How did Linen App get started?
My co-founder Alex and I entered Decentralized Finance (DeFi) at the beginning of 2018. This field did not exist yet and there were only a handful of projects trying to figure out how to build on blockchains. For those who do not know, DeFi stands for Decentralized Finance, a movement that attempts to re-create traditional financial services via an open decentralized financial infrastructure based on blockchain technology.
Both Alex and I went down the crypto rabbit hole in 2015 independently. Linen App was not our first product. That was LoanScan, a portal where anyone can see where the best rates to borrow and lend stablecoins and cryptocurrencies are. We concluded that crypto and mobile are powerful borderless tools and decided to build an investment platform on crypto rails, which turned into Linen App. The app and a crypto wallet allow our members to store cryptocurrency and earn interest on their crypto dollars (stablecoins) deposited to DeFi liquidity pools like Compound. Anyone in the world can have access to the same investment opportunities as only a small group of wealthy individuals in developed countries have. This concept is so powerful that we became really excited.
How did you meet your co-founder?
Alex and I met at one of the blockchain hackathons in 2017. He was one of the guest speakers talking about layer-2 scaling solutions on Ethereum. I mostly did not understand what he was talking about, as it was too technical for me. We chatted during the hackathon and kept in touch. When the opportunity to build LoanScan arose, I reached out to Alex and pitched the idea. We’ve been building together ever since.
This is not your first time founding a company—what do you think is the most important skill founders need to succeed?
From my experience, the ability to bring the right people on board can make or break a business. You need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your teammates. The ability to get along with people on the team is of the utmost importance for founders. Imagine spending 10-12 hours per day every day with your co-founders and early hires solving problems that have not been solved prior. You better like and respect them. ;)
Based on your experience, what do you think are the top 1-3 things founders should do as they are starting out?
- Find real customers and show them the value of your product or service. If there is no value, then there is no business to be built. Monetization of that value does not have to be from day 1—it can come later. Linen App does not have monetization yet as we are focusing on creating value first.
- Talk to your customers and understand why they like your product. Building Linen App, we had several hypotheses about our members. Some of the hypotheses had proven to be wrong and we discovered that only after conducting surveys and talking to our members; they helped us to steer the product in the right direction.
- Focus only on one use case/feature early on, and do not try to solve too many problems. Additional product lines will come later when you validate that the core value proposition is sustainable. This will help you to iterate quickly and find that killer feature that customers need. We shaped our product road map based on focusing only on one feature— deposit stablecoins to DeFi lending pools.
Did you always work in this industry? What brought you here?
I come from a finance background. My first job out of college was at a bank, working for KeyBanc Capital Markets in their Debt Capital Markets and Technology Investment Banking groups. While advising tech companies on mergers and acquisitions and stock issuances, I was exposed to software and financial technology companies and really dug deep into their business models. It excited me.
I saw first hand how technology makes the lives of businesses and consumers easier, and earns them money as well. So, I decided to build a company in fintech. I know it sounds cheesy, but this was precisely my “a-ha” moment. I also worked for companies in supply chain management technologies and advertising technologies, but the smartest people in my life and the best thinkers I met were in crypto.
Everyday I learn something new because the industry is nascent and opens up a lot of opportunities.
How do you handle risk and competition?
Building a startup is always a risk, and I think most entrepreneurs have a tolerance to risks. I accept uncertainty as a part of the working routine and constantly evaluate it to make sure the risk is worth the outcome.
As far as the competition goes, the crypto industry is very young, and markets are still small as compared to the overall financial services industry. Therefore, we are focusing on growing the size of the pie and not on the competition.
What’s been the #1 challenge you’ve faced while launching your company?
Finding the product-market fit is by far the biggest challenge. It took us some time before we discovered that set of users who validated our assumptions and loved our product. Iterating on our product helped us tremendously.
What’s your team culture like?
Our team is small, and we are like a family. We know each other well and foster honest conversations by questioning why we should do certain things. This helps us focus on important things only. We deeply rely on each other’s expertise and experience.
What do you value most in a team member?
The desire to learn. The crypto industry is nascent, and we don’t know how a lot of things will play out in the long run, so there is a constant demand to grasp new concepts. There is no need to be the smartest person in the room, just have a genuine desire to learn.
What is your superpower?
Getting sh*t done!
What’s your kryptonite?
I have a product-first mindset and am obsessed with iterating and improving our app and asking our members for feedback. This requires a lot of my attention and takes away from other areas, such as hiring and fundraising.
Do you have any unusual routines or habits?
I wear noise cancellation headphones whenever I work, even when it is quiet in the office or at home. There is something about this feeling that helps me concentrate.
Do you have any other hobbies or things you like to do in your spare time?
Outdoor activities like hiking and biking are my things. I also love camping, especially in National Parks. I haven’t done it in a while, though!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t cry over spilled milk.
What’s been your biggest area of growth as a founder?
Once I crossed the chasm and became a founder, my mentality switched to that of an owner. I don’t think about my interests anymore. Instead, I put the interests of the company, my teammates, and investors first. I also started giving back more than I receive from the people who surround me.