We asked Wise’s Chief Technology Officer, Harsh Sinha to share his advice on fintech careers and startup life. Here’s what he had to say:
1. What key skills are required for a career in fintech?
Besides having a fundamental understanding of working with money (i.e. not losing money on each transaction) and an ability to build a tech business (even if it is a simple app), there are no specific ‘key skills’ required to work in fintech. It’s more about being interested enough, to get under the hood of a real problem and willing to throw yourself into finding a solution. The skills are transferable for anyone currently working in a problem solving capacity.
2. Where can I begin my career?
Start at a small to medium sized company, where you have the opportunity to wear lots of different hats. The fastest way to learn is by doing, and if you join a company that focuses on hiring problem solvers who help make moves on the bigger opportunities, that creates learning and growth opportunities for you that allows you to eventually learn the lay of the land faster. As an interviewee, I’d ask the question ‘what is the process around moving teams at your company, and how often do people move teams?’ This offers a good perspective on how much the company values growth by learning different parts of the business, and encourages people to solve the biggest problems, regardless of their team name. Personally, I’ve always found this a better way to grow, compared to joining a large tech or finance organisation where your role is very well defined and the team set up does not allow for any flexibility.
3. Considering a startup?
When starting a company, regardless of the field, be clear on two basic questions:
● What’s the main customer problem you are trying to solve?
● Do you have an insight or hypothesis which makes your solution be an order of magnitude (say 8-10 times) better than the incumbents?
The former is required to be laser focused and actually clear on what your purpose as a company is. The latter helps create that adoption shift from using the incumbents to people using your product. Then, if you execute well (and have some luck on your side), you’ll be building a long lasting company with material impact. Without the first two questions being clearly answered, the chances of success are quite poor. This methodology applies to all new businesses – whether you’re a fintech or otherwise.
As I’ve mentioned, most elements needed to build a fintech company can be taught, or the skills you don’t have can be hired. A lot of successful fintech founders didn’t necessarily work in finance before. They had to ask questions as an outsider and had the naivety to actually attempt to solve the problems in a different way, because they weren’t entrenched in current industry solutions and practices. It doesn’t matter if this is a fintech business or something in the FMCG space – if you aren’t clear about the customer pain point, you won’t be clear on the solution you’re developing.
4. Scale-up advice?
Be laser focused on the problem you’re trying to solve and be close to your customers who are experiencing that problem first hand. In the early stages, read each piece of customer feedback and iterate your product based on that input. Talk early, and talk often to your customers. As you scale up and start gaining traction, don’t diversify into adjacent fields or new product offerings too quickly. Most semi successful startups die because they get distracted too quickly, compared to those who focus and double down on what got them to the stage they are in currently.