Todd McDonald is the cofounder of R3 which is financial innovation firm dedicated to the design and deployment of DLT to build the new operating system for financial services. The company has raised over $120 million from top tier investors including Intel Capital, Temasek Holdings, and 40 other top tier banks.
In this episode, you will learn:
- How a seasoned Wall Street trader navigated the transition from finance to the world of fintech, harnessing the power of blockchain technology.
- How the Co-founder of R3 embarked on a unique approach to starting his company, prioritizing customers’ needs before product development.
- The challenges faced during the company’s fundraising journey, which included securing support from key investors and managing challenging experiences.
- The importance of developing strong investor relations and demonstrating long-term value as key strategies for successful fundraising.
- Insights into the future of R3 and its mission to enable an open, trusted, and enduring digital economy, including their pioneering work in modernizing market infrastructure and partnering with central banks.
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.
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 Todd McDonald:
Todd is Co-Founder, Chief Strategy Officer for R3. Todd co-founded R3 in 2015 and was one of the first to uncover the promise of blockchain technology for the financial services industry and beyond.
In his current role, Todd is responsible for R3’s product and marketing strategy, aligning key markets and customers to drive the longer term strategic roadmap for Corda. He also served on the Hyperledger Governing Board where he oversaw all project business and marketing matters. Todd, alongside fellow leaders in the crypto assets sector, founded The Global Digital Finance (GDF) industry body to release an industry code of conduct to drive sustainable crypto assets innovation.
Prior to R3, Todd spent fourteen years at Standard Chartered Bank as a Managing Director in their financial markets group where he held positions such as Global Head of Electronic FX Trading and Head of FX for the Americas. Todd holds a BA in Economics and Political Science from Colgate University, NY.
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Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
Alejandro: Alright, hello everyone and welcome to the dealmakerr show. So today. We have a very exciting founder. You know he a founder that has been pushing. You know his company for a few years now and unbelievable the stories that we’re going to be learning from him you know building scaling financing bootstrapping all the way to. You know, getting their first rounding place having investors pulling out near- death experiences full of adrenaline. So I think we’re gonna really enjoy this one and find it quite inspiring so without fartherdo. Let’s welcome. Our guest today taught Macdonald welcome to the show so borning Connecticut you know what? a wonderful state.
Todd McDonald: Um, Alejandro thanks for having me.
Alejandro:nNo to be to be raised. No so give us a walk through memory lane. How was life growing up.
Todd McDonald: Ah, life grown up I ah, you know we actually ah recently did ah a bit of an executive coaching session. Everyone got stock about their childhood. It was. It was very therapeutic and when it came around to me I said you know what I had a great childhood I lived in a bucolic setting in middle of Connecticut um, and had about. 40 different cousins around me all the time wandering around sort of like kind of like Mayberry like the the classic classic story. Um, yes, it was was was a lot of fun in between Boston and New York so depending on which side of the fence you’re on you got to either love or hate the red sox and the Yankees it was a great childhood.
Alejandro: Now in your case you know you you decided to blend economics on Political science. Well, that’s quite the blend. How did that come about.
Todd McDonald: Oh back in well I was ah a benefit of a liberal arts education at ah, colate university 1 thing they don’t teach you ah or they don’t tell you about Colgate when you go there even though they have no finance classes a very large percentage of folks wind up on wall street. So i. I stumbled upon ah the same path as well. Starting on wall street and back in 96 right around the time when I first started on on the trading desk people were still smoking and there was probably 1 computer per 3 people by the time I left that industry. Um. Definitely the cigarettes were gone and the computers were replacing most of the people as well.
Alejandro: Now in your case. How do you stumble up upon trading because it sounds like trading you know has been and the fintex side of things you know has been a ah big one for you. So how do you stumble up up upon that thing that segment.
Todd McDonald: Yeah, so I was ah quite fortunate to get ah into a training program at ah at a bank called standard sharded. It’s a big emerging market bank and and pretty early on you get to look across the trading floor and you see who’s who’s having a good time who’s who’s ah, who’s really making it happen and I think more importantly. Who got a chance to sit sit down on the desk and read the New York post around 3 in the afternoon after the trading was died down and I decided pretty early on that’s the where I wanted to get to and I’m very fortunate to start right at the same time as the asian financial crisis. So whether they wanted to or not they had to throw me into the deep end which was fantastic and. From there ah got to travel around the world got to live and work in in Singapore and in London um, it was a fantastic experience. Um, it’s amazing to be be your own boss every day you have that p and l staring you in the face. You know it’s a good or a bad day. Um, so it’s somewhat similar to when you start a company those highs and lows those ups and downs. Ah, but just a little bit more tangible I would say than going from one one good meaning to 1 bad meaning when you’re trying to start a company.
Alejandro: Now your case you know with standard charter bank. You were within for a long time. You know I mean we’re talking about 14 years or more so why? so long I mean what? what was that the future that you were living into that was’s so exciting that kept you sticking around for so long.
Todd McDonald: Yeah.
Todd McDonald: Well, ah one secret is that I actually did leave for a period of time I I left left my job. Um and tried to travel the world to see what else was out there and then and then eventually came back which gave me ah a great appreciation for for for that role for the ah for the industry. Um. Re-energized me so after that first six years I came back for another 8 but towards the end I’d say the big part of what made me move on to the next chapter for of my career was I guess 2 things 1 getting a little bit of a taste at what I think later was called fintech was able to to work on some projects to bring technology to finish markets while while standardchartered. Um, and 2 um I guess the wild west mentality of of fx emerging market started to wane a little bit into 14012 of the the advantages of being a trader is you never really had to go to meetings and in 2011 I kept getting invited to meetings and every time there was 2 people invited to those meetings Dodd and Frank. And so you know that sort of ah regulatory mindset was really starting to put a bit of a pall on that whole industry. So it was time for me to see what else was out there and and kind of leaving my job the first time gave me the confidence to leave my job the second time to see what else was out there and see if there was a path to be found. Try and bring together an understanding of how markets work on how finance works and hopefully an understanding how to apply technology to it.
Alejandro: So eventually bitcoin and blockchain you know comes knocking you know into your radar and that really was a pivotal moment in your professional career. So how how do you? What? Why did you find you know that’s so powerful. You know to the point that they perhaps you know it, they it push you.
Todd McDonald: Yes, yeah.
Alejandro: You know, path out that you’re in now.
Todd McDonald: So part of it was from a trading perspective. The first time I ever stumbled upon ah bitcoin I looked at it as probably the most beautiful chart I’ve ever seen um of something it was around $150 at the time and annoyingly I couldn’t figure out how to buy it. This was 2000 february 2013 ah things like coinbase was just starting and the ah the only way you can really purchase bitcoin was by meeting someone you know ranging to meet somebody on a street corner which wasn’t really what I was into um that forced me to to really try and read up on on it and try to figure out what was going on. And that led me down this rabbit hole which ah which a lot of people eventually fell down around the technology underneath it around blockchain technology the things that it could do and 13 is when we I was exploring. This was not really a topic that came up that often. So ah, it. Ah, it definitely would. Ah, lead to a few puzzled looks when I would bring it up in conversations and meetings and fortunately my current business partner David Rudder is a Ceo and the other co-founder here at r three um I was able to to really sort of you know, buttonhole him a couple times to try to scott describe. What was going on within crypto. But more importantly, what what blockchain technology potentially could mean to things that we knew which were which were capital markets and investment banking and just you know commercial banking generally.
Alejandro: So how that say 1 thing led to the next thing you know for you guys to get going with our 3 I mean you were a professional you know and employed by large corporations you know and other companies and then all of a sudden you know like being on on chip I mean that’s quite a scary.
Todd McDonald: Yeah.
Todd McDonald: Yeah, it’s definitely a big change of pace and I think both yeah for for David and I and and the others that were involved at the time I think we had the benefit of a couple of things one we we were early to a different point of view that um on the space too. We tried to kind of start the company backwards we tried to start with customers first and then and then build a product around them and then three we try to take our time and try and build a value prop and try and build a company at and ah in a certain pace I mean it was definitely a huge change. Ah we were um. We were working out of a borrowed office. You know we had to ah we had to get out. You know we painted the walls with whiteboard paints. We had no windows in the one office we were borrowing from another fintech startup. Um, we had 1 conference room that we if 3 people stood stood up. They can fit into um but. Were persistent on a consistent theme and in it and also leveraging existing contexts that David had from his decades of experience especially within the principal strategic investment arms of of ah banks and I think the last part is an Eljara I think this is a common theme. You have to be kind of. A little bit early. You have to have a specific and strong point of view and you have to be lucky with timing and we got very lucky with timing around twenty fifteen the concept of blockchain technology hit wall street in a big way and we were very fortunate to be there and also be there with a structure that at the time banks could get behind.
Todd McDonald: And that’s really was the spark for what became R three.
Alejandro: So tell us about our three early days you know and more more importantly I guess for the people that are listening to get it. Why ended up being the business model of r three. How are you guys making money. Okay.
Todd McDonald: Yeah, yeah.
Todd McDonald: Yeah, so what we are today versus what we started obviously ah with a lot of companies. It’s it’s quite different. We ended up starting the company and bootstrapping in in a fairly unique way. We did not go to the banks and look to raise around initially. In fact, we said the opposite we said. We think that this technology is going to be impactful to your business. We’re not 100 % sure why but come on a journey with us trying to figure that out and we need to be funded in some way but we put a structure in front of them to say pay a consulting fee. We called it a membership fee for about a year or so and within that year we as the. Very few employees at r three hopefully we’ll build enough value that you can roll that initial fee structure into an investment round. So we bet on ourselves and bet that we would create enough value for the banks to come along on that journey. Um, it was exciting. We had monthly steering committee meetings where we would have regularly have seventy eighty bank executives across a big conference call in different rooms within New York and London trying to give them updates on what we were doing while we in the background in our 3 had about 8 people working for us at the time trying to create value for the for the likes of bank of America and Barclay’s and and these other large organizations. Um, but it allowed us to start building up a team and then we then we got also got lucky. We build up a technology team. We hired a few people that were really escaping from the crypto world and started to build the technology build up what became corda which is our underlying ah blockchain technology platform today.
Todd McDonald: That’s all started 2015 2016 while we were trying to actually solidify our 3 as a company and and get to an equity funding round.
Alejandro: And what was that like towards how get into product Market fit to the moment that you’re like my God you know like this this has legs.
Todd McDonald: So there is it is um, a process you know, just getting to getting to the starting point of of getting the funding done was was tough getting those initial supporters to back us um, longer term was tough. We were. We started as a bank consortian but we’re not that today we’re a software company so making sure not only that we bring people along to on that investment but also that we aren’t forced on the first day after the investment is closed to become a utility because that’s not the purpose for our 3 we’re not ah, we’re not a utility we’re we’re a a software company. Ah, through that process. We had a few near-death experiences trying to get that round done. Um, we also were trying to understand was the best way we could ah serve the industry from the product perspective. That’s why we ended up building Corda which is um, a different approach to what other blockchains were pursuing. It was. Was trying to be built so that it could ah preserve privacy and transactions. It can be built ah in a way that was scalable for um, say the us equity market to be cleared and settled on it which is one of the projects that we work on with with dtcc at the moment. Um and eventually where we can be the platform where. A nation’s currency can be issued and that’s what we’re working on with lots of different central banks including centralbank of the ue is one of the big projects that we were working on today. Ah so it was really trying to get past that innovation round with an early customers get past that the innovation budget.
Todd McDonald: With the banks and get into the the true pay and L centers that was really what what we needed to do as a company to to be sustainable.
Alejandro: And in your case say how much capital have you guys raised to date to tell us about a raise of money.
Todd McDonald: So we’ve only had 1 funding round that was closed in in May of 2017. It was a little over 100 and and 20000000 ah 46 investors on our cab table 41 or so are our banks. As I mentioned mainly that the the psi folks at at banks and we also have ah tamasek and Intel Capital and a few other sort of strategic investors I think with tamase was great to have on board. Um, potentially one of their smallest checks they’ve ever written but probably the same amount of due diligence they had to do in order to get there. Um. So it was you can imagine. It was really tough because we wanted to make sure that we didn’t get saddled with a bureaucratic operating agreement a bureaucratic board structure and we’ve done a lot over the years to make sure that that was the case our first board meeting had 31 people at the board meeting. Um, that’s no way to to try and. And manage a company longer term but we’ve evolved that over time with our investors and with our board to a much more functioning board now which is fantastic. Um, but it was really tough because there was a lot of cats to herd back then and and you know banks. You know there are some free thinkers but a lot of them. They they move in a herd and so keeping that herd together ah was really really critical and you know early days. We you know even I recall trying to get this round done and waking up one morning and seeing an article in the wall street journal. Ah.
Todd McDonald: Talking about our in-proces funding round where it says you know Goldman Sachs is pulling out of investing in r three it. It was very bleak we had to hold this investment together. Um, and you know we were able to do that because those that were there early with us were seeing the longer-term picture and and and. Even though a name such as the Goldman Sachs was potentially leaving the investment round they wanted to stay with with our 3 um and.
Alejandro: Ah, what was that level of communication that you needed to use in order to keep people hanging. You know there with you.
Todd McDonald: So it was a combination of um, we allowed those investors those banks that were coming together. They would be organizing on their own to try and figure out how they can coordinate to help close this investment we were having daily calls with them. Um throughout this process. But really the way that it it ended up ah working was the relationships that had been forged before this process and especially with someone like David in being able to pick up the phone and and and speak to the the key ah leaders within within the room quote unquote for the bank investors. Really hold that together and and I’d say you know we were also fortunate to have sbi in Japan be an early supporter and they are if you look at their portfolio. They are very very long-term thinking in their investment across the space and across fintech and so r three is 1 of their portfolio. Ah. Companies and they were incredibly supportive to help us bridge to gap to get to that closing which every company has a near-death experience and I think it helps forge you as well is because um, you face challenges consistently as you try to build a company and I think it was healthy in retrospect to go through that I wouldn’t want to do it again. Um, but I’m glad that we we did and and ah, um, you know we galvanized not just the company but galvanized what became our board later.
Alejandro: And how do you go about also managing you know you were alluding to it I mean you guys raised one hundred and twenty million bucks from like really big names. You know we’re talking about over forty forty investors here. How do you go about rut like.
Todd McDonald: Um, yeah.
Alejandro: Investor relations like managing all these like super successful firms Unbeliable Egos Probably how how do you go about managing that without like a you know like having that exploding.
Todd McDonald: So it it is. It’s a balance of something we’ve iterated over the years is yeah I mentioned and when we first started before we closed around we would have these big steering committee meetings with all these people and stakeholders. We evolved that into the initial structure of having ah a board and and different companies rotating in and out.
Alejandro: Yeah, yeah.
Todd McDonald: Um, along with different information rights and different sort of structures we we ended up creating um ah in effect an advisory committee across those investors to be able to give give them information and I think at the end of the day on the investor relations side a lot of it is um, really. The best invest relations that we can provide is by providing value to their businesses. Um getting use cases deployed within their organizations and then showing them that value back. But we recently just had um an event here in in New York City on based in New York um our our core today Nyc and. That morning we had we held an investor breakfast where we can bring that that community together and then lead them from that investor breakfast into an event where we had you know Jay Clayton and Christian Carlo from Scc and Cftc previously served there and and. Listening to them speak and listening to our customers speak for the rest of the day and how they’re using core to how they’re working with our 3 I think that’s how we’re looking at investor relations. It’s got to be part of your overall go to market your ah your overall um, really account management plan.
Alejandro: And and also I mean the last round that you guys did you know was quite a bit I mean you were alluding to what was the year that you guys closed that round I mean when you when you close that much money you know you go into this hypergrowth I mean at least companies before the economic downturn they were like racing you know.
Todd McDonald: Ah, mid 2017 yeah
Alejandro: That type of cash and then they would just like go on Hypergrowth Crazy Burn. It sounds like you guys have been very capital effective and really careful with the way that you guys have been looking at things and also you know the fact that you did not go out and raise another round right Away. Um is really interesting and quite Unique. So. What drove that decision because I think that ultimately that that has putting you guys in a really good light because before the companies that were really good then they would be pushed you know towards raising a bunch of money and then just like in that growth path like crazy growth path and now with the economic downturn those companies they’re not so good anymore.
Todd McDonald: Um.
Alejandro: So it’s now like all about profitability versus growth. So it sounds like you guys have been able to really anticipate that. So what drove that day thinking.
Todd McDonald: So of course it’s hard not to look back and and still try to think of how you can be even more disciplined as you look at the overall market is turned right? So that’s we’ve gone through that like it like every other fintech company has um you know I think scaling up is always. Ah challenge and we’ve been trying to kind of do it in ratcheating it up with with our customers and with the demand that we’re seeing ah you know for example, early days we we tried to stay as lean as possible and were through partners we eventually then realized we had to build up a ah. Ah, professional services organizations so we’ve we’ve been investing a lot in that that’s been a recent scale up for us on on um within the company. Um, but trying to trying to be following the market as much as we can um is very very important I think is well you know one of the interesting things for our 3 we’ve been. Adjacent to the crypto market for our whole existence. We’re not involved in the crypto market but we are you know, still lumped into that were we’re very involved in central man digital currency and and regulated digital assets. But we’re not part of the crypto world. So seeing how some of the crypto firms have um.
Todd McDonald: Gone through the different boom bus cycles I think has been instructive for us where you try and smooth out the Boom bus cycle as much as possible and not get ah similar to how you’re managing your emotions trying to manage the company and try and try and smooth out that ah the ups and downs on the growth curve.. That’s what we try to do. It’s. And nobody’s perfect and we’ve definitely gotten it wrong at different points in time. But overall we’re really happy where we are today.
Alejandro: So what can you tell us about the scope and size of r 3 today I mean anything that you feel comfortable sharing like number of employees or anything else.
Todd McDonald: Yeah, so we’re so we are around 350 employees today. ah we ah I’m here based here in New York who were us company. We’re our largest office is in London we have an engineering center in Dublin and we have offices in India and in Singapore as well. Um. Kind of started as a global company from day one which is a little bit different than than some other companies are one of the things that’s been really, really exciting for us is we’ve started to to win more and more business in the Middle East um clearly obviously it’s ah it’s one of the few growth markets today and we have. Ah, been really really happy to work with the likes of centmaga Uae um, you know if you think about ah something like that where we’re working with them specifically on their centralment digital currency program but they’re looking at how do they create a brand new destination capital market for the region. How do they attract capital to the Uae. Um, and obviously how did they look into overall reshape their economy so to be a part of that and to try and be a long-term partner with them and for them is really really exciting. So we’re looking at that as the next potential growth area for for our 3 for for employees on the ground there and we’re all already starting to see. Knock on positive effects of that within the region and then also within you know work that we’re seeing and winning and with central banks and commercial banks across Asia Pacific and Europe too.
Alejandro: And you were talking about the amount of people and the different offices that you guys have um you know for the people that are just like listening to the audio. They’re probably not able to see and appreciate the wonderful offices that you have right now behind you you know, beautiful I guess especially post Covid How did you guys go about.
Todd McDonald: Um.
Alejandro: In-person versus remote.
Todd McDonald: So I don’t think any company was able to navigate that perfectly and and we’re still trying to understand what is the right path forward so we were pretty early to come back. Ah to work I’d say overall one of the things we did especially here in the New York office is you know you have to. Create a bit of a cadence so that employees know that it makes sense for them to be in the office so that’s 1 thing that we have done in you know, trying to organize around say Tuesday Wednesday Thursday getting folks in that’s 1 thing and then 2 is you know we try and spike the in-person collaboration wherever possible as an example. And our offices last week in London we got together a large part of our digital currency product and delivery team in person to be able to work through ah work through the product roadmap work through the existing projects that we have on the go because at the end of the day. Um, you can’t replace that. With slack and with Zoom you have to get people together. But you’re trying to balance that with the ability for us now to to understand that we can build up resources more globally and build up resourcing in India and and in Dublin and not just have to in effect co-locate all of our engineering for example in London
Alejandro: And let’s say you know you were to go to sleep tonight and you wake up in a world where the vision of R Three is fully realized what does that world look like.
Todd McDonald: Yes.
Todd McDonald: So our mission is to enable an open trusted and enduring digital economy. So we feel that we are um on the cusp of a new connected capital market. We also realize that. When you’re trying to create things where value can move freely. You have to enable businesses to conduct. Ah their business safely. So if you think you reflect on some of the inspiration you get from say crypto and defi. It’s amazing to see how we can move to it much more always on twenty four seven type of market. But also and this going back to the you know the old school maybe trader that that I was markets operate around rules and they around around convention and interestingly around trust so you can’t put all of the trust just in the technology you have to make sure that you’re putting Trust ah, ah within the ecosystem itself. So. If I wake up tomorrow. The vision would be that we have been succeeding in modernizing existing market infrastructure that’s working with exchanges and central securities depositories and um, really the Fmi space. Overall um, there is a lot to modernize there.
Todd McDonald: And then 2 what really excites me this goes back to you know being you know, being being an fx trader being someone that loves how global markets operate um, bringing forward a world where businesses and people can can hold digital value. Um. That’s cash-like or can can really bring new assets to market in digital form and be able to understand and believe that they can trade them safely. Um, That’s what we’re trying to Accomplish. That’s what gets incredibly exciting collaborating with. Communities around Central banks as they’re looking to explore a central bank digital currency and what are the ways they can do that that brings their entire economy and their entire population along on the journey. That’s incredibly exciting.
Alejandro: Now we’re obviously talking about the future here but I want to talk about the past with a len of reflection. Let’s say I was to put you into a time machine and I bring you back in time I bring you back in time to that moment. You know maybe were you were still you know in corporate you know America.
Todd McDonald: Um.
Todd McDonald: Ah, yeah.
Alejandro: Ah, and you are now wondering after having traveled around the world and and seeing if there were greener pastures you know and other companies and things like that. Let’s say you know you were now you know wondering you know what could be the next thing and and you’re able to go back in time and have a chat with that younger thought.
Todd McDonald: Um.
Alejandro: And you’re able to give that younger thought 1 piece of advice before launching a company. What would that be and why giving what you know now.
Todd McDonald: what would be what would I give my younger self advice on launching the company. Um, you know I’d say in some ways being a little bit. Naive is good. Um, one of the things I always think about is if you’re not if you don’t look back 6 to twelve months and are a little embarrassed then you’re doing it wrong. Um, you know you’re because you’re constantly improving constantly improving and and you need to have a little bit of naivete to be able to jump into the arena um, the advice. Ah I think that the the main advice would be when you’re. You’re always working in an uncertain space. The best thing you can do is to make faster and quicker decisions as you’re as you’re moving forward because most decisions are reversible and when you execute and make those decisions you pretty quickly realize whether you’ve made the right one or not um, that would probably be the. My number one piece of advice as they say I forget who said it but in you know the the easiest person to fool is yourself right? So I think as you’re starting a company you know, just trying to make sure you’re not rationalizing sort of decisions and making those quickly. That would be the number 1 piece of advice I’d get myself.
Alejandro: I Love it. So for the people are listening Tota will love to reach out and say hi. What is the best way for them to do so.
Todd McDonald: Yeah, so r three dot com for everything r three and you can find me on Twitter at at Mcd Tv and also look me up on Linkedin and I would love love love to engage with your community.
Alejandro: Amazing. Well hey Tod thank you so much for being on the deal maker show today. It has been an honor to have you with us.
Todd McDonald: Thank you so much.
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