Building a New Generation of Bank Accounts for the Unbanked
We sat down virtually with The Venture Center Team as part of Founder Feature Series to share the origin story of Atomic, some lessons learned from Jordan Wright, our Co-founder and CEO, and some highlights of being a part of the FIS Fintech Accelerator.
The Venture Center: Where did the idea for Atomic originate?
Jordan Wright: My co-founder Scott and I previously started a company called Unbill and experienced the problem of building bank connectivity first-hand. While fintech has come a long way since founding and exiting Unbill, there are still gaps in the financial system for underbanked and unbanked consumers.
We knew we wanted to build another company that helps address these gaps, as well as apply our learnings about starting a company and building a trusted user experience.
Atomic was created to build a new generation of bank accounts and transform consumer-centric banking applications.
The Venture Center: What problem is Atomic solving?
Jordan Wright: Our founding mission is to help the most vulnerable people in our society by empowering them with access to fairer, transparent, and trusted financial services.
Streamlining the direct deposit process for both the consumer and the financial services provider is the most readily understood and easily explained benefit of payroll connectivity. However, we expect other benefits such as easier income verification to become increasingly apparent. As payroll APIs become ubiquitous (much as bank data aggregators have become), consumer-permissioned access to payroll information will drive the next wave of fintech adoption and better outcomes for consumers.
The Venture Center: Was there ever a time when you wanted to give up? If so, how did you overcome that feeling?
Jordan Wright: In this startup, not yet. But I’ve certainly experienced that in other startups. To be candid, sometimes it is time to give up. But it’s extremely hard to know when that is. I’ve had friends with one week of cash left in the bank and their business was saved by a miracle. One went on to build a unicorn out of that mess.
On one occasion, when I was extremely concerned about the company I was running, I called a mentor. I told him about my concerns. I shared how I felt about our employees. I even told him I was concerned about my own ability to provide for my family. “Who wants to hire a washed-up failed founder?” I asked him. His answer? “I do. I’d hire you in a minute. But I bet you’ll have 10 other people that will put together better offers than I can.” I walked away from that conversation buoyed up. It helped me get some confidence back.
But that experience gave me two more things. First, I know what bad looks like, and I know there is often a way out of it. Second, in just about every success I’ve had since I remember that moment and I’m grateful. Grateful to do what I love. Grateful to work with people I love working with. Grateful that some things have worked out great, even though others haven’t.
The Venture Center: What is your philosophical approach to trying to find a work/life balance?
Jordan Wright: When I’m in town I’m home for dinner four nights a week and I don’t take anything but urgent calls until after the kids go to bed. I also need to exercise three days a week. Sundays are “no work” except for absolute emergencies for me as well. My family knows that and they know they get me all day on Sunday.
The Venture Center: Tell us about a time you failed (at anything!) and what you did to use that failure to learn.
Jordan Wright: On my 30th birthday I found some time alone to consider regrets from my 20’s. Having attended university stone-cold sober year in and year out, my list of regrets, fortunately, didn’t feature a “worst hits” of my college years. On my list of regrets is one item that I think bears mentioning here.
I started my first real business when I was 24 years old. My co-founder is the same co-founder I have at Atomic today – Scott Weinert. During my time starting that first company with Scott I remember feeling envious of him. I was envious of some of the life experience he’d had to that point and some talents that far exceeded my own.
As I sat thinking back on my 20’s, the failure of being envious of another person’s life and not grateful enough to simply enjoy my own was a mistake I never wanted to make again. I called Scott and shared how I felt and asked for his forgiveness. I resolved, right then and there on my 30th birthday, to wipe away feelings of envy as soon as I noticed them developing. It has been one of the most freeing decisions I’ve ever made.
A phrase I tell my kids to help them learn this principle is “comparison is the thief of joy.” I often tell it to myself when needed as well.
The Venture Center: Who has been your most influential mentor?
Jordan Wright: Without a doubt my Mom. I’ve had several phenomenal business mentors. They’re what I believe to be the best of the best. But no one gave me confidence like my Mom. No one gave me room for failure, while also fiercely believing in me like my Mom. As I developed as a human, no one made me feel that I could just be myself, and that was enough, like my Mom. When we speak of more diversity in the workplace, I often think of her. She’s been successful in so many ways, but the way that counted most to me was her success in our home.
The Venture Center: What’s your favorite quote – the one that sticks out most in your mind?
Jordan Wright: One of my all-time favorite quotes comes from Albus Dumbledore via J.K. Rowling. “It is not our abilities that show who we really are. It is our choices.”
The other comes from the teachings of Jesus Christ, but it’s repeated in many circles in different ways. “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” At the end of my life, I hope to look back with the least regrets possible. My family is more important than any financial outcome, but it’s sometimes hard to remember that in the moment. I try to make sure my heart goes first and foremost to my family, and secondarily to my work.
Catch us and the rest of the cohort at The Venture Center Demo Day on August 26.