Hi, Kevin! Tell us about yourself.
I was actually born in Alaska (fun party fact!). My parents moved there a few years before I was born. My dad grew up in Hawaii and met my mom in Korea, then they decided to move to the only other state that wasn’t attached to the mainland. I lived there until I was seven, and then moved to Seattle, which is where my family still lives today.
I went to college in New York, then worked in New Orleans before arriving here in the Bay Area. I love it here. I particularly love how easy it is to balance the coding and screen time with time outdoors here, so I’m always up for running, biking or playing basketball. Apart from that, my friends will tell you I’m an early adopter and eager to seek out adventure, whether that’s traveling, cooking new meals, going to concerts, or any type of new experience.
Why did you decide to start Finley?
Before Finley, I was the first engineer at Nova Credit, a global credit reporting platform, so I was in the B2B fintech space and knew how much financial technology infrastructure is still missing. And I saw that when you build that missing software, you pave the way for a lot of opportunities and breakthroughs that weren’t visible before.
I’d felt that way for a while, so when I met Jeremy and Josiah, who brought backgrounds from banking and legal tech, we started chatting and realized that there was this huge part of the economy—capital markets—that was in many cases preventing startups and other companies from growing, largely because there was no technology to make things more manageable. The more we dove into the space and met people from both the borrower and capital provider side of things, the more we realized how much room there was for improvement here.
The space hasn’t changed in 25 years, and we’re all really excited not just to improve our users’ day-to-day experiences today, but to see what’s possible after we establish a software foundation for debt capital.
What lessons have you brought from helping grow your previous fintech startup, Nova Credit, as the first engineer?
I’d put the learnings into two buckets. The first is just what the “zero to one” process looks like, which is similar across all startups, and the other is more around subject matter.
On the “zero to one” front, I realized you have to enjoy the process of coming up with an idea and acting quickly on it, even if you don’t get things right on your first try. You kind of learn to embrace the chaos and how to create value in areas where there isn’t a precedent to follow. So at Nova Credit, being able to learn from three incredible co-founders and seeing us go from one employee (me) to a $50 million Series B fundraise and 70 employees—that experience was invaluable.
On the subject matter side of things, I think there are a ton of analogies you could draw between consumer credit and debt capital. Nova Credit is focused on helping lenders service individuals, and Finley is one level higher in the stack. We’re working with debt capital providers and borrowers, and oftentimes, those borrowers are fintechs that offer credit to individuals. So when it comes to data processing challenges, standardization challenges, and general fintech infrastructure, a lot of the technology lessons I learned from Nova Credit are directly applicable here.
Can you walk us through Finley’s tech stack?
We’re full-stack TypeScript. A lot of people are familiar with React and Node.js, and aren’t surprised to hear that we use GraphQL, Express and Postgres for our web applications. But people are sometimes surprised to hear that we use TypeScript to manage our infrastructure as well.
Amazon Web Services came out with a tool called CDK that lets you provision infrastructure entirely in TypeScript. So looking across the stack, we not only build our web app in TypeScript, we write our lambda functions in TypeScript, and we provision them along with our entire infrastructure in TypeScript. All this lives in a monorepo. What that means is each Finley engineer only needs to know one language and work in one repository to do everything we need. Enabling our automated compliance and reporting work requires orchestration across multiple services, which becomes a lot more manageable through a setup like this.
What can early engineers expect when joining Finley?
I might be biased because I had this experience at Nova Credit, but I really think the best time to join a startup is now (at post-product seed stage), since you can expect things to especially change and grow over the next 12 months and beyond. My fondest memories at Nova Credit are from my first 18 months there.
More specifically, engineers who join now will get a diverse set of engineering experiences: from working directly with founders on product strategy, to talking to our customers and designing product features, to creating both internal and external processes. On any given day, you might be developing product specs, launching a feature, and taking part in a brainstorming session for long-term business goals.
And as the company grows, you’ll have the opportunity to figure out the areas you want to become an expert on, based on the experience you just had of trying a bit of everything. So someone who joins today will have a great path from breadth, in the early days, to depth as the company grows.
Through the First Round incubator program, Nova Credit, Y Combinator, and Finley, you’ve worked with hundreds of engineers. What do you think is the key difference between being an engineer at a big company and at a startup?
I think the biggest difference isn’t necessarily in day-to-day work, but more that at startups, you have to learn to constantly reinvent yourself. We’ll need to do that both as individuals and as a company. That need for versatility is much greater at a startup than it is at a public company that’s had years, maybe decades, to figure some of this stuff out.
It’s anxiety-inducing at times, but also really exciting. To me, the startup experience is about being able to have a ton of visibility over how you contribute to a company’s growth, while constantly shifting your contributions and mindset as the company evolves. I don’t think there’s many better ways to stretch yourself like that every day.
What were your key takeaways from Y Combinator?
The key thing that stood out to me about YC was how strong the community was—especially the YC alumni. It’s a really special culture and group of people, which is why I think it will stand the test of time.
During our batch, the founders of public companies like Airbnb and Dropbox took hours out of their day to chat with us. These are companies that were founded ten, fifteen years ago and it’s really cool that their founders are still so grateful and committed to giving back to the YC community. I feel that’s representative of the whole program. Everyone, from the advisers to partners to all the founders, seems to understand that startups are a long-game, so there’s this idea of building for the next few decades. I love that mindset.
When it comes to engineering culture, what’s the one value that you think is most important?
My favorite engineering culture principle is one that, thankfully, I was able to go deep on at Nova Credit. It was, “Challenge without ego.” Simply put, it means to always be intellectually humble, and for everyone to be bought in on finding the right solution, even if it’s not their solution.
I think it’s vital to create a culture where everyone feels psychologically safe to voice their authentic concerns or support for a certain way of building things. That’s how you get to the right answer, and we’re working really hard to have that instilled in our culture from Day 1.
Imagine it’s 2025. Where do you see the Finley Engineering team?
It’s exciting to think about because so much can happen in four years. The thing that’s most important to me is that even when we’re a lot bigger, every engineer should feel like they’re making a significant impact on the company every day. Early on, it’s easy for engineers to feel highly leveraged and to know that what they ship every week moves the needle. I’d love for us to keep that even as Finley grows. We should never stop feeling like a team of founders.
Capital markets software is so far from where it can be. It’s trapped in the 1990s, and I think the work we do between now and 2025 will actually accelerate the debt capital space by 30 years. The question is, once we bring consumer-grade enterprise software to this space, what are the areas of opportunity we unlock? There are so many blue-ocean opportunities for our Engineering team to think through there.