“5 Lessons I Learned When I Created My App or SAAS”, with Michael J. Sinnwell, Jr. and Mitch Russo

Do you know your business could be much bigger than it currently is, but aren’t sure how to get there? I can help!

Raise twice as much money as you expect that you’ll need. Seriously, it’s better to raise more than you need than to need more than you raise.

As part of my series about the “5 Lessons I Learned When I Created My App or SAAS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael J. Sinnwell, Jr. A leading architect of cutting-edge payment platforms, Michael has developed technology for industry leaders including PULSE® élan, Discover®, MasterCard® and Visa® and has led information technology business initiatives and strategy to develop payment and settlement platforms for all payment types — including credit, debit, prepaid, stored value, ACH, P2P and mobile wallet. As the Chief Operating Officer of Hypur, Inc., he works closely with the development team to drive product development and manages all operational functions. He is also a husband, father to two teenage girls, and avid mountain biker.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I have always been in the FinTech space. It’s something I’m passionate about, particularly when it comes to finding solutions to new and complicated problems. Throughout my 30+ years in the sector, I’ve worked in a range of businesses focusing on stored value, debit, and credit card payments. My roles have primarily centered around development and architecting systems.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

It’s a story with a couple different elements to it.

I had recently sold a business and was out riding my mountain bike during my time in limbo. My phone kept ringing on the trail, and when I finally answered, it was Christopher E Galvin. He was meeting with an armored car service in Colorado, and before he could say anything, I told him that I don’t look good in stripes and I did not want to see my kids behind a pane of glass. It was 2014 and I knew anything coming out of Colorado and armored cars must mean cannabis.

When I heard laughter on the line, I realized that I was on speakerphone. Through our discussion, it was clear that everyone in that room was looking for a payment solution for dispensaries who were trying to use cash to pay their taxes. I explained to them that they didn’t have a payment problem, but a banking problem. Once banks would let cannabis businesses deposit their money in a bank account, payments would easily follow.

Before I would go any further, I reached out to my attorney. I was hoping that he would tell me not to get involved in the cannabis industry, that it was federally illegal. Instead, he told me that this topic was a huge issue and that somebody needed to take a look at it. As it turns out, my friend/lawyer’s kid had multiple seizures per day, and they were using CBD for treatment. It made me think about this whole industry in a new way.

I gave Christopher a callback and we talked about what we needed to do to make this happen. We decided to team up with David and André to try and lay out a plan for financial institutions to follow to bank the industry.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

Sure, there were tons of hard times. The tough times come because the cannabis industry pivots constantly. There’s no guidebook and you can never predict what will happen. From legal changes to industry changes, it all happens so quickly. If I think about the industry five years ago compared to now, it’s a completely different situation!

It’s complex working with financial institutions. These are compliant, rule-centric individuals who were talking with us, trying to figure out how to bank a federally illegal product. A seemingly impossible task, it was ultimately incredibly inspiring. It made me push harder to find solutions and think about both the banking and cannabis industries in new ways.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Now things are going well, particularly with regard to Hypur Comply for financial institutions. We are able to work with banks and credit unions across the country, adding transparency to cannabis banking. The cannabis payment space is slower, mainly because there is so much misinformation out there. We have been forced to educate the market, but that is now coming together as well.

The fact is that I never gave up — I never even contemplated it! By continuing to push through and find solutions, I was able to trust in the process and enjoy this new phase in our business.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

Because of my background in stored value, I assumed that it would be an ideal solution for Hypur. However, the more I looked into it, the more I realized that it wasn’t a viable solution. This meant that I had to bring the board together and tell them that we needed to pivot the whole company, change our entire model. I can assure you that there was plenty of dead stares in the room, which eventually turned to laughter as we realized that our new solution would lead to sustainable success.

I’m so glad that Christopher and I made the tough call and changed everything. If I hadn’t realized the issue and been willing to upend everything we’d worked on so far, we might have ended up like some of the other companies that are now gone.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Hypur stands out because we straddle two industries that you wouldn’t expect to unite in FinTech. We facilitate banking compliance and payments… in the cannabis industry. When we attend events or meet with bankers, we’re known as “the banking cannabis guys”. It definitely makes our business memorable and unique.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Find a hobby outside of work that you love to do. It sounds simple enough, but when you’re able to devote time and energy to something else, you’ll recharge your creativity and drive. Family and friends are also vital, but you need a pursuit other than work that gets you excited.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Christopher and Dave. Both of them have served as much needed sounding boards. They each have the ability to cut through the distractions or external inputs and find the core elements we need to focus on. Sometimes we disagree, but that just proves how strong our bonds and shared goals are. They are the ones who helped make this company happen in the beginning and continue to offer leadership as we grow in new directions.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?

We have 21 financial institutions, 15,000 consumers and 500 merchants across our compliance and payment products.

1. I’ll say that it wasn’t a matter of what I did, but what we did. We built a solid team of marketing and sales professionals that helped us get to this point. While it’s important to have solid technology to promote, too many app and SAAS companies wait too long before ramping up their sales and marketing efforts.

2. We attended quite a few industry events, for banking and payments as well as cannabis. By showcasing at these events, or speaking on panels, we increased our visibility and credibility.

3. Our marketing team pushed a strategic approach to content and social media. Whether speaking to financial institutions, marijuana related business owners, or consumers, our team crafted specific messages designed to resonate with our target audiences.

What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?

We charge a percentage of the transaction of volume on cash deposits for financial institutions. We also charge a percentage on transactions for merchants. Consumers can use our product for free.

Our monetization model is best for our business because of who gets the most value out of the software and is willing to pay for it. Sure, consumers are happy to get easy and convenient payments for cannabis, but they are unlikely to sign up if they need to pay. Instead, we follow similar monetization as payment processors or compliance software in other industries, making it easy for our partners to understand.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know before one wants to start an app or a SAAS? Please share a story or an example for each.

· Raise twice as much money as you expect that you’ll need. Seriously, it’s better to raise more than you need than to need more than you raise.

· Say goodbye to your family. I joke, but it is true that you’ll be putting in long hours at work, so make sure that your family is on board with the adventure and understands why you’ll be working so much. Find ways to reconnect when you can.

· Always be looking to the future. Change is inevitable, so make sure that you’re building your product for the future, not the past.

· Build in cloud-first technology.

· Don’t forget to eat lunch. Everyone gets busy, but you need to make sure that you’re fueling the best ideas possible.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I live by the mantra, “I never dreamed of success, I created it.” This is a quote that I have on my office wall, and I hope to inspire others to live by this. Instead of lifehacks or short cuts, I think people should embrace the work of crafting their dreams. If we all worked towards our dreams, the world would be a much better place.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow Hypur on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn. Also, subscribe to our Flipboard. And of course, you can download the Hypur App from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

“5 Lessons I Learned When I Created My App or SAAS”, with Michael J. Sinnwell, Jr. and Mitch Russo was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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