Koho is one of HIGHLINE’s FinTech portfolio companies, and was co-founded by Daniel Eberhard, Jonathan Bixby, Mike Benna, and Joshua Bixby. With offices in Vancouver and Toronto, Koho aims to disrupt the way Canadians bank through the integration of modern technology, better design and — perhaps best of all — no fees for customers.
In the following interview, Koho’s CEO discusses the startup’s features in more detail, as well as the importance of culture, how traveling shaped him as an entrepreneur, the books and advice that have influenced him, and more.
Q&A With Daniel Eberhard, Co-Founder & CEO of Koho
What is Koho?
Koho is effectively a better way to bank. With Koho you get a Koho card, web app, and mobile app. With this, you can do everything you do already (direct deposit, bill pay, ATMs, etc.) and then we remove the fees and layer on some really elegant design and tools to help people do more with their money.
Where did the idea come from?
The idea originally came from me having a super frustrating experience with my bank, which I’d banked with for a very long time. I was trying to get some banking done, and it was painfully clear they had no idea who I was.
We started digging in and found that Canadians are paying some of the highest bank fees in the world to some of the most profitable institutions in the world. We thought that was unfair and wanted to see if we could change it. We looked at a lot of different banking environments in our research and found a number of ways we thought we could make the experience way better.
You’ve just closed a round of $1M, double your initial round goal. Why do you think you were able to attract so much investor support?
The biggest thing is that our vision is relatable. Everybody has had to deal with bad banking experiences and we have a real strategy to fix it. I also think we did a pretty good job of diligently de-risking the pain. We ran a tonne of tests around messaging and acquisition. Finally, Fintech is just a great sector to be in right now.
Koho’s app includes some unique goals and budgeting features. How does Koho help people save?
At Koho, we wanted to do everything we could to help our customers make the best decisions. That doesn’t mean saving every penny — it just means doing more with the money they have in a way that’s meaningful to them, be that road trips, down payments, or other goals. We help them do this by providing an understanding of how they’re currently spending through tools like cash-flow forecasting, automatic savings, spending insights, and budgeting notifications.
You’re targeting Millennials in particular. Do you think older generations will take interest as well?
For sure. I think banking is a big market and there is frustration all over the spectrum. Ultimately people just want a bank that gets out their way. That means better technology, and better design. We went for Millennials first because they have higher expectations in terms of technology, and are more receptive to fresh approaches to traditional problems.
Which features have people been most excited about?
The design is the first thing people notice. We use a lot of visual tools to significantly improve on the status quo. Goals always gets a strong reaction too. Goals is our automatic savings tools, and when people use it, they’re twice as likely to save the amount they need. It’s also really personal: some people want to save for a house, others for a road trip, or a dog. Available-to-Spend is also popular. We basically look at upcoming, pending and recurring transaction to give people a second balance, which indicates their current cash flow — no more overdraft. Finally, our Filters always lead to good conversation.
How did you attract your first signups (after friends and family)?
We used video to tell people who we are and what we’re about. Following that, we had some really strong PR support, which was great.
Any tips for hacking your own PR?
Just understand that the people you’re reaching out to are super busy and getting pitched all the time. Make it as easy as possible for the story to get published. Following that, be unique, incorporate a timing component, and be relatable.
If you could go back knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently with Koho?
I would have re-prioritized our messaging. A lot of people still don’t understand that we partner with a financial institution, who holds the money. Once people understand their money is as safe as it’s always been, the conversations get way easier.
What has been your biggest challenge to date?
Learning banking regulations. That’s complex. And again, getting the messaging right is so important. I think we’re getting better at it.
You’re currently focused on growing your team. What do you look for when hiring at Koho?
Cultural fit is a must. We have weekly meetings and spend ½ of them focusing on growth and accountability and the type of culture we want to create. We set a budget set aside to make the office a better place to work and challenge each other professionally – we call this our AQ (Awesomeness Quotient).
You’ve been working on Koho for the last year. What were you doing before that?
I was a co-founder in a company called Kineticor Renewables, which developed a 20 Mw wind farm in Saskatchewan that was eventually acquired by Algonquin Power. When I moved to Vancouver about three years ago I was consulting and helping companies go to market and raise capital. I did a lot of travelling in between, which has always been super important to me. I’ve been to Nepal, India, Burma — about 30 countries in total.
How has traveling shaped who you are?
I think it’s fundamental to who I am. Travelling, especially solo, teaches you to be self-reliant and independent. You get into jams, and inevitably, figure things out. There’s a tonne of overlap between that and entrepreneurship.
What lessons did you have to learn the hard way in your last business that you could apply at Koho?
How important core alignment is. Making sure the whole team is aligned in terms of vision, value creation and definition of success is fundamental. The bigger the goals, the more important these things become.
As an avid reader, what have been the most influential books on your life?
Atlas Shrugged, Where Men Win Glory, Abundance, A Fine Balance, and An Astronaut’s Guide To Life on Earth. I’m also a big fan of Stoicism so works by Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius and Seneca are up there too.
Do you have a favourite quote that motivates or inspires you?
“Water off a ducks back.” It was my dad’s favourite.
What other founders and companies inspire you?
Founders: Elon Musk, Peter Diamandis, and Peter Thiel.
Companies: TransferWise and Lending Club from my space. Warby Parker is killing it in a crowded space, so you have to respect that. Kiva and Kickstarter are shifting some really interesting paradigms.
Do you have any rituals that help you stay grounded, focused, or energized?
I get up super early to make sure I’m proactive. I also find peace at the gym, and while running, hiking, meditating and reading.
When or where do you do your best work?
Early mornings, usually before the team arrives. I also find I’m most creative during a run.
Best advice you’ve ever gotten?
You can take the safe road and still be wrong, so there’s no reason not to follow your heart.
What advice can you give other entrepreneurs?
Have the patience to find a project you truly care about. People support people with passion and it really can’t be faked. Also, get mentors so you don’t make as many mistakes as I have.
If you were totally fearless, what would you do?
I would aim bigger in terms of what we’re trying to do. And I’d explore the dangerous places in the world.