Why did you start Remity?
I started Remitly after traveling to close to 100 countries around the globe while living in Nairobi, Kenya, where I ran mobile and internet banking for Barclays Bank Kenya. Through that experience I learned how painful it was to send money internationally. I was getting paid in British pounds, living on Kenyan shillings, and eventually had to get money back to US dollars. It was a pain for me, but a much bigger pain for a lot of my Kenyan friends who were getting their income from relatives that lived in Europe and the US. After seeing the sacrifices that those family members made, and then how far that money went for my Kenyan friends back home, it felt like a really meaningful problem to solve. With the pace and the growth of mobile phones, it also felt like the right time to solve it.
Why did you decide to work with Founders’ Co-op?
Founders’ Co-op is not just capital, and that was clear from the conversations we had even before they invested. Chris DeVore had been through the journey before and was incredibly responsive to the crazy needs we had early on. He was hands-on with the company in the early days, and not just in the sense that he would take calls at all times of the day or night to help us work through issues, but he’d lean into the seemingly never-ending blocking and tackling we had in front of us early on. As an example, back when we started, getting a new state money transmission license meant our directors needed to sign off personally. Chris dropped in on short notice, literally 49 times, to get his fingerprints taken and sign the paperwork. To me, this was the perfect example of who he is as an investor, he’d always roll up his sleeves and do what was needed. He was also the one who pushed us the most, but also was at the same time the most supportive of everyone because of the way he did it. He’d been in our shoes and his empathy for our challenges was real. I would work with Chris and Founders’ Co-op again and again. He’s such such a phenomenal guy.
Words of Wisdom
This sounds sounds cliche, but surround yourself with phenomenal people, it makes or breaks a company. People oftentimes take this to just mean focus on team, but I think that it’s equally important to surround yourself with phenomenal investors. I think that a lot of entrepreneurs just say to that “beggars can’t be choosers, I can’t really decide who I take capital from”, but I think the more confidence you have around it being a two-way interview the more likely you’ll be successful raising capital.
It’s important to really push on investors to understand how they add value and find out what kind of partner they’ll be once they’ve got a seat at the table. When you push on Founders’ Co-op and do your references, you find nothing but glowing reviews. But then you actually take capital from them and it’s exponentially better than the reputation you found them to have in the community.
Why are you building Remitly in the Pacific Northwest?
When I moved back in Kenya I moved to Boise initially, but knew that I wanted to be on the west coast. I saw only two choices and very intentionally picked Seattle over San Francisco because I thought that the talent here was world class, and that’s not only still true today but it continues to get better and better. When you look at talent to funding as a ratio, there’s just less capital in Seattle and so for those that want to come out of an Amazon or Microsoft there are fewer startup opportunities, which is a huge advantage for anyone building their team here. I think it’s a legitimate competitive advantage to start a company in Seattle over San Francisco.