In the summer of 2019, I was pursuing a master in Finance & Economics at the Copenhagen Business School. Around that time, I had a conversation that catapulted my life trajectory in an entirely new direction.
Fast forward to December 2020, I am now the Co-Founder & CEO of Gaia. We are on a mission to help people spend, save, and invest for a sustainable future. Recently, we closed our pre-seed round and are well-positioned to launch our first product early 2021.
Gaia is the result of that conversation that took place on a warm summer afternoon a couple of years ago.
I am excited to share what I am building and perhaps more important - the why behind it.
A call to action
Early in 2020, the influential venture capitalist Marc Andreesen made a call to action. IT'S TIME TO BUILD. He declared in the title of his now (in)famous essay. And I couldn't agree more. However, we need to build what matters.
I’m still trying to figure out how funding exclusive social media platforms like Clubhouse as Andreesen did fits into the narrative with zero-emission nuclear reactors, delivery drones, and hospitals. Which are some of the things Marc Andreesen suggests that we start building. They are definitely not in the same category.
Don't get me wrong. I spend plenty of time scrolling through Instagram and snapchatting with my friends. I probably would have used Clubhouse as well. Had I gotten an invite.
Now, more than ever, I think it's important to stay connected with friends and family. It's really hard to not meet new people or hug family members. Zoom-fatigue is real.
Having said that, I personally want to work on different problems.
I am probably not gonna be the one who builds the next social network for pet owners. But if someone wants to do that - more power to them!
Again, I don't want to be misunderstood. There are ways we can have both. It's not zero-sum. Andrew Chen's take on this resonated with me.
Passengers on the Titanic
To me, there are simply other problems way too big for me to ignore anymore.
The way I see it, we are currently passengers on the Titanic. In the developed world, many of us have it pretty good. We enjoy things like video games, fashion, and restaurants. All while the ship is heading towards the iceberg.
The world is literally on fire.
Earlier this year, we witnessed large areas of California and Australia burning. People lost their homes and ecosystems suffered. Sadly, these are merely symptoms of a larger problem. Climate change. Since the 1970s, we have seen the global temperature increase by 1°C. This is unprecedented. Rising temperatures lead to extreme weather events such as drought, hurricanes, and floods.
If that wasn't enough, we are also in the midst of a global pandemic. The vaccine may have just been approved, but there have been consequences. People have lost their jobs. Their ability to stay close to loved ones. Some, even their lives. And it's not going to be the last pandemic.
Gender equality is a massive problem as well. In some areas of the world, women don't have the same opportunities as their male counterparts. This can lead to limited opportunities in the labor market and create an economic gap between men and women. Especially in tech, we can do better.
Just one third of the workforce at Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft are women. There are many nuances to this issue. STEM continues to be a male-dominated academic discipline leading to a skewed talent pool. But the point still stands. Gender bias is real.
Fortunately, there is a key difference between us and the poor souls who lost their lives on the Titanic.
We can still switch course so we don't crash into the iceberg.
Problems such as climate change, healthcare, and gender equality can be solved. Difficult, yes, but solvable.
Solving an actual problem
Gaia feels right because we are solving an actual problem.
In the past, I have worked on a few side projects. I started none of them to solve problems. I started them because I wanted to build a business. It doesn't work that way. You don't build businesses for the sake of building businesses.
Gaia came to be as the result of a real struggle. On that summer day in 2019, my mom expressed frustration that she had no idea how to invest for her retirement. I suggested that she called her banker. "I don't trust banks. Not after what happened in 08/09". Okay, then download Wealthfront or Betterment, I told her. "They are not committed to enable sustainable development". I ran out of suggestions. But, then it struck me.
I can build this, I immediately thought. And from there, we were off to the races.
Many people feel the same way as my mom. They want to contribute. They might have bought an electric vehicle. They might cut out meat every Monday. But if you ask them how they invest their money, it's a different story. None of them have invested in companies whose values align with their own. The vast majority haven't invested at all.
But why would they? If you don't have the time or experience, it's really hard!
We believe investing for a sustainable future should be just as easy as taking an Uber. It should be as delightful as driving a Tesla.
That's our value proposition. Sustainable saving, consumption, and investing made delightfully easy.
However, it's about more than just UX and sustainable investments. I also want to build community. Gaia users will have ways to interact with each other and help shape the future of the product.
Aligning my skills with my mission
One thing I often get asked about is my background. You'll notice that I don't have a background from non-profits or humanitarian work. Honestly, I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life as an investment banker or a management consultant.
"The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads." - Jeffrey Hammerbacher
I feel this quote from Jeffrey Hammerbacher (early employee at Facebook) on a deeper level.
I had no idea how to apply my educational background in economics and finance to solve problems like climate change.
I'm not the one who will invent the gold standard in batteries to effectively store solar power.
How would I even make a dent?
Mastering Excel spreadsheets and a few programming languages were not going to change the world. I might as well go work for BigCo and enjoy my time on board the Titanic.
At least, that's what I thought until that day during the summer of 2019, where my mom expressed her frustration with current finance solutions.
So why now?
I think the timing is near perfect for Gaia now. There are a few reasons.
First, people are starting to wake up. Many are realizing how disastrous the consequences of climate change are. And they want to do something about it. Europe is a little ahead of the curve but the US is catching up as well. Seeing your childhood house go up in flames is a serious wake-up call.
Second, consumers are fed up with incumbents. Hidden fees and awful support are driving this. The fragmentation of the banking value chain makes it possible for another entity to own the front-end and create their own business models using brokerage APIs and open banking initiatives.
Third, COVID-19 has probably accelerated technology adoption by +5 years. That means digitally native products is becoming relevant to new demographics as well. Earlier in 2020, a reporter from the Wall Street Journal wrote a piece that explained how "The Pandemic Turned My Parents Into Day Traders".
For consumer fintech as a category, I'm convinced that we have only seen the beginning. Today, less than 10% of consumers consider an online bank to be their primary account. At the same time, the 50th largest bank is worth more than $50B. That's incredible potential.
It feels similar to what happened with Tesla and the automobile industry.
Who would have thought that Tesla would be worth more than Fiat Chrysler, Ford, and GM combined?
Putting the planet and customer first, is not only the right thing to do, it will also be the most profitable.
The internet is my mentor
I don't want to make it sound like I was just suddenly struck with the courage to start a company.
I am fortunate to live in a time where the internet has made it possible to get mentoring from the best minds of our time without necessarily knowing each other.
I am deeply inspired by people like Elon Musk and Chamath Palihapitiya.
Elon is building the best electrical vehicles in the world. He is working on space exploration.
Chamath, who is the CEO of Social Capital, has committed hundreds of millions to solving the world's hardest problems. He has invested in companies that tackle issues like climate change, space exploration, and cancer.
"[...] we started Social Capital to tackle hard problems like cancer, space exploration and climate change at a time when few investors were doing so. While many investors fawned over social networks, photo-sharing apps, and other consumer-oriented investments, we invested in healthcare, education, and frontier technology businesses like space exploration and artificial intelligence." - From Social Capital's 2019 annual letter
This resonates a lot. If I were to start a venture capital fund, its mission statement would probably be very similar.
Paying it forward
Like Elon and Chamath, who generously share the progress of their journeys, I aspire to do the same. My ambition is to become a lighthouse for like-minded people.
Most of my content will be on Twitter. Here, I will provide an unfiltered view into the process of building a category-leader in sustainable finance.
This blog will be mostly for introspective pieces such as the one you are reading now. I also plan to publish what Julian Shapiro refers to as handbooks of knowledge. These are deep dives that cover a topic I care deeply about. From A-Z. The first one is going to be about getting to product-market fit.
Finally, you can subscribe to my newsletter. The purpose of this newsletter is to share tactical advice and frameworks that I have successfully implemented in Gaia. They will mostly cover product and hiring. I will only write if I have something valuable to share. No fixed cadence or noise. Only signal.