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Blog Post

Refounding Vise

Returning to our roots and core values

By Samir Vasavada & Runik Mehrotra

We have spent the past year re-founding Vise. This was a painful journey that included a series of “redos”—from rewiring our way of operating to restructuring our team to repairing our culture. Thanks to generous support from our team and advisors, we regained a clear focus on building an efficient, durable business that will shape the future of financial services. 

This transformation was challenging, but we needed to return to our roots. With the current market changes, we believe other founders will attempt to re-found their companies in the coming months to keep their companies alive. We started on this early and hope that sharing our story will help others on their journey. 

How we got here

Our origin story is not particularly glamorous. We started Vise when we were 16 years old. We were two “nerds” from the Midwest. We didn’t really fit in at home, so we took a leap of faith and bought a one-way ticket to Silicon Valley. We lived in hostels, slept on floors, and snuck into coworking spaces. We spent our time in the only way we knew how—talking to potential customers during the day and building our product at night. We spent three years moving very quickly and iterating in this feedback loop. After dropping out of school and pounding the pavement as a bootstrapped company, it all felt like it was starting to work. After 3-years of little progress, AUM went from almost $0 to $550M.

By all external measures, we were flying high. In 18 months, we raised over $130 million across several financing rounds and grew from 6 to 100+ employees, including several highly credentialed executives. As capital loosened and fintech became the “next hot trend,” we rode the wave to ever-higher valuations and press.

We became distracted by vanity metrics like dollars raised, employees hired, and our valuation. These are not drivers of a good business but rather byproducts. We found ourselves acting like a version of the big stale companies we set out to challenge in the first place. Everything moved painfully slowly. We found ourselves in too many meetings (we even had meetings about meetings). But most importantly, our culture was tainted by the alluring buzz of a VC-backed company. We knew something had to change. 

The hard reset 

In early 2022, we woke up. We saw that our business had drifted far from our roots. We had prematurely scaled before figuring out product market fit. We were focusing on all the wrong things all while our burn was climbing, and our numbers started to slow. We were scared to make changes out of fear. What are our founder friends going to think? What will our investors think? Will our team get demotivated? Our close advisors and investors like Matt Mochary and Shaun Maguire helped us through this fear. We realized the only way out was to change our culture, and we had to make changes fast. A bit of short-term pain would set us up for success in the long run.

We had to make some tough decisions: 
  1. Headcount Reset and Transitioning our Leadership Team

  2. Scaled back sales and focused on product development and iteration  

  3. Ending remote work and moving into an office

  4. Radically redesigning and communicating our Culture & Values 

  5. Focusing on the right things: our product and customers 

From the outside, it may have looked like Vise was imploding. Between involuntary and voluntary turnover, we transitioned out almost 50% of the company across every function. However, this was a necessary change. We no longer needed such a large senior leadership team, and, in many cases, it was easier to recruit people aligned with the new Vise culture than to try to change the values of existing employees. 

A remote-hybrid office policy also wasn’t working. We were doing it to please everyone. We found that we didn’t please anyone, as remote and in-office employees weren’t getting what they wanted. We quickly realized we should choose one, lean into it, and focus on building connections between teams in a way that is much more effective in-office. We were office people, so we asked the team to start coming back in without fear of displeasing the team.

Culture and Values

Our next challenge was setting direction around the culture we wanted to embody. We needed to recapture the scrappy and client-focused culture of innovation that we started with. We began by identifying the people we wished we could replicate at the company to understand what we loved the most about them. We found they spent all of their time thinking about customers. They had an incredibly high slope and an uncanny ability to get things done. They had a deep commitment to the Vise mission. These traits became our company’s new values:

We are customer obsessed.

We prioritize our customers’ experience and continually seek to understand and exceed their evolving expectations.

We get 1% better each day.

We understand that setting incremental and achievable goals results in compounded growth—improving 1% every day means we’re 3,700% better by the end of the year.

We burn the boats.

We are all-in and dedicated to our mission, with no other options in sight—our success demands a relentless, unyielding focus on the goal ahead.

The final element was changing the company’s focus. A friend of ours often says the job of being a leader is “keeping the main thing the main thing.” We had begun to focus inwardly, so the company did too. We spent time on all the minutiae of running a business—people problems, organizational planning, and meetings. We needed to focus on customers. The founders' focus determines the organization's focus. We had to be able to look at our calendar at the end of each week and say to ourselves, “we spent 50% of our time this week talking to financial advisors,” as they are the reason our company exists.

To accompany our ambitious changes, rewarding the team that stuck around for taking on additional responsibilities was very important. We repriced. We meaningfully increased the equity packages for employees to be more reflective of an earlier-stage company. Our team has to win as the business wins.

Results are starting to show
  • We reduced our burn rate from $3M a month to less than $1M a month with 60+ months of runway

  • With a smaller, more dedicated team, feedback moves faster throughout the company 

  • We’re shipping products faster than ever before and focusing on the right things—our customers and product development 

  • When an advisor asks for an important time-saving feature, we are able to show them a prototype in days  

  • We are able to troubleshoot low close rates quickly and better react to the challenges of new user inertia 

We are operating like a small, hungry start-up again, closer to the roots that led us to start this company. We’re better off in almost every way.

What is next? 

The reset involved changing the company's DNA, including our values, behaviors, and approach to problem-solving. We understand that significant challenges are ahead, but we will continue developing our products and services to serve our customers better.

In conclusion, we strayed too far away from where we started. In the past year, we returned to our roots and the ideals that made us risk it all on our vision to improve the future of finance and wealth management. Vise is in its best shape yet, ready to tackle problems like a start-up—with speed and efficiency. And while we had to reset our growth expectations, we’ve repositioned ourselves to capitalize and act quickly on opportunities that will create tremendous change in our industry.

We are excited to continue on our journey with a stronger foundation to help our financial advisors scale their businesses and create a personalized investing experience for everyone.

March 3, 2023