The Venture Center: Where did the idea for Vero originate?John Mizzi: I’ve worked in the financial services space for my entire career, and one recurring theme I saw – whether at a large national bank, a mid-tier asset manager, or small specialty finance company – was that FIs were just throwing incremental headcount at operational bottlenecks until the problem went away rather than coming up with truly “innovative” solutions. Technology solutions were hamstrung by legacy systems that were not nimble enough to evolve and adapt to the latest open-banking solutions.
We saw a massive market in the auto finance space, in inventory financing for dealerships, that was underserved by the community and regional banks where dealers were doing their business banking.
Rather than just build technology and hope for adoption, we came up with a technology + services engagement model to provide our partner banks with not only the systems that they were looking for, but also the operational expertise to truly enable them to adopt the program without adding headcount or making substantial upfront technology investments.
What problem is it solving?Vero is focused on bridging the gap between community FIs and the dealerships of manufactured goods in their community.
There are more than 40,000 independent auto dealers in the US, not to mention dealers of specialty vehicles like marine and agricultural equipment, etc. These SMBs are not concentrated in urban areas but rather distributed across nearly every corner of the suburban and rural parts of the country. They are experts at merchandising the manufactured goods they sell; however, managing the financial operations is not necessarily a core competency of the dealer principals.
We’re on a mission to support their inventory financing needs and use inventory financing as a gateway to support their entire financial and asset management operations.
For our banking partners, expanding the bank’s product offering is no small feat, particularly in commercial credit products. Investing in new systems, hiring or training the specialized headcount to administer these products, and getting comfortable with the product’s risk profile requires a substantial up-front investment. Still, banks have an opportunity to deploy deposits into higher-yielding credit products and are keen to expand the breadth of relationships they maintain with their business banking clients.
What has been the most difficult part of building this business?We chose to launch in the auto vertical due to the scale and maturity of floorplan financing as a credit product independent auto dealers are familiar with.
Now, we are the new kids on the block going toe-to-toe with some industry giants. Launching a credit business without a track record makes for a difficult pitch among capital providers and partner banks.
We’ve been fortunate to assemble a team of industry veterans who know the space, can help us avoid missteps, and ensure we establish an extremely strong track record to date as it relates to portfolio performance.
We take the expertise and experience of our veterans to outline processes and define the desired outcomes, then collaborate with our technology side of the house to come up with innovative ways to achieve these outcomes in the most efficient ways possible.
Was there ever a time when you wanted to give up? If so, how did you overcome that feeling?I remember having a lot of days those first few months of getting a new venture off the ground, thinking, “who the hell do we think we are” and “how in the world are we going to put all of this together?” The only way I was able to overcome this was having a partner/co-founder in Isaac, who was a rock to lean on.
As we continued to build the team and get the right people into the right roles, we’ve been able to build a strong foundation for the business and solidify the our momentum.
What is your philosophical approach to trying to find a work/life balance?There is no delineation at this point. I think the only way to manage starting a company is to develop an integrated approach. You can’t draw lines, but you can be self-aware and acknowledge that working 24/7 is not healthy, and you will burn out.
We encourage everyone on our team to set their own boundaries, identify when they are stressed or need to take a breather, and not feel bad about taking a day off. Sometimes we’re going to be sprinting over a weekend to meet a deadline, and sometimes we’re going to take a long weekend to spend time with our loved ones or enjoy a friend’s wedding weekend.
It requires really strong communication and learning about everyone’s individual work preferences to ensure we create the space for everyone to perform optimally – and define what ‘optimal’ means for them individually.
What’s the best book you have ever read, and why?If we are talking about a more indulgent fiction read, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles is my all-time fave.
As it relates to more business-focused/personal development reads, I think Grit by Angela Duckworth really opened my mind to a new way of thinking around the growth mindset. I’ve bought that one for several folks on our team.
Why did you decide to apply for the ICBA ThinkTECH Accelerator and what do you hope to gain from it?We applied to the ICBA program because we understand that selling to banks is hard. Navigating organizations, getting in front of decision-makers, and finding the right partners takes time.
We believe the mission of the ThinkTECH program perfectly aligns with our business development goals, particularly given the life stage we are at as a company. We are constantly refining our engagement model to ensure we can over deliver on expectations for our bank partners.
Getting in front of 150-200 banks during the ThinkTECH program will allow us to accelerate progress, building out a network of banks we can support via our lending-as-a-service engagement model exponentially. We can’t wait to see what we can accomplish over the next several months.
Thanks to Vero Technologies for contributing to the ICBA ThinkTECH Accelerator’s Founder Feature series! To meet Vero and the other fintechs in the 2022 ICBA ThinkTECH Accelerator, powered by The Venture Center, click here. For questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.