You won’t be able to prepare for every eventuality. If this past year taught us anything, it’s that the world can change instantly, and there is no way that anyone can prepare for every eventuality. However, you can prepare for disruption and put plans in place to run through worst-case scenarios ahead of time to help power through possible disruption.
As part of our interview series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dima Kats, CEO of Clear Junction.
Dima Kats has spent a large part of his career in the Israeli fintech space. Over the course of seven years, he performed a range of project management and product roles at Borderfree (now part of Pitney Bowes (NYSE: PBI)), then undertook business development positions at Payoneer. Following that, Dima turned to consult and worked for various financial companies, including Cambridge Mercantile FX (now part of FleetCor (NYSE: FLT)). In 2016, he established Clear Junction in the UK, with the aim of providing high-quality services to other financial institutions.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have always wanted to work in fintech, and my background was a perfect fit to transition into the industry after University. I went to the University of Tel Aviv, where I studied Computers and Economics. I also have an MBA in Information Systems. After University, I spent a large portion of my career in the Israeli fintech space.
Before setting up Clear Junction, I worked in product management roles at Borderfree, which is now part of Pitney Bowes, then moved on to work in a business development position at Payoneer. It was a tiny start-up at the time, but now it’s a fintech unicorn. Following that, I consulted for a while and worked for various financial companies, including Cambridge Mercantile FX. In 2016, I spotted a need in the financial market for high-quality payment services and solutions — this was when Clear Junction was born.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Entrepreneurship isn’t easy. When you’re establishing your own business, there are many setbacks and hurdles along the journey. Starting Clear Junction was a very gradual process; it didn’t happen overnight. At first, I still had a day job and then switched over to consulting, where I was working with various financial institutions. While I was consulting, I figured out that my clients didn’t want my advice, they wanted services and someone to manage the process for them.
The idea behind Clear Junction started to take hold and I went for it, but it’s been a long road to success. Finding the right people, scaling rapidly in times of disruption, and adapting to changes in the market can be challenging times to navigate, as we saw with the pandemic. Hard times are inevitable throughout the journey of owning your own business. Having a resilient mindset and a supportive and knowledgeable team behind you makes all the difference in succeeding.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I have a true passion for the fintech industry. You must have a passion for what you do to find the motivation to continue through challenging times. At Clear Junction, we provide services to other service providers like banks and other financial institutions. We provide the foundations behind the finance industry, and we work with some big names and well-respected institutions. Knowing that we built this company from scratch in 2016 and now, five years later, we are processing payments for companies worldwide, is incredibly inspiring.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
In the fintech industry, it can take a very long time to build the proper infrastructure. The entry barriers are high and vary across different disciplines. Regulations change, too, as does risk management and technology, sales teams, marketing teams, and banks’ relationships — the list goes on. Building the right infrastructure to surpass the barriers took us a few years — however, when you make it over the hurdle, everything starts to run smoothly and consistently.
2020 is where we started to scale up quickly because we had everything in order. Then it becomes a matter of opportunity. And in the fintech industry right now, there is no shortage of opportunities happening. Brexit, the US election, the increase in popularity of cryptocurrencies, the introduction of new regulations across countries, all show great opportunity in the finance world. The challenge is being ready to take those opportunities and capitalize on them. We did a great job of this over the last year and have seen our transaction volumes increase by 9136%.
What do you think makes your company stand out?
The financial services industry is enormous and there are many ways to provide services. We decided to go after a very challenging niche area of the market that other service providers avoided, due to the risk involved. We built risk management capabilities into our proprietary technology to navigate this, so we felt more comfortable taking risks.
We don’t serve retail clients; we serve other financial institutions, making us unique. Since we serve other companies specializing in our domain, we only work with other financial experts; this is a challenge as there is little room for mistakes in these relationships. Often, our clients know exactly what it is that they need to achieve so we must constantly work to meet these needs.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
If you want to start and build your own business, there will be times of burnout. My advice would be to prepare for this, as it’s unavoidable. There will be tough times, and there will be a range of challenges that at times seem never-ending. It’ll likely be worth it in the end though, and there are some ways to manage your time wisely, so you don’t become completely overwhelmed. It all starts with establishing a solid team.
When you have a powerful team behind you, when the work starts to increase or times are tough, you can rest assured knowing you have a capable team to support you. Delegate the work to them that they are best suited for; this frees up your day to focus on the urgent items and empowers the team to handle more responsibility.
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?
A few members of the Clear Junction team have been with me from the beginning of this journey. Their loyalty, commitment, and hard work helped us become the company we are today. We are now a global payments company of over 50 fintech professionals. We serve multi-national, well-known banks and financial institutions across the globe. Without those original core members of the Clear Junction team, the business would be very different.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We aim to be the power behind payments for our customers. We enable them to unlock new opportunities for their businesses and their customers. Financial institutions that work with us can access new global markets faster, harness technology for a competitive advance, navigate and understand risk and compliance — which can be a tricky terrain — and improve customer service levels. Everything we do to empower our clients eventually benefits the consumers worldwide that want better, faster and more seamless payments. You could say we bring goodness by making people’s lives easier and less stressful when they don’t have to worry when moving, sending, or receiving money.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
I wish someone had told me five times not to do it! In all seriousness, though, building a business is difficult work that requires constant learning, resilience, and unwavering determination — but it can pay off in the long run. My five pieces of advice for anyone considering starting their own business are:
- Establishing the right team is everything. Many times throughout this journey, I’ve been amazed at the strength of our team of experts. When times get hard, which they inevitably will, the stronger the core team of individuals at the start of the business’s establishment, the better your chances of surviving hard times.
- Stick to your vision. From the beginning, our vision has been to connect financial businesses to a regulated payment infrastructure that helps them overcome barriers and challenges relating to banking and payments. Time has proven that our initial vision and approach were correct, but it took a few years of trials and tribulations before the business really experienced significant growth.
- You won’t be able to prepare for every eventuality. If this past year taught us anything, it’s that the world can change instantly, and there is no way that anyone can prepare for every eventuality. However, you can prepare for disruption and put plans in place to run through worst-case scenarios ahead of time to help power through possible disruption.
- Believe in your values. Everything you do should align with your core values. What drives your business? What motivates you and your employees to get up in the morning? We are inspired by using our deep understanding and decades of expertise to empower our customers to pursue opportunities that others may deem too complex or too risky. Your values impact company culture and the relationship with customers, partners and other stakeholders. Believing in them is essential.
- Perseverance is critical. Starting a financial services company wasn’t easy. It was a long road to get to where we are today, but I am proud of our success. Perseverance is critical for success. If you do the right thing for a long time, you’ll get to where you want to be — there are no shortcuts, just hard work.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂
If I could start a movement, it would involve education. I had the opportunity to seek higher education, and it shaped my entire career and my eventual road to entrepreneurship. Without it, I can’t imagine where I’d be. I believe education is a human right, but many children around the world don’t have access to education. If I had the opportunity to generate awareness and do good, it would involve improving the quality and access of education for children worldwide. Imagine what our world would be like if we encouraged every child to reach their potential and explore their interests in quality education.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!