Andrei Cherny has raised millions of dollars to make change happen. He has taken a unique approach to solve a big problem that virtually everyone faces, and people seem to love it.
During our interview on the DealMakers podcast, Andrei Cherny shared his philosophy on banking and building sustainable businesses, as well as tips on building your dream team, mobile versus brick and mortar, and what’s really important in meeting your ideal customers.
Entrepreneurial Immigrant Spirit
Many of the largest and most successful startups in the US have been born from immigrant families. Maybe entrepreneurship and engineering is just in the same toolbox that motivates and equips people to cross the world to come to the land of opportunity. Or it could be the sense of appreciation they have for that opportunity and aspirations they are ingrained with growing up.
Andrei Cherny is no exception to this. He was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. Yet, his parents had made the long journey to immigrate from the Czech Republic.
He saw their economic struggle and transition to his new country. Yet, they drove him to do well in his education, to have goals, and achieve something.
Storytelling & Social Good
Andrei attended both Berkley and Harvard as he studied law. Right after graduation, he had the incredible opportunity to go work in the White House with Bill Clinton and Al Gore. This continued as he helped Al Gore with his policy planning for his own presidential run. As well as his speeches.
Cherny says he was always curious and fascinated by how the law could be used to protect people. He also spent time in some Bay Area tech companies, started a Washington D.C. think tank, and the Democracy Journal.
He even partnered with Elizabeth Warren on the idea for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and did time as a financial fraud prosecutor.
Through all of these experiences with writing, speeches, developing policy, and courtroom litigation he certainly learned a lot about storytelling and the power of words and speaking.
Whether that is in court, the press, or sales and fundraising, he says it really comes down to the power of “being able to make an argument that changes how people think about the world.” Something he has certainly been doing through his own startup Aspiration.
Everyone’s Most Frustrating Pet Peeve
Seeking a change, like many great entrepreneurs, Andrei began working in consulting. He ended up working with many of their big bank clients.
He found that at the core of their challenges was the common thread of the mistrust their customers had in them. It’s no surprise, right? If it isn’t the big banks ritually getting away with massive fraud and stealing from their customers, and then getting away without paying the fines, it is horrific service.
When people are hurting they pull the plug on credit, hit them with late fees, miscellaneous monthly fees, and overdraft fees. In 2020, we again saw a wave of new foreclosure activity, while banks were making huge profits trading $20B pools of delinquent mortgage loans.
It seems like the bank always wins, and you as the customer always lose.
Then, we’ve more recently been made aware of all of the bad things banks invest our money in. If they aren’t facilitating money laundering for terrorists and drug cartels, they put our money to work in high polluting industries and other negative things, and make big profits doing it. There is a complete disconnect in values and interests.
Of course, this isn’t just about the banks either. It can be the coffee chains, supermarkets, auto dealers, web browsers, phone brands, and clothing stores we frequent too. Yet, all of that money funnels through our bank accounts.
The inspiration for Andrei’s startup Aspiration was that they could overcome this common problem other banks faced by aligning interests and values through a new kind of financial services company.
They are changing the way that people think about their finances and banking, by aligning how they spend and save and do business with, with their values, like climate change. They call it “socially conscious sustainable retail banking.”
They say they don’t invest customer deposits in things like fossil fuels or firearms. They provide customers with an Aspiration Impact Measurement tool, which shows them their sustainability score as they spend on their Aspiration card.
It allows you to see the difference you are making, as well as how different businesses you might shop with are doing. This way you can choose which pharmacies and grocery stores to shop at based upon how they treat their workers and the environment.
Their Plant Your Change program plants a tree for every purchase you make by rounding up your spending to the nearest dollar. In just a few weeks of launching they had planted one million-plus trees. It’s enabling everyone to automate their impact.
Investors have taken good note of this and Andrei was able to raise over $200 million from some of the most respected startup investors.
Storytelling is everything which is something that Andrei was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) where the most critical slides are highlighted.
Remember to unlock the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.
Connecting With Your Ideal Customers
93.5% of US households use banks and bank accounts. This is a huge market. Of course, not everyone cares about doing good with their money, but that is changing. Regulation may soon mandate banks to do better or penalize them for not changing.
So, how do you connect with the right customers? Andrei says in the old days you would start a bank by opening one retail location and hope you pick up the locals and make enough money to open second and following locations. As a customer, you were limited to the banks on your main street.
That has all changed. Now you can open an Aspiration account on your mobile phone, and pick the one bank on the web that shares your interests and values, no matter where you live and work.
The same applies to just about every other industry today. The internet makes it easy to offer personalization and connect with customers with similar values all over the world. Consumers now have the power to choose from the whole planet, not just limited local offerings.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- Putting together your dream to build a business
- Staying ahead of scale as a CEO and leader
- How big conscious investing is today
- Operating in a heavily regulated industry
- Andrei’s top advice when launching a startup