By Mazy Dar, CEO of OpenFin
Three years after we established OpenFin with the vision of creating a web-based operating system for financial desktops, we were ready to put our technology to the test and find out what banks thought about it. We applied successfully for the FinTech Innovation Lab New York‘s class of 2013, a decision that continues to benefit us nearly seven years later.
Rewinding to 2013, we were making good progress in the development of our HTML5 runtime technology for the financial industry. But we wanted to put our ideas under scrutiny with the customers we were targeting and get their feedback so that we could refine our product. The Lab offered us the opportunity to get meetings with the right people at New York’s leading banks.
When we entered the program, we were paired up with four major financial institutions that had relevant use cases for our technology. Today, three of these four companies use the OpenFin solution; at two of these customers, our client contact is a person that we first interacted with during the Lab program.
Getting to meet these prospective clients and get their early feedback on our prototype helped us to shape a product that resonated with banks. It would have been difficult for us to secure meetings with key contacts at these banks without participating in the Lab—let alone getting to engage with them in the depth we could as a member of the program.
Connecting with mentors
During the program, we were also paired up with Matt Harris of Bain Capital Ventures as one our mentors. His feedback, too, was invaluable in the development of our product. Bain Capital Ventures would later lead our Series A funding round and Matt remains a strong supporter of OpenFin as a member of our board.
Each bank and mentor we interacted with spent a lot of time with us and each had astute insights to offer about what we were doing and how we could improve the product. Mentors we met during the program were particularly helpful in guiding us towards drawing up a compelling description of our solution and our vision.
Since our participation, we have added many of the major financial institutions as customers and raised over $40 million in funding with participation from institutions such as Wells Fargo and JPMorgan.
We have stayed in contact with many of the people we met as a member of the class of 2013, and I enjoy returning to the Lab to share our experiences with fintechs taking part in the program. The Lab is special because it’s the only program that offers startups the opportunity to get quality time with the world’s most influential financial institutions.
An investment in growing your startup
My advice to founders who apply to the Lab is to regard it as an investment in the growth of their business. Founders are often concerned that such a program will take up too much of their time and distract them from their day-to-day work. But they should think of it as a rare opportunity to engage with firms that are hard to get into, especially if they don’t have a footing in financial services.
Another tip is to find that right balance between staying committed to your vision and value proposition and being open-minded about the new use cases the financial institutions and mentors propose. The Lab offers an environment to explore these use cases and refine your offering. There is no better proving ground for ideas or better place to meet partners than the FinTech Innovation Lab.