The CEMS Global Alliance is a purpose led organization, powered by our beliefs that great leadership starts with self-leadership and societal progress requires continual exploration. In this series of interviews, we take a look at CEMS students and alumni that are contributing to make this world a more open, sustainable and inclusive world.
In today's alumni focus, discover how Martin Fortelný's fintech start-up improves financial literacy of employees and helps with their personal finance management.
1. How did you come up with the idea behind your start up?
Firstly, we noticed that the level of financial literacy in Central and Southern Europe was not great and people often found themselves living paycheck to paycheck, consequently taking out high-interest loans when things went the unexpected way. Secondly, we thought of the global trend of rising employees’ impatience for their monthly paychecks. They would like to have more flexibility and independence when it comes to their personal finance. Our early wage access start-up is enabling employees to take out money for the hours they have already worked, without waiting for the monthly paycheck. The money they take out through our mobile app will then be deducted from their paychecks at the end of the month. This way the employees are able avoid the stress connected with waiting for the payday and become more financially stable.
2. How were you influenced by the CEMS environment and community?
As cliché as it sounds, we were influenced by the CEMS community to a large extent. I met my co-founder and CTO Jan Kölbl in CEMS despite the popular belief that CEMSies lack hard skills. I think our case only underlines the diversity of students that attend this program and shows that many of us have valuable hard skills as well. The first VC fund to invest in our venture is run by a CEMS alumni who also happens to have been my manager during my first start-up internship experience. While working for him, I gained practical entrepreneurial know-how that I was later on able to use for our benefit. Also, my international internship in Malaysia was overseen by another VŠE CEMS alumnus. This way I can say that the whole journey leading to the foundation of our start-up has been intertwined and fuelled by the CEMS community.
3. What are the key learning lessons you took away from starting your own business?
The biggest lesson was probably represented in the shift of my approach to taking risks. We are at such an age when we can afford to take risks and I have learnt to risk more. Compared to our previous jobs in the corporate world, every little thing that we do leaves a considerable impact. On the other hand, I feel more responsible for my actions, as it is our own business on the line. I also learnt how important it is to be able to work with people and improve our interpersonal skills constantly. We collaborate with people that are way more experienced and have way more skills than us. Even as valuable as this is, it hasn’t always been easy to navigate in this environment. Lastly, the phrase “we need to listen to our customers” is not only a phrase after all and we really need to follow it. It’s always going against the wall if we only assume that customers will like our idea, behave, and use our product in a certain way. We should always get customer feedback and think about the actual product from a different point of view. That is the approach that will turn our plans into reality.
4. Do you have any recommendation for CEMSies who are thinking about setting up their own company?
I think if we are to take risks in business, it should be now - during or right after university. I believe that there are many innovative ideas that can still be introduced – whether locally or globally, and also many investors willing to invest their money in them. Starting your own business can be lots of fun and can have a deeper meaning too, as companies should also respond to various existing problems and help people in real life when they have the power to do so. This way we are able to ‘leave our mark’ on the world.