On November 10, attorneys from Davis Wright Tremaine LLP attended the Empire Startups Fintech Conference in San Francisco, CA.  Partner Wendy Kearns moderated a panel called “Traditional FinServ – Where to Disrupt and When to Partner” featuring guests Nichole Mustard of Credit Karma, Ryan Gilbert of Better Finance, and Chris Kelly of Loyal3.  When choosing whether to build components of the business internally or partner with an established player, startups are generally advised to internally build components that are core to the business; for supplemental features, find good partners to avoid the distraction of reinventing the wheel.  For example, a FinTech startup may have a Bitcoin component to the business, in addition to several other payment forms.  Building Bitcoin capability internally may require a huge investment of resources and a finished product that is ultimately not core to the business.

Joe Cross of TransferWise expressed important lessons for FinTech startups in a presentation called “What I Know Now That I Wish I Knew Then.”  He noted that FinTech companies must establish trust and credibility before consumers will be comfortable signing up for new financial services (which require sharing sensitive information).  In its early days, TransferWise was frequently associated with Skype (where its founders had ties) and investor Richard Branson.  This, perhaps unintentionally, allowed users to get comfortable with TransferWise and boost its growth.  The presentation also highlighted the pitfalls of hiring employees who have a particular background and precisely fit the company’s needs.  In some cases, the entering employee may be too preconditioned from prior experience to approach problems with a fresh perspective and truly “disrupt.”

Finally, several venture capital panelists, including Neil Devani of Rothenberg Ventures, spoke on a panel titled “The Modern VC – Much More than Capital.” These panelists commented that there is a growing need for legal compliance focused startups (e.g., Know Your Customer, or KYC) to assist existing FinTech startups.  Aspiring entrepreneurs should take note!