Entrepreneurship Podcast post

How to Develop Grit with Thomson Nguyen

George Grombacher July 21, 2022

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How to Develop Grit with Thomson Nguyen

LifeBlood: We talked about how to develop grit, the value of perspective, why being mission-driven is a key to entrepreneurial success, how to help more businesses get banked, and how to get started, with Thomson Nguyen, Founder and CEO of Nearside, an organization making business banking easier. 

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You can learn more about Thomson at Nearside.com, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Our Guests

George Grombacher


Thomson Nguyen

Episode Transcript

Unknown Speaker 0:00
Come on

Unknown Speaker 0:11
what lipo This is George G. And the time is right welcome today’s guests strung up powerful Thompson when Thompson Are you ready to do this? I am. Thanks. Thanks so much for having me today. George, excited to have you on. Thompson is the founder and CEO of near side, they’re a financial services provider and Neo banking platform built on the belief that starting businesses should be easier. Thompson tell us a little about your personal life some more about your work and why you do what you do.

Unknown Speaker 0:38
Sure, thanks. So a little bit about me. So you know, I grew up born raised in San Diego. And, you know, I studied mathematics and undergrad. And you know, what I like about my personal story is that it’s hugely tied into how your site got started. So you know, even though I was born in San Diego, California, my parents were born in Vietnam. And so you know, they, they basically fled the country after Vietnam War, my dad ended up in Belmar New Jersey, and my mom, my older sister actually waited in Vietnam for like things like seven years to get their visas, and so on, right, so that’s seven years, like dad learned English, picked up a whole bunch of odd jobs. He was like a babysitter, who’s a farmer, he was a bouncer for the E Street Band, before the boss came on some, yeah, a whole bunch of odd jobs had a small business on the side. And, you know, when my older sister and my mom’s visas came up, my dad told all this stuff, moved over to LA to receive them, and basically tried to just make it work, you know, they they start businesses, they had jobs, they basically tried to

Unknown Speaker 1:46
just kind of make it in a country that had no network and, and no, no support system. And so I grew up in San Diego, for all intents purposes in the suburb,

Unknown Speaker 1:57
after grad school, went to in the tech, and so I was a data scientist at a mobile security company called lookout, and then started my, my own machine learning startup called frame data, which predicted user churn for small businesses. And other startups, you know, raise some money, have really good customers working with us sold the company to square I guess, block, as well as block in 2015. And so the whole team was incorporated into square capital. And I ran the machine learning and data science from square capital team. And so that kind of sets the stage for what I do today. Here, I hear the near side. So I think, you know, what I like about blocks mission is that, you know, by making it easier to process credit cards for small businesses, you’re economically empowering them to start a business. And, you know, with near side, the ideas that core banking, small dollar credit, and even just starting your business is still a really, really hard problem to tackle. If you want your first bank account, as a small business, you probably have to pony up 20 $30 a month, it’s probably like $20 for an overdraft fee. If you want a small business loan, unless you have super prime personal credit yourself, it’s near impossible to find that as a as a new as new business. And then even just getting to the starting line incorporating your business. You know, that can be a very opaque process, depending on the city and state that you’re applying from. So in your side, makes it easier for people to just do all of that at once we provide a checking account, we provide small dollar loans from 200 to $10,000. And we help you incorporate your LLC or your corporation in 30 minutes. Incredible. Nice.

Unknown Speaker 3:55
I think it’s, it’s,

Unknown Speaker 3:59
it’s amazing how resilient human beings are just talking about your folks, your dad comes over here. Did Did he know that? Could you speak English? No. Right? So it’s just like it like he learns, you know, and like my parents, my older sister learn once they got here.

Unknown Speaker 4:16
So crazy, you know, it’s like they came here in search of like a better life. And, you know, the whole

Unknown Speaker 4:25
the whole stick with them is that, you know, they they wanted to work and sacrifice as much as they could not even so that they could enjoy, you know, sort of like the fruits of their labor within their own lifetimes. But so that their children,

Unknown Speaker 4:41
you know, wouldn’t even been born yet. Me and my, my younger brother and I, their children could have sort of like the the shock that they didn’t. And that I think that that to me has driven pretty much every professional decision I’ve ever made in my life in terms of what I decide to spend time on

Unknown Speaker 5:00
What, what problems I want to solve? All the way down to, you know, what? What are the biggest problems in this country that, you know, we want to tackle at the near side, if only because it’s this realization that I mean, look, you know, like, I’ve won every lottery in the world to be in this seat to be sitting here, you know, talking to you and sharing everything about your side and our company to do that is a gift in of itself. And so what we do at that time,

Unknown Speaker 5:33
I found to be probably the biggest question I asked myself on a daily basis. Yeah, well, I respect and appreciate that just just just immensely, like, from my perspective, perspective, is one of the most important things in life, because if you think that this place sucks, then it’s probably gonna suck for you. It’s the greatest place in the world and it’s probably going to be the greatest place in the world for you. So

Unknown Speaker 5:57
it’s definitely required today like is stuff is it’s June 2022. A lot of stuff is happening. A lot of stuff has happened in the last six months. And so there’s there’s a lot of reasons

Unknown Speaker 6:11
to so almost like take on this like fatalistic, pessimistic approach to life. But that we’re still here that we, you know, get to wake up every day means that we get to continue to fight and to build something better. That’s right. Still standing. Still swinging Thompson. All right. So

Unknown Speaker 6:31
you start you, you are a data scientist, you become an entrepreneur, you you sell, so you have a successful exit to a huge, one of the biggest companies probably in the world. So the experience there, it’s gotta be incredible. Your experience starting a financial services and a bank, essentially, how was that? You know, it’s, it’s not easy, you know, it’s still not easy.

Unknown Speaker 6:57
Right? So, you know, like, as a FinTech company, you know, like, so much of how we’re able to provide the services to our customers are the partners that we choose, you know, so like our partner banks, and our vendors that help us onboard and

Unknown Speaker 7:16
onboard and analyze

Unknown Speaker 7:19
our applications efficiently allows us to be able to provide these like core services, core financial services online. And so you know, the way I always like to think about is that in FinTech, basically, you’re trying to build all these pipes. And you know, like you’re trying to build pipes from your company, to partner bank, to your ID, verifier, to your KYC tool, your KYC tool. And the better you get at building those pipes, the better you’re able to build better products for for customers. Because at the end of day, like small businesses don’t really care whether you have like best in class, real time fraud assessment, or, you know, like the smoothest KYC process in the world, where the care about is that they’re able to get their count in 20 minutes, that they can get a virtual card number immediately after being approved.

Unknown Speaker 8:13
And that they can get pre approved for a loan in as little as two, three months. And so that speed of access to product and capital is the sum total of all this, I’d say like fancy FinTech engineering underneath.

Unknown Speaker 8:28
Yeah, I think that that’s a good that’s really well described. So how long has near side been been in operation? How is the progress? Ben? Is it? Is it what you expected? Ah, it definitely hasn’t been what I expected, you know, like, like, we started in 2019. And so from 2019, today, there’s been a global pandemic. And then now the makings of a global recession. So I think it’s been a very, I’d say, interesting couple of years from your side. So near sighs three and a half years old. Were 70 people. And I think it’s been, it hasn’t been what we expected. Like, obviously, we’d rather COVID Didn’t happen. And we’d rather this recession didn’t happen. But one of the things that we have seen from it is, you know, to your point earlier about resilience, just the sheer resilience of small businesses. You know, like, we go back to like my parents, and it’s like, well, they didn’t have any other choice, but to like, grip through it. And I think that’s the same situation for the, you know, the 10s of 1000s of businesses who work with us and choose us on a daily basis that, you know, like this is their plan A and so, you know, just as they’re pushing through and gritting through everything that’s been thrown at them in the last two years, you know, like shutting down your in person restaurant and becoming a delivery business. Or, you know, like just

Unknown Speaker 10:00
slowing down on the number of items you sell in both in person and online. Dealing with all that is just been like a daily staple for our customers and by extension ourselves here at near side. So I’d say yeah, it’s been, it’s been a interesting is the word I use? You know, it’s I think in startups are always challenging. Like we all know what we signed up for. But I think the, you know, through the adversity comes perseverance, progress, and honestly grit, you know, what will come out of the other side of this? I think, with a with a renewed respect and appreciation for our customers, more so than we already have. I love it. So in the three and a half years, have you solved solve the problem of the unbanked? Or is there still more work to do? I don’t think so. You know, like, I think one thing I learned when I was at Square slash block, was something Jack said, an all hands where he said, you know, missions never finished, you know, and so I don’t think we’ll ever finish.

Unknown Speaker 11:03
You know, like democratizing financial services, just for the same reason, we’re not going to finish socio economic mobility. It’s not like, we’re going to have like a big mission accomplished banner and say, like, we did it like we we solved socio economic mobility and poverty in this country, certainly not as our own startup, you know, like we the way I see ourselves is that we are part of a ecosystem of private companies, and public infrastructure and public government that works together to basically build a more perfect union. You know, like, it’s like,

Unknown Speaker 11:40
there’s this musical Hamilton, like how a mask is like, Have you heard of this musical called Hamilton, but there’s a line in there where, you know, Helton says It’s like planting seeds in a garden that you don’t get to see. And that that really resonates with me, because the sum total of all of our work that we do in standing up checking account, better loans, and faster incorporation service for small businesses,

Unknown Speaker 12:06
sets the stage for financial services and better products that we may not get to see while we’re at near side or maybe in our lifetimes. And it’s it’s such like a lofty thing to say, where it’s like, if you, if you start from the premise that this company is going to endure past your own professional effort, then you actually get a lot more thoughtfulness and long term planning about, you know, what do you what do you want this company to be remembered? For? What what do you want to be remembered for professionally, and that’s that’s helped us guide so many of our decisions here, the company.

Unknown Speaker 12:40
I think that that’s such a, it’s such a cool thing to hear somebody with, with your background, and the I’m sure, countless brilliant people that you’ve had the opportunity to work with, and learn from, and your own personal experiences. Because I going back this perspective thing, some of my favorite stories are the JFK star during the space race, when he went up and asked the janitor why he was working so hard. And the guy said, Well, I’m working to put a man on the moon. So why not approach your business? The way that you’ve just described it? Do you think that anybody can do that? Yeah. Because really, the difference is thoughtfulness. Right, like I think, you know, we we all spend time working, you know, some of us are retired. But, you know, if, if I’m going to spend at least eight hours a day, with people working on some problem, who are the people that I personally want to work with, which then extends to who are the people we want to work with as a company? And what are the problems that I want to solve or help solve, and thus, the problems that we want to help solve as a company, and that introspection and reflection, yields perspective, which then yields values and a mission for the company. And I think so much of that has to be in place before you raise your first dollar before you hire anyone, before you’ve convinced anyone else, you know, sort of jump off this professional cliff with you. You know, like, before you rope other people in in this mess, you should definitely just sit down and ask yourself, like, what are we doing? What Why are we here?

Unknown Speaker 14:18
Because it’s it’s such a material part. For me, it’s such a material part of my day, and it is, you know, part of a, a patchwork of professional careers working in tech. And man, you know, this is one of the few industries where

Unknown Speaker 14:37
if you have an audacious idea, and you have the means to write code and build products to then deploy it on the internet, you could raise money, like large amounts of money to then go and realize that that’s not a construct that exists in most businesses, or even just countries. Not not to the stage where

Unknown Speaker 15:00
As the US has deployed venture capital and seen entrepreneurship, startup entrepreneurship and in the last 20 years, and so that that we all get to participate in that is, to me a gift. And so that that gift demands responsibility and introspection.

Unknown Speaker 15:18
What a time to be alive truly. Right? Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 15:22
Like, I just couldn’t agree more. So like, that’s incredible. So what do you spend your time doing these days? Thompson? What does being CEO of nearsighted look like? Boy, you know, I, it changes on a day to day basis, you know, like I’ll tell you three years ago is like a combination of writing code, responding to emails and talking to customers. Today, I definitely don’t write any code. Otherwise, I think our engineering team will get very, very angry at me, I still do talk to our customers. So I’ll talk to folks who have a checking account with us, or folks who have a loan out with us or people who are working to incorporate just understand what they’re concerned about, whether we’re meeting the mark for them. And, you know, like, if we’re not, how can we how can we be better. So talking to customers,

Unknown Speaker 16:13
checking in with our team, I think at this stage, I’m no longer working on the product, or the thing, I’m working on the team and the culture to sort of like foster work on the thing. And so as a result, I’ve almost turned into this like player coach archetype, where it’s like, you know, I still do write a little bit of code, or I still write a couple of docs. And I’ll still get into the weeds of product and engineering from time to time, but so much of my work these days is checking with teams, making tiebreaker decisions, you know, like I have a,

Unknown Speaker 16:53
I’m extremely lucky, we’re all extremely lucky to have like the the executive staff that we have here at near side. And they’ve been able to run pretty autonomously, they’ve been able to collaborate and coordinate extremely well. But I find that my role still is necessary to set direction, be a tiebreaker vote via, you know, sort of like a like an ear to Dylan in the air whenever necessary. And that’s not just to my staff, like, that’s still everyone in the company, you know, 70 people, I still maintain this, like open virtual door policy, where if someone were to throw time on my calendar, or slack me, I’ll just immediately get on a call with them. And the thing I tell them is that, you know, it’s, it’s a gift that we get to do this, like, eventually, when we’re 200 300 people, this might be a little bit harder, but that we’re this small still means that we get to do things that that don’t scale just for a little bit longer.

Unknown Speaker 17:49
A little bit. Perfect. Well, Thompson, you’ve given us a lot, but the people are ready for that difference making tip, what do you have for them?

Unknown Speaker 17:58
You know, I used to think that in order to like, make a make a capital D difference, like a big difference, I had to like, you know, be successful in business and make a ton of money and then go and deploy it as like a philanthropist, like growing up in undergrad, or growing up in high school, I’d hear like, you know, like, rich person come up philanthropists, that’s just like, what, what does that job title like? Like, can I apply it to the new one.

Unknown Speaker 18:24
And what I realized, once I started working in Silicon Valley, and in tech is that

Unknown Speaker 18:31
you really don’t need to wait, you know, you don’t have to wait until you’ve made like a ton of money, or until you’re half retired, or until you’re just completely retired to make a difference. And to do something positive, you know,

Unknown Speaker 18:45
lending half an hour a week as a volunteer somewhere, or deploying capital and donating to nonprofits, and causes that you really care about is at least something it’s a good start. And what I realized is that, you know, making a difference, like we want to believe making a difference is like, the big the big rally, planting a flag talking to millions of people and and enacting change in one instance. And I think what I realized that making a difference is like well just like showing up to these like micro transactions and micro changes in lifestyle or, you know, things that you want to change about your life or the world in which you live in. So if you wanted to make a difference by, you know, reversing the current climate change trend that we’re seeing here on Earth, you don’t have to, you know, try and get elected to like public office and then make a big, sweeping Executive Order to ban you know, something that’s destroying the earth. You could just lend whatever time or money you have today. And if you’re listening this podcast and you have a high

Unknown Speaker 20:00
is the internet connection and you have a roof over your head, you have time, and you have money.

Unknown Speaker 20:06
And, you know, that’s it’s one of those realizations where

Unknown Speaker 20:10
things could always be worse. You know, like, my worst case scenario living here in the States is, I don’t know, like, moving back in with my parents. My parents is worst case scenario was death.

Unknown Speaker 20:24
You know, like, realizing that has made me one grateful for the situation that I’m in, and to sort of like thoughtful about how I want to make this difference on a daily basis.

Unknown Speaker 20:39
With that is great stuff that definitely gets come up. Thompson, thank you so much for coming on. Where can people learn more about you? And how can people engage with near side? Yeah, if people still want to know more about me, they’re more than happy to reach out and Thompson th O M S O N, at near syed.com. If you have a small business, and you want a checking account, or you’re thinking of starting a business and you want to incorporate your LLC, you can just email me or you can just go to near side.com and just sign up, it’ll take you 10 minutes, and someone from our team will be more than happy to help you. Love it. If you enjoyed as much as I did show Thompson your appreciation and share today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas go to near side.com. And if starting the business has been on your mind, or if you’ve got a business and you need credit, financing, whatever it might be, go check it out near side.com Thanks, Ken Thompson. Thanks so much for having me, George. And until next time, keep fighting the good fight. It’s we’re all in this together.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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