Be prepared to do a little bit of everything. Sales and hiring are always going to be two of the most important tasks for any founder, but unless you raise a lot of money early, be prepared to do things you may not know a lot about. Someone needs to run payroll and there’s a good chance it’s going to be you. Multiply that by 100 small things that need to be taken care of.
As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Erik Budde, founder and CEO of GigaPoints.
Erik is a Silicon Valley-based entrepreneur who is passionate about travel, credit cards and their points. He has leveraged his own credit card rewards to stay in five-star resorts throughout Europe and book first-class tickets to Japan, and started GigaPoints in 2019 to help other people enjoy similar benefits. Erik has a track record of bootstrapping and selling companies.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was fortunate to be at Stanford Business School just as the first tech boom was starting. The company I interned for went from 65 people to 130 that summer. By the time I graduated and joined full time, it had gone public and grown to 400 employees. It merged with another company, hit 3,000 people and then went bankrupt two years later. I learned a ton during that time and just kind of got hooked on tech.
In those early days, I had some great product management mentors. Since then, my career has roughly revolved around starting with customer needs and then building products to meet those needs. After working at a few large, public companies, I struck out on my own. Funded with a home equity loan, our first site grew 25% a month for two years before we sold it. After that, I bought a small site and grew it significantly before selling that one as well, this time to IAC.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
On my first real “boondoggle” trip, a supplier offered to fly us out to Taiwan in business class to see their factory. I even got to tack on a few days in Hong Kong before and I was super excited for my grist trip to Asia.. We landed in Taiwan, got taken out to a great dinner and then went back to the hotel. About two hours after I went to bed, a 7.7 earthquake hit. At first I thought the hotel had been bombed. I was still jet-lagged, couldn’t find my glasses in the middle of the night and was freaking out. It was the biggest quake to hit Taiwan in 100 years. Luckily, we were all fine and able to get a flight out later that morning. But the facility tour was a wash!.
A few years ago, I was negotiating to buy a business, and while doing due diligence I noticed a few things that didn’t add up quite right. The bank statement the founders had provided had some tiny discrepancies — almost too small to notice. I went down to my local branch of that bank and explained the situation. The representative had to be careful about what he could reveal, but he let me know that there had never been more than a few hundred dollars in those accounts — not hundreds of thousands. I hadn’t been expecting outright fraud, like photo-shopping bank statements.
Can you tell us about the Cutting edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?
Picking a credit card is way harder than it should be. Is it better to get 1.5% cash back or 3 points per dollar on dining? Is it worth paying a 95 dollars annual fee (or even more) for extra benefits? Figuring it out requires hours of research, wading through questionable “recommendations” and probably designing a spreadsheet to compare your options.
We created GigaPoints to take the work — and guesswork — out of the process. Our technology analyzes your past credit card spending; using our proprietary database of credit card programs, it then calculates the rewards you could have earned with different cards, and shares its top recommendations. We’re finding that the average consumer is missing out on about 1,000 dollars worth of rewards each year by not having the right card for their spending habits.
If you want a quick answer instead of personalized picks, we’ve also developed a new tool that shows the “Best Card For” just about anything. Just enter a category (i.e. Groceries) or any merchant (i.e. Starbucks) and we’ll show you the cards that pays you back the most.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?
I started getting really into credit cards, miles and points about ten years ago. There’s a whole community of “points hackers” out there, and at first I just wanted to maximize my return on our family’s credit card spending. We’ve used rewards to fly first-class to Japan, stayed in amazing hotels around Europe — we’ve made countless memories, all basically for free. I kind of see the Matrix when it comes to credit card rewards: I instantly spot the sub-optimal card someone is using to pay for groceries. Friends were always asking me what card they should get, and I realized that the existing system makes it hard for even financially savvy people to pick the best credit card for their needs. There’s so much information out there, and so much of it is biased because credit card companies pay big affiliate fees. After I sold my last company, RothIRA.com, I decided I wanted to help people and work on something I was personally passionate about. (No, retirement accounts don’t make my heart pound…) So I started GigaPoints.
What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
When we do a demo or people try out GigaPoints themselves, they immediately understand how powerful and easy the product is. Our biggest challenge is getting people to that point. Understandably, people are nervous about sharing sensitive financial data with a small (but growing!) company. But we use the same security technology as the big guys, including Venmo and American Express. If we can get over that hurdle, I believe consumers will flock to the product.
What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?
Our first goal is to make the product as good as we can. We’re constantly collecting feedback and improving the user experience, since that is always the base of any marketing efforts. Beyond that, we’re working on various fronts to help consumers discover GigaPoints, try it out and, ideally, share it with their friends. Natural, organic growth is going to be critical to our success.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
This is a seriously long list. At virtually every step in my life, I can identify a handful of people who helped me immensely. I think most of them know the role that they played as well. But, ultimately, I can’t help but be most grateful to my parents. Most notably, my mother worked tirelessly to teach me how to write, something I consider one of the most valuable skills anyone can have. And my father taught me how to think critically. He would argue any point merely for the sport of it, and it taught me how to analyze, shape and defend my beliefs.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Startups are roller coasters. One day, everything is awesome and you’re on your way to becoming the next Facebook. Then a week later, something happens and you it seems like the company is doomed. Managing those emotional swings is one of the most important things you can do.
2. A startup is a reflection of the founders. Flaws and all. Google is the way it is because that’s how Larry and Sergey are. Oracle behaves a certain way because of Larry Ellison. Be prepared to see your weaknesses on display in your organization (since you probably won’t appreciate your strengths).
3. Startups can be incredibly rewarding. Being able to say, “I built this,” is really unique. Lots of people have ideas. But not a lot of people are willing or able to take an idea and turn it into something that touches thousands or (hopefully) millions of people. I hold great respect for everyone that even attempts it.
4. But you definitely don’t do it for the money. I haven’t had a salary for 12 years. The successes can be enormous and that’s obviously what a lot of people focus on. But risk-adjusted, you’re almost certainly better at a big company.
5. Be prepared to do a little bit of everything. Sales and hiring are always going to be two of the most important tasks for any founder, but unless you raise a lot of money early, be prepared to do things you may not know a lot about. Someone needs to run payroll and there’s a good chance it’s going to be you. Multiply that by 100 small things that need to be taken care of.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
“Don’t be an asshole.” It’s pretty simple, but if everyone kept this in mind, the world would undoubtedly be a better place.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Not sure if it’s quite “life lesson,” but MLK’s quote is always a cornerstone: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Of course, that bend doesn’t just happen, it takes hard work. But I believe that if you do the right things, the rest will eventually take care of itself.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Credit card companies give away more than 25 billion dollars worth of miles, points and cash back every year — and most consumers are missing out on their share, because they don’t have the best card for their spending habits. GigaPoints takes the time and hassle out of finding the right card, using data to deliver personalized recommendations. Our platform securely links to a user’s existing accounts, calculates how much users are earning from their current cards and determines how much they could be getting from competing cards. The results are detailed, easy to understand, and filterable, so users can easily find the top cash cash back, no annual fee or Intro APR card.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Instagram — @gigapoints
Facebook — GigaPoints
Twitter — @gigapoints
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.