Podcast: Brand & Beyond, Quiltt CEO & Co-founder Ruben Izmailyan

Ruben Izmailyan
Co-Founder, CEO
March 7, 2023

Disclaimer: The following transcript has been edited for clarity and readability. Some parts of the conversation may have been condensed, rearranged, or paraphrased to improve comprehension.

[Beyond & Brand]

What's up everybody, and welcome to the Brand and Beyond podcast. I'm your host, Chris joined as always by my co-host Peace, and we have a really, really great episode for all you guys out there today. We are joined by co-founder and CEO of Quiltt, Ruben Izmailyan. Ruben, Thank you so much for taking the time.

How are you doing today?

[Ruben Izmailyan]

Thanks for having me. Doing great.

[Beyond & Brand]

Love that. So, could you give our audience a brief intro of what, what Quiltt does, the size and state that you guys are at, at now, and just really the origin story of how it all got started.

[Ruben Izmailyan]

Yeah. So Quiltt is a basically a financial infrastructure company.

Our mission is to lower technical barriers for people building in consumer financial services. You know, we've sort of seen a lot of innovation in this space over the last five to 10 years but kind of one of the core challenges for anyone who wants to build, you know, financial experiences, things like personal finance, things that drive financial wellness and inclusion is you're still sort of like gated by primarily your ability to code.

Or your ability to raise money and hire people who know how to code. And even if you know how to code there's kind of a pretty big gap between getting something really basic out and getting something out of the quality and caliber and data integrity of the Chimes and the large companies today that consumers are increasingly expecting their technology, their financial technology to kind of be of that level.

And so at Quiltt, what we're basically building is a low-code platform that essentially has all these integrations under the hood so you can integrate into Quiltt on the front end with a single line of code and on the backend you don't even need to use your own server if you don't want to.

We can support server-less configurations as well. And then we give you access to best in class providers for account aggregation, account verification, transaction enrichment out of the box. So, essentially it's one integration that turns data from lots of different providers into one kind of standard canonical language.

And the idea really is to allow folks to get to market much faster, allow folks to experiment and try out new providers without having to go through multi-month engineering integration cycles just to get something up and running.

Happy to dive into the origin story as well. That was kinda what the company is today.

So the origin story is kind of, we have a bit of an unusual path to get here. So after college I lived in New York for a while working for a big financial data company. I was on a sort of on a sales management track at a large financial data company. At the same time I did a lot of computer science in high school but didn't do that at all in college.

And a few years in I really kind of got the itch to build stuff. And instead of sell stuff the irony is now I'm probably doing more selling than [building]. But basically my wife and I moved from New York City to Texas where I'm based today. And I was kind of at an inflection point in my career.

I decided to get back into programming a little bit. I had some ideas I wanted to validate and at the time if you wanted to build something in FinTech you just have to code. The technology and the type of tooling available for folks who might have a lot of ideas, but don't necessarily know how to piece all the data pieces of it together into a cohesive customer facing product or experience.

So, I got into coding and, and had a couple of ideas I wanted to play with. One of which led me to build a kind of an automated budgeting app. And the automated budgeting app was built on top of the API from Plaid. So you would connect your bank accounts, and then we would basically automatically build this comprehensive picture of your finances.

From there we would start building some automations around what your needs, your wants, and your goals. And so I brought on my co-founder, he was an old friend of mine, we took a B2B approach and started selling it to community banks and credit unions to add as a white label option so they could better compete with a lot of these fintechs and a lot of the really big banks that are building this kind of stuff in house and are getting good.

But eventually in 2020 we had this eureka moment, which was that more and more folks are trying to build in this space and a lot of the technology is fairly repetitive. And we really were fascinated by the data problem, perhaps more than the customer experience problem.

I also think like the composition of our team at the time was much more suited for this type of a business anyway. And I think that's really important for founders to realize. Find the thing that you're excited about, plus the thing that your early team is good at.

I think that's a really important lesson. It was a lesson for us. And so we ended up basically pivoting the company, rebranded to Quiltt and started basically going down this infrastructure path. So, now we're trying to make it a lot easier for other people to get going with this type of tooling without having to do the integrations.

And it dramatically increases the possibilities of this technology because what people build on it, that final step of it, is really up to the the entrepreneur and the company that has these ideas. We just want do all the dirty, boring plumbing work under the hood.

[Beyond & Brand]

Absolutely. So what's, what's the size or stage of Quiltt?

[Ruben Izmailyan]

So we are seven full-time with a couple of contractors. We raised our seed round at the beginning of last year.

[Beyond & Brand]


[Ruben Izmailyan]

Thank you. So, at this point we just launched our first sort of public product last week called the Quiltt Connector.

We've been in beta for the actual API for a while with a bunch of customers. And so we're sort of I would say from my vantage point, as a technical founder, I'm working hard to kind of switch off a little bit off of builder mode into more of the, let's get this thing out into the hands of people mode.

But yeah that's that's basically the team. There’s seven of us five of us are engineers, so it's a pretty engineering heavy team. And then my co-founder who's the sales and partnership guy. And then we just brought on an amazing head of marketing. She's also sort of plugging a lot of the gaps, other gaps that we have on our team.

[Beyond & Brand]

I mean, really just getting into the meat & potatoes of the podcast. You and your family are from Armenia. You guys immigrated here. I, myself, also immigrate to the United States from Rwanda with my family. So I know personally, my upbringing, my culture plays a big part on how I engage with my team members and really just my day-to-day.

Can you just tell our audience how has your cultural background influenced how you structured Quiltt’s culture?

[Ruben Izmailyan]

That's a really good question. So I think one of the things, at least for me, from my immigrant experience, one of the values I hold pretty intuitively is this ability to or at least an effort to always put myself in the shoes of another person and try to see the world a little bit from the way they see it. Just because I've had to do that as I've moved around the world when I was a kid. And so, one of the things we focused on is really building a team of folks that might not have the most conventional resumes or might not have the most conventional backgrounds, and it can actually bring really different and interesting perspectives to the table.

So, bringing that in, I think, you know, dramatically increases the possibilities of the kind of stuff that your team will come up with and the kind of interactions they'll have.

But I think that also can kind of backfire. I think if you don't have the right culture where people can freely debate, freely discuss, do it respectfully. And so, so the main thing I think for me has been and I learned this probably more so from some old bosses that I've had than my immigrant experience is really bringing on really smart people and doing as much as I possibly can to get out of the way and to allow them to express themselves with their creativity and their professionalism.

I think that's probably the number one sort of hack I, I would give to people. I think as a founder, I think a lot of, particularly product minded founders have a tendency to be really, really in the weeds.

And I'm often guilty of that, but I think just having the awareness of the whole point of hiring really smart people is that over time I need to become kind of expendable and useless, at least from the delivery of the product. Right? And that way I'm able to step into the next thing that my business requires me to do for us to be able to keep this going.

[Beyond & Brand]

That foundation, were you cognizant of that when you got started? Is this something you had to learn as you guys progressed and move forward?

[Ruben Izmailyan]

A little bit of both. I had kind of a good fortune of getting some solid kind of management experience when I was pretty early in my career. So it was at a company called S&P Capital IQ, so the big financial data company we had some kind of merger that happened there. There was some reorganization and basically I found myself as a 26 year old managing a 12 person team. And it was managing, but also building the team and figuring out how they're gonna work.

And, and one of my bosses or the boss at the time who offered me this opportunity had a very unconventional way of offering me this opportunity, which was basically, “Hey, so you have a lot of opinions about this stuff, and you're always kind of complaining about it, so why don't you go fix it?”

I'm like, well, how do I do that? And he goes on, “I don't know, write it out. Like write a piece of paper of what you think should happen and then we'll talk about.” And I was super annoyed about this because I'm like, you're the boss. You're supposed to tell me what my job is. Like, why are you making me do your work?

And so I ended up basically going through and writing probably the longest thing I wrote since college. Just basically bulleted and tried to outline some of the opportunities I saw on the team and some of the things we could improve. And I thought he was just gonna throw it out or whatever but instead we spent an hour and a half digesting.

And, he started layering in context around the organization and some of the issues, some of the reasons for some of these things, some of the things that he totally agreed with. And we walked out of there with an edited version of this that actually became a job description.

And it really changed the way I think I approached that job because I basically helped create the job description. I think in a startup setting it's harder to do that in a formalized way but I think trying to keep that attitude of hire smart people and then have them tell you what needs to happen. Chime in if you have opinions, but then ultimately try to get out of the way and have them do that. I think that's been a probably the simplest management advice that I ever learned. And you know, I think it's been a lot more fun to run a team.

[Beyond & Brand]

For sure. Wow, that's that's a really interesting way to get handed to the job, I must say. So wanting to transition into how remote work plays a really important role in your culture, in a blog post you said, I recognize that there are many obvious and not so obvious trade offs involved in being fully remote and that for us the pros continue to greatly outweigh the cons. So could you break down that statement, you know, telling our listeners, how do the pros outweigh the cons relative to remote work for you guys?

[Ruben Izmailyan]

Yeah, so the big one is just talent availability and access, right? I think that the earlier the startup is, the more the totality of the startup is just the talent on the team.

And, you know, I think hopefully that keeps up over time, but even especially in the early days, it's the number one competitive advantage you have, right? It's like, can you move and how much better are your people than the incumbents people? One way to put it.

So I think the big advantage of remote for us really is the ability to hire the best person from anywhere in the world.

I live in Dallas now, and Dallas has a lot of tech people, and it's a pretty good sort of tech market. But, but at the same time the best person at X is probably not here. They're probably in another part of the world, right? So statistically you just have access to a lot more people.

And I think the biggest advantage you can build as an early stage startup that can't pay Google, that can't out pay these companies, right? You have a bigger universe of people that you might be able to find that might be excited about your team and about your company.

That's part one. And then part two, I think, we're sort of a COVID company in some ways. I think really the current iteration of the company was born during COVID. And so being remote friendly and remote flexible in part was a necessity when we started really building out our core team.

But at the same time it's been really interesting to see how you can have an intense job that can nicely fit in with sort of the lives that people have outside of work. That's not to say that you can't do that if you have to show up at the office at nine o'clock and go home at five o'clock, but the ability for folks to live where they want with their families and a lot of folks on our team have kids being able to be there for your kids when you need to drop 'em off at school, go to a doctor's appointment.

I think that's kind of flexibility that remote work provides to people. Without folks needing to ask permission because they need to like step out for lunch or something, or it being necessarily a visible thing. I think that helps create a type of work culture where people are more personally accountable, but at the same time they're more able to do their best work within confines of our lives, which are increasingly not just nine to five.

[Beyond & Brand]

Yeah, for sure, for sure. So as a follow up to that, what do you think the biggest trade off is from not being in person, in your mind?

[Ruben Izmailyan]

The biggest one I think it's the one that a lot of the remote work skeptics talk about.

I think it's the collaboration angle, right? Being able to sit down next to somebody in front of their computer, doing it together in front of a whiteboard. Even step out for coffee to clear your brain. Those are the we're human beings, we're social creatures, I think those type of interactions are really, really hard, if not impossible to in a remote context.

And so, you know, you lose that, right? And so I think you have to make up for that in other ways. For us that's meant being very creative around the way we sort of do these shaping discussions when we're working on feature.

We actually for anything that's meaningful, we will schedule a one and a half to two hours on video, in front of a document with a screen share. And we'll jump through code together. We'll do all these things. I think we would do in person but it seems a little impractical to do over remote, so we're really trying to kind of build that part of it.

And then the second way we've gotten around this is we have the great fortune of travel. And so, in the Fall when we had a bit of a, kind of a eureka moment around a product direction we needed to take I literally got on a plane and I flew to New York where our engineering lead was and, and my co-founder is also there. And we got into a room and we hammered this thing over like a two day period.

Could we have done that remotely? Maybe, but I, I don't think it would've worked nearly as well. So I think you have to pick your battles a little bit and, and sort of have a core flow that supports, and is built around remote.

But I also think you need to be willing and able to kind of break from that and, and just get in, get in the car, get on a plane, like go and actually see the person and hash some of these things out.

[Beyond & Brand]

Has there been any, like, has there been any like cultural surprises you've dealt with, like with your team being that you, you were in remote, I'm assuming, when you worked at Capital IQ, it was, it, were you in person?

[Ruben Izmailyan]

Yeah, so we were in person and when I moved to Dallas, I was briefly kind of remote. We had an office here in Dallas, but it was in a different division. So the company had an office, but none of my direct colleagues were in this office. I found myself much more productive working from home.

So I started doing that, but it was very unusual and I would say that a lot of the more old school folks on my team were not particularly happy with that because it was unusual. And then the flip side of it, I think some of my junior folks that work for me I think in some cases it wasn't a good experience for them either because their boss is not visible or present, right?

So I think part of this reason is why I'm a little bit skeptical around sort of these hybrid approaches that a lot of folks wanna take is because I think it ends up kind of creating a little bit of resentment.

It sometimes creates a second class sort of employees within a team. So, I think it's really important to kind of pick a direction, stick with that direction and then create structure so that you get some of the in-person benefits particularly around people physically being in the same place and building, building real human relationships.

I think that's the other part that, that you really need to need to maximize in-person time, at least in concentrated chunks.

[Beyond & Brand]

Certainly, certainly. It sounds like you're building a really strong remote first culture though over there at Quiltt. We love to hear that. So getting into our next question here.

So on Twitter a couple years ago, you respond to a tweet that asked when creating your company culture, are you creating a team or you're creating a family, and you responded a movement. And we would love to hear you dive deeper on that powerful statement and why you believe that.

[Ruben Izmailyan]

I don't know how far back you're going on my tweet so I hope I don't get into too much trouble But so I'm trying to remember that, but I think if I recall, I was being a little bit tongue in cheek around sort of the very common language that a lot of companies use around, we're a family, right? Like, you know, at Megacorp we're all a family, right?

I'm very allergic to that because a company is not a family. A company cannot generally be a family unless it's a family business. If a company says that we're family, I'm more likely thinking they're gonna fire me when everything gets tough. Especially when you're talking about startups and you're talking about, you know venture backed startups where you know, there's a lot of pressure to execute and perform and be the best. Companies tend to be sometimes kind of ruthless.

Being able to pivot and being able to change directions and sometimes that means letting people go and families don't do that, right? I think it's important to contextualize it around that part. Maybe what those companies are often trying to say is that, you know, we care about you.

That you're sort of part of a bigger thing than than yourself. Right? And I think a movement describes that pretty well because I think you can be part of a movement and share a certain ethos in a certain kind of belief system in a certain way that you see the world in a certain way, that direction that you want to take the world.

That vision ideally is largely shared, right? It can accommodate different perspectives and different views on maybe the details. But overall, I think people, tech companies in particular, is really, really important for people to be aligned on the general direction of what you're trying to do.

And then the other part of course is you want people working hard and well that doesn't mean many hours necessarily. It means investing a meaningful amount of their work life energy into working on a business of some sort.

And I think there's a few ways to motivate people to do that. The easiest one is pay people more money. And I think you should pay people as much as you humanly can. But I think having been in a place where, I at one point, made a pretty good amount of money and was not excited about the work that I was doing.

I think the best combination is being at a place where you are properly remunerated, but also like really deeply care about a certain mission, certain vision that the company has, and you're really feeling like you're part of that.

I think that's the sweet spot where work becomes enriching of your life rather than zapping life juice out of your life so that you can go give it to your job.

I think that alignment is really important. So, it's a bit of a non-answer to me. I think it's somewhere in between those two things is kind of the point that I'm trying to make.

[Beyond & Brand]

So as a CEO, how do you deal with individuals that are probably coming from the, we're a family culture when, you know, trying to implement themselves with your organization?

[Ruben Izmailyan]

I don't think we have people that have come from a place where they expect that we're like family. Part of this is, we're a small team, but part of this I also think, this may come off a little wrong, but like, I think most people that have meaningful professional experience are jaded to the idea that a startup is a family or like a, a giant corporation is a family, right.

I think for the most part, we really look for folks that are strong individuals with a strong sense of self who care about what we're trying to do but also know what they're worth and know that they have other opportunities available to them at all times. And I always think about that.

So frankly, I don't think that's really come up. I don't think we've had to fight that and for some of the less experienced folks on our team, I view that as our responsibility or my responsibility is to create a work culture where they understand that they can be extremely valued and you can have very strong personal affection for a person. But, that doesn't mean that, you know, family is not the appropriate term to describe. You know anything that pays you money I don't think that's the right language, frankly.

[Beyond & Brand]

That's a bar right there. As we, I mean really as we were trying to close out this episode what advice would you give to early stage founders operator? Regarding what's discussed today, you know, managing culture teams, understanding, you know, the type of movement you'd like them to follow or, or companies can choose to follow moving forward, what would you like to say to these guys?

[Ruben Izmailyan]

I don't know how qualified I am to, to give the advice, but I'll try. I think the main one is and I think most founders, whatever they're stage, do this a lot, is there's just a lot of advice out there. And, much of the advice is person X who did Y in a very different context than you are doing it you know, is giving you advice on how to do Z, right?

And I think, it's very tempting to sort of correlate the success that a person has had with the advice that they're giving you. And I think that's kind of dangerous, right? Because you know, most founders that I've met are like extremely hungry and extremely excited to get their company off the ground and sort of build the world the way they see it.

And so I think we always kinda have happy years too, right? And, and we're always looking for hacks and for shortcuts, and I think that's healthy and important, but I also think that it is really important for founders to develop their set of core beliefs and then attract people and advisors and mentors and investors, right?

That don't necessarily share everything, but at least are aligned with that set of core beliefs. So that, you know, the kind of advice that you'll actually get from people is sort of a little bit constrained to the way that you think about the world and the way that you've been building your business at the same time.

I think being open-minded and flexible that the assumptions that you hold could be wrong is really, really important. I think stubbornness is a really good trade in a founder until it destroys your business because you are not adapting to new information and you're not adapting to new data.

So it’s kinda a two part answer, right. Develop strong convictions and develop strong belief system that's ideally rooted in a certain set of principles around how you treat other people and the kind of change that you want your business to create in the world.

But then, you know, remain flexible about the how to get there and make sure that the advice you're getting is kind of adopted to the basics that you're building.

[Beyond & Brand]

For sure. Yeah, no, love that. And you know, kind of stemming off that, what's one question you'd like to ask another founder or operator related to today's conversation that would be helpful for you as you grow?

And is there anyone specific you'd like to ask that question to?

[Ruben Izmailyan]

Ooh, I think one thing that comes to mind is, going back to remote work, how do other founders and nobody specific comes to mind are really dealing with getting some of those benefits of in person on a more frequent basis.

So I know some founders will fly out on a quarterly basis to go meet with individual team members. A lot of companies such as ours meet at least once a year, they get everybody from all over the world so they get together into one place so they can have a compacted experience of, of being in the same place. I'm always really curious to hear how folks are doing that. And this is actually one of those things where I think a lot of founders are not actually equipped to answer this question unless they are either building a remote first company or have built one in the past.

And there's, there's a bunch of really great examples of companies that are very mature that built it this way. I think those are the kind of founders that more of us can learn from that are operating in a remote culture.

[Beyond & Brand]

Perfect. I mean, really just wrapping it all up, you know, where can people find you if they wanna learn more about Quiltt or reach out to you to, you know, learn more, you know, on your opinions on culture or teams or anything of the sorts?

[Ruben Izmailyan]

Yeah, so quiltt.io. That's Q-U-I-L-T-T dot I-O. That's our website. You can check out our docs if you're a little more technical. Quiltt dev. We own all the Quiltt of many of the Quiltt domains. And so that, that's a good place to find us LinkedIn and Twitter as well Quiltt at @QuilttFinTech.

And then on LinkedIn, we're, we're just Quiltt. And you know, folks can also should be able to find me online. We're very happy to hear from other founders and, and whether it's FinTech related or not. Super happy to share what I know.

[Beyond & Brand]

Well, Ruben, it was an absolute pleasure.

Thank you so much for taking the time today and in coming on. This is absolutely fantastic. And that is it for today's episode of Brand and Beyond. And we'll see you guys next time. Thanks guys. It's a pleasure. No problem.

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