discuss strategy and that’s the oversight that they give us.

    Alejandro Cremades: Um, and how do you you know, prepare them to have like effective dynamics like how do you prepare an effective board meeting. For example.

    Nico Simko: It’s it’s a great question and I think we’ve we’ve tried to to build it the right way I think you could talk to maybe a dozen founders. You’ll get 14 answers because it’s it’s difficult to do um in our case, what I like to do is there is a factual review of data. Ah, that needs to be done before the meeting. It doesn’t happen during the meeting and that’s usually a deck so the deck is a couple pages. It usually is very similar tables from quarter to quarter because you can just track how it’s going. It’s not just fresh data and I’ve never seen before um and then there’s what I like to call a memorandum. So the Memorandum sits next to the deck. And that Memorandum is me with the management team choosing topics. We need to talk about. So for example, if we’re going into a new segment and we want to look at the customer acquisition cost versus the value of the user then we’ll actually talk about the different methodologies. We’ve taken and if we think it’s worth continuing to invest. Investing less waiting a little bit more to see more data and then we’ll have an advice of like what the management things. What are the risks what are theitigans and then they will be able to this will drive a conversation because one of the conversation will be understanding the management position and then they will also give perspective and what we do is we select topics right. Ah, we select the topics. We tell them. This is what we want to talk about usually a week before board meeting I do call the 2 external board members and I’m like hey guys remember we have a board meeting What do you want to talk about by the way. So I just and usually I know what they want to talk about and I just included within one of the topics and we have usually 4 or 5 topics board meeting last two and a half hours we go through all of them.

    Nico Simko: And that’s enough for a quarter.

    Alejandro Cremades: Um, and I guess say you know as part of this thing I mean on the way that you guys also structure yourselves. You know the founding team I mean how did that look like at the beginning too on on how you guys were distributing responsibilities.

    Nico Simko: Yeah I think that? um so one of our cofounders just became a board member. He ended up you know, doing something house professionally. Um, so we’re 2 of the founders that are operating at the company. Um, ah Alex my cofounder is responsible for everything linked to growth. So we have a lot of partnerships with payroll system workforce management system. So he manages that effectively as cro of the company and then I’m responsible for with him and the board of course the strategy of the company combined with fundraising and general management of the of the company. So hiring the product team the engineering team. The legal team. Um, the customer support team and then finding the right talent and then just driving the right kpis for the business that is how we split the work.

    Alejandro Cremades: Um, and then what about what about the? um I guess like like like the trends that you’re seeing you know around this you know what are you seeing where where things are heading like from from you guys adjusting.

    Nico Simko: Um, you mean from a product perspective or from a management perspective. Yeah.

    Alejandro Cremades: From from like the company from Claire like really adjusting itself to whatever the market is is is asking from it.

    Nico Simko: Yeah, it’s broad question I’d say like the way I think about it um is the crux of a successful company is its ability to adapt so it has to be within your Dna that anybody is willing to like Trump on. Ah. Thing that is growing quickly whether it is you do a test. It works super well and now you need to triple down on it because that way you can you can reach your goal six months early um so the structure of the business requires from ah from the board all the way down to every single employee to wake up every day knowing. Things will change but it and there’s a lot of people who love this I was very bored ah a lot on my job before I did this and I wanted an environment that moved a lot more. It really depends personalities. We’ve had. We’ve had employees come here and we didn’t like it. We’ve had employees who wanted a very clear path. Over the next three years of how to get a promotion and you know exactly what they’re going to be doing for the next year and have a yearly budget that’s not really what a startup you know looks like and and some people love it and we find the people who love it and we find the people who strive in that environment but it’s not easy.

    Alejandro Cremades: Um, I hear you I hear you and now when it came to for example, like the um, the team now I mean we’re talking about investors and and obviously people is everything when you’re building a company like this what what kind of talent. Do you typically go from and is it like. Typically more engineering you know is what you go for is more on the growth side and then you figure out you know, like the way that you go about building things you know to surround that so how are you guys really thinking about building the um, the human power behind Claire.

    Nico Simko: Um, yeah.

    Nico Simko: Yeah, So I think that a lot of founders make the mistake of starting just with the hey what team do I need well. The question is a little bit different is like what problem are you solving for your customer and then if let’s say in our cases they need better banking then a question is like Okay, what’s the product. Then you know. Okay so to wage advanced product and it’s how do you distribute it. That’s the second part and it’s like well we’re going to do it with workforce management and payroll companies. It’s like okay if that’s the case on the workforce management payroll companies you need somebody to do the sale and do the marketing to them then once they signed you need basically and then you need a lawyer to sign to sign the contract. Then you need a team that will implement it so you need an implementation team and then on the on the product side. You need a bank with ah with with a lending program so you need a really good backend engineering Team. You need a good,. Really good quality assurance engineering Team. You need designers to design the front end. And then you need someone like me to sit down and say this is what the product vision looks like so then they can bring it to life and then you need really somebody really good operationally and then you need help on the finance side and then all of these things can come at different times right? like at the very beginning you need a really strong vision for the product because if without that you don’t have anything then you also need the funding and once you have the funding and the vision. Then you need a few engineers and designers to bring the Mvp to market and then you need a team that’s like you know to take over some of the stuff that I do away so I can focus on what’s the next step for the business instead of being bucked down into into writing decks for sales or or you know doing sprint reviews with my engineers.

    Alejandro Cremades: And I heard you say the word vision a few times there which brings me to my next question which is imagine you were to go to sleep tonight and you wake up in a world where the vision of claire is fully realized what does that world look like.

    Nico Simko: Yeah, it’s very simple. We have vast majority of America’s workforce ah that primarily banks with us. We give them everything that they need from credit from from general banking from the ability to get cash from. Understanding of their own finances. We want to bank the vast majority of America’s workforce

    Alejandro Cremades: Um, so I guess and in in this case too. I mean we’re talking about the the future right? and and I want to talk about also the past no but but doing so with a len of reflection I mean if if you could go back in time. You know you’ve been doing this now since 2019 so obviously you know a bunch of you know, really good lessons and and things along the way that you’ve encounter but let’s say you had the opportunity of going back to Harvard you know, maybe you’re there in Cambridge where you’re like learning about business and all of this good stuff and you had the opportunity of going into one of those classes.

    Nico Simko: Here.

    Alejandro Cremades: And then you’re able to sit down next to your younger self and you’re able to whisper to your ear one piece of advice before launching a business. What would that be and why given what you know now.

    Nico Simko: Um, Wow, That’s a great question. Um, a simple one go take more engineering classes especially computer computer science engineering classes and go take some design classes. Um the interaction between humans and Computers is unbelievably. Complicated because of the level of Simplicity. You need to create and simplicity is really really, really hard to pull off in a complex environment especially in financial services. So That’s I think what I would say like go figure it out out and you know do more effort to know this? Um I think that the. The advice that I would give them is. It’s all about people. Um because it always is whether it is on the B Two B sales side whether it’s your team focus on the people. Ah sometimes you get bucked down into. Ah.

    Nico Simko: Whatever it is like group debates and and and and things that are you know that that you can waste your time on but the idea is give clarity to people about what you want and really find a way to enable them the best possible I be a better psychologist Maybe but the idea is. People are not computers. They have emotions a lot of humans make decisions based on emotions on a facts create a great environment for them to work and focus on that as early as possible I think I didn’t do that Super well early on and it just now it’s better and I still have a way to go. But I would give that as a recommendation by myself.

    Alejandro Cremades: In in going back to the comment of engineering and design. Why do you find them so important and how do you think about the blend of both for Claire.

    Nico Simko: Yeah I mean everybody else at the company creates work as in but the people who do the work and get the work done as the engineers. Um, they just take work off your plate. They don’t put more work on your plate. So. Finding engineers who like like the problem you’re working on are able to be their own product managers and are willing to sit down with designers support the world of the world. The responsibility of designers is different um designers have a a very important role which is they need to convert a. Vision into a usability product if you’re a consumer product right? Like how does that come to life. Ah, you can see great products right? Like think about Skype Skype had all the market share. You can think of of telling communication via computers. Why is zoom such a big thing. Ah, because their product is better and it’s better designed. That’s it is because it’s that easier to to manage the way they have the linking the way they have the exposure the way they have the effects. The also the quality ah of of the of the of the media it breaks less. That’s maybe an engineering question but design is so important because. At the end of the day you’re servicing humans not computers and so the importance of design is very very high.

    Alejandro Cremades: I Hear you now there’s probably a lot of people that I mean this is fascinating but there is probably a lot of people that are thinking the same way and I’m sure that they will love to reach out and say hello to you So what is the best way for them to do so nico.

    Nico Simko: So the best way to do that is just shoot me an email at Nikco and ico at getclair that’s getcla IRDotCom so that’s niko at getclare.com um reach out love meaning other entrepreneurs or people who have who have ideas. Um. It’s ah ah, it’s a lot of effort but it is feasible and the train passes and you have to grab it when it’s there.

    Alejandro Cremades: I love it. Well Nicole thank you so much for being on the dealmaker show. It has been an honor to have you with us today.

    Nico Simko: Um, thank you so much Alekandro have ah have a good evening.

    *****

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