Fintech Founder Q&A: Brightside

Financial Solutions Lab

Callum King, along with Jacky Chiu, Shawn Leavitt, and Tom Spann founded Brightside, a personalized financial health platform providing employees with one place to go for all their financial needs. King shares why he and his team became fintech founders focused on creating solutions to specifically address workplace financial health challenges.

Q. What inspired you to start your company?

  • We want to get the 78% of American families living paycheck to paycheck off of that cycle because financial stress tends to cause a number of issues that trouble our communities- higher rates of divorce, more health issues, worse employee engagement and productivity. These are just some of the taxes hiding in plain sight from financial stress. The point really hit home for me when I met two sisters who could have been in similar financial situations, but weren’t. They had the same employer, lived in the same city, and were offered similar opportunities. One sister was doing okay financially and in other areas of her life, while the other sister was struggling with significant debt and health issues likely caused by an innocent financial mistake years ago. The sisters were unaware of the other’s financial situation. Money is complicated and emotional, and they can’t be separated. Recognizing this, we believe that an effective money solution should address the sensitive and nuanced context of one’s unique circumstances. That’s what makes our approach at Brightside different. We offer personalized Financial Assistants — real people — that employees can go to for all their financial needs. This includes things like emergency loans, savings accounts, unsecured loans, and credit building products. And people are responding – Brightside has over an 80 Net Promoter Score (NPS).

Q. What’s been the biggest business challenge you faced while starting up?

  • We’re fortunate to be a high growth company, but starting a new business, never mind a new way to do things, is hard. At times, we have been victims of our own success. For one particular product launch, we did a great job of providing the market what it needed, and as a result in the first 24 hours we saw the demand that was forecasted for the first three weeks. We were all hands on deck serving clients, and while it was a challenge, it was a special moment for me. I saw families saying, “I need Brightside,” and our team was banding together to help them. I’m grateful we’ve developed a culture that faces challenges head-on and prioritizes the needs of the families we serve.

Q. What was an early win or success that made you think you could be a successful startup?

  • Just after launching, we started to see how much our business could impact lives. In those early days, we were already helping people with significant life situations— evictions and other emergencies— and the financial challenges that come along with those circumstances. One such moment for Brightside was when we helped a family struggling with the legal system and associated costs to reunite with their child. I knew that our approach working for families would make a huge difference throughout the country and it couldn’t have been done solely through an app. Since then, we continue to help people across a myriad of situations from budgeting to saving and planning for the future.

Q. What in fintech are you most excited about now?

  • Over the past few decades, employers have become one of the most important players in the healthcare system. I believe we’re at the start of a similar movement in financial services; employers will shape the future of the financial services industry. It makes sense because employers are in a unique position to unlock genuine financial health to which employees otherwise wouldn’t have access. When you think about it from an employer perspective, you quickly realize there is too much at stake for an employer to not have a financial health strategy in place.

Q. Is there a piece of advice that you wish you would have known that other founders might find helpful? Why?

  • Be open-minded. Step away from your routine of computer screens and statistics to experience the world from your end user’s perspective. Understand how those statistics translate to real world implications. Once you have that perspective, you might see a need hiding in plain sight, which is exactly what led to the creation of Brightside.

Q. What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received, and how has it impacted your company or career?

  • People make or break your company. We all know it’s true and live that principle in the context of our teams. At Brightside, what makes it even more important is that our experience is created and delivered by people, our Financial Assistants. They are at the heart of our company, and in that moment of truth, when someone calls or chats us for help, they are Brightside.

Q. Would you recommend an accelerator program to others, and if so why (anything in particular about FinLab)?

  • Yes, accelerators can be useful for early-stage startups, but make sure the program is the right fit for your company. There are many types of accelerators with different goals in mind. The Financial Solutions Lab is a unique and valuable program for Brightside, and we’ve benefited from collaboration with the Financial Health Network on strategic initiatives to build great long term relationships in the financial services industry. The Financial Health Network team is a fit for us because we both want to transform the financial services industry into a system that works for American families.

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