How I Became A Founder: Quo Finance’s Neel Yerneni

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Neel is the CTO and cofounder of Quo Finance. After previously working at Facebook and N26 (Europe’s largest mobile bank), he joined Tucker more than a year ago to start Quo while they were still at Stanford. At school, he completed his Bachelor’s in Mathematical and Computational Science and his Master’s in Computer Science in 4 years where he focused on Artificial Intelligence and Decision Theory. He was also a peer advisor for his undergraduate department and president of an initiative that aimed to democratize access to competitive debate. Coming from Houston, Neel is a huge Rockets and James Harden fan.

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Quo CTO Neel Yerneni.

Frederick Daso: When did you first gain interest in being a founder?

Neel Yerneni: I took a long time to conceptualize the idea of a founder — at least in the ways it is characterized and represented in the Valley. For a long time, it just felt like I was following leads on what I was interested in doing and ultimately landed on something that I felt most energetic about. I never really subscribed or listened to the “startup culture”. People often talk about Stanford as being the cradle of entrepreneurship, but it’s pretty overstated — the average tech grad ends up working at a relatively large company. There are startup communities/groups that foster those interests, but I was never a part of them in my time there. Ultimately, I met an idea and a person that I believed in more than the job offers I had on the table, and the decision was as simple as that.

Daso: What were the essential experiences that helped you be in the position you are today?

Yerneni: To this day, I value my experience in competitive debate (participating as well as teaching). It taught me decision-making and critical thinking skills very early on that laid a strong foundation for my growth up to this point.

Interning at N26 was my first significant work experience — I built out reporting and fraud detection systems there from the ground up. For one, the adventure reinforced my confidence in my technical abilities. However, the more significant takeaway was the interest I developed in Fintech. Namely, I saw the immense untapped potential for technology to change the way people accessed and used financial services. It made me realize how much companies like N26 or other mobile banks were scratching the surface of what was possible.

The timing of my second internship, there couldn’t have been better as that was when I met Tucker, who was studying abroad in Berlin at the time. We had a lot of discussions (over a kebab, of course) about the Fintech landscape and how very few innovations in financial services materially improved people’s economic lives despite having the potential to do so. These discussions continued into our summer at Facebook, where we both simultaneously concluded that our work there, while intellectually stimulating, was not representative of the type of impact we wanted to have on the world.

“Very few innovations in financial services materially improved people’s financial lives despite having the potential to do so.”

We got a better understanding of why this was the case early on in our journey. After graduating, we raised a small pre-seed to get us through a summer of more fundraising and product building. It was a little surprising, at least to me, how many VC’s (even at some of the top firms) were mostly unaware of the reality of financial America. Now some were just egregiously oblivious to problems faced by low-income Americans. Though most didn’t understand the population between perfect credit and constant over-drafting — folks who are financially stable but living on the edge. It made fundraising a grueling process, but our conviction around the market only grew stronger as we built our waitlist and conducted hundreds of user interviews. It was this conviction that helped us close a healthy seed round and even turn down a YC offer as first-time founders.

Daso: Who were the critical individuals or groups that contributed to your professional success, and why?

Yerneni: Veeral Patel is a close friend and classmate. He has quite an impressive resume and has been plugged into the startup/VC ecosystem since high-school. He gave us a ton of invaluable advice and introductions throughout our journey. We would not be here without him.

Alireza Masrour is a partner at Plug and Play, who wrote our first check back in April of 2019. He was the first to believe in our mission/goal and personally gave us a lot of his time to guide us in our earliest stages. He was one of the friendliest people we had met and was always optimistic, which we very much appreciated given the rollercoaster that Is founding a company.

Tiffany Ho is an investor at Acme Capital, who we met early on in our seed raise. She was one of the first people to understand what we were trying to do truly and has since helped us shape our product/direction. In addition to investing, she has been all in all a wonderful mentor, advisor, and friend.

Daso: How did you prepare for yourself to become a founder?

Yerneni: There is honestly not a lot that could have prepared me for this. The busy quarters I had in school maybe gave me some preparation for the multi-faceted and extensive nature of the work as a founder. It is neither a unique experience where I don’t think I will ever be prepared nor will I stop learning. Not being prepared is inherently part of the job description — pretty much anything can happen.

Daso: Were there any particular clubs at school that were excellent resources for breaking into your current field?

Yerneni: I’ve heard some good things about the startup/finance-focused clubs at Stanford though I generally found them to be mostly only useful for resumé padding. I think they served primarily as a decent opportunity to network with folks of similar interests. Still, I rarely met people in those circles genuinely interested in accessibility or social impact related topics.

Daso: What do you think stops most people from becoming a founder?

Yerneni: I think it’s a relatively large risk to take in one’s career. I come from a fortunate/privileged position where I don’t have to worry about my income supporting more than just myself. For many, it’s not an easy decision turning down a stable, lower-stress, higher-paying job. Unfortunately as well, there aren’t too many institutions addressing this problem and so prevails the lack of socio-economic diversity among founding teams.

Daso: Looking back, would you change anything about your professional path?

Yerneni: Nope. Nothing at all.

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Forbes Under 30 Contributor, 2016 LinkedIn Top Voice, Venture Fellow at Rough Draft Ventures

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