Venture Voices with Barclay Keith
With Barclay Keith, Co-Founder and CEO of Artis Technologies
Welcome to The Venture Center’s Venture Voices series, a Q&A where entrepreneurs and startup founders share advice, encouragement, and inspiration for current and future entrepreneurs. Thanks to Barclay Keith, Co-Founder and CEO of Artis Technologies, for sharing his insights!
The Venture Center: Why did you become an entrepreneur?
Barclay Keith: Throughout my life, looking at my father and some of the other folks who have influenced me, I’ve seen entrepreneurs take control of their destinies.
So many of the folks who made a mark on our society were entrepreneurs. Many of the major advancements that have made America America came from that spirit. When I was coming out of the military, I knew I wanted to continue doing something highly productive that could be highly impactful.
The VC: How did your service in the military inform your perspective as an entrepreneur?
Keith: I was in from 2000 to 2006, deployed to Afghanistan. I mostly worked in hospitals, set up remote hospitals, and things of that sort. It’s a great experience that helps you mature as a leader very quickly. But it also puts you in situations where you have to innovate because you’re given scarce resources. One of the things you learn in the military is how to survive with a scarcity of resources, and the scarcity breeds hunger inside of you. And I think that’s beneficial as an entrepreneur.
The VC: What has been the biggest hurdle so far in your current venture?
Keith: Of course, COVID changed everything. As a fully digital product and platform, we immediately went remote, which was a pretty easy transition. So we learned to sell remotely, too. One of the biggest ongoing challenges for us is effectively switching all of that communication from the in-office, more personal interaction, to things like video chats while maintaining the same level of mutual understanding. The pandemic has also changed how we market, how we position our product, and the value we think we can bring, given that it’s contactless.
Getting to the point where we were efficient at speaking with banks as a young startup was another initial challenge. We had to get to a certain point as a company to prove credibility when it comes to security, compliance, and of course, the product. Getting our first bank through the door with onboarding of fewer than two months, getting the first loans on their books in less than three months was good, and it showed that what we built works. I think the credibility challenge in the first year as a startup was a significant hurdle.
The VC: How do you deal with failure?
Keith: Failures are a part of entrepreneurship, right? It’s not something you should accept wholeheartedly, it’s something you should learn from every time. “No” is something that’s going to happen every day. I think it’s about analyzing that failure and learning from it.
So, here is an experience that we encountered recently. One of the failures we had was with a merchant we were trying to sell on using our platform who was referred to us by a close connection. This merchant would have been a great fit for the platform, but we didn’t put a value proposition in front of them that conveyed the product very well. Ultimately, the person who referred us to that merchant got the feedback that, you know, they just didn’t get it. We failed to communicate the message to that business customer, and it doesn’t make us look good to that referrer. We turned around very quickly to speak to our team, tightening up our messaging fast. But that was a failure we learned from. And so little failures like that happen; it’s all about learning from those small failures and avoiding the big failures.
As an entrepreneur, I’ve failed at other startups. I’ve failed to launch multiple times before this. I’ve had small ideas that I’ve tried to pitch around and just never had traction. Again, as entrepreneurs, we just embrace failure and learn from it instead of getting stuck on it.
The VC: What do you want your son to learn from you about your work life?
Keith: How to put in hard work, stay determined, and the importance of finding great people to surround yourself with. I’m lucky to have a fantastic team around me; all of those folks have different skill sets than I do. When my son looks at my life experiences, I hope he sees and understands the importance of finding like-minded people to work with and build things together.
The VC: Do you have any recommended reads that were influential for you?
Keith: Actually, my son’s middle name is Walden, from Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden Pond.” I read that book when I was pretty young. I’m an avid outdoorsman, and I think that kind Thoreau’s reflective view of nature, as well as the economy, had a significant impact on me. I’ve read it quite a few times. “Siddhartha” is another one. That story of going from nothing to something, and realizing the value of it before you lose it all, is so important.
The VC: Do you have any other words of wisdom for entrepreneurs out there who might be struggling or kicking around big ideas?
Keith: Stick with it and realize it’s much harder work than you might think at first. Entrepreneurship is more than just building a tech product and selling it. Pace yourself, make your mental health a priority, and continue working forward.
Entrepreneurs driving their destinies and making positive changes in the world inspired Artis Technologies’ Barclay Keith. Keith drew lessons in leadership and resourcefulness from his experience serving in the military, perspective from formative literature, and resilience by facing failures head-on. Today, Keith has found success in the fintech startup world, and we’re proud to have his latest venture, Artis Technologies, take part in ICBA ThinkTECH Accelerator.
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