Schwark Satyavolu: The Future of Fintech

December 05, 2018 Amy Jo Kim Season 6 Episode 10
Schwark Satyavolu: The Future of Fintech
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Schwark Satyavolu: The Future of Fintech
Dec 05, 2018 Season 6 Episode 10
Amy Jo Kim

Schwark Satyavolu is a serial entrepreneur and early-stage  investor at Trinity Ventures. After founding and growing several innovative startups in the fintech space - a journey that included a stint as an executive at Mastercard - Schwark is now building up the fintech practice at Trinity.  His background as an entrepreneur makes him empathetic  to the realities of what startup life is life -- a great quality for an investor to have. I also loved hearing Schwark’s perspective on the future of crypto - because it  comes from such a deeply informed perspective. Listen in and find out how this  successful entrepreneur-turned-investor is shaping the next generation of fintech innovators. 

Show Notes Transcript

Schwark Satyavolu is a serial entrepreneur and early-stage  investor at Trinity Ventures. After founding and growing several innovative startups in the fintech space - a journey that included a stint as an executive at Mastercard - Schwark is now building up the fintech practice at Trinity.  His background as an entrepreneur makes him empathetic  to the realities of what startup life is life -- a great quality for an investor to have. I also loved hearing Schwark’s perspective on the future of crypto - because it  comes from such a deeply informed perspective. Listen in and find out how this  successful entrepreneur-turned-investor is shaping the next generation of fintech innovators. 

Intro: [00:00:00] From Silicon Valley, the heart of startup land, it's Getting2Alpha the show about creating innovative, compelling experiences that people love. And now here's your host, game designer, entrepreneur, and startup coach, Amy Jo Kim. 

Amy: Schwark Satyavolu is a serial entrepreneur and early stage investor at Trinity Ventures.

After founding and growing several innovative startups in the Fintech space, A journey that included a stint as an executive at MasterCard. Schwark is now building up the Fintech practice at Trinity. His background as an entrepreneur makes him deeply empathetic to the realities of what startup life is really like.

Schwark Satyavolu: There's a fine balance towards being determined and not accepting failure. And I do think that if you kind of recognize how to figure out whether something is working and be true to yourself and admit that something isn't working as quickly as [00:01:00] you possibly can, that will actually put on a better path to success of finding something that does work because it takes a lot of tries to find something that's truly innovative to find a foothold.

Amy: That kind of understanding is a great quality for investor to have. I also loved hearing Schwark's perspective on the future of crypto because it comes from such a deep understanding of the space. Listen in and find out how this successful entrepreneur turned investor is shaping the next generation of Fintech innovators.

Welcome to the Getting2Alpha podcast. 

Schwark Satyavolu: Thanks for having me. It's great to be here. 

Amy: I'm so excited to hang out with you and get to know you better. You've really got a fascinating background. Uh, before we plunge into that though, just bring us right into your world. What does a day look like for you? Who do you interact with?

What kind of decisions are you making? [00:02:00] Just bring that to life. 

Schwark Satyavolu: Well, we tend to invest in early stage entrepreneurs. What that means is we're trying to invest when there are very early phases of revenue. So a big part of what we're looking for is fundamentally about. Uh, the entrepreneur themselves and the market they're going after.

So the key thing is that we're always trying to answer is, is this the entrepreneur that's going to revolutionize the space that they're going after and why, and, um, is the space just trying to revolutionize big and valuable enough to create a, um, a really valuable company over the long run. And we're trying to figure all that stuff out really early.

So, uh, a lot of it has to do with pattern recognition and, uh, trying to see if this is the kind of individual that has the grit and the tenacity that are typically required to build a company. 

Amy: So how does that translate into what your day looks like? 

Schwark Satyavolu: Well, most [00:03:00] days are just meetings with entrepreneurs.

Oftentimes first meetings, we probably clearly do hundreds of meetings a month. And, uh, that means that, uh, of the emails that come in, Typically, they are introduced by somebody that we trust and know. And so we're scanning some of those trying to figure out which ones we actually want to take meetings with.

And then of those, we spend the bulk of our day actually meeting these entrepreneurs and having them educate us on some of their aspirations and what they're trying to do with the company. It's a privilege in most cases to almost be educated by some of the best in their space. So some of the top people in mechanical engineering telling us about how they're going to revolutionize manufacturing or someone that's doing similar kinds of things in finance and so on and so forth.

Amy: Wow. Well, we're going to come back to that shortly and talk a little bit about, uh, the kind of pattern recognition you're doing. But first, how did [00:04:00] you turn into the person who's having these days getting educated and making bets on entrepreneurs? Tell us about your background and some of the really pivotal moments.

How did you first get into the world of tech and Fintech? 

Schwark Satyavolu: So, uh, I never actually meant to get into Fintech, funnily enough. Uh, I started my career as actually a mechanical engineer, uh, which is what I did my undergraduate in, but I never really liked mechanical engineering. The only reason I did it, because my dad thought it was the, the most, uh, non committal field that you can get into, so you can do pretty much anything else after that.

And I did. I kind of had a passion for computers, which I kind of taught myself, uh, as a, as a young kid. So, uh, when it was time to make a choice, I did my master's in computer science, and that kind of set me off on this trajectory of building software. In fact, I actually tried to build software to help webmasters at the very beginning of the [00:05:00] web.

This was back in 96 or so. And eventually saw another company that was doing something very similar and got bought by Netscape for, I think, three or $4,000,000. And that was kind of like my first introduction to entrepreneurial ventures in the first place. It kind of inspired me to start thinking about actually starting a company.

And this was still when I was doing my master's and computer science. But then I went to go work for Microsoft, which was, of course, one of the premier employers of the day back then and spent a lot of time building software as an engineer, but always kept playing with things that I wanted to go build eventually got connected with some friends of friends that were trying to do something similar to what I was trying to do.

And we came together to form my first company, which was Yodlee. That company in itself, uh, eventually became this [00:06:00] Fintech company, or Fintech hub, if you may. But it never started out as a Fintech company. In fact, the first couple of interviews we ever gave, On Yodlee, we talked about how we're trying to create the operating system for the web.

That's kind of, was our initial thesis of what we're trying to do. Uh, and the first incarnation of that was to actually take down My Yahoo!, which happened to be the predominant homepage most people had on their browsers back then. And that's kind of was the initial genesis of where we ended up building the company towards.

It was supposed to be a direct to consumer company. We, in fact, had a lot of success in the early days as a direct to consumer company. And then, uh, the first web bubble, uh, burst back in 2000. And that had to have us re evaluate exactly what we did. And then we took what we were doing as a direct to consumer product And started selling it to other companies so they could make that available to their consumers.

And I think my first customer might [00:07:00] have been AltaVista, which was a search engine back then. And the second customer that called us was actually Citibank, who basically said, Hey, we love what you're doing. Uh, we'd love to have, uh, our customers do this on our website and put all their financial information together.

And that was my very first entree into financial services at all. And, uh, I had no idea about financial services and I had no interest to get into financial services. But, uh, Citibank kind of pulled us into it. The rest is history. 

Amy: So what was it about what you were doing that made Citibank reach out? 

Schwark Satyavolu: So what we did is we pulled together everything that you did on the web onto one webpage.

So if you had email, in most cases you had one or two different email accounts, You had a couple of bank accounts. You may be on a brokerage account. You had, uh, two or three shopping accounts, uh, maybe on Amazon or, uh, pets. com back then. And so all of these different assets that you were using on the [00:08:00] web, we pulled all of that together, everything from news to financial services.

And we pulled your personalized information from all these different sources on the one web page. So you could log into Yodlee. com and actually see your email from your three different email accounts, your news from your three different favorite news sites. You could see your stock portfolio that might have been held at multiple brokerages.

Uh, you could see your consolidated bank balance across your two different bank accounts. You could see all of what you, uh, shopped for in one list of orders and what the status was. You could also see all the travel you had booked at, like, an Expedia or some other place or American Airlines. and see all of the reservations in one place.

Back then, we also made it possible for you to take all that, uh, onto your, onto a mobile device, which at that time happened to be a Palm Pilot. We didn't have smartphones back then. And so you could actually download all of that [00:09:00] information into your Palm Pilot and take it with you. 

Amy: Okay. So My Yahoo! On steroids.

Schwark Satyavolu: That's exactly right. 

Amy: Why didn't that work on the consumer front? 

Schwark Satyavolu: Oh, it actually worked really well. So what ended up happening is we got. Probably a million users in six months or less than a year, I'd say. And then everything started to cool off. And we're sitting there wondering what exactly is happening.

And we realize that we actually got everybody that actually did have a lot of accounts on the web at that time. Remember, this was back in like, uh, 99. So, uh, it was the very beginnings of the web. So, it was not everybody that actually had 15 accounts online. That was mostly people in Silicon Valley that actually had 15 accounts online.

And we got all of them. So, pretty much everybody was doing that, who are customers of Yodlee. In fact, Uh, pretty much everybody on Sand Hill Road and anybody you can think of in Silicon Valley back then actually had a Yoli account. So we basically created a [00:10:00] product for what I call, uh, the early adopter crowd because of how early it was and we tapped out of it.

And that's kind of why we had to kind of think about where do we take this and how do we kind of, uh, take this to customers. And the banks were already trying to get all of their customers financial information in one place. There were tools like Quicken that was a desktop software that was trying to do that for, for customers on their desktop.

And banks were trying to ask customers to fill out these surveys of how much money they had in all their other relationships so that they could serve them better. So there was these kinds of things that were happening with a very much smaller footprint than what Yodlee is trying to do for all your information online.

And that's kind of what, uh, Citibank saw that said, Hey, we like what you're doing, and I think we could do what we're trying to do much more efficiently and much better for our consumers if we use your platform. 

Amy: It's funny because so often it seems [00:11:00] that things that turn out to be successful are a little piece of the thing that you started with, like Flickr is an example of that Slack is an example of that.

Schwark Satyavolu: Absolutely. In fact, that's actually, it's funny you say that, because one of the big realizations that I had as an entrepreneur, in fact, is that every time I made the only product smaller. our level of success actually increased. So we went from doing everything on the web to starting to do financial services.

We got a big bump up. In fact, after that, we actually started to kind of go even, even narrower into things like bills and actually focused a lot more on bills and then on payments and so on and so forth. So narrower we got, the more success we got as a company. So the, the, the narrow focus, but really being a very, very valuable product in that narrow focus is.

Oftentimes, uh, is a great recipe for success.

Amy: Niche down to grow big. 

Schwark Satyavolu: That's right. 

Amy: So then what happened? 

Schwark Satyavolu: So we, [00:12:00] uh, you know, when, uh, the bubble burst, all of our, uh, air got taken out. Um, effectively, you know, even everybody that was buying, everybody stopped buying. So every, the entire economy started to kind of slow down a little bit.

So we had to hunker down. We had to get through a lot of tough times. The entire company was probably about 300 and 300 or 400 people at its peak. We had to kind of bring all that all the way down to about 60. So we had to lay off a lot of people, hunker down through the winter period, so to speak. And then, uh, keep working on building the product.

It also gave us the time to rearchitect our solutions and start selling customers that, uh, through these long sales cycles. What we ultimately managed to become the dominant player in that space through that entire exercise. So while it was very, very difficult, it actually ended up creating a significant level of discipline for the company and ended up [00:13:00] putting us in the leadership spot in that space.

When I started the company, I had 18 competitors. And, uh, of course, uh, towards the end of that whole process, we ended up being the only one left. In fact, one of my competitors was probably four times as well funded as I was when we got started. And they actually happened to be a company we ended up buying, um, at some point in the future.

So it was a very crowded, very active space that, uh, went through a big consolidation period. And, uh, we ended up surviving it because of the discipline that, uh, the bubble burst actually enforced on us. 

Amy: And then what happened? 

Schwark Satyavolu: We of course had to, uh, create a significant amount of value to ultimately take the company public that we did.

So that required a couple more pivots of finding a bunch of different things, because at some point we actually got pretty much all the big banks. So almost every big bank in the country was a customer. So there's only so much you can grow after you've maxed out your target audience. So [00:14:00] we had to expand the product pie.

So we ended up creating an API to sell beyond banks. And in fact, One very smart entrepreneur named Aaron Patzer came to me and said, Hey, I understand you guys have an API to your product. Can I use it to build a really compelling product? And he was the founder of a company called Mint. And, uh, I saw what he was trying to do and I thought it was very interesting.

And so we actually gave him a, a sweetheart deal on trying to get access to the API, which at that point had not been made available to anybody but the banks. 

Amy: Wait, you gave Mint access to your API? 

Schwark Satyavolu: That is correct. 

Amy: Oh, that's how they got that thing up and running. 

Schwark Satyavolu: That is correct. 

Amy: I didn't know that. 

Schwark Satyavolu: Yeah.

And so, uh, Mint was basically my first non bank API customer. And then Mint, of course, did really well. They grew very, very rapidly and got sold to Intuit, I think, within a two to three year time frame very rapidly. But that created what I think [00:15:00] of as the new Fintech revolution. So I kind of feel like the, what people think of as Fintech being a hot area, I think all started with the time Mint got sold to Intuit, which is when a lot of venture capital started to notice that space and say, hey, there are some exits here that can happen.

Uh, there's some very interesting products that consumers are starting to gravitate towards. So, consumer demand was proven, uh, exit potential was proven, and, uh, uh, there was a lot more activity that started to kind of percolate, uh, from that point on. And YOLI also started to say, hey, this seems like an opportunity to kind of enable that next generation of innovation here in financial services.

And so, we ended up creating an entire business unit to go serve. These startups to enable access to APIs and that kind of created the entire API business. We created a whole bill pay business to sell bills and bills and payments. Um, we also created an instant [00:16:00] account verification. So where everybody needs to link a bank account to some other account.

PayPal was a very common example where people link their bank accounts to PayPal to move money back and forth. So PayPal was the first customer of Yodlee's instant account verification product, which is a whole new product to just enable you to link your bank account in real time instead of waiting three days and trial deposits, which was the way you did it before.

So all of that came out of the fact that we had to find avenues for growth when we're tapping out of one. So the entire Yodlee journey was a bunch of ups and downs. And, uh, of course, that last phase of growth. Uh, is a phase that the company is still in today, and they ultimately went public on that last phase of growth and then sold to another public company.

Amy: So during that time, did you have access to all those data flows that were moving through the systems in order to do any back end machine learning? 

Schwark Satyavolu: You know, [00:17:00] uh, it wasn't called machine learning back then, but, uh, we did do a lot of stuff Um, what we call statistical analysis on a lot of the information to kind of figure out exactly what is likely to happen.

When is it likely to happen? The biggest problems that we face were these websites changed every day, sometimes multiple times a day. And so we had to kind of figure out a way to kind of get a lot of information processed across tens of millions of accounts that were getting updated on a daily basis to figure out exactly what went wrong where and to make sure that that got fixed as quickly as possible. 

So being aware of what is most likely to fail and being able to get access to that information very, very quickly required us to do a lot of statistical analysis to kind of understand the likelihood of failure of any given point.

And so on and so forth that we did actually end up spending a lot of time, uh, engineering a lot of back and stuff that our customers never saw, [00:18:00] but it was very critical to the operational stability of the company. 

Amy: Like redundant fault tolerant systems? 

Schwark Satyavolu: Absolutely. So, um, it was a, it was a massive enterprise.

Uh, some of the engineers. That I had hired out of like their PhD programs at the time are now like, uh, they're chief security officers and, and so on, uh, some of the biggest brands today. Um, so these were like the smartest minds that I could find that actually helped us engineer these highly scalable systems.

Amy: That's an amazing story. So what was your journey from there to where you are now? 

Schwark Satyavolu: I left Yoli just before we went public to start my second company, which, uh, happened to be, uh, also in financial services that by this time actually knew a lot about financial services. So I started another company. Uh, which was originally called Bill Shrink, which actually enabled consumers to actually shrink their bills, which is again, a direct to consumer effort.

[00:19:00] And yet again, I had a lot of early growth, but, uh, could not monetize the customer very well. So we pivoted it yet again, and this time I actually renamed the company on the pivot to a company called True Access. And this company actually analyzed credit card transaction data in order to provide offers and rewards to consumers.

Based on their spend preferences. So we actually could look at what their spend money on and then offer them a discount on things that they we knew that they wanted to buy. So if you tend to spend a lot of money eating out, we'd give you discounts on restaurants. If you spend a lot of money on books, we'd give you a discount on bookshops and so on and so forth.

And we ultimately ended up selling that company to MasterCard. 

Amy: Ah, so that's how you worked at MasterCard. 

Schwark Satyavolu: That is correct. So I went to MasterCard as part of that acquisition and then ran their rewards and loyalty group for a couple of years. Uh, that was my first opportunity to look at [00:20:00] running a global business as MasterCard.

operates in hundreds of countries around the world. One of my board members was also on the board of another public company called LifeLock and asked me to go spend some time there to kind of help build some product. So I went there and we re engineered the product and then sold that company to Symantec.

I left again shortly before that sale to come into Venture Capital at the behest of one of my partners, Ajay, who, uh, I had the pleasure of serving on, uh, on another board with as an outside board member, in fact. Um, but I've also known Trinity a long time because Trinity actually led the Series B for my second company, True Access.

And so I've gotten to know them, uh, both as an outside board member, as a portfolio CEO over many years. And so when, uh, he came and asked me to join them as a partner, I could not pass the opportunity up. 

Amy: So you've really been on the entrepreneur side. [00:21:00] Many times and through some real ups and downs that gives you such a great perspective as an investor.

Schwark Satyavolu: Absolutely. And to be honest, I think, um, I had a choice when I came in to join here at Trinity to either go start another company or to come join venture capital. And I ultimately chose to come join venture capital because I realized that. There's been a lot of learnings that have, I've kind of had the hard way, so I've kind of had to take the hard knocks and go through all of these different ups and downs to kind of learn what it takes to scale companies, how to pick people around you, how to grow the company and what to be aware of.

And I felt like the biggest impact I could make is actually to take all of those learnings and help. A whole bunch of other smart people build their next company is then to just build one more of my own. And, uh, I kind of felt like there was a lot more leverage to all of the decades of stuff I've been through in venture capital, and that's kind of why I'm here.

Amy: As [00:22:00] you are there having lots of informative meetings with a variety of early entrepreneurs early in their journey, what do you feel are the lessons you've learned? about successful innovation that you wish you'd known 10 years ago. 

Schwark Satyavolu: I think the biggest things around successful innovation is all about being able to take failure and to almost make failure a celebration and to do it quickly, to do it as fast as you can, to the extent that you kind of fear failure, you always are going to innovate far less.

But if you kind of embrace failure and kind of try to do it quickly, uh, you'll probably end up innovating very, very quickly. Uh, if you look at my own background, um, at Yodlee, I kind of felt, feel like, I simply did not accept defeat when something wasn't working quickly enough. [00:23:00] And so I took five years to kind of find a path to growth because I just kind of did not accept failure very easily, which by the way, is a part of most entrepreneurs.

Most entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs because they do not accept failure easily, but there's a fine balance towards being determined and not accepting failure. And I do think that if you kind of recognize how to figure out whether something is working and be true to yourself and admit that something isn't working as quickly as you possibly can, that will actually put on a better path to success of finding something that does work because it takes a lot of tries.

Define something that's truly innovative to find a foothold. 

Amy: So using that as a bridge, what are the things that when you're interviewing these dozens of startups and entrepreneurs? You look for [00:24:00] when you're considering a startup investment, what are the signals that make you lean in and deepens your interest?

Schwark Satyavolu: I think one of the things that is very important is, um, what I'll call the personality of the entrepreneur startups are really, really difficult. It is a rollercoaster ride. You need to have the stomach for that rollercoaster ride. So, and you need to have the. the tenacity and the grit for the roller coaster ride.

And not only are you on a roller coaster, you're almost like the pilot of the roller coaster. So you actually need to not only pilot the roller coaster, you need to take a whole bunch of people with you on that roller coaster. You need to inspire them to get on the roller coaster. You need to, you know, keep their hopes and spirits up while you're going through the ups and downs of the roller coaster.

So I'm really looking for these roller coaster pilots, if you may, right? So these are folks that effectively can stomach the ride themselves, but really inspire a bunch of [00:25:00] to follow them on those rides. And I'm also looking for folks that are truly have some insight on the space that they're going after.

And this does not necessarily mean that you have decades of experience. It just means that you truly understand some sub segment of a space so deeply. that you're able to see things that is going to be hard for everybody else to see. In fact, in most cases, I like to work with folks that are somewhat naive about the space that they're going after because they don't know everything about the space.

Because if you do know everything about a given space, you tend to get jaded. You tend to get bogged down by all the things that you cannot do. So, a certain level of naivety of going after something is almost a prerequisite, I think, to revolutionize the space. But you also have to be an extremely fast learner because in most spaces.

Not knowing something cannot be the reason why the company doesn't succeed. And so going into it not knowing something, [00:26:00] but then being able to jump into it and learn everything there is to learn about it very quickly, I think is the most potent combination. So you're not even have to believe you can change the world, but then you jump in and learn everything so you can make sure you're doing it the right way to understand the constraints of those spaces.

And to find that little nook and cranny that you have to get through to get to the other side of this big innovation. 

Amy: On the flip side, what are the elements that if you're in a meeting with an entrepreneur or a team and you're starting to lean in, what are the red flags that you might run into that cause you to lean back?

Schwark Satyavolu: I think one of the things that we look for are, um, in the early days. One of the things that is important to understand is the dynamics of the team, which in turn kind of really talks about a little bit of the same same things I mentioned as the things we're looking for is, is this the team that truly understands how to [00:27:00] work best together?

The best founders surround themselves with a complimentary group of people that fill in for what they lack. So they're trying to find and surround themselves with the people that effectively are the best at something that they are the weakest at. And when you have an entrepreneur that can recognize that and execute that kind of a team building, they often tend to also be people that can work with those people and leverage them in the right way.

And the flip side is entrepreneurs that sometimes are scared to bring people that are smarter than or better than them in some cases. And that always gives us some pause because what that means is that this company will only scale as far as the capabilities of that entrepreneur. And that oftentimes is not enough to typically take companies to go public, for example.

So someone that can recognize their shortcomings, but then embrace the best talent they can find, um, to kind of do that is, is something [00:28:00] that's important. And so the team dynamics are always something that, uh, to watch out for as you, as you look at early teams. 

Amy: What would be a team dynamic that you might see in a meeting and you'd go, uh, I don't think so.

It'd be a red flag. 

Schwark Satyavolu: Um, I'd say the common manifestation of this would be a team where there may be three people, all of whom seem like they have interesting, you know, contributions to make, but pretty much all of the questions get answered by only one of those team members. And that effectively is almost a team.

Consolidation of power, if you may, in terms of how something gets answered or something gets dealt with. So if you have a diverse team of people that can help solve four or five different problems, a great way to manifest that is in a in a V. C. Pitch meeting when interesting question that comes up that maybe one of those people is much [00:29:00] more qualified to answer.

You call upon them to answer that question, and that ends up being a Uh, simple manifestation of this kind of a behavior. 

Amy: That's a great example. Now let's tread into some, uh, controversial territory. You're a Fintech entrepreneur ground up. You told us this great story and you're an investor now hearing lots of pitches.

What is your take? Um, blockchain and crypto, what do you think is interesting and or off putting or what is just your take on that space? 

Schwark Satyavolu: Sure. So I think, uh, what's, what's fascinating about blockchain is this revolutionary way of building consensus across systems that don't need to trust each other. And that's a very, uh, Interesting, uh, capability that I think something like a blockchain provides now.

What's [00:30:00] interesting that what's happening today in the blockchain crypto world reminds me a little bit of what happened in the late nineties with the web in general. Um, the web in itself was a similarly foundational technology that kind of creates a substantial amount of opportunity. And if you think about it, I could not think about how I live my daily life anymore if the web did not exist the way it does today.

And so all of that came from that euphoria from those late 90s. But that euphoria also created a lot of, uh, you know, bubble millionaires and bubble poppers, if you may, that came out of that because of, uh, almost an irrational exuberance around, around certain kinds of infrastructure that happened there.

And it very similar to back then when, if you added a. com to your name, your stock blew up. Uh, if you add blockchain to your name today, your stock blows up, right? And I think you have similar kinds of patterns that are [00:31:00] happening. So I do think that there are some similarities. 

Now, what's interesting is that that bubble of the late nineties was almost necessary to jumpstart the innovation on the web in a way that delivered us some iconic brands that actually started back then Google and Amazon are a couple of those brands that still are dominant today that actually got what are products of that bubble experience, but the bulk of what happened back then has kind of disappeared into history and it has is not really gotten had the longevity of what was created, but it was foundational to everything that got created after that.

And I think we're going through a very similar kind of, uh, cycle with what the blockchain can do. And I think the blockchain is a foundational capability that actually will become the basis of a lot of innovation for many years to come. But if you look at a lot of what's happening today around it, [00:32:00] I do think that there may be one or two interesting things that come out of it, just like the Amazon and Google's or the world from back then, but the bulk of what's happening right now, I think will probably get dissolved or vanish into the into the fog of history.

But it will be foundational, enabling that next set of innovation that can come from blockchain, and that's kind of the kind of stuff that I'm spending my time looking for are these nuggets of things that I think will last for the next 10, 15 years, rather than things that might be, you know, hot right now.

Amy: Let's dig into that. So right now, when you look at the landscape of tech and Fintech and where your interests are, what are you seeing that's new and exciting? Where's your interest? 

Schwark Satyavolu: So, uh, I think there's a variety of different things that I'm quite interested in. Um, I'm interested in that idea of areas within Fintech that have nothing to do with blockchain.

[00:33:00] And I'm interested in a bunch of stuff that's around the blockchain area as well. And the, the, uh, areas of Fintech that I'm most, uh, interested in is what I'll broadly call financial infrastructure. So I do think financial services. As a space is one of the richest spaces in the planet in terms of investment in technology.

And then in terms of the amount of value that is created and exchanged every day. It's one of the biggest pots of value in the in the ecosystem of the economy. And so I do think the infrastructure that powers all of this. is still very, very arcane. So there is a lot of systems that are run on, uh, both hardware and software from the fifties and the sixties, even today.

And, uh, a bunch of those things are evolving slowly and in most cases, uh, incrementally, but there's a lot of opportunity, I think, to truly revolutionize [00:34:00] how financial services itself is delivered. And I'm not necessarily talking about places where you just change the brands that actually deliver them.

I'm less sure that you necessarily need to create a new brand to deliver more compelling financial services. But I'm very convinced that a whole new technology infrastructure needs to be adopted in order to deliver these new services. And I believe that both existing financial services institutions, as well as these de novo financial services institutions that are coming up, will all need infrastructure to kind of, uh, keep up with the demands of the new consumers.

And that, I think, is an area of, of interesting investment that involves, um, banking infrastructure. It could involve trading infrastructure, it could involve payments infrastructure. There's a lot of interesting things that can happen as these systems get modernized and also made more democratized, like where they, more people can access them more easily to then innovate with them rather than simply use them as [00:35:00] products.

So, the emergence of. Financial services as APIs is, I think, um, another area that I think we're just at the beginning of, and you only created this API, whatever, 10 years ago, but since then, people have even innovated in that space, and there's companies like Plaid that have kind of tried to make that API that much more compelling.

There's companies like Stripe that have completely revolutionized how you do payments. Uh, there's a company that called Synapse Fi and my portfolio that's trying to revolutionize how banking is leveraged by developers in different applications. Uh, so there's a variety of different things that I think and I evolved to kind of make these things, um, a lot easier to use and a lot easier to innovate with. 

Amy: So what do you feel as an investor and as a leader is your superpower? Where's your sweet spot? 

Schwark Satyavolu: So I think as an investor, one of the key things that I, um, bring to the table is primarily my experience as entrepreneur.

I've spent [00:36:00] a couple of decades being an entrepreneur. Um, uh, it turns out a lot of it was as a Fintech entrepreneur, but more importantly, it was really an entrepreneur. That's been through a variety of different pivotal moments. The bust of the 2008 crisis. I mean, I've lived through as an entrepreneur, very many kinds of macro economic changes.

And also, uh, done things the right way in the wrong way. I've built boards, I've built, uh, uh, founding teams, I've built management teams, and I've made, uh, mistakes and I've done things very right sometimes in hindsight, and a lot of that is what every entrepreneur has to go through and manage through as they build their companies.

And, uh, I hope to kind of bring to them what, uh, I wish my board actually had helped me do when I was doing this as well. So that's kind of what I think I bring as an investor. And to me, my superpower primarily is the patent [00:37:00] recognition. Of things that I think are valuable in the in the world of Fintech, but also as you know, a fast growing company.

And so I'm much more of a what I'll call a product type person. So I tend to understand I'm an engineer by training so I can understand products and services. At a deeper level than most. And so leveraging that to kind of help, uh, entrepreneurs navigate their plethora of opportunities in front of them is where, um, I think I can be more selfful.

Amy: That's awesome. Who is it that inspires you? Whose work or what people, where do you get your inspiration? 

Schwark Satyavolu: I, I read a lot, most of which, uh, are from folks that I've never really met. And so it's, uh, And I'm not specifically following an individual, I tend to read more based on topic and try to educate myself [00:38:00] with all the different perspectives on any given topic, and then try to form my own opinions on different areas that I think would be interesting or not.

Um, so I don't know if there are specific people. that I follow as much as I areas that I get passionate about and dig really, really deep into and try to read up as much as I can about each of these different areas. 

Amy: So what was a book you read lately that you thought was? Really interesting. 

Schwark Satyavolu: Oh, that's interesting.

I actually don't read any books and maybe it's because I don't have the attention span to read an entire book or, or the time with two little kids, but, uh, I tend to read all of my reading on the web. And what's interesting is the web happens to be a, a fantastic, uh, treasure trove of consolidated, condensed, uh, content.

almost interpreted knowledge, if you may, where what you would end up having to read a 200 page book, you might be able to get 80 percent of it in a 20-minute [00:39:00] medium post that you could, uh, that you could get. 

Amy: Got it. So bite-sized consumption. 

Schwark Satyavolu: That's right. 

Amy: So what's coming up on the horizon that's happening for you or that you're excited about?

Schwark Satyavolu: Well, I think, uh, one of the things that we're What I'm generally very excited about is kind of delving into areas and, and funding companies and building large portfolios. We've been doing a great job of kind of building a Fintech practice here at Trinity. Trinity did not have a Fintech practice before I got here.

So this was kind of a new area that we created when I came here a couple of years ago. I think now we're at the point where we have some interesting companies that were built into a portfolio. We're hoping to create more of an ecosystem that actually can then leverage off of each other to kind of create a broader success.

So we're really excited about expanding our focused. [00:40:00] Fintech practice that, um, you know, at least two years ago, it was just a, it was just a dream. 

Amy: Well, it sounds like you're the guy to do it with your background. Thank you so much for joining us. It's, uh, really been mind expanding for me to get your take on this industry and Hear your stories about, you know, the very real challenges of being an entrepreneur.

Schwark Satyavolu: It was great talking to you. Thank you for having me. 

Outro: Thanks for listening to Getting2Alpha with Amy Jo Kim. The shows that help you innovate faster and smarter. Be sure to check out our website, That's for more great resources and podcast episodes.