Richie Serna learned the value of hustling early on in life. That has certainly paid off in raising over $100M for his own startup that is fueling the future of financial services with billions of transactions.
During our interview on the DealMakers podcast, Serna talked about how he learned to embrace the no’s to achieve great breakthroughs.
As well as his top book recommendations for entrepreneurs, the most important questions he asks when interviewing candidates, and fight club moments.
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Work Hard, Don’t Take No For An Answer
Richie Serna’s parents immigrated to the US from Mexico back in the 60s and 70s. They landed in the real Orange County.
Not the glamorous OC you see on reality TV. They met in Santa Ana, where Richie spent his early days growing up.
He saw his parents work hard, and always strive to be the best at whatever jobs they had. His mother was serious about getting him a good education and into better schools.
That included her camping out, outside of an elementary school to get him into the lottery for a chance to get out of some of the worst schools in California.
She was never afraid to leap and go to wherever she needed to give him more opportunities.
That included going to every principal over in Irvine with his grades to try to get him into a better high school. She just wouldn’t give up, even in the face of being told no many times.
This certainly paid off for her and ingrained in him the value of perseverance when it comes to growing yourself and pitching your startup.
This mindset landed him a spot all the way on the east coast at Harvard. A move his grandmother didn’t understand, since there was a community college right across the street from their home in Southern California.
Arriving in Boston he was certainly awe-struck by the culture, architecture and school. He thought to himself “If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere.”
Fight Club Moments
Richie Serna’s next step was to try out a few different internships.
He actually started out with the Los Angeles mayor’s office. He was tasked with working on Gang Reduction and Youth Development.
That summer they were investing in resources in nine of the most dangerous parts of LA. For the first year ever, they didn’t record a single murder or single shooting. He says there weren’t many places to fear going after having spent time there.
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Then he dove into stints in investment banking and consulting. Two specialties that turn out a lot of highly successful entrepreneurs.
From investment banking, he says he learned how hard you can really push yourself. How much you can actually take working those notorious 100 hour weeks back to back. In consulting, he says he benefited from learning to think in frameworks and structures.
Consulting also meant getting to stay in fancy five-star hotels on the road and being given $100 a night to eat out on steak. Not a bad life many many standards, and he was appreciative of everything he was learning.
Then one night, during the middle of the Occupy Wall Street protests Richie found himself in his hotel room watching the movie Fight Club.
He recalls the scene where “Edward Norton is sitting there, and he’s complaining about his life and how his life has basically become him looking at the IKEA catalog and thinking about the different things that he can buy and what else he can do for interior design to numb the fact that he’s not very happy.” That threw Richie into a quarterlife crisis in his mid-20s.
The clock was just tick, tick, ticking very slowly. His life was just ticking away and he knew there must be something else out there with more meaning.
So, he put his gloves on and set out to find something new.
He was beaten back by no’s from a dozen of more job interviews, of which at least one has now ironically become an investor in his own startup.
Trading Steak Dinners For Chipotle & Learning To Code
Before the lush lifestyle of consulting Richie had grown up without having a lot of luxuries. He was perfectly happy back then, so wasn’t afraid of thrusting himself into something new and starting from scratch.
His friends didn’t get it, and couldn’t imagine why he would give it up and risk beginning over from the ground up. Yet, he found a $30 a night hacking house in San Francisco where he could learn to code. He thought he could still afford two years to learn this new skill, and would have the rest of his life to apply it. Considering the journeys he had already taken, he didn’t really see it as a risk at all.
He thought he could still afford two years to learn this new skill, and would have the rest of his life to apply it. Considering the journeys he had already taken, he didn’t really see it as a risk at all.
When he was introduced to cofounder of payments startup Balanced, Jareau Wadé, they immediately hit it off. Richie says he was happy just to work for food and to learn in an environment of talented engineers.
He spent a little over two years, being the first one in the office in the morning, and the last one to leave at night.
When the company was acquired by Stripe, Richie was tasked with helping their customers make the migration. In the process, he was amazed to find some of their customers raising big money from well-known VCs. He started to investigate it, and found their vertical SaaS customers were those that were growing the fastest. This was the lightbulb moment that would eventually turn into his own venture.
He started to investigate it and found their vertical SaaS customers were those that were growing the fastest. This was the lightbulb moment that would eventually turn into his own venture.
After the TechCrunch article was published announcing the Stripe acquisition he began to get a lot of inbound interest from these companies wanting to pay him to help them.
This action was the segue into launching Richie’s startup Finix, a payments infrastructure company that licenses to vertical SaaS businesses.
Finix has already raised over $100M in capital. They’ve attracted top-level investors like Bain, Sequoia and Lightspeed. Their team grew by more than 5x last year, with expectations to double their headcount this year. They are processing billions of dollars in payments around the globe.
Storytelling is everything which is something that Richie Serna was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) where the most critical slides are highlighted.
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Listen to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- Raising a Seed round after 70 no’s from investors
- How to build your network to get funded
- His top three pieces of advice of other entrepreneurs
- The five books he recommends that you read
- Two of the most important questions he asks when hiring