Endeavor Detroit, part of NYC-based Endeavor, includes Pocketnest CEO and founder, Jessica Willis, in latest entrepreneur feature story
This article, titled "From Startup to ScaleUp: Pocketnest Founder and CEO Jessica Willis," was originally featured in Endeavor Detroit's blog.
Endeavor Detroit launched its 2021 ScaleUp program for exceptional leaders of future high-growth companies in the region to support their next-level growth and scale. ScaleUp entrepreneur Jessica Willis, Founder and CEO of Pocketnest, gave Endeavor a snapshot of what it has been like to take her business to the next level of growth.
How did the idea for your company start?
I have 20+ years of experience in financial planning and, over the years, noticed a few things: young people are underserved financially, and represent a HUGE market opportunity for financial institutions. Millennials alone are anticipated to inherit $68 trillion from baby boomers by 2030, but 67 percent of them turn to Facebook and Twitter for financial advice. I knew there was not only an entire generation that lacked access to financial wellness, but a massive tidal wave of opportunity coming to financial institutions. Cue Pocketnest.
What was the moment you knew pursuing your idea was the right thing to do?
After my 700th cup of coffee with friends asking for personal finance advice, I knew something had to change. I spent my days working in wealth management and my nights helping my regular, non-millionaire friends wrap their arms around a complete financial plan. Despite the fact they were in line to inherit millions and millions of dollars, they didn’t reach the wealth minimums of advisors, and further, didn’t entirely trust their sales-forward approach. And then it dawned on me: I could create a tool that would remove barriers to financial wellness and create stronger, deeper connections between people and their financial institutions. A win for all!
What aspect of your product are you most proud of?
We just raised a total of $1.2M and are continuing our growth path. After having launched a little over a year ago, we already have nine enterprise customers, including three of the nation’s largest credit unions, and a reselling agreement with CUSG, one of the nation’s largest credit union service organizations. We’re also seeing steady enterprise sales growth (20%) and explosive user growth (428% since last January). We release product updates every month, if not more. And, lastly, our involvement with Endeavor is right on the heels of graduating a few other national accelerator programs, including one with BMO Harris.
What has been one of the most difficult moments on your journey to scale so far and what made you keep going?
Our team’s biggest challenge has been what we call the “three-legged stool” of launching. To secure more customers, we need to demonstrate how our product is growing and evolving; but, in order to demonstrate our growth, we need budget for marketing and product development. To further build the product and afford marketing, we must raise more capital. And so the cycle continues. To overcome this complex challenge, we’ve operated by a scrappy, quick-to-pivot approach with many mini design and dev sprints. That way, we’ve been able to raise just enough capital to further build the product to enable marketing and more customers before we must start the cycle again. Many startups experience this early stage “workflow,” and we are not intimidated by it; rather, we are invigorated by our continual “wins!” Further, we know what we’re doing is not only game-changing, but it HAS to be done. Millennials and Gen Xers desperately need better access to financial wellness, and we know we can help make that happen.
How important has good mentorship been to your personal and/or business growth?
Huge! I credit so much of our team’s accomplishments to our endless thirst for knowledge. Throughout my career in wealth management, and then my current plunge into entrepreneurialism, I’ve been fortunate to meet incredible people. They let me pelt them with questions and soak in their experience, and to this day they continue to come back for more. We have had a formal board of advisors since (nearly) day one. We also have so many informal advisors, all of whom are available to help out of the goodness of their hearts, to support the startup community. I tell every new founder I’ve ever met: find mentors—you don’t know what you don’t know, and there are so many people out there who want to help.
Any one piece of advice for other entrepreneurs in scaling mode?
First, I’d say it’s not easy, but it’s absolutely worth the elbow grease. Despite what naysayers may tell you, keep going! You’ll be bombarded with opinions, but don’t forget your own. Sure, I definitely recommend you listen to advice, but above all, trust your gut. And, we wouldn’t make it in the startup world if we didn’t acquire thick skin. You will hear “no” constantly, so embrace rejection and find opportunities in it.
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