Why the quality of your relationships can make or break your startup.
Taran Singh Kainth — CEO and co-founder of the Canadian fractional investment app, Flahmingo — knows that strong relationships are integral to successfully building and scaling a business. The story of Flahmingo's impressive ramp up, which includes a C$1.88 million pre-seed raise only 18 months after the company's inception, demonstrates the power of tapping into your community (or "village" as Kainth calls it) of mentors, peers, investors and users.
"When you're raising a child," Kainth explains, "Every friend, grandparent and caregiver contributes something uniquely vital to that child's development. The same logic applies to building a business. You need a variety of perspectives." Kainth has used this guiding philosophy to navigate each step of Flahmingo’s journey — from the discovery stage through development — and has achieved measurable wins as a result.
Here's the play-by-play.
Learning what's tried-and-true.
The 23-year-old entrepreneur's journey started in 2019, when he first identified a gap in the Canadian financial market: fractional investing. If you’ve never heard of it, fractional investing enables users to purchase ‘Slices’ of their favourite companies with as little as $1 — resulting in a more accessible and affordable investment option and the ability to reap the benefits of traditional investing. Using fractional investing as a fundamental concept, Kainth founded Flahmingo with the mission of breaking down barriers to investing for Canadians.
“Talking about your failures is a taboo subject,
especially in Calgary,” Kainth says.
Kainth's first move was initiating conversations with successful figures who worked in financial technology and investment banking. He started in Silicon Valley, where he had travelled with a previous venture, and then continued reaching out to industry professionals in his hometown of Calgary. Kainth was searching for those insights that weren’t readily available through Google, but was rather knowledge primarily accessible through conversations with people who possessed first-hand experience in the startup world. He wanted to hear all about their wins – and their failures.
“Talking about your failures is a taboo subject, especially in Calgary,” Kainth says. “The founders I spoke to helped me realize how important those conversations are. There’s a lot you can learn from mistakes – most successful entrepreneurs have battle scars from previous failed projects.”
Kainth advises other young founders to start buying coffee for the thought leaders they admire, with insightful questions prepared ahead of time to guide the conversation. These friendly discussions just might lead to lasting relationships with mentors, advisors and even investors.
Answering a need.
When Kainth saw the potential in introducing fractional investing to a Canadian market, he also hit upon a purpose that was close to his heart: helping more people understand their finances. Growing up, Kainth was deeply affected by watching his parents lose their investments in the 2008 recession. He began educating himself on the workings of the stock market, looking for answers about what went wrong. This experience ignited a drive in Kainth to demystify financial products. With Flahmingo, he wants to empower more people to take control of their finances by providing an educational in-app experience: Flahmingo Central.
Kainth's regard for the real-world impact of his product is key. Any idea can be impressive in the abstract, but solving human problems is the only way to achieve a true product-market fit. "It's important that Flahmingo answers a real need for people," Kainth says. "That's how you develop a relationship with your user base."
"I needed to be honest about my strengths and my weaknesses.
My job was to find people to collaborate with who had expertise in
areas that I did not."
Filling in the gaps.
It's common for founders to get stuck perfecting an idea without driving it forward. In fact, Kainth says he's fallen into this trap with a previous venture, spending time on logos and business cards without taking clear steps to get the business off the ground. This time around, his priority wasn’t aesthetic concerns – it was people. He took a frank assessment of the gaps in his knowledge and focused on finding teammates who could complement him. "I needed to be honest about my strengths and my weaknesses," says Kainth. "My job was to find people to collaborate with who had expertise in areas that I did not."
For example, building out the Flahmingo app. While Kainth is an investment prodigy (seriously, he assembled his first stock portfolio at age 12), he does not have a background in programming. This hasn't phased him, however. Part of the thrill of developing a new company is the rapid learning curve; Kainth has cultivated new skills quickly while assembling a team he can trust to get the job done. He says that entrepreneurs without a technical background shouldn't be deterred from working in the tech space, as long as they ask a lot of questions and take the time to build a team whose skillset fills the gaps.
Kainth’s leadership strategy relies on a culture of candour and transparency, where strong interpersonal relationships take centerstage. He says that the bulk of his work as CEO is "primarily people management: sourcing out top talent, maintaining strong relationships with investors, and nurturing a team who feels heard and supported.”
The key to his approach?
Resisting the urge to micro-manage. "Sometimes, I need to fight my type-A instincts, and remember that my job is to offer support when it's needed."
Improving and iterating.
As the Flahmingo team prepares for launch in early 2022, it’s the potential for user feedback that has Kainth most excited. In the digital age, developing a relationship with your customer is essential. Social media platforms, web forums and in-app data offer companies a more nuanced look at consumer behaviour — which means there's no excuse for ignoring feedback from your end-user. “I want to know what our users like and don't like about Flahmingo, so that we can continue to improve," Kainth explains. "In the end, it doesn’t matter what we think. The purpose of our app is to improve life for the user."
So, here's the takeaway. If you’re a new founder, invest in strong relationships: with mentors, teammates and, ultimately, with your customer.