Stephany Kirkpatrick: Founder & CEO of Orum

Episode 349

On today’s episode, we hear from Stephany Kirkpatrick who is the Founder and CEO of Orum. Orum is building a new financial infrastructure that allows money to move immediately and automatically across accounts, products, and financial institutions. We hear all about Stephany’s courageous journey that is motivating and courageous. The challenge to build a financial infrastructure layer that can work with any kind of payment is not for the faint of heart. In addition, we hear all about her journey to entrepreneurial life in founding and scaling Orum. This episode is filled with a ton of inspiration and takeaways that you won’t want to miss! On this episode of #TheKaraGoldinShow.

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Kara Goldin 0:00
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be I want to be, you just want to make sure you will get knocked down. But just make sure you don’t get knocked down knocked out. So your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi, everyone and welcome to the Kara Goldin show. Join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go. Let’s go.

Hi, everyone, it’s Kara Goldin from the Kara Goldin show. And I am here with my next guest, Stephany Kirkpatrick, who is the founder and CEO of Orem. And I am so excited to have her hear her found her story and her journey. And the problem that she is tackling is very, very courageous, or is building a new financial infrastructure that allows money to move immediately and automatically across accounts, products and financial institutions. And like I said, she has this amazing backstory, she actually was on the team with another one of our guests, Alex. So it’ll be very, very fun to to talk a little bit more about that. But I love her courage that she has really, really inspired me and motivated me just kind of hearing her story. And also, just knowing what she’s tackling will make it a lot easier for people to live. So I can’t wait to hear more about it directly from her. But without further ado, welcome, Stephany.

Stephany Kirkpatrick 1:51
Hi, Kara. So great to be here. Thanks for having me today.

Kara Goldin 1:53
Super excited. So so let’s start at the beginning, when not at the very, very beginning. But I’d love to hear you share a bit about how you got this idea for Orem and how would you describe it to people.

Stephany Kirkpatrick 2:08
So or it was actually really simple to describe by why. So being here, I think is probably the more interesting thing. But let me tell you about where I’m really quickly. So we are the simplest API integration for instant payout. With us, you can use one solution to deliver payouts and you access RTP, which real time payments, Ach, st ACH and more. We are excited to be launch partners with five now Faster Payments program in the US later this year. And that allows folks to implement payment stacks and instant payouts in literally a single API. In fact, we have a customer right now going through it. And I think that’d be live in less than seven days from launch of contracts. And that puts folks on a path to launch a totally differentiated new payout experience, we’re going to talk about why I care so much about instant payments. And that really positions companies to diversify the revenue that they’re bringing in the door. And together, we grow beyond just a payout solution, right? We are here to power. It’s okay suspend tax, financial services, providers payments, you name it with the ability to go beyond just a power solution. And the ability to really thrive in a real time world. If you think about it, you can get a massage on demand in your house in basically major every every major city in the US. And it’s gonna take you minimum three to five days to move your own money from point A to point B, I just feel like that’s a, that’s a that’s a thing really worth solving. When you think about what time to money means for the average American household and how their behavior patterns would change will change. When the fear and uncertainty of putting money in a high yield savings or brokerage account goes away because they’re no longer gated by nights, weekends holidays. And there’s truly 24/7 365 access to money when people need it when businesses need it. So that we create a universal and wholly different way of thinking about what ultimately drives our financial system and the American Wallet. So my story goes back to my childhood and like seeing this kind of firsthand problem and thinking about it over many phases of my career before we got to Orem. So, so do you remember that? Like when when was the first time that you were like, wait, what why does that take so long? Do you remember kind of that moment? You know, I have this like really precise memory as a kid actually where my parents were talking about their taxes for the year and something I’d ever heard was basically implying to me that we were poor. And so in that moment, I remember going or anything like report report or look for I did like that was like a, a definition that needed to be explained to the rest of the world, what it ultimately boil down to, we’re seeing my dad who’s an immigrant, come to the US not even get beyond a high school education and try to figure out how he was going to build a life for himself and how he’s going to create financial stability. And so that memory from childhood of like not really understanding what that meant, but realizing my parents were worried about it and how they were worried about cash flow and savings and debt repayment, I think just colored the journey I took to becoming a financial planner, which then took me to a company called learn best. And that’s where I started to see this pain point around time to money. Because we created algorithmic advice that can easily answer the question what should care or Stephanie or anyone do next with their next dollar. And then where it stopped was not behavior change to say, let’s get better habits in place. Although I’m a huge believer in habits in general, the problem was ultimately your that if I saved money, right, now you can get a great yield, thanks to interest rates. In Ohio feedings, it’s probably decoupled from where you pay. But on Saturday, at 2pm. If you have an emergency, and you can’t get that money back for three to five days, you’re not even inclined to put it there in the first place. So it’s this vicious cycle, where those who have less continue to have less because they don’t take advantage of the opportunities that are there that could create pathways to broader and more certain financial stability. So I saw it, and I just studied it. And after we sold learn best in Northwestern Mutual, your magnitude of scale isn’t 1000s of people, it’s not hundreds of 1000s of people, it’s a millions of Americans are getting amazing advice on how to think about their finances. And they’re still held back by the time and money problem. They’re just sad. It’s sad in my bones, I think for a long time. Before it was really something I realized I wanted. And, you know, finding the courage to jump off a cliff, so to speak into the life of a founder. It doesn’t happen, I don’t think overnight, and it’s it’s deep, deeply embedded passion and conviction that this is the problem I want to obsess about. For the rest of my career.

Kara Goldin 6:42
I love it. That’s so so interesting. So you mentioned learn best. And Alexis, obviously, I mean, it’s such an incredible entrepreneur that we had on here as well. Do you think actually working for another founder that was very smart, approachable, you know that she figured stuff out along the way you were able to kind of get a bird’s eye view into that and obviously saw a tremendous transaction, that that really helped you to kind of piece it all together to say, wait a minute, it’s, it’s scary, but I think I can do this.

Stephany Kirkpatrick 7:18
I need without a doubt and working for another woman and working for a female entrepreneur who was literally in her 20s When I met her and I’m actually a little bit older than she is the bravery to just be like I am doing something, I’m going to change the world I’m gonna change financial advice for the 99% was so inspiring. And then when I got in the door, I think my title was like financial planner in residence, which means kind of nothing but also mean kind of, you’re in charge of everything around financial advice until you’re not right. And I think the journey of being early stage, and I’ve seen this with folks at Orem today is like if there’s a vacancy fill it if there’s a chance to be around the table, and maybe perhaps you don’t need to speak but you’re listening, absorb. Right. And so yes, I was able to pattern match, I think, through that experience, some of the things I was going to experience as a founder that I’ve definitely seen that I saw then. But I will say it’s a wholly different time. A b2b business is different for me. And that’s where some of my learnings and pain points have come from of like, Oh, I didn’t know what’s gonna happen. So they’re, they’re definitely different models. But I think, because inspired capital ended up writing an inspiration check. And Alexa was essentially first money into Orem. I don’t know What’s scarier taking money from people you do know or taking money from people you don’t know. But the sort of implied understanding that we have always had is, we’re in it through thick and thin. In my fast forward on Orem, Sunday, being a public company, that first investor who will buy up in every round, who will buy in the public markets, and who will sit on my board probably forever. And that I think, creates a certainty that no matter what we experienced, or what patterns we saw before, and as an entrepreneur I see now, there’s somebody there that that’s on my side that’s thinking about success with me, for me and kind of helping every turn in the road. And so I would say it’s just been a really incredible opportunity to go have had management and leadership experience in a startup, go through an acquisition, and then now be at like the blank piece of paper, day zero again, and be able to actual, a lot of those learnings into what is warranted.

Kara Goldin 9:25
Those are terrific insights. And you mentioned she’s on your board as well. I always think that having somebody on your board that has done this before, not done your company, but I mean, has scaled it and has seen the different stages. That’s that’s just incredibly value. valuable to have.

Definitely. Yeah, having a woman and having a former reader in board seat is something I hope we see more of, I think, you know, women in general do struggle to be in a position to be on those boards, let alone be able to be sort of well trusted and inside come the inside track of a company. So it’s awesome to have a board today that is 50% female, which then reflects the design of how we’re going to build the cap table, the company itself and the kind of value that we carry. And I carry around diversity of thought through diversity of people. And this idea that if we just see diversity, but we don’t action it with the board, with the management team with the cap table, it’s ultimately just words on a piece of paper. So that’s kind of gone into a lot of how we thought about what I’m gonna call company design. And in addition to just having this operator, a person who’s got deep knowledge of what we’re doing,

so how do you know when you’re successful along along the way, because it’s like, I mean, I would imagine you’ve got goals, and you’re trying to, you know, hit those goals. And I always think about it as, I don’t know if it’s a ladder, or if it’s like a, you know, a line in the sand and you just keep extending it or however you want to visualize it. But like, how do you think about that, like, where, where does, when do you wake up and say, I’m successful, the company successful, all of that,

Stephany Kirkpatrick 11:13
you know, you’re helping me channel some good feedback that I have for my coach, and for anybody listening, who doesn’t have a coach in their life, which is different than a therapist, which is different than a board member, or a different than a supportive spouse. Having a coach who can really coach you through in my experience, the the experience of being an entrepreneur, and a founder, I think is really important. And it’s some somebody that I turned to often. And I think what I’ve learned from coaching is like I am successful, right now, today, or I’m successful, we’re alive, we’re funded. We’re running the company in the right direction, we’re running well, in today’s macro environment, and I am successful by the sheer fact that I continue to gain experience, and use that experience to progress myself, focus on my team, and what the business is doing. Because I think if you’re chasing kind of like a line in the sand, there are arbitrary things, X number of customers y number of dollars that your firm has done z number of award, you would whatever the metrics are, you can chase those. And we absolutely put benchmarks in place. But I’m not sure that success is arriving at the finish line. I think success is what are you doing jury? Because if we’re obsessing about the problem in the right way, there is no, right? It’s not like just build new infrastructure, and you’re done. It’s all the things that come with being able to think about constantly innovating at the infrastructure level. And I don’t know what the finish line looks like. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about, you know, much more than the next couple of years. And importantly, what are some of the short term things that we need to make sure that we spend time on that are relevant to the next couple of quarters before we’re worried about what’s going on three 510 years out, I am convinced that this is a 10 year endeavor to experience what probably people deemed success because they don’t think they’re overnight at the moment. But there’s been so many successes, amazing hires, our first customers, our best customers. Success comes in so many shapes and sizes. And I think sometimes that’s lost when you think about the entrepreneur journey, because it is absolutely so today’s of eyes of ours and did our learnings, things I wish I’d known and things like that. And when I think that we are successful for where we are, right where we’re supposed to be.

Kara Goldin 13:33
I love that answer. So what was kind of the biggest hurdle when you started your company? I mean, you’ve worked for incredible entrepreneur, an incredible opportunity. But then all of a sudden, you know, the buck stops with you. I mean, you hung a shingle and what what would you say was sort of the biggest hurdle for you.

Stephany Kirkpatrick 13:58
You know, the timing of when we founded Orem has a lot to do with my answer, because I think this will look really different in another setting, but we’re basically a pandemic, baby, the Orem was born in late 2019. But we weren’t starting our build on our product until we were into 2020. At which point, essentially, like, within the first couple months of the year, as we were getting ready to go reverse more institutional capital and really do a proper seed round COVID is happening, and it’s super unclear. At that time, it’s much more clear to down what that was gonna need. And so, you know, the very beginning is like, we’re not taking salaries, we’re uncertain. We left the the office, we left it like we worked conference room one day and never came back. And it was really unclear if there would be capital in the market if there would be opportunity to be able to go spend time on this problem at time did that for me, color is probably some of the biggest unknowns and hurdles we faced in the very beginning. I think more concretely and beyond just pandemic life. We had this really interesting moment where we were effectively thinking about solving two parts of the problem, which is the speed at which money moves and the ability to access new forms of money movement, and the intelligence that can go with that speed so that we’re making the right decision about risk about speed about cost. And so we stood up our first product in market as a standalone, and it was always intended to connect and be like a data point or a feeder into our second set of API’s. But when I looked back, and now I see more clearly, we actually built this like standalone API that was connecting to customers, but there was no system design put in place to connect it to the next thing we were working on. And you’re kind of like that feels so obvious, right? Like, of course, in retrospect, but at the time, we were trying to de risk both sides of the business and do two things at once. And I think the ultimate sort of advice here is that it is true. Companies do not die from lack of ambition, they die from lack of focus. And I wouldn’t say we were wholly unfocused. But we were trying to do two things at once. And like even the most legendary founder, CEOs and company builders will tell you, and sometimes you have to live it yourself like I did, doing two things at once is infinitely harder than doing one and doing it really, while you’re getting certainty on that before you move on to the next thing. That was just a big learning. And I think ultimately a hurdle because you have like customers using something but you’re finding it harder to sell. It’s not ready. And there’s major overhaul work to make it work. The next thing you’re doing and like how do you make the decision on what to do when you’re faced with that problem. And, by the way, our same founder first same CEO. So that’s where I draw on my 911 list, right? And folks on the board are definitely on it, my coaches on it. But there are other operators that I call who are good at certain very specific things. And some of my best moments are calling 911 Listen thing where I do not because I need them to tell me the answer. But I need to collect facts, so I can make a decision. Yeah, I think

Kara Goldin 16:57
that’s that is definitely I would 1,000% agree with you. I had actually formed sort of a informal advisory board early on that I call on various things when I felt sort of stuck. That were Yeah, you know, what I found too, and part of the reason why I started this podcast, frankly, was that there are you know, little stories along the way, Alexis probably has those stories that you know, there were things that you thought were going to work and then they didn’t work right. And then maybe you saw many of them right and and depending on when you came in to accompany, you may have learned a lot of these things, but you didn’t know it, right? Like they you didn’t see some of these stories. And so that’s really where I think being able to share these stories, even though they didn’t work out I think are you know, incredible. And I had written a book a couple of years ago that shared a lot of the stories along the way. And I mean, it was therapeutic for me to write the book that I could finally, you know, write a lot of these things up. But it’s fascinating, because I’ve heard from so many people that there’s just all these stories where, you know, things didn’t work out, it’s not like you got together with your, the parents at your kids preschool to ensure these stories were, I mean, I had no one else to talk to you about these things and instead figured out okay, I need to start focusing on what’s working and, and all of that. nuggets that you just mentioned. So in terms of tactics of starting a company, what were kind of the first things that you did, I would imagine you had the idea, you wrote a business plan and really started thinking about it, did you hire people early on to partner with you? Or what were? Were you just kind of going to figure it out first before you got anyone else involved?

Stephany Kirkpatrick 18:58
You know, as a founder, who’s not got a technical background, my kind of constraint at the time was this question. Beyond Am I ready? Which ultimately, I answered, which was yes, is I’m not a technical founder. And is that viable? Is it viable for me to go build a b2b business, that’s deeply technical, that’s going to require extremely good engineering, very fast System Design and Architecture without a co founder. So I spent a minute thinking about and really getting counsel and I would say that the advice I got ultimately was like, I should get a technical co founder, because I’m not technical. And in the end, I ultimately didn’t. And I think that it kind of plays into the imposter syndrome that we create in our hands but why people never get started and I think your book speaks to aspects of just go just tried. Yes, that sounds easy on paper. And then when you’re facing this reality, which is like one might have a business plan, it’s probably a good one and I even have some now dollars to go start investing in figuring this out. Is my first hire someone that I could work well with on the business side or is my first hire someone You can write code. And am I, as a standard founder are strong enough, capable enough as a woman who’s not technical to go the distance in a very technical field that is dominated by men. And there’s a real impact to thinking about that imposter syndrome and managing through it. Most people ride roller coasters and love turbulence on airplanes and jump out or you know, jump off bridges for bungee jumping and like they love the adrenaline. For me, the adrenaline comes from the sheer joy of like opportunity that’s on a blank piece of paper. But this was the first time where I had to think about not having a technical counterpart, right, and every other role that existed for me already. And so that was probably my big debate at the moment. And I think other women definitely say that there are just not enough women who go through STEM programs who end up in computer science programs, who then become engineers, and then become founders who have the technical abilities. For those that are out there. I envy them and definitely have like a sense of, like I said, imposter syndrome not to have that. But I did overcome that. So what does Day Zero look like? actually kind of funny things like, Oh, well, we have to pay people and we need to incorporate and so there’s legal steps, you have to take that I think it’s more of a down to some than others, you want to be a Delaware corporation. And you know, there’s certain things you do to make sure you venture capital, which is different than business funding, etc. But the real business that up came from saying, We’ve thought about this problem, I’m going to get together a very small group of operators, initially, those operators, and I had all worked together before. And I think that’s not uncommon. But there’s a difference between being friends and being operators in a startup, right? It’s just eyes wide open. And what does it mean to bring someone that you’ve worked with before and are friends and friendly with in real life into your business at that time, on the one hand, you speak the same language, you can sprint faster, on the other hand, you have a whole thing outside of the confines of a work environment that you have to think about. And those were considerations. Although ultimately, some of the early folks were a combination of people I’d worked with before and deeply good friends. And I think that that probably helped overcome some of the impostor syndrome, just to just go right to just go, I was looking for a technical person who could work on the machine learning and data science part of our product at that time. And I went to cheap, which is a women’s network, and I was in their Slack community, just typing up some notes, looking, you know, putting the inquiry out, and another woman responded. And she said, Oh, I do that. I work in data science. And so that was the beginning of being able to find some of those more technical people that ended up being really powerful parts of Orem. And it’s so incredible to think like, we met on the internet, right for a job, so to speak. But at pandemic time, in pandemic times, I went to my network. Yeah. And I started looking within my network first. And then from there, we laid out a plan of attack, which is how fast could we get a minimally viable version of product and market because at this point, we don’t have certainty that the first thing we’re gonna do is the ultimate thing we’ll do. And we only all we have is signal from the market, which is what I think most founders have, right? You don’t have paying customers on the day that you start your company, you have a blank piece of paper and you have to go quickly and resourcefully from blank piece of paper to a product that you can get in the hands of someone else, you can get feedback on it, whether you charge them for it or you Dell depends on what you’re doing. But ultimately getting that customer feedback is really critical. So in parallel, we started discovery conversations with product managers, technical partners, folks within other fintechs and financial services companies where payments was a pain point. And time to money was something that people had been trying to figure out how to solve so that we could get even more Chris, on not the problem. We wanted to attack with the actual attack vector, which was how the solution come together. And then slowly, it keeps going.

Kara Goldin 23:54
Yeah. And then just keeps building on it. Well, I love love that. So last question, best advice that you ever received?

Stephany Kirkpatrick 24:02
Well, that is a tough one to answer. Because so much of the advice I get I’m so fortunate to get every day Is there good advice. But I think the best advice that has shaped me through and through is not to look back and wonder how I got here or what happened. There is a opportunity to look back on past decisions, past mistakes, but do it without a self loathing. Right. So there’s a difference between looking back and saying, I should have done it. That’s a very self loathing way to think about, Gosh, I failed in that moment, as opposed to saying I could have done it differently could have implies a very different psyche of thinking about what other information or data points might I have wanted in that moment. It’s there’s plenty times when I look back and think I could have done it differently. But if I wouldn’t life in that I should have all life ends up being as an accumulation of regrets. And the reality is as a founder and as an entrepreneur, most of what you’re doing is failing. It’s just

Through the failures to find the one to two things are actually going to work. And so you can’t let the accumulation of all of that end up eating away your confidence and conviction that you got to put one foot in front of the other every day. You should absolutely look back on certain things, but only so that you have the right information to look forward.

Kara Goldin 25:17
Thank you so much, Stephany.

Stephany Kirkpatrick 25:19
My pleasure.

Kara Goldin 25:20
Thanks again for listening to the Kara Goldin show. If you would, please give us a review. And feel free to share this podcast with others who would benefit and of course, feel free to subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode of our podcast. Just a reminder that I can be found on all platforms at Kara Goldin. And if you want to hear more about my journey, I hope you will have a listen or pick up a copy of my book on daunted which I share my journey, including founding and building hint. We are here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. And thanks everyone for listening. Have a great rest of the week, and 2023 and good bye for now. Before we sign off, I want to talk to you about fear. People like to talk about fearless leaders. But achieving big goals isn’t about fearlessness. Successful leaders recognize their fears and decide to deal with them head on in order to move forward. This is where my new book undaunted comes in. This book is designed for anyone who wants to succeed in the face of fear, overcome doubts and live a little undaunted. Order your copy today at undaunted, the and learn how to look your doubts and doubters in the eye and achieve your dreams. For a limited time. You’ll also receive a free case of hint water. Do you have a question for me or want to nominate an innovator to spotlight send me a tweet at Kara Goldin and let me know. And if you liked what you heard, please leave me a review on Apple podcasts. You can also follow along with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn at Kara Goldin.

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