Uplinq: Lessons From a Founder
By-lined by Ron Benegbi, Founder & CEO @ Uplinq Financial Technologies
One of the most exciting events in an entrepreneur’s journey towards building a successful business is the very first one that occurs. That moment – sitting in a downtown coffee shop, standing at a bus stop, reading the Sunday paper when, out of nowhere, it hits… “I have an idea”.
Ideas are seeds that materialize in the mind, and they tend to form quickly. Following that sudden jolting flash, a need to research soon takes hold, research that often leads to others who have had that same experience. Who had an idea, and went with it.
Founder stories are an important resource for deriving inspiration when beginning a business journey. Underneath the headshot of a CEO, replete with beaming smile, is a story of success, peppered with reflections on a few challenges confronted along the way. They often fail to communicate just how bruising those challenges can be or how rewarding it is when they are finally conquered.
With that in mind, I hope to provide a different kind of story.
Earlier this year I founded Uplinq Financial Technologies. Uplinq delivers a comprehensive suite of analytics for small business lenders globally, thus assisting them to make the most accurate lending decisions. Our platform allows lenders to gain insights on all SMBs in their portfolio while supporting the underserved, unbanked, immigrant and minority small business owner by providing insights on the global SMB landscape that no other company worldwide can come close to offering.
Getting here wasn’t easy but it’s incredibly exciting to think about the impact we are going to make by helping lenders change the lives of small business owners all over the world.
These are what challenges can really look like…
I’ve been very fortunate to date throughout my startup journeys. I’ve had a couple of successful exits, a horrific flop (not perfect) and met some great people along the way. Uplinq is the fifth startup I have been involved with. I thought my fourth would be the last.
In early 2020, I was sitting in a local coffee shop in downtown Toronto called ‘Le Gourmand’ when the person with me asked if I was feeling ok. When I asked why, he said that I looked like I had seen a ghost and was turning pale. I said to him you don’t understand, “I see a company”. That vision turned into a company very quickly when I assembled a team with two other fellow tech professionals to help me bring it to life.
A lot of milestones were quickly achieved. We got the company to market in less than 90 days, brought in two highly credible and influential C-level advisors and subsequently went on to raise a Seed financing round 90 days post market launch. The scene was set for a great story to unfold, yet problems began to arise that form the basis of the learnings I share with you here.
At the core of the problem, I realized I had gotten involved with people I didn’t know very well. In fairness, none of us knew each other all that well and beginning such a journey at the onset of a global pandemic made things all that much more difficult.
What followed was months of rising tensions, poor communication, and conflicting visions for the company’s future. It culminated in me, having built the foundation for the business to thrive, being unceremoniously informed my services were no longer required.
The manner in how things ended has been especially painful for me and my family. Not being able to properly say goodbye to the employees, and the investors and advisors who supported me, left me feeling the process didn’t allow me to walk out the door with any dignity. It wasn’t an easy pill to swallow. Cast adrift, I began providing consultancy services for different tech businesses. Just as I was forging a new space for myself in the industry, I was contacted by my previous company and told to not pursue specific types of projects. Not only had I been barred from a company I had co-founded, but now my ability to earn a living in the industry I cared so much about was in question.
Despite having been mentally dented by the experience, when the idea of Uplinq hit me, I pursued it with everything I had and, today, I’m proud to announce our soft launch as a company and look forward to onboarding our first customer in early 2022.
Hard lessons but lessons learned
The experiences I’ve had while working within startups offered many lessons and my goal is to provide advice to the many founders, or founders-to-be, out there. My hope is to share a few learnings, so that you might potentially avoid any pitfalls I have made over the years.
- Though honesty may see certain doors close in your face, a staunch sincerity backed by unwavering ambition will be rewarded.
Invest in your reputational brand. These qualities served me well when I found people who appreciated my candor and did their diligence on me and my body of work over my 25+ years in startups, as I looked to raise capital for my latest venture.
- Be brave – and armor-plate your bravery with optimism. It may be that your idea doesn’t work out, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end. Remain strong-willed, resolute, and maintain a laser-focus.
- Do what you believe to be right but accept where your strengths lie, and where they don’t, improve your self-awareness and be willing to ask for help – it is not a sign of weakness.
- Understand that the people you surround yourself with will be the difference between success and failure. My experiences have taught me that when you find good people, you must allow yourself to believe in their spirit and – essentially – develop a shared a vision, grounded in values that align to that vision. It is vital that there is that collective desire to want to do something together, something that’s special; and that this desire be genuine and authentic.
- Building a good culture and a strong company comes from kindness and from having empathy for people. As an immigrant to Canada in the early 70’s my parents instilled such virtues in me at an early age. These core virtues were further developed in my early 20’s through my military service. You can – and must – be resolute, serious, and willing to hold people to account, but it’s the empathy you demonstrate that allows people to flourish, and that’s the quality I look for in any person I engage with professionally.
- Remember, it might not work and that’s ok. What isn’t ok is to let any regrets get the best of you. The mistakes I’ve made and experiences I’ve had are essential components in what has allowed me to prosper. Rather than letting them define me, I used them to become better and stronger.
- Believe that you have the toughness and commitment to see things through, no matter how difficult things may appear to be.
I hold no ill will towards my previous co-founders and hope they go on to build a successful company, one the industry can be proud of. Though we all face challenging situations and not every startup works out for all parties, I wake up every morning more excited than ever to get in front of the computer and start plugging away at my latest venture. That glass everyone always talks about? It really is half-full.