Matt Spoke of Moves Financial: “Don’t take the first money that’s offered to you”

Don’t take the first money that’s offered to you. You’re committing to a long-term relationship, and it’s a two-way dynamic that you should consider carefully.Too often, first time entrepreneurs building great ideas don’t yet appreciate the leverage they have when building relationships with investors. Often, the investor needs you more than you need them.Agreeing to […]

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Don’t take the first money that’s offered to you. You’re committing to a long-term relationship, and it’s a two-way dynamic that you should consider carefully.
Too often, first time entrepreneurs building great ideas don’t yet appreciate the leverage they have when building relationships with investors. Often, the investor needs you more than you need them.
Agreeing to an investment without firmly believing in the person you’re partnering with on the other side is a recipe for long-term disaster. You’re on a 10 year journey, and these relationships matter a lot to your probability of success.

As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company” I had the pleasure of interviewing Matthew Spoke, Founder and CEO of Moves, a social finance product for independent “gig” workers. Matt has spoken at major tech conferences around the world, and has regularly contributed to

Matt is passionate about solving key challenges facing workers in the gig economy and formed Moves to address some of the systemic problems confronting this growing demographic. As of 2019, 35% of the U.S. workforce identified as freelancers and that number is increasing annually.

Solving problems for gig workers requires a deep understanding of how they work and earn money. Moves starts by creating a product experience designed around building a relationship with gig workers, and from there is able to empower a community and provide world-class financial products for this important group of people. As Moves grows, its mission is to unlock an ownership economy where gig workers are given economic incentives to help create value for Moves and for the gig economy as a whole.

As CEO of Moves, Matt spearheads the shared mission to solve the unintended consequences of workers in the gig economy. The gig economy is not only growing; it is becoming THE economy.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I’m a 33 year old entrepreneur from Toronto, Canada, where I live with my wife, Jen, my infant son, Nico, and our dog, Kahlo.

I’ve been an entrepreneur for 5 years, and before that I was a CPA at Deloitte. I’ve never looked back since changing my career path.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

In late 2019, I was reading a lot about the ongoing legal debates happening in California around a proposed law called AB5 that was intended as a protection for gig workers and their lack of employment classification.

Meanwhile, in Toronto, where I live, there was a popular food delivery service called Foodora (very similar to DoorDash) that was going through a very public fight with their workers, who were demanding unionization.

I didn’t have a perfect grasp yet on what the problem was or how to solve it, but I remember very clearly seeing a massive gap and opportunity out of these things. Gig workers were critical to the success of businesses like Uber, but they obviously felt like they weren’t being treated fairly, or weren’t being properly supported in their pursuit of a stable career path.

That was enough to get me into a rabbit hole of learning everything I could about the gig economy and its workers. I specifically remember one meaningful 15 minute conversation I had with an Uber driver on my way home. He opened up to me completely about the challenges he was facing and his motivations for having joined the gig economy in the first place.

The next day, it was clear to me. I had a new mission — and Moves was born.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

The most vivid memory I have about starting my journey was the day I drafted my resignation letter to Deloitte. I was physically shaking and I felt sick.

I had never taken a risk like this before.

A big factor in making that decision was that I had two former colleagues who had agreed to be my co-founders. I would resign, start the process of raising capital into this new business, and then they would follow.

Within the first week of resigning, both of them started second guessing whether they could follow through.

My drive came from necessity. I couldn’t turn back. I had already left my job, disappointed some of my higher-ups, and my only path was forward. So I pushed and I worked until I found an investor who would take a chance on me.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

I’ve faced my fair share of challenges and obstacles as an entrepreneur. I’ve been on the edge of the proverbial cliff, where it didn’t seem like there was a path forward.

What I never really understood when I first started down this path is that entrepreneurship is not simply the practical steps required to build a business. It’s an emotional journey. Whether you succeed or fail becomes a direct reflection on your new identity. You have to be able to handle that.

I’ve made mistakes and experienced failures along the way, and what I’ve found is that it gets easier over time. You become more inured to failure, and more willing to take on risks. Talking openly about it helps — nobody’s a superhuman who never screws up. So you surround yourself with people who support you even when you fail, and celebrate you when you succeed.

In some ways, I’m not as successful as I think I ‘should’ be — but comparing yourself to others is a dangerous path. I’m where I need to be, and I see entrepreneurship as a life journey, not a race to the finish line.

You start to realize that there is no distinction between your work life and personal life. There is just the entrepreneurial life. But within that, you need to find a way to stay sane, stay positive, and have a support system you can rely on when things get tough. Because they will.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

For better or for worse, our company is a story of constant change and adaptability. We’ve been lucky to have the capacity to keep testing ideas and hypotheses, and we’ve come close to significant success. But we’ve had to learn to pivot and adapt.

At the beginning of 2020, I decided to pivot the company towards an entirely new business and problem — to focus on building a product for gig workers. We were a team of over 60 people, in 3 countries at the time. Not everyone was as convinced or excited as I was.

2020 was a year of change. Today, most of the team is new within the past 9 months. We’re about 25 people, all in Toronto. There were some difficult decisions necessary to get here.

But the energy and excitement about our mission is palpable. We’re going to have an incredible 2021.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

I’m not sure how funny this is, but I remember working on my business concept while I was still a Deloitte employee, working on my Deloitte laptop.

At some point along the way, I realized that not everyone at Deloitte was happy that I was leaving. A mentor of mine flagged that I was at risk of “owing” something to Deloitte if it was perceived that I was building my IP during company time, using a company asset.

I went out and bought a MacBook that day.

Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?

Early on, I put a lot of emphasis into building relationships with “advisors.” I had never built a business before, I was not perfectly confident in my abilities as an entrepreneur, and it was comforting to know that there was a group of people I could turn to.

The challenge was that advisors expect to be incentivized, and in my early experience I didn’t know what was fair. I definitely overpaid and prioritized the wrong types of advisors, who frankly didn’t have the skills or experience I needed to be valuable to me.

With the exception of one, who I still keep in close company, I should have been significantly more ambitious in who I could attract as advisors, and I should have trusted that I had 95% of the competence I needed to solve problems on my own without the “comfort” of inexperienced people around me.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Compassion — I’ve been on the other side of “cutthroat” investors and business people. There was a time when I thought that was what would be required of me to find success. I don’t believe that anymore. I think long-term sustainable success starts with compassion.

The people I work with are committing their professional lives to my vision. I owe them compassion. In our day to day interactions, in difficult discussions and personnel decisions, in general.

The companies we work with are more important than the functional problems they help us solve. I want them to believe in where we’re heading, so I prioritize building meaningful relationships that extend beyond our business transactions.

The customers we support are not profit margins. They’re people with real problems who are entrusting us to help them. Compassion means prioritizing what’s best for them before prioritizing what’s best for us.

Ultimately, I may miss certain opportunities because I’m not the most cutthroat guy in the room. But I’m confident that my approach wins over the long term.

Decisiveness — This is one I’m still working on, but I know will become increasingly important as our business gets more complex. The challenge with decisiveness, is that it can sometimes feel like it goes against compassion. But that’s just the perception; it’s not true.

The risk of being the “nice guy” is the inability to make a decision, put your foot down, or upset colleagues for disagreeing with their perspective on an issue.

Part of being a compassionate and decisive leader is listening to input, making people feel valued and heard, but then being efficient in pulling the trigger on a decision.

What I’ve learned is that, as much as people like working for the nice guy, they won’t be able to do their jobs well without decisive leadership.

Self Awareness — I’ve come to learn that I am not the best at everything. In fact, I’m not the best at most things. Effectively, I’ve been able to accomplish what I have because of the people around me.

The best way to hire the best people is to first recognize your own limitations and prioritize hiring someone who is better than you in their role.

A CEO who thinks they are the best at all things and has the right answers to all questions will tend to hire people beneath them in competence, rather than above them. This leads to slow decay in a company, where the culture prioritizes people’s egos rather than what’s best for the business.

In any hiring decision I make now, I try to gauge self awareness in candidates. I want to hire great people who are confident enough to say when they don’t have the right answer.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Productivity is not measured in hours worked; it’s measured in output.

I think there’s too much emphasis in the startup world on signalling to others that you’re a hard worker — the so-called “hustle porn.” This mentality leads entrepreneurs to believe that they have to work themselves to the bone to be viewed as successful.

There’s only one outcome to this: burnout.

Focus on finding your best methods to be your most productive self. What energizes you? Where are you most focused? What non-work activity helps you disconnect and recharge?

Obviously being an entrepreneur is hard work. You will work late nights. You will wake yourself up with an idea that you need to write down right now. But balance this with time to think, time to read, time to connect with people outside your work, time with family.

Building a business is a marathon. If you sprint through the first mile, you’ll never make it.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

A very dangerous trap for early entrepreneurs is not knowing how to say no to things that seem flattering. Public recognition should not be on your list of priorities early in building your business. And lots of people would love to “pick your brain,” but more often than not, they’re wasting your time.

This includes junior VCs reaching out to you to “learn more about your business.” This is very rarely how funding decisions happen, so learn to say no to people.

Your time is your most valuable resource. Don’t share it with anyone who isn’t directly adding value to your current priorities.

In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

Being an entrepreneur with an idea, energy and skill is how a lot of people get started. What I didn’t fully appreciate is that eventually (if you find success), you have to learn how to build a team, manage people, get alignment to your vision, and put in place the right culture and environment for your team to succeed at the highest levels.

This has been the most difficult learning experience for me thus far. Managing people is hard. Building the right structure, and aligning people to the right goals, using the best frameworks, is hard.

But if you go in eyes wide open, with a willingness to learn from companies that have gone down this path before, you can handle it.

The jump from being to entrepreneur to being a CEO is a never-ending learning experience.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Learn to be self-reliant as an entrepreneur, BUT surround yourself with a support system outside of work.
    My entrepreneur story is one of too many disappointing relationships with partners, advisors and investors that I thought I needed to succeed. Along the way, I learned that I have the skills and resourcefulness to solve most problems on my own.
  2. Product, Product, Product. Nothing else matters when you’re starting. Learn what it means to build a world-class product organization
    You have nothing if you have no product. As the CEO, the product is an articulation of your vision. Don’t lose sight of its importance. Learning how to build a great product is difficult, but there are incredible resources out there to compete on the same level as the best in the world. Educate yourself in product management, and build a team that views this as the top priority.
  3. Don’t take the first money that’s offered to you. You’re committing to a long-term relationship, and it’s a two-way dynamic that you should consider carefully.
    Too often, first time entrepreneurs building great ideas don’t yet appreciate the leverage they have when building relationships with investors. Often, the investor needs you more than you need them.
    Agreeing to an investment without firmly believing in the person you’re partnering with on the other side is a recipe for long-term disaster. You’re on a 10 year journey, and these relationships matter a lot to your probability of success.
  4. Don’t hire friends. One of the hardest things you’ll need to do over the lifetime of your company is learning how to fire people. Don’t make this more difficult on yourself by hiring friends.
    This is still the thing I hate most about my job, but it’s inevitable if you’re going to build the best team and the best product.
  5. Don’t chase the spotlight. If you find success, it’ll find you. 
    To the extent this matters to you, there seems to be an inverse relationship between success and people chasing the spotlight. For one, you have better things to do with your time than pitching yourself to conferences, or trying to make it on “Top blah blah” lists. The time spent here is keeping you away from your real priorities: your product, your team, your fundraising.
    Eventually, when you find success, the spotlight will be chasing you; then you can decide if you want it or not.

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. 🙂

This may be obvious given what I’m building at Moves, but the reason I’m most excited about my business is because it’s rooted in a movement that will help tens of millions of people.

Gig workers now make up the single largest workforce in America, and they are completely voiceless and unrepresented. We hope to change that.

The future of our labor markets will either elevate people to their full potential or commoditize them down to a set of replaceable skills. We exist to ensure it’s the former.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Best place is always on Twitter at @mattspoke

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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