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Featured Founder: Manny Kandola
Meet Manny Kandola. Manny is the founder of InterestPiggy, an online marketplace that helps users find the most competitive interest rate for their mortgage, loan, savings or guaranteed investment account.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a Sheridan alumnus who graduated in 2000. Since then, I’ve been heading up IT for various-sized organizations, both public and private sector. In the last five years, I found my love for startups. I started to work as an on-demand CTO [Chief Technology Officer] in an incubator in Toronto. About a year and a half ago, I decided that it was time to do my own thing and I founded InterestPiggy.com.
Why did you become an entrepreneur?
I was fortunate enough that I had some success in my corporate career. I rose to the executive level quite quickly. Once I got there, it was a lonely place — either it was tough to execute at the time and pace that I wanted or my ideas were too “disruptive,” so I got to the point where I knew I needed to go back to grassroots and started to work for startups. I found there I could think strategically but also roll up my sleeves and get things done.
I started to get an appreciation and was reminded of the passion that comes with small teams with a can-do attitude. Sometimes innovation requires a small, agile team and not a big workforce to create a viable product. I love this space and that’s why I decided to take this journey.
What’s your favourite part of running InterestPiggy?
The surprises — the dynamic and drastic shifts on a daily basis. BoC’s interest rate increase would be a good example. The industry expected the interest rate to go up in 2018, and it went up in July, which is good news for us but also meant we had to accelerate quite drastically. We could have never planned for that and it remains an exciting time. It keeps me on my feet, for sure.
Where do you find your ideas come from?
I think I have a natural sense of wanting to solve problems. I’ve always thought to myself, “how can I avoid or defeat this challenge I’ve come across?” Having a tech background, it’s very difficult to ignore the disruption that tech-based startups have done, so there was a natural passion for connecting my tech side and my business side. It’s all of that.
The older you get, the more confidence you have in your ability to do things yourself. That’s where I get the passion to do something like this.
What’s your current greatest frustration with being an entrepreneur?
Too much regulation is stifling Canada’s innovation economy and the ability to scale rich, consumer-oriented innovations. A lot of FinTech [financial technology] entrepreneurs would probably agree. The digital banking world seems to still be dominated by what the big players are going to do.
Also, the ambition of funding startups at the grassroots stage was lacking from funders from our experience. We’ve got a great startup community here in the GTA, and people aren’t proceeding with their ventures because of the feasibility of funding.
What’s your strategy to deal with failure?
Plan for multiple avenues right from the get-go. You need a Plan B and a Plan C. Expect to fail in that sense. You lead with one marketing message, for example, but you’ve got two or three in your back pocket. I know sometimes it can be tiring and expensive to do that, but that’s been our best comeback.
Just remember that it’s an exciting ride and you’ve gotta pat yourself on the back at every stage. That gives you the confidence to pick yourself back up again when you’ve been beaten up a bit.
What’s your mantra?
I think my mantra comes from the frequent sound bites I get from different phases. The mantra during our creative stages was “go for it,” “disrupt” and “big idea.” Don’t think small; think big.
Now that we’ve launched and realized the scale, resilience is key — “stick with it and accelerate.”
What achievement are you most proud of so far?
I’m proud of not settling, of the impact and the timing of this venture, of the detail planning, the concept-to-product cycles, and how the interface influences the entire experience of the platform.
Whenever I’m challenged, I think to myself, “Hey, we did it. We brought this to life.” We proved the business model, and now it’s time for scaling and dealing with long-term funding.
Our branding is a pride factor, too — we have a cute blue pig and it’s cool to see that character’s personality come alive.
What does life/work balance look like for you?
Tough. There are a lot of personal sacrifices. You cannot shortchange time with family and friends; they are your biggest fan club. We have a large development shop that’s across the world and there’s a significant time difference, so I have to be up at 2 or 3 in the morning for a three-hour conference call. On the same day, when the sun rises, you’ve got to jump into other meetings and make it for lunch dates with your significant other. Sometimes sleep is lacking, but you manage to find the energy from somewhere. It’s a constant balance.
What does the future look like for your business?
We’re constantly in touch with our consumers. We’ve developed a concierge service that lets our consumers and providers know we’re here and working behind the scenes gathering their feedback to enhance the experience.
We found consumers don’t just bank with one institution — they have their products placed with multiple institutions. Bringing that data together and painting that full picture of why consumers went with a certain provider for a certain product definitely helps our online community.
We’re starting to do a lot with unstructured data as well. It’s proven that we build a virtual relationship during the competition process with the consumer and the provider, and both sides benefit: Consumers gain confidence and the best rate, and providers increase their sales. Nurturing the virtual relationship and doing more with relationship-building tools is a long-term strategy for us. We continue to build the relationship on our platform by allowing consumers to rate providers, and providers can rate consumers as well, so there’s a lot to be learned there. All those elements give us a good year or two of product roadmap points.
How did Sheridan influence you as an entrepreneur?
I was fortunate enough to get into the IT field in the early 2000s. I did my Computer Science and Technology program [at Sheridan] in the late nineties — when we didn’t bring laptops into the classroom. Seeing what’s happened in the last 10–15 years, being in IT and watching how some businesses have adopted and others have resisted, and seeing how it truly does work was key.
Universities did not offer work experience, and at Sheridan, the co-op program was one of the first for Comp Sci. The co-op program allowed me to see the real world and practice the application of my theory. That has been a learned instinct that has never left me.
Any words of advice for entrepreneurs just starting out?
You’ve got to have skin in the game. If you’re not going to believe in your idea, no one else is going to believe in your idea. You need a lot of faith in yourself to produce and spend the money to execute. Take it on. It’s an awesome ride and you’ll do something new that will be challenging, but nothing grows or develops you as much as this. I wouldn’t have learned half of what I’ve learned in the last three months of InterestPiggy in five years of working in the corporate world. You maximize yourself and begin to do things you thought you couldn’t do.
If you’re thinking about going on the ride, go for it. Do as much as you can, and that’s more than good enough.