Tomorrow will come — Even if you feel you are looking at what seems like a ‘doomsday’ scenario, remember that ‘tomorrow will come.’ When a boiling is reached, all parties will benefit from time to clear the minds. Tomorrow you’ll be looking at a better opportunity for common sense to prevail.
As a part of our series about “Optimal Performance Before High Pressure Moments”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Richard Steggall.
Richard Steggall, the CEO of Urban FT, which is recognized as one of the most progressive and successful FinTech companies in the Financial Services industry today, is a results-driven entrepreneur with a record of success and a passion for accelerating and capitalizing on emerging opportunities. At Urban FT, Richard and his team are enabling financial institutions to deliver an exceptional customer experience (CX) through the world’s first, and most capable, FinTech Core.
Urban FT’s X-35 FinTech Core™ is a next-gen FinTech infrastructure, positioned to consolidate the challenging FinTech ecosystem and help financial institutions stay on the bleeding-edge of innovations when it comes to providing their end-users with superior Digital Banking Experiences, Money Movement capabilities, Identity Verification and Account Opening options, and Behavioral Insights, all of which enhance overall user engagement.
Before founding Urban FT, Richard served as the founder & CEO of Waspit Group Inc., a banking alternative for students. Before entering the FinTech space he spent 17 years in Information Technology & Telecommunications industry (IT&T), serving as COO of United Kingdom-based Burlington Rye Plc and head of corporate strategy for NASDAQ-listed and U.S.-based Kit Digital Inc. (formerly Roo Media Inc.).
In these roles, he was responsible for the growth strategies of private and public companies in North America, the United Kingdom and Asia. Throughout his experience, Richard has focused on acquisitive and capital growth, and led IPOs and reverse mergers across the globe.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
My passion for entrepreneurialism goes back to when I was 9 years old growing up in Australia. I enlisted a motley crew of neighborhood kids to start Kiddies Car Was. The name was suggested by my father and this was my first lesson in branding, with him noting that tying the name to the local neighborhood children would help the business. And he was right. Each weekend, we would knock on doors soliciting new clients and we were quite successful.
My first purchase with my own earned money was a cold and refreshing carton milk, which I know might seem a little peculiar. But it was a moment of great pride for me because my live-in grandmother, a World War II survivor, remained very strict about rations and milk was always in short supply. But this freedom, the ability to purchase that one carton of milk as well the many child-centric purchases after that, sparked my desire to continue earning money. This desire motivated me to hold a range of jobs throughout high school, from electrical and handyman work to door-to-door sales. I remember selling my teachers Amway products. Even the chaplain bought some.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as an entrepreneur or business leader? We’d love to hear the story.
As a young kid, I remember reading a news story about a pair of entrepreneurs who took on Australia Post, Australia’s equivalent of USPS. They were offering same-day delivery in Adelaide’s CBD and it quickly became quite popular within the business community. They were so successful in fact that they were eventually shut down by the regulators, since Australia Post is allowed to be a monopoly and they were taking too much market share. But it showed me how two guys with virtually no money could succeed against the odds. They came to the table with a good and disruptive idea and a remedy to some of the obvious pain points businesses had with the main player in the marketplace. Even though I was anything but an avid reader as a child, unless the topic was of significant interest to me, I was truly inspired by their story and it really motivated me to pursue my entrepreneurial journey.
Another person who inspired me was Richard Branson. First, I recall the uproar and perceived scandalous nature of his use of the word ‘Virgin’ in his branding, as if it was sacrilegious. From Virgin Records to Virgin Airlines, he built a mega empire by pushing the envelope of what was achievable and acceptable, and challenging the status quo. His story reaffirmed the idea that to be successful you need to offer a differentiating proposition that stands out from the crowd.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
There’s a little irony here because my greatest supporter has been my ex-wife, who has stood by me since I was a naive 22-year old. She came on every journey with me and has helped me navigate the way. I think the point is that, when you’re emotionally and intellectually close to someone and they know all your strengths and flaws, they tend to have a unique and perceptive view of the challenges ahead of you — sometimes clearer than what you can see yourself. As an entrepreneur, you can quickly find yourself in the thick of the smoke and fire. My ex-wife, being so perceptive and unapologetically opinionated, often showed me the obvious that I could not see. Her support was, and continues to be, profoundly helpful. Most interestingly though, she has groomed our children supremely well. I now enjoy a strong base of support that helps me in continuing this entrepreneurial journey
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
When I had successfully opened my second mobile phone store at the age of 19, I still hadn’t yet worked out how to store someone’s number in my phone! Even when starting Urban FT, I had little to no knowledge of what an API was. Obviously with time I learned these things, and today I run one of the most successful API Platforms in the Fintech sector, but I firmly believe that you don’t need to start out as an expert or leading authority on the product you’re selling. You need to be a pioneer on solving an obvious problem. Most importantly, you need to have a humanized understanding of the marketplace you’re entering. I learned early on that it is far more helpful to be on the same wavelength as the customer — understand what their pain points are and what they’re looking for. That closes sales and leads to success. For the technical application, I only hire people who know what they’re doing and that I can trust. I leave that to them to be great at.
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
You need to accept that nothing will ever go to plan. You must have a ‘Plan A’ through to a ‘Plan Z’. You must be adaptive — especially when Plan Z doesn’t work out. You must be open to criticism and not defensive to it. You must accept you have flaws but that your strengths, on balance, outweigh your flaws. You must embrace all of the mistakes you will inevitably make and not try to hide from them. While maybe you don’t put all of these on your resume, they are worthy battle scars you need to learn from and that you wear proudly. To not fail at least once means that you will never succeed.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I generally don’t enjoy reading anything other than business articles and current affair topics that truly interest me. You wont find me reading the latest top-selling novel. I’m far more boring than that. An example of one book I did read and that I found remarkable was Rich Kids by Paul Berry. It documents how the Murdochs and Packers (an Australian dynasty) collectively lost nearly a billion dollars in the early 2000’s with their investment in telecommunications company One.Tel. The two heads of the families, Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer, appointed their sons, Loughlin Murdoch and James Packer, to the board. One.Tel grew faster than any company in Australian history but then, thanks to the inherent recklessness, lies and poor leadership — the company quickly and quite spectacularly collapsed. The thing I found most interesting was that there was never any regard for being prudent with spending, turning a profit or being aware of their rapidly depleting cash reserves. These notions didn’t even occur to them because they had no sense of reality. They expected the money would just keep coming in from their fathers. As I continued to mature as a person and as an entrepreneur, the book helped put a lot in perspective about investment, operations and value.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
I don’t live to be an entrepreneur. I’m an entrepreneur because I want to truly live life and enjoy life on my terms.
There’s a quote from Chris Brogan that resonates with me: “The goal isn’t more money. The goal is living life on your terms.” We’re often asked, “What’s your number?” This is the number we supposedly need to make so we can retire. Well, very simply put, I just want to earn enough to live the life I want to live. Nothing more, nothing less.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
One of the most exciting things we’re doing at Urban FT is working with smaller banks and credit unions to help them unleash the power of digital transformation so that they have a fighting chance of becoming relevant in their respective communities again. I’ve been the underdog all my life. I didn’t come from money and my parents didn’t give me money. The regional banks and credit unions we serve are also the underdog. They need something to help them regain relevance by delivering solutions and services the big banks cannot — this is precisely what our company strives to deliver on every day.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As a business leader, you likely often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to cope with the burden of stress?
No matter what pressure point in business I’m dealing with — whether its a tough negotiation, a problematic client relationship or a clash of opinions over strategic direction, I tend to reach a resolution using the following three-point approach:
- Mental preparedness: I first try to consider what the other side is saying. Not their words as such but what their ‘intent’ or ‘need’ is — and whether or not there is a path to addressing that in an alternate way that is mutually beneficial. I also like to think about what the ‘worst case scenario’ may be for any given scenario. Then I consider what the ‘realistically ideal case’ looks like. With the latter in mind, I try to think ahead on how we can achieve that by showing them a path to achieving their ‘intent’ or ‘need.’ Being mentally prepared for such a situation, it then comes to rationally taking others on the same mental journey with you.
- Address the ‘elephant in the room’: In nearly every pressure situation, there is one significant and contentious issue. It is always better to immediately open a dialogue by acknowledging that issue, at least to the extent it is relevant. Own the issue and make it clear that you see a path to overcome the issue. It serves little purpose to apportion third-party blame so if it is not of your own doing, that is great. Nonetheless, continue to express that you are jointly invested in addressing the issue. If you deal with the major issue at hand, all other matters will be addressed with relative ease.
- Tomorrow will come. Even if you feel you are looking at what seems like a ‘doomsday’ scenario, remember that ‘tomorrow will come.’ When a boiling is reached, all parties will benefit from time to clear the minds. Tomorrow you’ll be looking at a better opportunity for common sense to prevail. If you lose a customer, a deal you have invested so much in or an investor you thought you had locked up, that’s just life. Tomorrow you go out and find a bigger and better customer. You find the next big deal to close. And you find an investor who actually shares your vision and wants to be part of your journey.
As long as you are transparent and can be empathetic with those you deal with, common sense is the greatest asset you can leverage in business.”
Aside from being able to deal with the burden of stress, can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?
Here are some easy rules I follow:
1) Don’t go in hungry.
2) Have a coffee or another (non-alcoholic) drink of choice.
3) Take a 10 minute walk around the block before you go in.
Basically just make sure you are well fed, energized and relaxed!
Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques, meditations or visualizations to help optimize yourself? If you do, we’d love to hear about it.
Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?
When I find myself unfocused at my desk, I do something that might seem counterintuitive. I find yet another distraction, albeit a quick one. I like to walk out of my office and go chat with my staff. I like hearing about the strange and sometimes quirky things they experience outside of work. I’ll often share some of the recent experiences I had while traveling to different cities, I enjoy the human interaction with those I work with, knowing them for more than just their skills and the value they bring to our business — and for the positive break they give me during my day. It definitely helps me clear my mind.
We all know the importance of good habits. How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
I have plenty of bad habits that I’m trying to drop and I’m slowly making improvements. Coming clean on these bad habits and trying to break them is a good habit that is helping me be more successful.
What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?
One of my worst habits has been lateness. I’ve been criticized for it regularly. Sometimes stopping bad habits means being genuinely able to listen to any frank criticism that is being directed at you. Understand how your habits impact others as well as yourself.
As a business leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?
I often refer to flow as “the game” and it’s the balance of doing what I love and also successfully dealing with the aspects I don’t love. I love getting the deals done. But, for me, the boring part is often the execution. There’s just not as much thrill in the execution because I’ve already anticipated the outcome. Therefore, I try to surround myself with those who enjoy execution — those who relish in making it come to fruition. Going out for the game, closing the deal, feeling like I’ve done something positive and then knowing I’m partnered with the right people to execute it, means I’ve mastered the game and achieved the state of flow. I guess what it comes down to is finding the balance by tapping into your own strengths as well as others.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I’ve had an epiphany along the way, and obviously I’m not the first person to have this one. But if you set out on your entrepreneurial journey to do something that’s truly good or helpful to others, and deliver meaningful value in doing that, the good will be returned in the form of success and financial reward. In fact, this is the only model for a successful business in my opinion. So long as the underlying objective for the business is about creating genuine value for users, something positive will come out of that. But if all you’re doing is trying to outsmart a system or play the game, which we saw in 2008, it ultimately comes back to bite you on the back end. Integrity will drive longevity in your business.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
I would enjoy meeting with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. I respect and admire her profound resilience to fitting the stereotypical mold of who our representatives should be. She has a willingness to articulate a platform that is genuinely aligned with what she understands to be important for her constituents rather than altering it to align with a broader and sometimes ‘out-of-touch’ party line. And, she does this without fear or favor from the big political donors.
But, as part of her platform, she’s taken a fairly firm position that business is the enemy and, in many ways, I do think she’s right. However, not all businesses are equal. Or, in this case, not all businesses are equally bad. What hasn’t quite resonated is that there’s still a subset of business that’s in it for the right reasons — reasons that have come about from solving real problems and challenges our communities have, as well as helping people be financially better off. So I would simply try to articulate my own thoughts on why we should collectively acknowledge that not all businesses are morally corrupt. If she’s open to publicly acknowledging and articulating this, she’ll have an even stronger platform to grow from — and she will have even more community-minded entities embracing and rallying behind her as she continues to shake things up in D.C.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.