MBA Program: Columbia Business School
Industry: Financial Services
Founding Student Names: Andrej Paule, Naveen Qureshi, Towers Wilen, Joseph Finlayson
Brief Description of Solution: Sable is the first mobile bank for internationals in the U.S. The bank offers checking accounts and credit cards without the need for a SSN or U.S. credit history. Typically, quality banking products are not accessible to immigrants, especially ones that help them build their credit. With Sable, only a passport is needed to have banking access in less than five minutes. Sable Card is LIVE, and has now become the fastest-launched mobile bank ever. Sable is initially targeting international students and professionals and ultimately looks forward to becoming the go-to financial institution for the 44.5 million immigrants in the US and even more globally.
Funding Dollars: Undisclosed
What led you to launch this venture? As internationals, both Naveen and Andrej went through the pain of multiple bank visits to open a bank account, while suffering multiple rejections by credit card companies. Andrej pitched the problem first in a Consumer Finance class, where the professor noted that he hears the same pitch every year, and yet the problem persists. This quickly led Andrej and Naveen to apply for Entrepreneurial Greenhouse, Columbia’s on-campus incubator. Andrej immediately reached out to Towers, whom he worked with on previous startup projects at CBS. Given Towers’ in-depth experience in the financial payments space, Andrej knew that he would be the perfect match for the team. After spending a month interviewing over 200 internationals across New York, it became clear that the problem was huge and a better solution was needed. The team’s financial services experience provided the necessary confidence to dive into this venture. Convincing Joe, the CTO, who worked with Andrej on a mobile banking app a few years ago while at McKinsey, was the last piece of validation needed before starting to work on Sable with full force.
What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with your venture? Getting accepted into Y Combinator has been a great first validation. However, seeing the first customer transact with a Sable card (no surprise- it was on Amazon) just 4 months after starting has been the greatest achievement. Sable Card is LIVE, and has now officially become the fastest launched mobile bank ever. The customer validation from 200 people live in the invite-only pilot and over 2,000 on the waitlist, tops all that.
How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? Columbia helped the startup in many ways. First, Naveen, Andrej, and Towers met while at CBS. All three went through the entrepreneurial curriculum and found great value in the many courses offered around the discipline: Launch your startup introduced them to the entrepreneurial life cycle; Lean Launchpad taught the importance of talking to customers; and Entrepreneurial Law and Gut Driven Tech Investing prepared the team for raising capital and interacting with investors. Finally, being selected to and going through Entrepreneurial Greenhouse incubated them in the first months providing great advice and introductions.
Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? Lean Launchpad, a block week course taught by Steve Blank at CBS, was an incredible week for the team, as it forced everyone out of the classroom and into live conversations with Sable’s potential future customers. This class set Sable on the path towards extreme customer focus, where they spent an enormous amount of time in the real world getting to the root of the problem.
What is your long-term goal with your startup? Global mobility is increasing rapidly. However, international relocation is still painful and financial services are a major source of that pain. We aspire to be a borderless bank, offering top quality financial and lifestyle products on an even scale for relocating internationals anywhere in the world. We believe in a more open and inclusive world, and want to participate in building one.