FinTech Founder Q&A: Nova

Financial Solutions Lab

Imagine leaving the nation of your birth — where you had great credit, a car, a home, a bank account — and moving to the United States for the first time. While you might think that having great credit in your home country would ease the financial path ahead, today that’s simply not the case. Your credit history doesn’t come with you. This truth was all too apparent when Misha Esipov, Nicky Goulimis, and Loek Janssen met in grad school; each experienced firsthand the credit access challenges faced by immigrants, as each hails from outside of the U.S.: Misha originally from Russia; Nicky from the U.K.; Loek from The Netherlands. Each had been rejected when applying for credit in the U.S., and together, they decided to do something about it. Meet FinLab winner Nova. We sat down with cofounder Nicky Goulimis to find out more.

 

Where did the idea for Nova come from?

All three of us were internationals, and we had experienced some of the credit access challenges that immigrants face firsthand. All three of us have been rejected applying for credit, or even trying to verify our identities to banks. When you experience a problem for yourself, it makes you deeply passionate about solving it!

But we also bring to the table a range of experiences — ironically, perhaps, much of that experience was in finance, retail banking, financial inclusion and technology. Collectively we’ve worked in private equity, international and retail banking, as well as for the likes of Google and Adobe. We started the company as a research project at Stanford and quickly found that banks did care about getting a solution — and the solution lay in data. The rest is history!

 

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in starting your company, and how have you addressed it?

The biggest challenge for us is that we’re building a platform between giants: large international credit bureaus on the one hand, and large banks on the other. Like any platform, we have a chicken-and-egg challenge: we need one side to get the other side going. To address this we’ve had to parallel track both sides of the business and readjust to align them every so often.

 

What new innovation in fintech are you most excited about?

We’re really excited about regulatory innovation that enables responsible consumer consent to datasharing. Now more than ever, consumers are able to share their data and thus not only take away the lengthy manual processes in banking, but also gain access to a whole new suite of products. This consent needs to be responsibly managed, and we’re gratified to see regulators step into this space. For Nova, this is core to enabling us to move data across borders.

 

What’s one thing you wish you’d known back when you started your company?

Our one thing is: “It takes a village.”  When we started the company, we thought that it would be a series of bilateral partnerships between suppliers and vendors. Increasingly we’ve learnt that fintech is all about an ecosystem. As a result, we now work with stakeholders across the space and not just our direct partners.

 

What’s the best business advice you’ve ever gotten?

The best advice we ever got was from Sam Altman at YC. We were at a crossroads and he asked us, “What would you do if you assumed your company would succeed?” The answer then became easily apparent.

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