CEO Talk: Aneesh Varma – Aire
At Osper we regularly have start-up CEOs visit and speak to us about their businesses. This time it was the turn of Aneesh Varma from Aire 🙂
Read on to find out what kinds of insights Aneesh was kind enough to share with us…
Aneesh is the CEO of Aire – one of the cool fintech companies in London trying to empower their customers. They are trying to give a credit score to people who might not otherwise have access to one.
We asked Aneesh to tell us a bit about his life. How he got to where he is now, and what challenges he found along the way.
It turns out that Aire wasn’t Aneesh’s first company or his first business. His first business was started in Japan, where he lived for a few years when he was a teenager. At 16, he started setting up home computer networks for people he knew, or that his father knew. He was quite successful, but soon realized that traveling around to people and doing the same repetitive task wasn’t scalable (though he didn’t know that word then). He also wanted to spend his weekends doing what teenagers want to do rather than fiddling with computers. So the next idea was to make a small kit with some cheaply bought hardware parts and a self-designed and printed instruction manual. This meant that he could just send the kit to people who wanted it and provide help over the phone when needed so he could spend more time on the important social life of a teenager.
Aneesh went on to study a mix of engineering, finance and business in the US before moving to the UK around 10 years ago. He first worked for a big investment bank before deciding he’d like to start his own company. Though successful, Aneesh says he also made a lot of beginner mistakes with this first company. He learned, from mistakes and from investors with more experience, that building a company takes a lot of effort, dedication and planning.
After this, Aneesh took a gap year, at 29, and really started to think about what he would want to do next. He soon found himself wanting to “go into company building mode” again. He wrote a lot of notes, reflecting, thinking about what he would change if he were to do it again. He decided he had to build something with a purpose, something that he could show up to excited every Monday morning.
Aneesh had always been the kind of activist customer, he would write letters to airline companies or to MPs and senators (in the US) about credit rating companies. He had realised that financial services never treated [him] nicely. At the same time, it was clear that a big segment of population was moving from long-term employment to contracting and being self-employed and financial services companies weren’t keeping up. He knew, for example, that banks had a second-tier mortgage rate for the self-employed. Are these people always going to be second-class citizens?.
So it soon became clear to him that his next company would need to help improve credit rating, especially for people with limited existing credit data. This is how Aire was born. Due to the complexity of the product, the new company had to be at the crossroads of a few different fields: regulation, data privacy, financial services and entrepreneurial tech. Aneesh spent some time, at the beginning with other companies in the sector to learn more about how they operate, what challenges they are facing and how they are dealing with them. He even spent a few weeks with Osper during this stage!
Due to the space it activates in, Aire has to be different and play the long game. The consumer startup mindset doesn’t apply to the company we want to build. Aire needed more capital and it needed the right people, including having the right investors. They had to spend a lot of time upfront, with regulators, to support their product, doing a lot of research and small pilots. Aneesh remembers them going to give presentations about machine learning to regulators.
This influences the company structure as well. Aneesh does not want to follow the traditional org-chart, but would rather align people along three chapters: Product, Partnerships and People. They spend a lot of time hiring and looking for the right person. Technical interviews are left for the end after they’ve made sure the new hire fits with the rest of the team. They look for patience and maturity to understand the complex sector that they’re working in and are very wary of changing the dynamics of the team.
We asked Aneesh how Aire is different than the other credit rating companies. He says that the most important difference is that they are looking to incorporate more context about each individual person in their model. While the existing companies use the same FICO scoring model from the ’70s, Aire tries to interpret the data with context. They even employ a team of experienced bank underwriters to play against their system and help it behave more like an underwriter, who can take into account complex personal circumstances, than a simple mathematical formula.
Another big difference is that they don’t want to be a financial services provider, but rather to remain a data and tech company who partners with banks, credit card and mortgage companies. Rather than being an outside partner, they like to be fully immersed into their partners’ processes and be equally responsible and liable.
We asked Aneesh what he wishes he would’ve known about managing money when he was a teenager. Aneesh says he has learned to have a greater appreciation for risk. He is otherwise very unstructured in his dealings with money and admits he is not the best person to give advice on the subject 🙂
It’s great to have these talks on a regular basis; they really add value and are something special that Osper brings to each of us that work here. Thanks to Aneesh for agreeing to take part!
If you’d like to find out more, or are interested in how you might be able to fit in with what we do, don’t hesitate to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org, or just ping us on Fb or twitter 👍
Have a great day!
Ionuț and the Osper Team