Michael Gastauer is the brain behind one of financial tech’s most successful entrepreneurial stories, WB21. The CEO’s digital banking group gained notoriety in 2015, after becoming a $2.2 billion company in less than 10 months. Having now become the largest digital bank in financial tech, Gastauer’s business is currently servicing nearly 1 million customers.
With two multimillion dollar deals already under his belt, Gastauer has pursued multiple financial business ventures including starting G&S Asset Management and Apax Global Payment. Despite the fact that billion dollar companies are being created at a faster pace than ever before, they’re certainly not a “dime a dozen” effort. The likelihood of a startup seeing success on a unicorn level (that’s venture capitalist slang for a startup that is valued at $1 billion or more in its first year) falls at one in five million. Yet, somehow, the success of WB21 is Gastauer’s third successful attempt.
To get a sense of what worked for him and what other business entrepreneurs can do to start building their own unicorns, we sat down with Gastauer to find out how he did it.
Gastauer found his first job working amidst the dot-com boom as a business development manager for a venture capital fund in Munich. At 24, he began pursuing his own business efforts by starting an asset management firm. The young entrepreneur used this period to fine tune his understanding of the venture capital business, and worked hard to gather a sense of what it was like to work with investors. Gastauer found himself seeking an understanding of not what it is that an entrepreneur does, but their thought process that led to their success.
As Gastauer points out, entrepreneurs aren’t people that just build companies, they are people who shape their thinking around a frame of mind. For Gastauer that meant unbuckling the power of his own mind to seek out opportunities and become comfortable with risk. This mindset allowed him to feel confident enough in his own mission to make instrumental decisions about his business and seek the right investors. And his efforts paid off: the first investor in Gastauer’s company backed his project with $1.2 million, and three years later, Gastauer walked away from the successful firm with $16 million.
When Everyone Is Zigging, Zag
Similar to visionaries such as Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs, Michael Gastauer found a problem that not too many had their eyes on and then ran with an idea that no one else had.
Like Gastauer’s other successful businesses, WB21 offers a solution to an industry whose well-seasoned peers relied on the status quo. WB21 came from Gastauer’s vision of creating a company that could streamline cross-border payments and offer an alternative to retail banking. Rather than forcing customers to struggle in their attempts to open accounts with land-based banks or even send money to outside countries, WB21 developed a copyrighted software called GlobalKYC. The software, which is based on real-time identification processes, aided WB21 in identifying customers from 180 countries, while offering them checking accounts with different 22 currencies. It was a completely radical change to the way services that traditional banks operate.
WB21 out-of-the-box solution provides a service that went viral in a matter of 10 months and has become the holy grail for users struggling to open accounts with traditional banks. So what can you learn from this? Use your entrepreneurial way of thinking to observe what it is in your desired industry that is missing and create a solution that no one else in the market is offering.
Be Invested In Your Vision
Too many startups come into the game ready to offer one solution only to quickly have its initial concept splinter off and become various concepts based off of the success of other startups. They develop a belief that they can see success by casting a wide net for other ideas. For Gastauer, success came from focusing his attention on solving one problem at a time and doing one thing extremely well. Having experienced the pain point of attempting to open a bank account in a country he did not live in during one business venture, Gastauer saw a future of opportunity of creating one that did. In focusing his attention on one problem at a time, Gastauer was able to create three separate and successful companies instead of limiting himself to one.
Gastauer constructed WB21 so that it would operate as a global service. For him, that meant creating a product that had unlimited scalability and worked to solve a common problem in a global market. As you build your business, Gastauer suggests putting all motivation that relies on money on the back burner. “Money is not the motivation, solving a problem that millions of people have is the goal,” says Gastauer. The aspiring entrepreneur should redirect their attention to solving a problem that millions of people experience.
The main takeaway from this article should be that in order to make real money, it can’t be your focus. Solve a problem, make people’s’ lives easier, improve the world around you – that passion will fuel your creativity, innovation and grit. Once you’ve found your goal in life, there is no stopping you.