#FounderFeature with Mike Vien | Founder + CEO, Wallit
It all began with a back-to-school shopping trip…
By Mike Vien,
Founder + CEO, Wallit
It all began with a back-to-school shopping trip…
Wallit, as the name implies, is a smart digital wallet. We named the company “Wall-IT” with the objective of turning our analog wallets into smart digital wallets with the mission to make everyday savings rewarding.
Wallit actually was first called Ourly. The idea for Wallit came from a combination of my many personal and professional experiences over the years, and our unsuccessful attempt to start a previous company called Ourly, which began as a family and teen savings app that automated allowance and chores. While we had some early successes, it felt to me that Ourly was a false start.
The true inspiration to create a smart digital wallet occurred during a daylong back-to-school shopping trip last year with my wife and kids. We’d been walking around groaning about how expensive everything is, our intolerance to the never-ending onslaught of online and offline advertising coming at us from all directions, and how the night before, one of our daughters informed us that her bank closed her account due to high overdraft on excessive debit card usage.
Suddenly, despite my frustration, it hit me. I thought, “We were going about this all wrong. The problem isn’t the lack of savings; it’s actually about smarter spending.” That’s the moment we now call the “The Epiphany.”
These two activities, shopping and banking, are inextricably linked, but still worlds apart. I thought, what if we were to link savings and spending and reward people with cash for both? What if we provided a solution that incentivized consumers with cash to save money when they shop at specific businesses, enabling those brands to make better use of their advertising dollars? What if we were to create a marketplace that delivered value to banks, retailers, and consumers simultaneously and in way that provided immediate gratification in the form of automatic cash-back that was tied to someone’s personal preferences, past transactions, and at specific locations?
So, two years later after months of bootstrapping, several rounds raising seed funding from some very patient and supportive angel investors and VC’s, two offices relocations, a company rename and rebranding effort, a complete rebuild of our team and technology, Wallit become a reality. And, despite our many failures, the mission to create a better, smarter, and more rewarding digital wallet accessible to everyone was accomplished.
The biggest challenge in building Wallit was when we had to pivot and shut down Ourly to start over with Wallit. There are so many factors to consider and work through, including managing existing and new investor expectations, client and customer expectations, our current finances, team, and so much more.
Through all of the ups and downs and challenges of building and growing the company, I stay focused by remembering one of my favorite entrepreneurs, Henry Ford. He started from humble beginnings with an unwavering passion, commitment and vision to accomplish his dreams despite many years of failure. From his relentless determination came innovations that revolutionized American society and molded the world we live in today, and all while his wife stood by his side.
And while Mr. Ford is my favorite entrepreneur, it’s my parents who inspire me the most. I’ve watched them over the years work hard with determination and perseverance, gracefully balancing their work and personal lives. They have reinvented themselves multiple times over the years based upon their interests, changing careers, successfully starting new businesses, both together and separately. They inspire me not just professionally, I consider both my parents to be amazing spouses, parents, grandparents, brother and sister and friends to so many.
I started my journey as an entrepreneur in high school when I built a lawn care business and then in college with a commercial painting company. After graduating from college, I spent the first 12 years of my career as an intrepreneur with a specialty for starting and rapidly scaling new businesses and new technology within large corporations. In my case, I spent decades “sharpening my saw”. I wanted to take what I had learned and prove to myself that I could change that “i” to an “e” and become a successful entrepreneur.
I’m motivated by a sense of passion, speed and discovery. I’m passionate about creating something different, to be better. I knew I wanted to create a company that galvanized families and made their lives better, and it was going to be a company that stands for “everyone shines”. I decided to leave corporate America and spend some time with my young family. During that time I thought of creating a board game business with my two young daughters. We made our first games with supplies we bought from Walmart and laminated cards at Kinkos. In less than one year, we created an award winning board game that earned 15 industry awards (the most for any toy and board game company) that sold over 100,000 copies internationally.
The company and I were featured on the cover of Money Magazine, with a full-length feature segment on CNN, and broad recognition in multiple national and local media outlets. It was a surreal experience for me and my daughters and one that I will cherish for a lifetime.
To say that the entrepreneurial journey is exciting is an understatement. As I continue, I always look for ways to share my learnings and help the next generation of entrepreneurs grow. I’d love for them to know that in my experience, most companies fail because of market demand. That’s because too many startups are solutions in search of a problem, instead of the other way around. That begins with truly understanding how to solve a specific problem or fill a need. But the worst thing a young entrepreneur can do is nothing. So get started, but begin with customer development before product development.