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Episode #006 - 17 mins

Once Upon a Startup: Knowing When to Pivot and the Importance of Customer Conversations

with Donald Hawkins is the Founder and CEO of Kinly

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"I feel like pivoting and iterating for founders is an important testament of how you view the business and yourself. A smart founder is the one who listens to customers and rides on top of that wave." - Donald Hawkins

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In this episode

Donald Hawkins is the Founder and CEO of Kinly, a modern neo-bank helping black America create generational wealth. Donald has had a serious impact on Finotta. Back in episode one, Donald helped with the pivot from Destiny to Finotta. Donald encouraged Parker to talk to his customers in order to find their true pain points. In doing this, Parker discovered a massive problem in digital banking. A problem that Finotta now solves. Donald and I talked about discovering when to pivot your startup, how to do so, and the overall importance of customer conversations.


Follow Donald Hawkins on LinkedIn.

Learn more about Kinly. 


Garrett Amundsen (host)

Before we get into this episode, I want to let you all know what has been happening. We wrapped up season one of Once Upon a Startup and wanted to expand the podcast to explore more ideas and reach new people. So once upon a startup is now just one of the many series under our new podcast, The Modern FI.


The Modern FI will share the stories of the most prominent companies and leaders in FinTech, track the industry's trends and provide insight on how financial institutions can better serve their digital customers. You will be launching various series that will provide a much wider look into the FinTech industry as a whole.

And it will all be under The Modern FI umbrella. That being said, please enjoy the first episode of our newest series, Behind the Vault.

Greg Massey (CEO)

I'm trying to get this done and that done. And Dad looked at me. He said, Greg, it's hard to be a leader when you have no followers.

Garrett Amundsen (host)

Welcome to Behind the Vault, a Modern FI series that provides interviews and insights from some of the top leaders in banking.

I'm the host, Garrett Amundsen. Behind the Vault will highlight interviews with owners and executives of banks from around. We will talk about their organizations and strategies and discover how they're becoming a modern fi . On the first episode of Behind the Vault, I sat down with Greg Massey and Melissa Perrin.The CEO and CCO (Chief Culture Officer) at First United Bank. First United is Finotta's first major investor and customer and one of the largest privately owned banks in the country. I sat down with Greg and Melissa to find out more about them, their organization, and the relationship between First United and Finotta.

Without further ado, let's go behind the vault with Greg Massey and Melissa Perrin.

Greg Massey has been a part of First United for 31 years. The bank was originally founded by his. Three decades into the business. Greg is as passionate as ever.

Greg Massey (CEO)

Good afternoon. My name's Greg Massey, and I am the Chief Executive Officer of First United Bank. I have always had a passion and a desire to help other people, and fell in love with the banking business in my twenties. And try just to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses, develop their businesses, and do the same with our consumer customers.

You know, how, how can we help? Advance what they want to do in, in life. And so it's been quite a journey. And I think over the past 15 to 20 years, getting really focused on becoming a purpose-based organization. We say, you know, we want to inspire and empower others to spend life wisely. And everyone in this organization is focused on that one thing.

Garrett Amundsen (host)

Melissa Perrin, First United's Chief Culture Officer. Also has a familial relationship with banking, and her role is to develop the organization's purpose, visions, and values.

Melissa Perrin (CCO)

Hi, my name's Melissa Perrin. I have been with First United since 2004. So about 18 years, I. Think I fell in love with community banking as a small kid. My mom's whole career was in community banking.

So I grew up with her coming home at the end of the day with a stack of papers that she would go to the neighbors and have them sign and take it back in for them. And so I saw her service, our community in that way, and also grew up in a small community. So the feeling of taking care of your neighbors and being there for each other is something that's always been important to me and is how I was raised.

So being over the culture for First United feels a lot like that. Like this responsibility of being good neighbors to each other, to working together for, for good, for a common good cause.

Garrett Amundsen (host)

Greg and Melissa both have incredibly important roles as leaders of First United. I asked them what common denominators can be seen amongst the world's great leaders. Here's what they had to say.

Greg Massey (CEO)

It's all about servant leadership, right? So how do we lead by serving others and listening and caring? Uh, we talk from a cultural perspective of love and impact. And, and so I always think of, of leaders that can actually love when I was a young leader, I came to my dad's office one day, and I was complaining, you know, like we all do.

And like, I can't, I'm trying to get this done and that. Then Dad looked at me and said, Greg, it's hard to be a leader when you have no followers. And, and I literally went back downstairs with my head between my, my, my tail and like, oh my gosh, you know, I've gotta do a better job of connecting with others if I'm really gonna lead them.

Melissa Perrin (CCO)

Yeah. When I think of just part of my leadership style now, I definitely think I got a lot of that from my parents, that my dad was the type. He was a farmer. He would take care of everybody else's stuff before he would take care of his own. And to this day still, you know, drops everything to go help someone else.


And so, I think that servant leadership is something that I try to carry forward. My mom, I read this thing recently about being a person who stands in the gaps in people's life. And I can remember her growing up anytime there was anything happening in anyone's life. She did her best to try to stand in the gap of where they needed help and support.

Garrett Amundsen (host)

Being a great leader is not about what you can do for yourself. It is about what you can do for others. James Kouzes and Barry Posner write in The Leadership Challenge about everything that sustains the leader over time. Love is the most lasting. The best-kept secret of successful leaders is love.

Staying in love with leading with the people who do the work with what their organizations produce and with those who honor the organization by using its work.

Melissa Perrin (CCO)

So can I say this one thing. Remember one time you said this was years ago, but someone asked you the question, what keeps you up at night?

You said I feel responsible for the legacy that all of our employees leave to their family. And that's always stuck with me that I think now that at that time I thought, well, why are you. For it, but now that I'm in the role I'm in, I definitely feel that too. Just this, not only for our customer, I mean, it's just, it's all of it now. It just keeps getting bigger. The more impact I feel like we have.

Greg Massey (CEO)

You know, as, as a conscious business, uh, we really think through this from playing the long game. Right. And, and the long game is something that's longer than our lives. And so, so you. You always say you're coming into this world with nothing.

You're gonna leave with nothing, but what you actually leave is your legacy. And that legacy is how you hold this thing. What we call today First United and our family here at First United is so important to us that we leave it better than we found it. And that could be our employees, our customers, our communities, whatever it might be, but we have a responsibility to hold it in a general beautiful way to make it just a little bit.

Melissa Perrin (CCO)

Yeah. I feel just to get like day to day in the way our employees go home at the end of the day and decompress with their family. And I just, I envision sitting around the dinner table talking about their day, and it's like, did we positively impact that?

Or did we negatively impact that? And if we did, I definitely believe that impacts that conversation at the table, which impacts everyone at that table and so those ripples are something that, you know, and it's not like Greg, and I personally influence all of those, but the leadership and the culture, and just all of the things that we put on the plates of, of our employees, you know, trickles throughout. 

Garrett Amundsen (host)

That quote that I just mentioned a moment ago touched on the idea that love can help sustain a leader over time.

Greg has been in the industry for 31 years because love is an essential part of his leadership. He is more inspired now than ever before.

Greg Massey (CEO)

Every year, uh, every five years, we've done a five-year vision for the future. And Melissa and I were a couple of years ago, started saying, Hey, what can we do this time that would be different? And we decided to do a ten-year vision. I was with a friend and was asking them how they had done theirs in their company. And they had brought up a way of doing it, which we'd never done before. Historically, we'd always done vision work with just our executive team and board, but we actually brought in customers, we brought in employees, we brought in community members, and we worked on it for two years.

So we, you know, we, we've got it articulated now by elevating 10 million lives. And in the way in which we're gonna do that. I believe we can change our communities and how they've never been changed before. So, you know, I really can see the future 10 years, eight years from now in, in 2030. And we've impacted not only that many lives, but we've also impacted the communities in ways they've never been impacted before.

And so, uh, I'm more excited today at 58 years old than I've ever been in my whole life. 

Garrett Amundsen (host)

If you've been following along with Once Upon a Startup, you know how much emphasis the Finotta team puts on making a positive impact on its users' lives, which is what makes this partnership between First United and Finotta so perfect. Both organizations are incredibly focused on creating positive change for others. 

For First United, this is being done through their "spend life wisely" initiative in the same way that Finotta's technology helps move users along their financial journey. First United's "spend life wisely" initiative provides advice and tools to help their customers along their journeys, not just a financial journey.

However, "spend life wisely" is centered around four pillars, financial wellbeing, faith, health, and growth.

Greg Massey (CEO)

Years ago, I was down in Austin and heard Roy Spence talk about purpose. It was like an aha moment for me to really think through that because, you know, hearing Roy speak, I said, we've got to articulate a purpose that would connect.

And, and literally, as he was, uh, speaking that day, I wrote down a purpose statement, and it was about helping others. Uh, a couple of years later, a group of, of, uh, executives and board members and some, uh, friends, uh, we met for a couple of days and re-articulated that purpose. At the same time, we had a marketing firm and a research firm go in and talk to our customers about what was related. What were the words that they could relate to? And it was interesting. And they came back and said, "spend life wisely," from those words to the group of executives. And we co-mingled, if you will, the words that connected to our customers in the heart of our employees to help. And so, one of the issues we had with the word "help" was almost like, are you gonna teach someone to fish, or are you gonna fish for them?

And so we moved from "help" to" inspire and empower." All right. So, we talk about inspiring. We talk about how to encourage empowerment. How do we inform and educate? And then others are all of our stakeholders, being a stakeholder company to "spend life wisely." 

Melissa Perrin (CCO)

We did have this moment as an executive team that we were like, you know, we're doing well, companies growing, culture seems good, but man, it feels like we could do some more good.

We literally had a board member say, well, you know what are the things you're doing internally that you're seeing success with, and how can we just do more of that? And at that time, we had brought in a wellness program and employees, we were seeing a lot of success and transformation with employees through that.

We had always been a faith-based company, had great leadership programs and development that we were doing. So, you know, we elevated those three pillars alongside the financial wellbeing one and, you know, back to the inspire and empower of this desire to educate and inform people and give them tools. I think, for me, "spend life wisely" is about doing that in all four areas. 

Garrett Amundsen (host)

Having a purpose-based company can be easy when a company is small. First United has thousands of employees. So distilling that purpose and mission down to every employee requires incredible intentionality. 

Greg Massey (CEO)

I'll never forget. I was having dinner one night with a couple of gentlemen, one runs The Container Store, the other one, the Whole Foods. And, and that was a question. I asked them, this was gosh, 12 years ago. I said, how do you get it off the walls and make it real? And Kip Tindell of The Container Store said he had a voice call every week to every employee in the Container Store because they are retail.

And so not everybody has email or whatever, but everybody has a, a, a phone. And so that's how he did his. John was doing things through the stores. And, and so I'll never forget. I came back and said, well, I got this great idea. We're gonna start every meeting in the bank with purpose and values. And you can imagine a community banking organization like we have a meeting once a week in our community banks about problem loans.

So, you know, you're making these big decisions, or you have like credit committee, and these are kind of credit kind of guys. And, and, and what was really cool about it. I mean, at first, they were like, there's no way, Greg, this thing's gonna go over like a lead balloon, and we started it now. They love it. And, and some of the folks that you would think would just like, be like, no way we're gonna talk about this, but what happened when we did that?

You opened their hearts. Can we talk about values? We talk about love and impact. We talk about our faith. We talk about, you know, a high performance, we talk about family, and you actually integrate everybody has those in their life, and you're opening their heart. And when you open your heart, you can connect to your head, and things just get better.

Garrett Amundsen (host)

When listening to Greg and Melissa, they clearly focus on the people they serve. This came out the best when I asked them about the biggest problem in banking. When I asked this question, Greg immediately flipped the focus. 

Greg Massey (CEO)

You know, I would reframe the question from the five biggest problems in banking to maybe the five biggest issues we're trying to solve for our customers.

You know, you have to think through how do we have the right financial well-being for our customers and how do we make it easy for them to make good financial wellness decisions?. It could be a consumer, are you buying the right size of home that you can afford, you know, to a business having the right type of cash.

To go through credit cycles and downturns in the economy. So what's happened in, in the banking industry. Too many banks are there for profit, pushing people into not enough, maybe too much credit, too much house, too much car, and their financial wellbeing. It is, is not where it needs to be.

Therefore here comes stress. Here comes divorce. Here comes other things that are not good for them or their families. So, we're trying to figure out how to, how to do that, how to do that at the moment, in which that need arises and push that forward. 

Melissa Perrin (CCO)

I also think helping people even think about their goals, you know, sometimes we're so reactive and to have someone to sit down and say, financially, what do you want five years from now? 20 years from now? And also not saying, I feel like we never say no; it's just not right now. And how can we get you there? And so that education piece comes into play there of like, gosh, it's not the right, not the right time right now for this for you, but let's get us on a plan to help get you there.

Greg Massey (CEO)

I've often thought, like, are we really in the business of compounding teach, teaching people compounding? Cause you think about our faith pillar, like going, getting up tomorrow morning, and reading your Bible one day will help you. But you do it every day for 10 years. It changed your life forever. If you save money for one month, it helps you.

But if you save money every month for 10 years. And so all these compoundings you're saying same with personal development. If I put myself to developing myself individually every day for just a little bit, right. I remember I had a friend one time that was working on his vocabulary. He was gonna learn one new word. He did it for 10 years. And they say 10 years, times 360; he's got an incredible vocabulary. And so it's this compounding thing that's so important in our lives. And you take that compounding and through the, you know, the four legs of "spend life wisely," and you change forever.

Melissa Perrin (CCO)

And that's really, uh, you know, our message that we have out right now about, you know, spend supper time wisely, and you have a family that's praying together, or, you know, like you mentioned earlier, spend 6:05 AM wisely, and you have someone running for that is how we're trying to show this representation of yes.

Ultimately we all want to spend life wisely. But you don't wanna wake up at the end of your life and say, well, did I, or did I not? And so it's like, how do you take all of these little moments and just let them compound over time? If you can just individually make good choices in the small moments.

Those will compound over time, and you will wake up some new men like, man, I really, I really did squeeze the lemon. Right. I, I got everything there was out of that. And so that's our hope and we, and not that we all do that perfectly every moment of our day, but something, you know, it's back to being an aspiration.

Garrett Amundsen (host)

This conversation really highlights the alignment between Finotta and First United. Finotta's technology helps users make good financial decisions and makes it easy to take those small actions that will have a massive impact in the long run. My final question for Greg and Melissa comes from the legendary Tim Ferris. I asked them, if you could have a billboard anywhere in the world, getting a message out to millions or billions of people, what would it say and why?

Melissa Perrin (CCO)

Gosh, mine would definitely be something around loving others. Yeah. Something around just. Loving and caring for the person right beside you. 

Greg Massey (CEO)

And I was about to say, love yourself so you can love others.

We say it comes from Christ living in and through us, right? So, you know, as a Christian organization and, and a man of God, you, you can't help. But, you know, I always say it's easy to love God. It's hard to love others sometimes. Right? And so, but that, that's what that's why we're here is, is to have an impact on other people, and as a Christian and you, you start understanding how Christ died for you.

How can you not love other people whom he also died for? 

Melissa Perrin (CCO)

Yeah. I love that quote that says, if you don't, if you can't see God in the next person you see, look no further. I think about that quote someday, and I think, gosh, you know, there were people that were really hard to love today or people I didn't really wanna want to think about, you know, about having to stop and, and help support them.

I definitely feel that's our responsibility to carry on that love. I mean, honestly, if you think about the whole reason we wake up every day, I mean, what's the point in it. If you're not helping spread that love and, and helping others, I think, you know, there's no hope people have nothing to live for.

So I think it's our responsibility to spur that hope and hope and love in people.

Garrett Amundsen (host)

Thank you for listening to the first episode of Behind the Vault, a new Modern FI series that provides interviews and insights from some of the top leaders in banking. This has been a conversation with Greg Massey and Melissa Perrin, the CEO and CCO of First United bank. Finotta's first major investor and customer.

We will have plenty more episodes of Behind the Vault in the future, but we will also be launching a bunch of new series, all under the Modern FI umbrella. So stay tuned. I'm Garrett Amundsen, and I will see you on the next episode of Modern FI.

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