Mimi Salcedo of Instnt on Products for the People
Mimi Salcedo is cofounder and Chief Product Officer of Instnt, a startup that helps banks onboard more customers quickly, using a single line of code.
“I believe that technology mirrors the people that build it,” says Salcedo, a product veteran. You can see her work all over the fintech landscape, particularly at Simple, where she built several pieces of the legendary challenger bank that launched a thousand imitators.
Salcedo is a believer that innovative products can solve problems that previously prevented many customers from accessing financial services. This is done through the people building those products. “Technology doesn’t solve problems, people solve problems,” Salcedo says.
Because products mirror their creators, it’s important for there to be a link between creators and customers. Salcedo is a firm believer in working with a diverse team, and this was one of the core tenets of Simple as well as Instnt. A diversity of viewpoints helps build products for all kinds of customers.
Listen to Salcedo’s conversation with Bank-Fintech Fusion to hear exactly how fintech products are built, how the product is influenced by the builders, and why that is so important.
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Phillip Ryan [00:00:00] Welcome to Bank FinTech Fusion from CCG Catalyst Consulting Group. I’m Phillip Ryan and I’m joined today by Mimi Salcedo of Instnt.org. Mimi was an early product manager at Simple and co-founder of Winwin. Which gamified really gamified savings? We’ll get into that. And congratulations on your exit with Winwin.
Mimi Salcedo [00:00:20] Thank you, appreciate it. Thanks for having me.
Phillip Ryan [00:00:21] So at what point in the process did you get involved with Simple. Simple as kind of one of the most legendary fintech company?
Mimi Salcedo [00:00:27] One of the first. Yeah. So I was employee number 30 something and I was actually hired onto the customer support team. So that was really one of the more legendary pieces of the business. I would say it’s probably the part that is still famous, if you will. And yeah, I scale that business out and left around 300 employees. So I really saw lots of facets of its growth was there before the acquisition of BBVA Compass. So I have seen some things.
Phillip Ryan [00:00:54] So with that, the customer relations. But what was the mission behind that? What were you told when you came in and how did that go?
Mimi Salcedo [00:01:02] Yeah, so I think at that time, so simple is really founded at sort of the height of the one percent movement. And so there was this, you know, feeling inside that we wanted to do things very differently and that customer experience was at the forefront of what Simple was developing
Phillip Ryan [00:01:17] Because banks were so bad at it.
Mimi Salcedo [00:01:18] Yeah. And really hadn’t treat their customers very well previously. And as we all know, you know, in that time, especially dealing with customer support at a bank is not always the most pleasant experience. And so we wanted to really use customer support as a way to, you know, connect with customers and really understand what they truly needed out of a product. So customer support ended up becoming a really interesting part of the product development process. And they were always had in the beginning. They had a very strong voice in that process as well.
Phillip Ryan [00:01:49] Can you talk a bit about what products you built or developed there within that? Because it’s a very broad ranging, totally simple customer support. Yeah, that’s a whole program for sure.
Mimi Salcedo [00:02:00] So I spent a lot of time doing I’ve built a lot of things that Simple, but I think probably most specifically within the customer support team, a lot of what it started with wasn’t necessarily around what was being built or tooling. It was really more around the culture that we were developing on the customer support team. So at that time, you know, Simple was really hiring super intelligent, highly empathetic individuals into customer support and then kind of giving them the ability to generate ideas and come up with , you know, different ways of doing customer support. And I built out also a lot of our customer support tooling, which really was a pretty key piece of our ability to be able to support customers at that level of service. And so, yeah, like technically, I built out parts of the customer support software, which was actually developed internally. We didn’t buy that at all externally, that was all developed in-house. I also developed parts of Simples banking infrastructure. Probably my most notable product there was I actually built the banking migration product that moved all of Simples customers from Bancorp to Compass.
Phillip Ryan [00:03:06] My goodness,
Mimi Salcedo [00:03:07] That was a project. We can probably have a whole podcast.
Phillip Ryan [00:03:11] So you’re on the technology side, but obviously customer relations, it’s about people. How do you think those two things interplay? And was that something you thought about when you were working on that?
Mimi Salcedo [00:03:23] Yeah, definitely. I actually think that that’s one thing that’s maybe carried through my career is, you know, I believe that technology mirrors the people that build it. And so, you know, like Simple had a highly empathetic culture, like I said, and the people involved had, you know, varying viewpoints. And that was always something that I found really valuable there. And I think, you know, in the development of products, it’s really about, you know, helping people collaborate effectively. And in my opinion, the best teams, the best products I shipped were built by the most diverse sets of individuals. And so while, you know, technology solves problems, really, it’s people that solve problems and they employ technology as well. So in my view, I like to collaborate with people and I like a lot of crazy viewpoints because I think that everyone kind of coming from a different perspective really lends itself to developing something that is workable for a lot of people on the other side.
Phillip Ryan [00:04:21] And that diversity in that team. Did that stick together when you moved over to BBVA? And actually, can you talk about how things at Simple changed when it was acquired?
Mimi Salcedo [00:04:31] Totally. You know, I think because we always had Bancorp as a banking partner, we were pretty used to working with a more traditional financial institution as a partner. So throughout the experience of working with Bankcorp I think that really set us up to really work well with BBVA because we understood sort of how the more, you know, entrenched institutional banks really thought of technology and really thought of Simple in that time.
Phillip Ryan [00:04:57] And bankers thought of as the one of the better ones.
Mimi Salcedo [00:04:58] They are. Yeah. But I would say, like at that time, we were really one of the first to be doing this. And so they were learning with us. And I think that was a pretty interesting experience. I would say that if you were to ask folks at Bankcorp, they would tell you we learned a lot was Simple, that we either replicate or don’t replicate now. And yeah, I think so, because we had that background with Bancorp, it made the transition fairly easy. But I think what ended up shifting a little bit is I think the diversity still happened. But, you know, I think it’s working with, you know, risk averse bank and for a product company, for a technology company that wanted to do things differently and outside of the box and having all these creative ideas, you know, it was a lot of collaboration is the nice word to figure out what we could actually do. Migration was an incredible project because it had to be taken to through two different banks, compliance teams. And that was an experience for myself. So, yeah, I think, we kind of learned what worked and what didn’t work well in those in those relationships. And what I found was it really is a matter of just being, like, communicative and helping them understand why you wanted to do something, why something was important. And then for me, it was really asking the questions about why can’t we do that? If I got to know and just trying to understand, was it risk aversion or was there like some act of reason that was, you know, easy to understand and documented that I could see it and, you know, concept with.
Phillip Ryan [00:06:21] Can you describe some of those meetings when, you know, I’m picturing Simple on one side of the table and either the bank or BBVA on the other side of the table, what was the kind of energy in the room like?
Mimi Salcedo [00:06:31] Yeah, they were usually these epic conference calls with like 50 people on a call. So that was always an interesting time. But yeah, I mean, usually at the general story, it was usually Simple has a crazy idea and wants to do something, hey, can we do it was usually the way that those conversations went.
Phillip Ryan [00:06:48] Why can’t we do it?
Mimi Salcedo [00:06:50] Exactly. Well, I would be like, how can we do it, you know? And so, yeah, like, look, it was a lot of requirements gathering, right? They would be like, no, we don’t like it because of this. And I’d be like, OK, well, why don’t we like it because of this? You know what? Tell me more about that. Let’s dig into it. And so I was really like I think I’m positioned, I think Simple, did a good job of positioning itself in a curious manner to understand where they were coming from. But certainly, like things were escalated, like when we had disagreements because, you know, there were folks who, again, like look at things from a risk averse perspective and Simple, wanted to, you know, provide the experience that we wanted to provide. And so things were escalated. And usually it was a conversation about like, hey, what are truly the risks here? Are the risks actually that large as we were making them seem, or is there a way that we can maybe enable this in a slightly different way?
Phillip Ryan [00:07:39] So you moved on from simple to Winwin. Can you explain a bit about Winwin?
Mimi Salcedo [00:07:45] Yeah, totally. So I co-founded Winwin with David Ranucci, hi David. He previously co-founded Stasch Invest. And him and I had both obviously spent time in savings and thinking about savings in different ways. The last product that I led at Simple was actually the savings vertical. So I have just come out of thinking a lot about helping consumers with savings. So at Simple one of the major challenges was in order to help people save within that context, it was a bank account. Right. And so it required that you, you know, put your direct deposit into it. And that’s hard. It’s you know, consumers are fairly apathetic and that can be really challenging
Phillip Ryan [00:08:26] Savings is so hard. It’s such a hard problem.
Mimi Salcedo [00:08:28] It’s a really challenging problem. Yeah. And so Winwin was my approach to it, looking at it from a different perspective. So Americans lose over one hundred billion dollars a year in gambling. And I was like, oh my gosh, if we could divert some of those losses into savings, that could be incredible. But it’s also highly addictive, you know, as a highly addictive thing. And so a lot of what we were thinking about with Winwin was how do we make you addicted to savings? Is that possible? And it was we built a really awesome engagement product. But the thing that we never really loved was we just never found a business model that we loved and thought was really powerful charging these consumers fees was really hard.
Phillip Ryan [00:09:06] Yeah, that’s the challenge with savings. Right. How are you making money off this?
Mimi Salcedo [00:09:09] Totally and really. Like, that was the biggest issue. Like we tested through a bunch of different, you know, a bunch of different business models and things. And we were like, OK, nothing’s really feeling like super solid. But we did feel like was we’ve built a really cool engagement product. People are really engaged. They play our games. They interact with the app far more than they interact with other apps. And so that was kind of what led us to be like maybe the option here is to actually sell this as a feature, because it’s an amazing feature to someone who has a business model on the other side that’s already proven out and works, right?
Phillip Ryan [00:09:42] Yep. So you’re dealing a lot with human psychology in your first two roles. Are you dealing with that as well with instant and onboarding?
Mimi Salcedo [00:09:50] Yeah. I mean, I don’t know all the product management, human psychology, like a lot of my like product belief is around like again, I am obsessive about user research. I user research everything many times, and I love it, I love hearing people’s experiences with the product and their lives and what they’re going through, because, I mean, truly savings as we’ve discussed is an emotional, you know, has a lot of emotion tied to it.
Phillip Ryan [00:10:18] So much of money is emotional and everyone tries to be so rational.
Mimi Salcedo [00:10:21] Yeah. Yeah. And it’s not rational. We have no rational thoughts related to our financial positions or very little of them. And so, yeah, that’s something that I’ve leaned into, I think throughout my career is really using psychology to understand what consumers really need and want. And when they say they feel things about something, what does that mean kind of tactically? So while I would say, you know, onboarding has maybe I’m looking at less of like a behavioral kind of piece of it, I do certainly look at
Phillip Ryan [00:10:48] Well, there’s is where you drop off, right? Where do people fail? Where does the process fail?
Mimi Salcedo [00:10:52] Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And, you know, like fixing products and, you know, like reworking onboarding flows is really about like how do you, you know, emotionally engage someone enough to like get them to the next step of the process. So yes, I think I always kind of use psychology and I think all good product people do. But it might just look different through a different lens.
Phillip Ryan [00:11:11] So to back up just a bit, can you just give us an overview of the vision behind Instnt, which you co-founded?
Mimi Salcedo [00:11:17] Totally. I’m very excited about instanced. I’ve built onboarding flows multiple times in my career now and every time it’s really challenging building an onboarding stack. And when I say onboarding, I mean consumer online account opening. It’s a challenge. I’ve experienced the vendor roulette where we’re trying to figure out what service providers make the best stack so that I can get the most people through my system or into my product, but without, you know, exposing myself to too much risk on the other side. So the vision with Instnt is instant onboarding. It is what it sounds like. So from a business perspective, we’re trying to help business. We want to basically buy out onboarding from the market wholesale. So we know that banks mostly and financial institutions are not very good at onboarding customers. They reject about forty percent of customers. That would be good for them simply because their stacks are inefficient. We want to buy that out from market and say you focus on your core, you know, the things that you’re really good at your product. Let us help you with the onboarding piece and making sure you get good customers. And from the consumer side, we want to build an experience where you never have to fill out an onboarding form, sign up form again, where you just you essentially the first time you interact with Instnt form, you type in all your information. The next brand that you go to that uses instant to do onboarding would just say, hey, welcome back. Phil, would you like to create an account here? Yes or no? No more forms involved.
Phillip Ryan [00:12:47] What inspired you in or what I guess is inspiring you as you build instant not particular experiences, not particular companies, but experiences?
Mimi Salcedo [00:12:56] Yeah, totally. I mean, you know, I am a millennial and so I am mobile first. I don’t like filling out onboarding forms. It’s a tedious task. But on the business side a lot of the reason that financial services specifically are rejecting so many customers is because millennials are a pretty hard group of people to get data on in the traditional ways. So if you think about, you know, the preexist or the existing onboarding stacks in the market right now, a lot of them are using these data sources like Experian or Equifax that simply don’t have data and don’t have credit information specifically for younger demographics. I do not own a house, I do not own a car, and I never have owned any of those things. And so I’m what’s consider or I’m not personally, but there are a lot of people what that are considered what’s called credit thin file. And so we end up rejecting those customers, even though they’re great customers, we just don’t have enough information on them. And so to me, that’s, you know, from a financial inclusion perspective, that’s really a lot of my motivation. You’re right. I’m really excited about this. We have our stack and our system is using different data sources that aren’t those traditional ones that have a better coverage over kind of more types of consumers, specifically for like GenZ and millennials.
Phillip Ryan [00:14:11] So it sounds like you’re doing almost a little bit of underwriting. You talk about taking on the liability for the onboarding process. You’re doing much more than just setting up a form.
Mimi Salcedo [00:14:20] And yeah, so the way the Internet works is we have a dashboard. You come in and you recreate your brands preexisting onboarding. A drag and drop experience. You make it look exactly like what your onboarding form looks like. You tell us where you want us to send the good people, the bad people and the maybes. So that might be, you know, Simple Banks.com slash accepted for example. And then you give us your public key and we encrypt everything. And then you generate a line of code with one line of code put on your website or your mobile app. You can outsource your entire onboarding stack to Instnt without disrupting any other business processes on the other side. So that’s kind of the key value. But on the other side, we also ensure the risk. So if we accidentally onboard a customer that commits fraud on your platform, we are actually ensuring that and we will well pay that out. So, yeah, that’s a pretty interesting piece of the business. It’s something that hasn’t really been seen in the market before for onboarding specifically, although you do see it on the transaction side with like chargeback insurance and things like that.
Phillip Ryan [00:15:21] How big a problem is, is onboarding fraud? I know now people are doing really sophisticated things with synthetic data and there’s synthetic people and all these things. So how do you catch these people?
Mimi Salcedo [00:15:34] Yeah. They are totally. Yeah. So Instnt platform itself has a bunch of different tooling in it. We are doing biometric checks, we’re doing device checks, we’re doing identity verification checks. So there’s a bunch of things in there that are trying to catch some of what you just mentioned. But I think yeah. I mean, so onboarding fraud and fraud is a pretty big issue. I know you know, I won’t disclose numbers, but I know that at Simple, the fraud losses were pretty significant and it was always a challenge for us to manage. And like I said, the challenge there is just really playing vendor roulette and trying to figure out what business logic makes sense, what decision engine makes sense. And it’s just it gets very untenable to manage.
Phillip Ryan [00:16:14] Right. Banks in particular, they blame the regulators, but banks say our onboarding process is so difficult because the regulations require it. But sometimes they’re going even beyond what is required. So you must have had some or you’re going to have some sort of come to Jesus talks with people who bring really ugly processes in front of you, right?
Mimi Salcedo [00:16:33] Yeah. I mean, so like because so Sunil and I, Sunil Madou is my co-founder. Hello. So yes, Sunil and I have had tons of experience, you know, working with banks. And so we definitely understand what requirements exist and how they need to see things in order to sort of get through their processes and to be compliant. But, yeah, I think, you know, banks are rather protectionist at times. And so I understand that risk aversion can lead to wanting to put more barriers in the customer’s way. However, for every customer or for every business that I know of, banks specifically, their kind of top line problem is getting good customers. They all spend hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising only to then reject a bunch of people. So the message that we are saying is you don’t have to do that. Like we can get more good customers through your door. We can 2x your topline revenue is the guarantee that we’re making and we can reduce your OpEx on what you’re spending on onboarding. And so I think from that perspective, the message becomes pretty attractive. I think attractive enough to get through some of the message around, like wanting to kind of have a lot of barriers to entry in those experiences.
Phillip Ryan [00:17:41] I hear about the stuff all the time. It seems so crazy. People say, oh, I got something in the mail for Marcus, and then I sent it in and they rejected me.
Mimi Salcedo [00:17:49] Exactly. Yeah. And so yeah, that’s yeah. It happens a lot. And I think one of the things that I’ve recalled kind of Sanil talking about is, you know, we cause financial inclusion by putting, you know, identity verification and onboarding in the wrong place in a stack. Right. If I you know, rather than put a credit poll as the first step, which probably will have an impact on especially millennials being rejected from something, why don’t you do identity verification first? Make sure they’re a good human. They are who they say they are. Then do the credit check and do some interest rate arbitrage to make it make sense for your business. But again, back to that financial inclusion point, like, oh, hey, like Marcus wants to include you as a customer, but as soon as you try to onboard, nope that you’ve been rejected. So, like, I think there’s just some thought on the business side around, like, yeah. How how do we inclusively bring customers in and how do we ensure that, like, what we’re selling to them and what we’re how we’re talking to them is, you know, positive.
Phillip Ryan [00:18:49] Can you talk a bit about the under banked and unbanked people, like under banked customers sometimes are amazing customers and they and you can demonstrate it. But what are the ways that you how do you tell a bank that?
Mimi Salcedo [00:19:01] Yeah, I think that’s back to like the solution I kind of just mentioned, like if you were to do a credit check on those consumers, probably you would end up rejecting them. You know, they probably don’t have the credit scores or history necessary to get through your whatever business, arbitrary business logic you’ve put in place. And so I think that, again, like by using something like instant and by considering, you know, doing kind of identity verification, first, it’s we can identify even people who are un or under banked. They still have social and online presences. And that’s a lot of the data that we’re using to do identity verification is kind of social in nature. And so because of that, our reach is just so much more vast. So I think that it really lends itself to kind of that message.
Phillip Ryan [00:19:46] What’s the sort of ultimate end state for onboarding applications? So you know far in the future whatever devices or implants we’re using? You know, what is onboarding going to be like?
Mimi Salcedo [00:19:57] Yeah, my dream and hope is that the onboarding is kind of no longer even a process. Like that’s kind of why I love Instnt is because our hypothesis is if we put the same doorway on every brand, then we don’t need to ask you who you are a billion times because we know that it’s you coming through the doorway. And so that’s kind of the vision. I don’t know that anyone I mean, I dream that Instnt become the one player that takes the market. But I do love the idea of solutions that completely remove friction. I think that’s really our key goal is like onboarding right now is just an unnecessary source of friction in a business’s, you know, kind of life. And so and it’s not the core value of any business. Onboarding is not what anyone wants to spend time on, but so many people spend so many resources trying to perfect it only to get it close enough. So I think that’s really what I envision is I think like this network effect, that Instnt trying to build is something that I would love to see, you know, really play it forward in the future where there isn’t a need to onboard. You know who I am when I arrive at your website.
Phillip Ryan [00:21:03] Right as opposed to preapproved, where you might be declined even if you’re pre-approved.
Mimi Salcedo [00:21:09] Exactly. Yeah, totally.
Phillip Ryan [00:21:13] So you talked a bit about building product and psychology is integral to it. Did you have meetings with product people at BBVA or any bank when you’re a product person at a startup and or are those teams kept as a wall?
Mimi Salcedo [00:21:30] They are kept relatively walled off that you have asked that actually. I’ve met with like a couple like actively when I was at Simple I think I met with another product person one time, which is kind of incredible to consider, especially because at the time BBVA was building what they’re calling open platform, which is kind of their like platform as a service offering. And we were one of the first customers on it. And so it was kind of funny that as I as a product manager, we weren’t really talking much with the open platform product team. But I think everyone kind of, I think product people tend to like get in the mode of like, OK, we’re all like running in our direction. And like, I’m not going to look at anyone else right now, you know? And I think, like, that is to me like that is not the best product management approach. I think like deep curiosity and questioning of what’s going on around is actually like to me, the best product mindset I love, like I think the best product. People are like highly curious and asking a lot of questions about what’s going on around them.
Phillip Ryan [00:22:28] What psychological insights do you have about people from your career and dealing with people dealing with these troubling money issues? What surprises you about people that you’ve picked up?
Mimi Salcedo [00:22:40] Yeah, I don’t know. That much surprises me, but I guess, you know, I kind of touched on it before. Like consumers are very apathetic and unless you have a strong message that emotionally compels them to do something, it’s pretty hard to get people to do things. I would say that’s true across a lot of things. So I think for me, like that’s a lot of the kind of piece of psychology that I carry forward is like how do I emotionally connect my products to consumers? And that’s why I’m obsessive about user research, because to me, that’s the way to hone in what the message should be. And you have to emotionally pull people through a process. And I think for me, that’s really where I’ve kind of spent the most time thinking about, like how psychology impacts, like technology and product is really just around the, like, emotion that you know, that you inspire in the person and that you’re connecting with through your product.
Phillip Ryan [00:23:30] Final question. What have you learned about working with banks that you hope to avoid or sidestep with Instnt?
Mimi Salcedo [00:23:39] Yeah, look, I think we’ve made the sales pitch for Instnt, pretty hard to resist. And so I think that’s maybe one difference in the way that I’m now working with banks is I realized that there are just again, there’s a lot of risk aversion there and a lot of people who, you know, aren’t, they’re not thinking about this like massive world of startups in the world changing, you know, and it’s just a different, I think it’s a different culture. And so to me, I think the thing that is a little different for me this time that I’m thinking about is how do I make my product so compelling that you that it’s hard to say no. And that’s really the approach I’ve taken. I think when I, you know, migration was tough at Simple because it was I mean, it’s compelling, but also like it was just tough to kind of get people through and into the end and everyone to agree on what was going to be there and how we are going to do it. And so I think for me, I’m definitely thinking a lot about that this time. Make it compelling.
Phillip Ryan [00:24:41] Mimi, thank you so much. Best of luck with Instnt.
Mimi Salcedo [00:24:43] Cool. Thank you so much.
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