Reflections on going through the Fintech Cadence Ascension program

And other thoughts on building a fintech in Canada

In this post, I aim to describe my experience of going through the 2021 Fintech Cadence Ascension program.

TL;DR: If you are an early-stage fintech founder in Canada — Just do it.

Apply, and if you go through the program, you and your team will lay a better foundation from which to build your company from.

The start

Our journey through the program started with this:

I remember reading the email, then going through the Fintech Cadence website and thinking to myself

“…I’m not sure this program is for us. Is it even real?”

You see, early+fintech+Canada are words that don’t generally go well together. This is because building a fintech in Canada is incredibly hard. A combination of legacy systems, infrastructure pricing, and resource scarcity (human and financial capital) makes it really tough to go from idea to MVP. Yet, for some reason, there was this program that focused solely on the Early. Fintech. Canadian. startup persona.

Needless to say, we were still skeptical about applying given that we had started Kalsa in early 2020 and thought we were not their target company. Moreover, we were suspect of the value the program could offer given that my co-founder and I had been working in financial services for over a decade and were familiar with many of the items listed in the program’s curriculum.

Fast forward to early December and Nicholas Belliveau sent a reminder email to apply before the deadline. I replied stating that we had not applied because we didn't think we were a fit. After some additional email exchanges, Nick convinced me to apply and we were off to the races — Next stop, the interview.

The interview took place in early January and was done via zoom. I don’t fully remember the topics discussed, but I do recall emphasis being placed on the problem being solved, the customer segment being serviced, and customer acquisition strategies. Overall, the interview was short but jammed-packed with thoughtful questions by the Fintech Cadence team. There was no time wasted.

In late January we received our acceptance email and were pretty excited about entering the cohort and begin the 12-week program.

w2

The Program

The Ascension program ran for 12 weeks. Here’s what each week looked like:

  • Expert panel sessions: These sessions ran weekly on Tuesday afternoons. While I think the intention of the sessions was great, some sessions were meaningfully better than others. This was a function of the quality of panelists brought to the fold and to a smaller degree the format — Imagine being on a zoom call with 4 to 5 subject matter experts and having questions for 1 or 2 of them. This meant not asking questions to half of the panelists and feeling rude for not doing so. In addition, some panelists simply didn't have the in-depth experience to provide actionable recommendations. Overall, most panelists did have valuable expertise to share and make you think about.
  • Industry workshops: These weekly sessions ran on Wednesday evenings and were truly valuable deep dives on certain aspects of building a company in modern times. These were equivalent to some master classes you find online for $000’s of dollars. We were really impressed with the content and delivery of these sessions. Some of our favorites were: Building products with speed and precision, How to create a memorable pitch, Managing the recruitment and retention of talent, and Cybersecurity best practices.
  • Champion meetings: These sessions ran every other week and were comprised of Fintech Cadence (FC) team members chatting with our team about Kalsa’s progress, roadblocks, and roadmap. I was surprised at how helpful these sessions were. It truly felt as if they were our partners. It's a great feeling to have.
  • Demo day: As I’m writing this, Demo Day is yet to happen. That said, I can tell you that the FC team provided us with ample opportunities to practice our pitch and receive valuable feedback from members of the corporate partnerships and venture capital community. This has helped us craft a better pitch tailored to this audience.

Other thoughts

If there was one element I felt was missing from the program was that there was a lack of comradery formed between companies within the cohort. There were a couple of virtual events that tried to bridge this gap, but they felt a bit rushed and insufficient to establish relationships with others in the program.

I think if more of those events were held, or if perhaps weekly “cohort sister company” calls would have been implemented, this could have assisted with this — And I get it, It's tough to do this while operating remotely.

Lastly, given Fintech Cadence’s place in the ecosystem, I would have thought that fintech infrastructure companies and other corporates would have used the program as a mechanism to showcase their offerings and begin to establish relationships with young startups participating in the program.

From talking to other founders in the program, everyone was more or less talking to the same providers and comparing notes. It seems like many cycles were needlessly spent working through the same discovery process which could have been streamlined through workshops or presentations.

Closing

If you are an early-stage fintech founder in Canada.

Apply, and if you go through the program, you and your team will lay a better foundation from which to build your company from.

P.S.

To see what we are building at Kalsa, check out our website and join our waitlist → kalsa.co

👋 Hi! My name is Daniel Nieto // I’m a Toronto-based entrepreneur and creator — I write about building businesses, technology, and investing.

If you’d like to connect you can find me here https://linktr.ee/dnieto ✌️

Optimizing for the alpha in life // Dad • Builder • Musician // Reimagining 💰 at http://kalsa.co