How Brandon Krieg Built a $1.4 Billion Business: Putting People First
The Stash Cofounder knows that a more equitable and just world starts with a more equitable and just financial system. Staying close to his customers and mission has been key to his growth.
“Traditional financial services do not work for the vast majority of Americans,” says Stash Cofounder and CEO Brandon Krieg. “In my experience, traditional institutions are unwilling to make tradeoffs that would benefit consumers but might harm their bottom line.”
After seeing this dynamic from the inside the industry for a couple decades, he teamed up with Ed Robinson to create Stash, an investing, banking, and education platform helping 6 million people set aside over $3 billion. “We are a true financial partner for millions of Americans, and because of our unique fiduciary responsibility, we always act in our customers’ best interest,” Brandon says. “We can do that because our business model and our customer needs are aligned.” And Stash’s latest valuation, $1.4 billion, sparked rumors that there might be a public listing on the way.
So as we set out to highlight NYC’s best and brightest FinTech leaders, Brandon was one of the standouts we got in touch with for a deeper understanding of industry trends. In this Q&A, he talks about the creative power of New York City, his approach to customer research, and building a better society through more widespread access to wealth.
Why is New York such a dynamic environment for FinTech startups?
There’s a special hunger for creativity in New York. For a FinTech company like Stash, that means we’re always looking for new and better ways to live out our mission of empowering everyday Americans to invest in themselves and build wealth.
At Stash, we hold a deep appreciation for new ways of thinking and idea testing. That openness to trying new things helps us create a truly delightful and intuitive user experience for our millions of customers.
What are a few key ways your personal perspective has evolved over your time in both traditional finance and FinTech?
Launching Stash, and watching the company grow over time, has created a whole new meaning to “customer first” for me. In gearing up to bring Stash to everyday Americans, we spent countless hours on the streets of New York, asking real people what they thought about investing—did they invest, how did it make them feel, and asking what questions they had. By and large, people did not invest. They were scared, intimidated, and believed it was only for the privileged few.
This direct feedback was core to the early days of Stash, and frankly, still is today. We have a robust user experience and research team and we continue to speak with customers daily. Every product, feature, and design choice we make is rooted in actual needs we’ve identified first-hand from customers. I truly believe this is key to our success as a company. A majority of Americans still live paycheck to paycheck, many lack savings, and as such, 95% of people coming to Stash have little to no experience with investing. I bring these truths with me to every meeting and conversation with colleagues—and I believe it will be essential to our continued growth.
From a leadership perspective, I’m more committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion—within Stash and the broader FinTech industry—than ever. The truth is: it’s imperative that Stash looks like and reflects the many diverse backgrounds of our customer base. In the last year or so, we’ve doubled down on our DEI efforts via four key pillars: recruiting, training & development, culture, and partnerships. As we all know, wealth inequality is inherently linked to racial inequality, and while there is still much more to be done, we’re committed to fighting for a more equitable and just financial services industry.
You’ve been building like crazy, but the pandemic also changed many attitudes toward money. Why is now the time consumers are embracing the democratization of financial tools? How do you see that dynamic shaping new opportunities for you and for the industry more widely?
The pandemic absolutely shifted Americans’ relationship with money, though that change looked different for every person. Some were able to save more money than ever before. For others, job loss or a pay cut may have thrust them into a period of financial instability, or required them to tap emergency savings.
The throughline is that the pandemic forced us all to consider how prepared we were for the unexpected—and how prepared we strive to be next time. This is why our investing and wealth-building philosophy, the Stash Way, rings as true as ever: Every American deserves the opportunity to get started on their journey towards financial freedom, starting with whatever they can afford, and by putting away small amounts of money, consistently, for the long term. A persistent and balanced approach to saving can have a major impact on your future and long-term goals.
I love seeing NYC startups place subway ads, and saw yours in Union Square recently. How did your team think about that campaign? What did you want to get across to subway riders here in the city?
Our community of millions of customers includes healthcare and retail workers, teachers, construction and restaurant workers—these are the hard-working people who have continued to use the subway and bus system throughout the pandemic. In many ways, they are unsung heroes, and our mission is to help them maximize their hard-earned income to invest and build long-term wealth.
That’s why we blanketed New York City buses and chose one of New York City’s busiest subway hubs—Union Square—as the epicenter of this campaign, which highlights the ways people can start investing with just $5. It encourages everyday commuters to ‘decade trade’ instead of day trade. By putting money aside on the regular, people can save more and change their lives over time.
Many of the images in this campaign feature confident women—that’s intentional. We’ve learned over time that women tend to be extremely strategic investors, despite being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Historically, on volatile market days, women are less likely than men to panic and more likely to stay the course. Women have also taken to Stash more quickly in the past year than ever before; nearly half of new customers in the last 18 months were women. As we continue to grow, we expect that women will always make up at least half of our subscribers, and we’ll continue to speak to them directly in our creative, too.
Why is having a clear mission important for FinTech founders?
The FinTech space is taking off and it’s also becoming increasingly crowded. It may be easy for founders to want to be everything for everyone, or to latch onto the latest product and feature fads. For me, staying close to our customers is the answer to living out our mission day in and day out.
My biggest piece of advice: Talk to your customers! Call them, listen to them, and have empathy.
Any trends you’re spotting in this latest generation of FinTech leaders? What most defines success at this moment in time?
The most exciting thing I see is smart people really starting to push the boundaries of financial services norms, paving the way for easier access to financial services and a more inclusive future. The innovation in our space is inspiring.
This content is for informational purposes only. Investment advisory services offered by Stash Investments LLC, an SEC registered investment adviser.