Taking On A $70+ Trillion Industry From The Home Office

Orum CEO Stephany Kirkpatrick On How Her Remote-Only Team Creates Camaraderie And Spurs Problem-Solving

6 min read February 9, 2022
Spotlight Fintech

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Orum is revolutionizing how consumers and businesses send, receive, and access money through its embeddable fintech products. Orum’s APIs optimize transactions for speed, cost, and risk, enabling intelligent routing across multiple banking rails, including ACH, RTP, crypto, and wires.

Most Americans still wait 3–5 days for money to hit their accounts due to banking systems that have not kept pace with modern technology. Orum Founder and CEO Stephany Kirkpatrick, a certified financial planner, saw firsthand the deep cracks in the banking system and the negative effect it has on Americans’ wallets. She assembled a team of the best data scientists, product engineers, and machine-learning experts to start Orum in 2019, and the company has since raised $82 million and grown to over 75 remote-first employees.

Orum is the industry-leading platform for smart, real-time money movement tackling financial infrastructure at its roots and building embeddable, frictionless solutions that enable 24/7/365 access to liquidity.

We recently talked to Stephany about how jumping into the void as a founder is easier with the support of your network, and how Orum’s remote-only team is the key to its success.

You are a certified financial planner and previously worked at personal finance site LearnVest. What was it about the financial system that pushed you to start Orum?

As a CFP, I spent a lot of time trying to empower the 99% to get access to the type of financial advice and tools the wealthy use. What I found was that, no matter how much guidance I provided, if there was any friction in the process of saving or investing money, then that became a barrier.

Even the simple act of setting up and moving money between accounts, such as from a checking account into a brokerage account, can be complicated and slow, requiring filling out an ACH transfer request and then waiting for 3–5 days for the money to move. That makes people nervous as their money is “nowhere” for up to five days.

That might sound strange to a high-income individual who is constantly moving money around, but for someone making their first investment of $100, that is a big enough barrier to stop them from acting.

I started thinking, could I build an easy button for people’s financial lives? I realized the first step would be to make moving money in real-time simple and safe.

Orum is your first company. What have been a few of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a first-time founder and how have you overcome them?

Changing how money moves is a massive problem. About $70 trillion moves between accounts each year in the US and that amount is growing at 5–6% a year. To wake up each morning and think, “I need to completely disrupt a $70 trillion industry controlled by big banks” is a bit like jumping into the void every day.

Thankfully, I’m not tackling this problem on my own. I have surrounded myself with the best technical, financial services, payments, and cybersecurity experts you could find. Our developers in particular are not just experts in AI, ML, and risk modeling, but are futurists; they are always thinking ahead to figure out how to unblock what’s broken in today’s financial system.

Our investors are also a huge support structure. I text BCV Partner Matt Harris multiple times a week, as he is one of the most knowledgeable people in the fintech industry.

As a founder, you can feel pretty overwhelmed, but I just call on the people who have already raised their hands to help me: my team, investors, and mentors. And if they cannot help directly, they connect me to others who can.

In the last two years, Orum has grown at an exponential clip. How have you achieved this growth, especially during a pandemic?

A big part of our success comes down to our decision to be remote-only. When I started Orum, well before the pandemic, I reasoned that being a distributed company would be the best way to attract top talent.

And it worked. We have over 75 employees in 23 states, including executives who joined from Stripe, Square, Marqueta, and other great companies. When COVID hit, we were already humming along as a fully-remote team, so we didn’t hit the speed-bump that many other startups did.

The other decision that set Orum up for sustained growth is to be thoughtful in every decision we make. That might sound corny, but it’s our guiding principle.

For example, we knew we would need to build an infosec team to tackle the thorny issues of risk management and fraud protection inherent in moving money. So every decision I made early on, well before we had an infosec team, was focused on creating the structure this future team would need, whether that was the type of dev tools to use, engineering talent to hire, or investments to make in hardware and software.

We always think years ahead with each decision.

How do you create a sense of cohesion with a fully-remote team?

We only hire people who really believe in our mission, which is to give everyone access to powerful financial tools, but they must also like working remotely. Some people love going into the office and that’s understandable, but we will never offer that, so we are up front with candidates about our remote-first teamwork model.

Then, during onboarding, we ask each new employee to create a vision slide that represents who they are as a person. One employee created a photo montage of his trips to National Parks, because he has visited 36 and plans to see them all.

Other people show off their musical or carpentry skills, or share photos of their kids and talk about how parenting is the most important role in their lives. About 40% of our employees have young kids and I have two daughters, so being a parent is something we celebrate at Orum.

Through these vision boards, employees have found many commonalities, such as coming from the same small country, or sharing a love of the same comfort food, or celebrating the same religious holidays. It’s really amazing to see the friendships that have formed.

BCV first invested in Orum’s $5.2 million seed round in August 2020, then led its $21 million Series A in April 2021, and participated in its $56 million Series B a few months later. Here’s our take.

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