Inside Kalo: From Investment Banker to Startup CFO (and why other corporate escapees joined the entourage)

From investment banking and writing the first $50k check, to becoming the CFO

In the first of a series of profiles on the people who made Kalo happen, we meet Courtney Grant. He was the first investor in Kalo, after betting his annual bonus on the potential of the freelance economy and his best mate, our founder Pete’s, big idea. Two years later and he’s CFO. Here’s his take on jumping ship from the corporate world and joining a tech start-up in a rather unusual manner.

“I was beginning to question the future of banking, and my role as part of it - the atmosphere became increasingly negative. At the same time I began to help Pete research his new business idea - giving companies a better way to work with freelancers. It was simple but clearly addressed a massive problem that was quietly being ignored. So, I gave him a $50,000 cheque. That’s one way to enter into a new industry. It made for an interesting few months as Pete started out on the journey, as obviously that money wasn’t going to last very long and he needed to pick up further investment to keep Kalo going. Fortunately for me, Pete made it work and convinced some investors to jump into the deep end with us.

Being part of the startup journey has been a rollercoaster, from seed to Series A and beyond. It has been an incredible opportunity to meet some of the smartest people in venture capital and hear their insights. Our backers are quite literally invested in our success, so board meetings are one of the most pressurised and interesting parts of the job. These are an opportunity for us to ask their counsel and take advantage of their years of experience to help work through any challenges we face as a business.

You think banking is a tough game? Try startup life. The big difference is that now I can say that I work for a company that I can genuinely be proud exists. If you’re thinking of jumping the corporate ship for the startup world, picking the right company is crucial. Culture fit is the number one priority and you have to believe in the mission, because that is what will get you through in the end.

I’m not quite sure why I took so long to join Kalo, Pete had build the team up to 22 people before I jumped ship. It was actually one of the partners at Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures, James Fitzgerald, that told Pete to hire me. Namely because Pete is terrible with anything numbers-related. They said that there is no bigger motivation than working with your best friend, and that they had only seen phenomenal successes with it from as early as the Paypal days."

COURTNEY

Moving from the corporate world to Kalo

Courtney isn’t the only one who escaped corporate life to join Kalo. We now have four ex-bankers and one ex-management consultant. (Don’t worry, we hired some perfectly normal folk too)

So firstly, why did you choose to abandon the high salary, clear career trajectory and stability in favour of joining a young startup like Kalo?

Courtney, ex-investment banker from Royal Bank of Canada: After a few years at a bank you find your feet and your learning curve tapers off. I felt as though I wasn’t challenged by my work anymore and couldn’t progress as quickly as I wanted to. At the same time the atmosphere became increasingly negative - there were job losses announced at different banks every week and I began to question the future of the industry and my role as part of it.

Peter Bbaale, ex-banker from Deutsche Bank: I felt as though the service I was providing was indistinguishable from every other bank across the street and hadn’t been innovated upon in years. It just wasn’t exciting anymore. Coupled with the long hours, I felt my motivation slipping away

Khadija, ex-management consultant from Eleven Strategy: As a consultant you feel detached from the projects you’re working on because you’re always working on someone else’s company. Most of the time the client has already made a decision and they just need the consultant to provide the research to back up that decision. You’re never there to see the implementation of the project, and after the project is finished you’re completely separated from the outcomes. I wanted to have more of an impact and see the impact I was making on a company.

So, what has surprised you the most about startup life?

Courtney: How united everyone is at driving towards the goal of making Kalo successful. At the bank every employee was out for themselves, whereas at Kalo everyone wants to help each other be successful in their specific roles. Everyone genuinely cares. That, and how much Pete gets away with pranking everyone in the office. That would have never went down in my previous jobs.

Khadija: The trust people have in each other to make decisions. No one has the time to do extensive research on every potential action so everyone trusts each other to make quick decisions that can help the company grow.

Peter B: When you work in finance you’re surrounded by extremely well-qualified people, and you worry that once you leave people may not be the same calibre. Instead the opposite is true, everyone at Kalo is extremely smart, which is accentuated by the chance to use their intellect and creativity to solve all the interesting problems facing the business.

Why did you choose Kalo?

Khadija: I saw countless examples of tech-led businesses disrupting traditional models. Working with large businesses on how to leverage technology made me want to work in a tech-led business myself. I chose startups because I wanted a more hands-on role and fewer powerpoint presentations! I chose Kalo specifically because I believe in the vision and the product, and it was at such an exciting growth stage where you get to participate in putting in place all the process and structure to help the company grow.

Peter Bbaale: “I saw a job posting on Escape the City and immediately understood the problem Kalo is trying to solve. Joining Kalo provided the opportunity to be a part of shaping the future of how people work together, and now I get to engage in strategic work shaping the future of the company instead of the process-driven tasks that made up my day in banking.”

Courtney: Well it’s pretty obvious isn’t it?

And what have been the highlights?

Courtney: It has been an incredible opportunity to meet some of the smartest people in venture capital and hear their insights. In particular, the board meetings have been both the most challenging and most rewarding experiences so far. Our investors are quite literally invested in our success, so these meetings are an opportunity for us to ask their counsel and take advantage of their years of experience to help work through any challenges we face as a business.

Khadija: Definitely the people. In consulting everyone comes from very similar backgrounds, while at Kalo there’s a very diverse range of people. Everyone is very open, and no one will put you in a box when they first meet you.

Peter B: For me, the highlight has been the ability to engage in strategic work - challenging myself intellectually as we work to determine the future direction of the company. It’s so different to banking where my role felt very process and execution focussed.

We’re always hiring so visit us at https://www.kalohq.com/careers/

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