Keith Grose | Head of UK Plaid – $5.3B Visa Acquisition | ex-Googler in Silicon ValleyApple Podcast Spotify
In Episode 9 of Searching For Mana, we had the pleasure of welcoming Keith Grose to the podcast, Head of UK for Plaid.
After expanding into the UK and Europe last year, Plaid has excelled, recently being named “Best Enabler” in the 11:FS 2020 Pulse Awards. With their acquisition by Visa underway, this is set to be a massive year for the fintech giant.
Keith is from a small town in North Carolina, but now very much an adopted east Londoner. He has a passion for books and creative writing and when he’s not performing the all-encompassing role of Head of UK for Plaid, you might find him playing football (or soccer).
We talk about his early career before he found his way to Google, where he experienced the incredible innovation and energy in Silicon Valley, as well as the hard work and opportunity involved in Keith’s move to London with Plaid.
Lloyd Wahed: Welcome to Searching for Mana. The podcast focused on tech innovation in finance fintech. I’m Lloyd Wahed and I’m a headhunter. I’m privileged to spend my days meeting with some influential leaders and founders in technology and finance from unicorn companies to financial disruptors. This podcast we’re going to be hearing from these individuals and really trying to understand how they got into fintech, what they’re doing, what their company is all about, and perhaps some of the trends that they’re looking at in the market.
Lloyd Wahed: Welcome to the podcast, Keith.
Keith Grose: Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Lloyd Wahed: Thank you. Pleasure. So it’s Keith Grose and you are the head of UK for Plaid, is it?
Keith Grose: We will respond to both. But in the US we would say plaid here. Everyone would say plaid. But think of it as tartan patterned, herringbone pattern connections on a shirt. So that’s the story behind the logo there.
Lloyd Wahed: Plaid then. Recently headline press for having been acquired by Visa for somewhere in the realms of 5.3 billion.
Keith Grose: I believe that’s the news. Yeah, we’re excited about it. I think it’s important to note that the acquisition hasn’t closed yet, but I think Visa and Plaid are going to be great partners and we’re excited to have a home there.
Lloyd Wahed: Fantastic. So we want to understand your bio and understand how you got so in the head of UK position for at these exciting times. Literally one of the headlines, successful businesses in fintech. Right now it’s a white-hot space nonetheless. So to have stood out, there must be an incredible combination of individuals, business, strategy, technology and timing.
Lloyd Wahed: Before we do that, let’s understand a little bit about you as a person right now.
Keith Grose: Sounds great.
Lloyd Wahed: So you are born in America.
Keith Grose: Yeah. Born in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, a little college town on the east coast of the US.
Lloyd Wahed: And then had a career in Silicon Valley, which we’ll go back to with Google. But right now, where are you residing in London right now?
Keith Grose: I live in Haggerston and a nice little flat. I’m trying to lean into the East London vibe, you know, and truly, truly live a fintech startup existence out here.
Lloyd Wahed: How does that compare it to Silicon Valley?
Keith Grose: Oh, man, I have to be honest. I love London. San Francisco is beautiful. But just the sort of cosmopolitan, edgy feeling that you get in East London is is something really unique. And I think I’m very much excited to be there.
Lloyd Wahed: What are you doing for fun in Haggerston?
Keith Grose: So I’m a footballer, I should say, or I play soccer in my spare time and then I would say a bookworm beyond that. So reader and in a previous and previous life when I have more time, was a creative writing minor in college. And so hopefully I’ll get back into that as well.
Lloyd Wahed: Not been doing that recently.
Keith Grose: I haven’t had and haven’t had the time.
Lloyd Wahed: What would be the next story that you would write?
Keith Grose: The next story that I would write? Wow. That’s a good question. You know, honestly, I think if I was going to get back into it and do something along the Malcolm Gladwell or, you know, a little bit of a find some great people and great stories that are real-life and do a bit more of a non-fiction essay.
Lloyd Wahed: That’s like a podcast.
Keith Grose: It’s like a podcast. I’m excited. Here is where we’re going to start the outline right after this.
Lloyd Wahed: I need a ghostwriter cause I am rubbish at writing. So I’ve got the people, not the writing talent, that’s for sure. So you used to write short stories. What age was this?
Keith Grose: This was in high school and college and university. Yeah.
Lloyd Wahed: And they were fiction or non-fiction?
Keith Grose: They’re fiction. Back then, I had dream.
Lloyd Wahed: I had dream. Now you really serious?
Keith Grose: You know, I I feel like I’ve gone through, as most people do, different career aspirations over time. You know, there is a period where I really wanted to be a fiction author. There’s a period where I really wanted to be an academic. And then I’ve turned out to just be a startup tech guy, which is which has been a long and fun.
Lloyd Wahed: You take the word just out of there. It’s an amazing thing to be. So I think let’s start with with with Plaid. So the head of UK, I believe in just running that whole operation in Europe right now, strategy sales. Could you try and help us understand what are you doing right now? What a typical week apart from when you’re playing football in Haggerston and how this thing looks like?
Keith Grose: Yeah, absolutely. I think first I’ll just step back and introduce Plaid a little bit for people that that aren’t familiar or haven’t read the headlines. We are essentially an API infrastructure platform that does open banking and we build the tools that allow developers to build create fintech services. So where where a sort of a background infrastructure player. But we support something like twenty five hundred fintechs today. The vast majority of all the big U.S. FinTechs and some of the biggest ones here in the UK as well are powered by Plaid. And so the journey in terms of. What my role is now is I essentially am the GM of the UK. I actually started out as the product lead for Europe based in San Francisco and then on a fun journey over the past 12 to 18 months, moved over was first boots on the ground, found an office, set up an office and have moved into running the go-to-market team here in Europe for Plaid.
Lloyd Wahed: Ok, so seeing as we’re going through your plan, then that’s interesting. That point you entrusted with taking the operation overseas and as an individual doing that, how did you get selected to be the person to do that? So you’re in the head of product role in America does at this point started about a couple hundred staff over there?
Keith Grose: Yeah, a little bit less than that. Yeah.
Lloyd Wahed: And then they’ve strategically started. Right. We need to be on the ground in Europe and how you become the person who is selected do that?
Lloyd Wahed: You know, I think it was a little bit of hard work and luck and timing. So I joined Plaid knowing I was going to be doing product for Europe and being really excited about it. And one of the things I was excited about was the opportunity to come over to Europe, help build something new from the ground up. We’re essentially building a startup within a startup. This is going to operate as a completely standalone, unique function. And so when I started out, I was basically travelling 1 to 2 weeks every month, spending time in London, meeting regulators, policymakers, potential prospects, talking with other companies that had done international expansion. And every time I would learn so much that I would come back and talk to the exact team at Plaid and say, we are learning more from the time we spend on the ground than when we’re here. We just need someone there. And so actually we were looking originally to hire someone locally and then it turns out it’s hard to hire remotely. And to I just put my name in the hat and said, well, I’m excited to move out there. And then I actually just got a call late one Sunday evening and said “Can you move to Europe in two weeks?” And I just packed a bag of clothes and get on a plane and start something new. So I think in that sense, I have had a little bit of the founder experience out here. I’ve just landing somewhere and trying to break into an entirely new market, which has been great.
Lloyd Wahed: And when you came here on day one, there was already businesses in the territory who were operating on the up on the Plaid APIs.
Keith Grose: Yes. We already had some customers that were here. We also had competitors here as well. So it’s a hot space in Europe. And I think there are big differences between what Plaid builds in the US and what we’re building here in Europe in terms of the development of the ecosystem. When Plaid got started in the US, it was very early days for fintech as a whole. And they actually sort of built key pieces of the infrastructure that allowed fintech to flourish in the US. Here, obviously we’re expanding to Europe and fintech is the hot space in London. And so you just have to come in with a different mentality and a different hunger again to get back into that.
Lloyd Wahed: So you had some targets that you were aiming at to achieve in Europe. And from day one, they were expanding the product lines into Europe appropriate to what the demand is in FinTechs big that. So how does that look today? What does the European business look like? And I suppose I want to compare that to what is the American business-like in terms of scale, size numbers?
Keith Grose: Yes. I mean, I can’t dig into the actual revenue numbers or anything like that. But I think it’s fair to say that the U.S. business is operating at scale at this point. Right. And if you think about the story of Plaid and how it got started, it was originally Zach and William, our co-founders, trying to build their own fintech applications and struggling to get off the ground. And part of the reason they’re struggling to get off the ground is it’s really hard to allow users who use many different banks. They’re more than 15000 banks in the US. It’s insane to connect to a single application. And so they started building that infrastructure and then other fintech startup founders start coming to them and saying, hey, can we license your infrastructure from you imply just pivoted and became this powerful infrastructure player. But now you’re at the point where you’re powering massive enterprises. We’re working with a lot of large Tier 1 banks as customers. Plaid is definitely at that scale. And in Europe, we’re much more still in the sort of nascent stages of building a business here. So it’s all about.
Keith Grose: Expanding countries and geographies, expanding new product lines, getting really close to your customers and figuring out, OK for this market. What features do they need? Because you’d be surprised at how different all the various markets are. I think you’re if you go talk to other fintech startup founders here in London who are trying to expand into the US. You’ll probably hear them say the same thing as surprising differences in how you have to change your product to work here. So for us, it’s a lot about customer acquisition, market expansion, building and those new products here that are going to be exciting and build the business.
Lloyd Wahed: Yep. See, you mentioned it’s competitive. We had True Layers on the podcast recently. Who, I imagine consider some type of competition?
Keith Grose: Yeah.
Lloyd Wahed: You got parts of cloners business perhaps that could look like it. They offers the same type of proposition. And I’m sure there’s many more. And you’d be more knowledgeable about this. Could you talk us through space and take us to where you were offering is unique if it is.
Keith Grose: Yeah, absolutely. So I think first you have to step back and think about open banking and what open banking is about. Right. So there’s the payment services directive, too, that came into place in Europe and required banks to expose APIs. And so now you have small players, I would say, in every individual market in Europe who have built, who has aggregated those API, standardize the data, cleanse debt and offer a single connection. And so I think what you’re starting to see and where Plaid is building unique offering is we’re trying to operate at a scale where we’re pan-European. So we’re competing with small players in every country that we’re in, which makes it tough, but also exciting because I think the real value, especially for a larger fintech, is we offer a great way for you to expand and grow and to acquire more customers. So I’d say that’s a big thing for us. And then secondly, it would be the value offer in terms of categorization, transaction standardization.
Keith Grose: So you could have if you’re a personal financial management app or an accounting platform and you’re using Plaid, you’re getting really cleansed, standardised data that you can build great insights off of from many different banks. And that’s actually a really hard technical problem to solve.
Lloyd Wahed: Yeah. Okay. So the plan is going well, I can understand that proposition. Why, if you’re a fintech in the territory that you want to be an additional, do you choose you guys? Why would you choose to be acquired by Visa? Right.
Keith Grose: That’s an interesting question. So I think I can’t put myself into Zach and Williams heads. Obviously, that’s their decision. But I think when you think about what Plaid offers and the fact that we are an enabler for innovation and fintechs around the world, there are very few companies that we’re one big enough to acquire a business the size of Plaid but to wear it feel like a complementary fit, right. And if you think about the big card networks, they’ve built this amazing infrastructure. I think people take for granted now that you can go pay with your phone everywhere, you can pay with a credit card everywhere. That is an amazing infrastructure feat of engineering and infrastructure building. And we’re doing that for bank accounts. And so I think there’s this beautiful fit there where it’s it becomes it’s a different network. It’s not in payments, but it’s a very complementary offering where we’re basically standardizing and making it easy for you to access something that will be critical, a critical piece of the financial infrastructure. And so I think in that sense, Visa and Plaid together we’ll be able to build really exciting products that will offer lots of benefits to consumers, I think.
Lloyd Wahed: And the business will still push forward as a brand that is separate to visa. There is a value in Plaid and Visa. See that?
Keith Grose: Yeah, I think we’re really big on the Plaid culture. And I think the Plaid brand is something that comes along with it where I think it’s been amazing, the team and energy that’s been built across all of our offices at Plaid. And so I think we’re very much excited to keep that core. And so the only thing that will be changing is near-term would be Zach will be working with the visa executive team. But Plaid as a business will remain standalone. The Plaid brand will remain standalone. Again, the deal is still under review. And so now that this is assuming it goes through, but you never know. But yeah, I think the Plaid brand and who we are and the culture we’ve built, the offices we’ve built, I expect all of that to stay the same.
Lloyd Wahed: Yeah. When you’re at Google, who is a huge acquirer of so many successful businesses. There are so many examples. I don’t know if you had direct experience of this from the other side.
Keith Grose: You know, funnily enough, I did. And I’ve seen things that work well and don’t work well. So I spent my last two years at Google working on the hardware team, at Google, in particular on the hardware strategy team. And I was actually part of the deal team that did the acquisition of HTC in Taiwan. And I was also part of the integration team when we spun Nest back into a part of Google. It was originally one of the Alphabet bets. And then became part of the hardware team. And I think in both of those it is a great lesson that it is very hard to keep culture intact when you’re doing deep integrations. I think one of the things that you have to really learn is to lean on the founders of those companies and to trust them in their judgment. So I think it’s easy to think that, you know, the right decision when you’re in a larger company and it can actually sometimes work out poorly or really well, depending on how well you build that trust and relationship. And so I definitely saw both sides of that at Google. And Google has had some really great examples. I think YouTube is a fantastic example of integration, an acquisition that turned out to be game-changing for Google. And part of that was keeping it as a standalone business and brand and letting it running and growing. And so I think that’s important. And you have other examples of that around the valley, things like Twitch and Amazon. So I think there’s definitely a model here that that works really well in terms of acquisitions.
Lloyd Wahed: So you got to be a senior product manager, director, whatever the title was. Let’s try to understand from a career perspective that skill set at Google. You worked in the hardware team, come in the end right?
Keith Grose: Come the end, and before that, I was doing business strategy and operations. But what that really means is you’re a sort of a business and product SWAT team that gets brought into new businesses that haven’t built out their own dedicated teams yet. I did lots of project-based work on some of the really nascent stuff at Google.
Lloyd Wahed: Yeah. So for us to really understand that journey to that, let’s go back to education. All right. So getting I that the headhunting work for your CV. So you say you’re at a boarding school, right?
Keith Grose: I did. I spent my last two years of high school at an academic boarding school called the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. Wow.
Lloyd Wahed: Do you have to stay there. You’d go there full time?
Keith Grose: Yeah you would stay there. Yeah. Full time. Full time. Honestly, it’s still the best friends of my life or from that school.
Lloyd Wahed: Did you guys in like in a rock band and smoking marijuana the whole time?
Keith Grose: You know, actually, it was the complete opposite where you’re all because it was a merit-based boarding school that was sponsored by the state. And so you basically had to pass a bunch of science and math exams to get in. And then it was completely free. And so it was basically the haven for everyone who had been the outcast in their old public schools. And so it was basically just this really amazing little ecosystem where you just pile all these nerds together and have them live together and they’re hacking and stuff. And it’s great fun. But it was it was a cool version of all the uncool, uncool kids from other high schools at Mascot was the Purple Unicorn. So you can just that sort of tells you the type of people that we had there. But I think that’s where I really learned to love tinkering,
building and where I really took went from enjoying academics to learning what you could do with the world around you. And that’s what I sort of took forward into my career.
Lloyd Wahed: From that, you went into further education degree. There was economics, maths,.
Keith Grose: Math and economics.Yeah. Yeah, double majors there.
Lloyd Wahed: At what point, what were you thinking would be a good, good career path?
Keith Grose: You know, I wish someone had told me this and had to read my poem for me. But I actually went into university trying to major in theoretical math and thinking I wanted to be in academia. And by the time I realize I wanted nothing to do with that, I was about two courses away from graduating and credits in that and in math. But it was the type of maths where, you know, the further you get along in university, the less problems you have on your exams and things like that. You’re writing pages of proofs instead of doing problems. And so I think if I can go back and redo it, I would definitely rather been in the applied math world and learned something a little more tangible. But I think it was it was good for me. I just follow my intellectual curiosity and then that also led me to economics, which I found, I think they call it the dismal science, right. But it was really exciting for me to think about all the things going on. That was also right. I was in university, right in the financial crisis. Right. And so for me, that was a really exciting time to think about economics. Dark time. You know, I was watching it affect my family and my friends’ families. And so I think I definitely came out of that with a nudge on I want to do something in economics or in finance longer term. I tried out banking. The culture wasn’t for me.
Lloyd Wahed: And so sorry if we’d say so. So you go whether it was exactly the maths degree or not that you’d have reflection would take, you’ve got a really good degree. It opens many doors. Where was your risk parameters at this point, in terms of the options of going to large corporate going and being a founder? You know, you’d consider being an academic decision, I want to do that. You’d like tinkering and building things. What was the thought process?
Keith Grose: Yeah. So I don’t think I didn’t have any burning ideas of I want to go build this. And so I didn’t really consider the founder path, to be honest. I think at that stage of my life, I didn’t have the risk appetite to be a founder. For better or for worse. And so instead, I wanted to follow my nose on.
Keith Grose: I went to see and experience a bunch of different things in business and figure out what actually hits my fancy. And so when I would talk with people and ask them about that, they would often point me to consulting and say, hey, you should go do this. You’ll get to work on problems at a lot of interesting companies and figure out what you do and don’t like about companies, cultures, business problems, different roles. And I have to admit that I still think it’s one of the best places you can start your career. It certainly did that for me.
Lloyd Wahed: And you were at Bain for a couple of years?
Keith Grose: I was at Bain for two years.
Lloyd Wahed: And that was a great decision. You’re happy you did that because you experienced advice people took, which is you work with different companies on different projects, experience things, open your eyes to what you might gravitate towards, and then you went and did something else.
Keith Grose: Yeah, I think, you know, it’s part of the consulting business model to bring in people, train them up and then shoot them out into the world, hoping they’ll hire you back in 20 years. I think that was definitely part of it. There are a lot there are lots of things I didn’t like about consulting. Right. I think a lot of the projects are how can you help, you know, an executive hit their numbers to get their annual bonus when it dig down to it. That’s what’s driving a lot of it. But I think the variety and types of problems you deal with and the culture of network of people that you’re going to work with are all smart, hungry, ambitious, has just been great. I think a great example of how that can come full circle is actually now applied. I report to the COO, Eric Sager, and he was actually my very first boss back in Bain days. We had no idea we were joining Plaid at the same time, nor that we would end up I’d end up reporting to him. But that’s sort of how these things go full cycle, right? It’s that people can go off and have very careers and they might end up coming back together.
Lloyd Wahed: What you say, Eric?. Eric, Where did Eric spend his career before the full circle?
Keith Grose: So he was at Bain for more time than I was, then went to Square and led some of the sales teams at Square and then was chief revenue officer at Blue Vine, which is a lending startup in the Silicon Valley, and then joined Plaid as COO after that.
Lloyd Wahed: So you hadn’t shot ahead of him. And then he. Your point. It’s a shame, isn’t it?
Keith Grose: I think, you know, he’s great. And so I’m very much excited to have someone to be working for, someone that I can learn from again. Do you think so?
Lloyd Wahed: Good Answer, good answer.
Keith Grose: Yeah, exactly. Eric, if you’re listening, I’ll be nice to me. But actually, that last quarter, I will say, I think that’s
something that when I think about what’s really helped me in my career, it has been following this advice, which is finding people that work for that you’re going to learn from. And I think I did that at Google. I did that when I was in academia, did that in consulting. And that will serve you so much better than you think it will.
Lloyd Wahed: Yes, absolutely. So you get to the point where you’ve had a good pony is in strap and you have to think through OK, I want to go do something different by now. You end up in a strategic role on Google to start with that again. How did you how do you choose Google in that specific role? From the the the whole world of options that would have been.
Keith Grose: Yeah. You know, it was interesting how I ended up there. So I knew at that point I wanted to get into the tech world. It was what made me excited. It was the news I read in the morning. I was waking up and reading TechCrunch and checking Hacker News. And so at some point you have to lean into what actually gets me excited.
Lloyd Wahed: How all of that happened? Was a project that you own or you had a key group that inspired you working in tech? Well, you were reading these things anyway.
Keith Grose: So honestly, it started back in that boarding school and kid carried all the way through college. And I think I just started to get the self-confidence and to self do the introspection to say, oh, wait, actually this is what I do every morning. Anyway, I should just go work in this industry. And I think when I thought about it, that’s what it brought me out to. Silicon Valley said move there sight unseen. I had negotiated to get my role out there. I was originally supposed to do consulting on the East Coast and so on. I was sitting there thinking, I’m in Silicon Valley. I love tech. I should just go work in tech. Now, I actually looked at several startups at the time and luckily was wise enough to realize that I was a really poor evaluator of what was going to be a good start. But I think I was looking at mobile gaming startups right at the peak of mobile gaming where, you know, six to 12 months later they were all laying off people. And so I’m actually very glad I didn’t fall on my nose at that point. And so because I couldn’t find the startup, that was a perfect fit for me. Again, I had friends. Tell me you should go join this team in Google. It’s called Business Strategy and Operations, which is a very unsexy title. But what the role is, is you do the project-based sort of early business model building for nascent bets. Google is great. This sounds amazing. So I joined it. And that’s what it was. It was awesome. I did projects on Waymo or those self-driving cars before it was called Waymo. I helped set up the early strategy for AR and VR, and I worked on a product called Google Wallet there. And that’s where I really started to narrow from.
Keith Grose: I love technology to I really love the intersection of technology and finance. And I carried that with me through the rest of my career at Google. But from literally from that project I got super into. How is tech going to change finance, whether that is digging into the cryptocurrency industry, thinking about mobile applications and what happens when you bank only from your phone? I still think we’re in the early stages of that. But I truly when you look at the the next generation is coming, I don’t think many of them are ever going to walk into a bank branch. What does that mean? What’s going to change? I think those were the questions that got me really excited. And so I love doing the project-based work at Google. And that was what sort of helped me figure out where I wanted to
take my career.
Lloyd Wahed: Did you manage to stay on continuous or a continuous project that was focused on finance in Google?
Keith Grose: No, I actually I moved around to a lot of different things and then ended up following that in some ways to help work on the Pixel team at Google, which was trying to launch obviously their own Google-made device. And so that for me was incredibly intellectually engaging. It wasn’t directly in finance.
Lloyd Wahed: What skill sets are you developing while still staying there? Because let’s just go to that point where you started working on Google Wallet. And it’s brought the economist in you, the mathematician, the technologist, and, Okay. This is really an area that is going to be huge and I’d like to be a part of it. But nonetheless, I’m at Google on nothing just off this cool team. It’s like some fintech think tank that drops down to me and then I get to get deep into the details. See, you must have been thinking, well, I’m enjoying it. I’m learning. What were you learning and what were you developing skill-wise?
Keith Grose: Yes. I think the biggest new thing for me in that role was working really closely with engineers who are building things. Right. And so you’re going from doing business strategy work and analytics to working, sitting next to an engineer thinking what product, what features are actually going to tick the boxes. And we had lots of really fast name work where we’d run big consumer surveys and do a lot of stats, work on what types of phone designs actually people are interested in, what features matter, what they rather have a longer battery life or a full screen. Do they want a fingerprint reader? And so when you’re thinking about that, it really got me into a consumer and customer mindset. And to learn how to work with engineers and obviously that sort of nudges you towards product work at that point.
Lloyd Wahed: That feels like a huge piece of strategy from Google. You know that play on excellence. What is the user experience for the consumer? And you were coming into that with a ready mind boy and having an understanding of analytics, which is really important, the beginning to try and work out which direction to go in from the insights. You knew to work with engineers. So how do you gained that, Rosa, quickly? And what was the experience of you walking off to one day, just like fist-pumping? How? This is a dream. How my involved in these talks with the huge decisions for them.
Keith Grose: You definitely have those moments where you’re pinching yourself a little bit. But I think the key is just to focus on doing your best work day by day. And then before you know it, you can find your way into somehow being involved, these big decisions. But the hardest part of all of this, and it was a skill I think I learned in consulting, was how to get smart or cramp upon a topic really quickly. So a lot of what I would do is I’d have my notebook with me. I’d be working with engineers, they’d be talking about so and so acronyms, so and so technology. I go home now and I Wikipedia, wormhole for hours and just learn a ton about how things are working, how mobile phones were made. I went really deep on-screen technology, silicon. All of these interesting parts of what goes into a phone that I had no formal training in. But you’d be surprised how much you can learn with a little bit of searching on your own. And so I think it was just a little bit of that. This is something that really engages me and excites me. I want to go learn about it on my own.
Keith Grose: And you will naturally, just over time, get so much smarter and deeper in a subject. If that’s how you feel about it, then you even realize you.
Lloyd Wahed: And this takes you into quite a senior role at Google and you spend five years at Google and types. So on all these interesting projects that affect the world. If fun, if you could kind of help us visualize well outside of work is going on. You were living in San Francisco.
Keith Grose: I was living in San Francisco. Yeah,I was commuting a lot. So I was down working down in the headquarters forGoogle, which is down in another city called Mountain View. So I had a very long commute everyday, which eventually ground you down, but also Google. So how what, you know, was big when I was an hour and forty five minutes each way.
Lloyd Wahed: Oh, wow.
Keith Grose: So it was a serious amount of time to be spending even in the
Lloyd Wahed: Could’ve been writing your short story
Keith Grose: in the infamous Google Bus. Exactly right. But I think the other thing is that during that time, Google went from already being a big company to being a massive company.
Keith Grose: I think when I joined, there were forty thousand people. And when I left, there were one hundred and forty thousand jobs. Huge. And so you increasingly have this feeling of I’m a small fish in a gigantic pond. And I think what I realized is I wanted to go somewhere where I could have a ton of impact. And even at Google, even when you find your ways onto really important projects and you’re working with really senior stakeholders, just the level of sort of bureaucracy and like the slowing of decision making that happens when companies get that big was frustrating to me. And I was thinking, I want to be somewhere small. So I started looking at small startups like that point.
Lloyd Wahed: But just to pause in that. What title at this point in Google ultimately?.
Keith Grose: So it’s just hardware strategy, general title at that point. So I’m still advising executives
Lloyd Wahed: In the company, of at that point or a hundred thousand plus staff who are overly ambitious and bright in different ways. If you were thinking, okay, but if I stay, I can get to the next title, I can guess the next title. At some point, I can have a bigger and bigger impact. And you were also weighing up a number of things, such as risk, because probably little risk in this company. Impacts will that is it impact. But my part of that impact is potentially small at the moment, but it gets larger. Would you be thinking? But I could become an executive in this business. That must have been the. Okay. I want to have an impact on something smaller. Forget about you’d thought about it early on your career. But just before I make that decision, I’m going to weigh up my internal opportunities. And what would you evaluate to the next 5 10 years? You could look like from all the people you’d seen get those senior executive roles.
Keith Grose: Yeah. So. So I mean, I think you’re ah, you’re definitely right that anytime you’re working at a larger company, there’s always a clear career progression and you’re always thinking, OK, what’s the next level? What do I need to prove to get to that level? But I think for me, when I step back and realize was the learning was starting to plateau a little bit. And so then you get to a point where you’re searching more for title and the pay raise than you’re searching for improving yourself and your knowledge.
Keith Grose: And once I realized that that’s when it was a little bit easier to make the decision of, OK, I think it’s time for me to leave. At the same time, I felt that I had learned enough and my risk appetite had grown enough that I was ready to roll the dice on something even if it went to zero. Yeah.
Lloyd Wahed: So I see a lot of people at this phase in companies like Google where, you know, there’s almost this gold band where the money’s good enough that you can afford a lifestyle that is hard to move away from with the added benefit of security. And there is still intellectual work to be done. So the review is if they’re missing out on people like you staying, then something in their culture at that point isn’t as good as it could be because they should be catching that. And at that point, probably promoting you into a position where it addresses what you want to find externally.
Keith Grose: You know, I think, yes, there’s an aspect of that.But two things. One is changing culture, particularly when you’re a massive company. It’s incredibly hard to do. I think the other thing is that this is also natural. You can’t. Yeah, you know, if you hire a ton of ambitious people, you can’t promote everyone all the time. It’s just you can’t have a reverse pyramid. And so I think part of the way and I love the phrase at our head of engineering uses is the valley is small and careers are long. But this is part of the way things work.
Keith Grose: When you’re in an ecosystem where you’ll hit a point at a company where you say, I’ve done great things, I’ve learned a lot. I’m ready for it for the next step. And you move on and there are no broken hearts there at all. I am incredibly happy for all the experiences and learning how to Google. It was the right time for me to move on. And I think honestly, even if I had been offered a promotion or something to stay, it probably would have still been the right opportunity in time for me.
Lloyd Wahed: And this next phase, as we discussed the beginning of the podcast. You move to a different territory, say the difference. I’m not even considering the job. The title the size of company. Between working in America and then coming to London. How have you experience that?
Keith Grose: Yeah. So I think I think for me, what if you think about what made my decision right is like at that point I’d figured out I really wanted to be in fintech. So I knew an industry I wanted to be in. I wanted to be somewhere really small where I was going to have a ton of impact and I wanted it.
Keith Grose: I was a firm believer that this industry was sort of at the beginning of a wave. And so I think what at that point in my career, it was much more important to choose the wave than to choose the surfboard, so to speak. And so I actually went and looked at a bunch of different small companies. Some of the cryptocurrency industry, some more traditional ones. And I was trying to find my way. And actually, it was through an introduction of a friend of a mate I played football with that, introduced me to Plaid and said, look, if you’re really interested in fintech, you should go work at this company. That’s at the nexus of all the great fintechs that you’re considering. And I started looking into it and immediately was like, this is perfect for me. Like, I thought of it as working at Plaid. It’s essentially like buying into an index fund on fintech because we power so many of the big companies. I was going to. Get to meet and work hand-in-hand with so many great people in the industry that this is just the perfect place for me to be, and the role that I was interviewing for and that I was applying for was to help launch a startup within a startup. Take Plaid to Europe. Do something new. And so for me, just checked, ticked all the boxes.
Lloyd Wahed: And when was that? When did you join?
Keith Grose: I joined. I think I signed my offer on Thanksgiving Day of 2018.
Lloyd Wahed: Yeah. So at not point that, you know, five or six years matured. And then you tasks food coming over to you and building the whole culture. I want to talk about that. You know, I think of it beginning. So I ask what does the week. What does that look like? And then be told about Plaid and we went go through the whole career. And let’s get back to that, because it it’s really interesting. Like you say, you know what could be called an entrepreneur here or, you know, an entrepreneur within a larger, larger outfit, say, took the role, you’ve chosen the right way. You’ve clearly got better at that than beginning when you’re looking at mobile apps. And then explain to us what the journey has been like. What have you been focused on? What have you done?
Keith Grose: Yes. So the first portion of my role was essentially a product lead or a product manager for Europe. And a lot of my time was spent working hand-in-hand with our amazing engineering team to figure out what do we need to build to be successful in Europe? How do you need to change our product to fit a new market? And so it’s a lot of time doing analytics, being deep and JIRA, spending lots of time with with engineers again. And so my day was a lot of deep thinking and deep focus on sense of problem engineers who based in America at the time. They’re based in New York. Yes. And you know, so at this point, I was in sales still go and travel. And so I was half my time there, half my time travelling. Yeah. And so then I move over after a few months full time to be in London, boots on the ground talking to customers. And then I was interfacing back with engineers in San Francisco.
Lloyd Wahed: So did you choose the office?
Keith Grose: Yes I did, I chose our offices. I like touring all the co-working space is figured out where you’re gonna be. You know, I think I really wasn’t.
Lloyd Wahed: Where were you?
Keith Grose: Where right next to Spitalfields market. But you know, we’ll say shortage, you know, it’s close enough.
Lloyd Wahed: So you just you walk in from Haggerston to Shoreditch, it means it’s not an hour and 45 minutes anymore.
Keith Grose: No, absolutely. It’s much, much better life out here. But I think that the downside at that point, though, was and I think a lot of people have experienced this working across the ocean is I was working with an engineering team that was offset by eight hours. And so a lot of late nights just a lot of grind. I’d spend my days working with customers here and businesses here and my nights working with engineers in San Francisco. And so I think for me, that was a big lesson in learning how to sustain yourself, how to time manage better like a lot of this skill set. And I think you need to develop in your career to become a leader with sort of forged in the fire for me during the process of expansion. And then when I moved into taking on the GM role here and building now a sales team, my
day pivoted to less, focusing deeply on specific technical problems and more lots of time recruiting a great team, lots of time interfacing with customers, lots of time in back to back meetings where you’re doing lots of context switching and you just have to set up yourself mentally slightly different for those type of days, right? So now I do the Silicon Valley trope of meditating in the morning. And right now what are my big goals for the day and really trying to structure my time wisely because.
Lloyd Wahed: How do you meditate using an app like Kamal?
Keith Grose: So I actually use Headspace, right? Yeah, exactly.
Lloyd Wahed: How long does that take?
Keith Grose: I just do like a five to ten minute guided meditation. But I find it’s just that moment of OK, when your day is going to be back to back meetings the whole day, you need to make sure you have your headspace early in the morning and that you’ve cleared out and you’ve you’re focused on. These are the things I really need to get done. And if I’m not set up schedule-wise to focus on those things today, make those changes.
Lloyd Wahed: So you have those things in your calendar that you’re talking about affirmations also. You write down or bullet point, a number of things that the key goals for the day, is that right?
Keith Grose: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely.
Lloyd Wahed: What what was the goal this morning?
Keith Grose: I can’t tell you that. They are business secrets, but we’re where we’re working.So I have communications. I have to get out to regulators. It’s a big thing. I had a bunch of recruiting and final interviews and focus on I had the Mana Search podcast. I had to prep for. So it’s a. Things like that right here writing down like this is what needs to be accomplished this day. Because otherwise, the day can just consume you rather than you consuming the day.
Lloyd Wahed: So we’ve got as head Thomases. I think a parallel where you are doing a multitude of tasks and so will be, at the beginning of a day, write out the day plan. Plan C is obviously a bunch of stuff in your calendar, which is external internal meetings and priorities and tasks that scheduled. But just writing out, okay, this is what happened yesterday. Like here are the headline achievements that I need to try and really make sure that by the end of the day I’m working through and I’m taking off and then the end of the day will reflect on that again, just because one moment you’re interviewing your candidate about their career. This person might be incredibly senior. The next moment you might be talking to a start up who’s trying to hire a tranche of graduates. And you’re doing a podcast. You know you’re going on a coffee. It’s just all over the place. So the day can carry you away with it or you can try it out. And so I think whether you meditate formally or not, to have some headspace in the morning, you know, drink a cup, tea, whatever suits you, you have some peace and just reflect and think, okay, this is how I want to attack the day then to actually write it down, put it into affirmations so that it’s concrete seems to be what a lot of successful people do.
Keith Grose: I think you have to do it, especially when we’re at the stage of plateau. We’re growing faster than we can hire. Right. And so there’s always more to do than there are people to do it. So across the whole team, everyone’s wearing multiple hats. Right? Everyone is doing different jobs. And so you have to have this mentality and you have to also be a builder and be excited to think going back to my own research in and getting smart on things I enjoyed back at Google. You have to have that kind of mentality of, you know, maybe this wasn’t in my job description, but I’m going to figure out how I see it.
Lloyd Wahed: So as a startup, also, we’re looking for a number of things. One of them is proactivity, which I think is this research piece. If if if we set a task and we’ve got way too few people for the work that we’ve got, which is good in one way, but it can be stressful or it can be an opportunity. Then we’re looking for people to take the task on, but then actually to do additional work, have thought through what the solution might be presented back in preference to coming to us and like have failed the task. People are going to fail the whole time, right. That’s not necessarily a problem, but it’s how you think through proactively how to work through something. To them, we’re always iterating in a positive way, which makes me consider like, what are you looking for when you’re hiring? So that’s a very small business is scaling. You’ve obviously got this rip-roaring success, but when you’re in a different territory, creating in the culture a large part of the role. Amongst other things, is hiring. How have you gone about that? What are you looking for?
Keith Grose: Yeah, I think there are a few things. One of the big things so we have sort of our cultural pillars and plan things that we’re really big on. One is we’re looking for someone who’s transparent, humble, introspective, ambitious and acts with a sense of urgency. I think that comes with the builder mentality is what we call it. But this is the type of person that really wants to just make things happen. And to your point is going to be proactive. Why humble? I think humble is really important because there’s no room for ego when everyone’s doing everything right. It’s like part of my role is still stocking the shelves with water and figuring out where our office is going to be next and the things that are by definition not sexy, but they’re important and they have to get done. You can’t have people come in who their attitude is going to be. This is Teuton. This is not I’m too important for this. That just doesn’t fit with our culture. And there are some places where that matters and that works.
Keith Grose: But I think when you’re at a startup that’s sort of a red flag right off the bat is you have to come in. And if you’re the type of person where all that matters to you is title or salary. I think that those are things that sort of send out flags as well. Because what really matters is you want to build something great. You’re going to learn a ton and you recognize that this is going to be career making experience for you.
Lloyd Wahed: And how are you finding the challenge of getting both the people who on the CV on the paper experience is technically correct, but also them fit the pillars of culture.
Keith Grose: I think that’s the hardest part we take, I think a different tack than some other companies where we have quite a thorough interview process. And so we tend to have to interview 10s of candidates for a role before we find the person that we think is going to be. The right fit and it can be a taxing recruiting process. I think what that means is the people who make it all the way through are really hungry. They really want to be applied. They’re really excited about the opportunity. And so we tend to focus on hiring the right person, not the fastest person. And so I think it sort of depends on every individual company as to what their recruiting philosophy and style.
Lloyd Wahed: How are you assessing that they fit the culture. So this. There are different stages. What hard in is assessing that. Is it you or someone else asking open questions and assessing and personally putting them on various types of metrics? It’s a combination.
Keith Grose: So I think there are a few things. One is just they need to meet a good portion of the team, right. So it’s lots of data points. Is there someone that you’re going to want to sit next to and work every day? I think the other thing is for every one of our roles, we have a take-home type of assignment, which, you know, some folks don’t enjoy that part of the recruiting process. I think what it does tell you is how is this person going to actually function in the job that they’re doing to give them a time frame? We do give them a top. Yeah. Yeah. And so, you know, we’re not trying to have someone spend a week on this stuff. Right. We try and limited to a few hours, but it gives you a really great sense of how does this person think about a problem? How do they approach it? And then when they come back and walk you through it, you get a really good sense of culturally that, you know, these are real problems that people are going to be solving day by day sitting next to you. Is this going to be someone that fits the culture of how we solve problems? I think that’s a great way to figure it out.
Lloyd Wahed: And in terms of how you attracting the talents. Are you using any of the recruitment technology tools for talent acquisition? Have got yourself and a few people sat on LinkedIn? Are you using headhunter recruiters?.
Keith Grose: So we have an internal recruiting team and then we also just leverage our personal network, try and get out there. We host happy hours that function as recruiting events. We go to meetups all the time. We go to present at open banking or fintech events. So a lot of just brand building and finding someone because we really want someone who’s engaged in that industry here and is really excited about it. And so oftentimes those actually become great sources for us of finding the right people. And then it is a little bit of just doing the recruiting on your own, reaching out on LinkedIn, trying to find the right people and see if they’ll come to have a coffee with you. And it is a lot of you just have to dedicate time to it. You know, I think when you’re at this stage a lot of your day, if you’re building a company or a founder or launch new geography, 30 to 40 per cent of your day is recruiting.
Lloyd Wahed: So in particularly Silicon Valley and London, you know, Headhunters is a prolific to a certain stage, all of the certain philosophies. The company you buy into saving their own time for that talent to be introduced, well qualified. It sounds like you guys haven’t. What was the thinking there?
Keith Grose: So I think we haven’t because the what we’re looking for right now, I think fits more of our internal culture. And we have our own internal recruiting team. And that works, I think, for certain roles. It’s definitely been something that Plaid has done in the past and we’ll probably do again in the future. But it’s not something that we do to scale entire teams. I think part of that is because we really like to keep the reins on our own process. And so I think it depends on the company again as to what the right fit is. I think there are people where it definitely works well and I think for certain roles, again, it is definitely the right way to approach hiring. But I think right now, the way that we’re trying to build our culture and scale it go to the market team and an engineering team here, we’d rather have the leaders and recruiting team focus on that internally because it’s it’s such a critical part of building a successful team. I think when you think about where we are in the market with open banking just getting started and Plaid being such an integral part of this and trying to build this pan-European presence here for us, the biggest thing I can focus time on right now is trying to build a great team that’s going to continue to get us there.
Lloyd Wahed: You speak with such passion about this culture. Of course, you’ve created and you’re a year and a half into the journey of having done that and how you’ve recruited in the process you use. Hey look, you guys have a fantastic brand. So what we tend to find is if there’s a fantastic brand, it’s a sudden rapid scale. Then you get an abundance of applicants. And it’s as much about selecting from that and making sure that that was on point as possible. Culturally, technically and so on and so forth. But of course, tech has an issue with diversity.
Lloyd Wahed: How have you? Well, have you looked to address that in your own business?
Keith Grose: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s something that is incredibly important to us when we’re recruiting applied. I think part of what has made the culture so great is that we’ve brought in people with an incredibly diverse range of backgrounds, education, what they were doing before, what they’re passionate about. And so I think when you put all that together, it honestly reminds me a little bit about my boarding school, which is probably why I like it so much, where it’s just a bunch of great smart people who are totally different slammed together in this business, building something awesome. And I think great examples of some of that is is one. What it leads to is we ended up sort of organically creating something we called platter days, which is a hackathon.
Keith Grose: We do we actually have our next one coming up in a couple of weeks where everyone just spends two or three days, stops doing everything and just focuses on hacking together something new. And actually, some of Plaid products long term have come out of that type of thing. But if you start doing engagement like that, you will bring in a really diverse set of folks. I think it’s really important to make sure when you’re doing of recruitment and interview process that you’re stepping back and not hiring people who are like you. Right. That’s the hardest thing to do, is to step back and make sure that you’re bringing in people who are going to challenge your thinking, who are going to come with a different point of view. And I think that’s what diversity can bring to your business and make it more sustainable longer-term because I think you don’t realize the blind spots that you have. And so you bring in somebody who’s going to point those out to you. And that’s the real strength of why I think diversity is a key focus and should be a key focus for anyone trying to scale a team right now.
Lloyd Wahed: And over the next few years, what’s your aims? What’s your vision?
Keith Grose: Yeah, I think there’s a there’s a couple of things. One is I think we definitely want to continue to expand and grow. I think we have a great start, an amazing product. But I think obviously there’s more to Europe than just the U.K. and the countries that we’re operating in today. So I think you’ll see you’ll see Plaid growing and expanding. I think the other thing, though, is that what’s become a buzzword now of open banking is really just about access to, for
consumers to their checking and payment accounts data, their current account data. I should say, I think you’re going to see a shift to open finance and you’re already starting to see regulators and open banking implementation entity in some of these folks in the industry talking about that and what it means.
Keith Grose: And I think one thing that Plaid is really passionate about and that we really drive, drive and have driven in the US is that consumers financial data is their own. They should own it, be able to access it if they want to, and be able to port it to a new service if they want to. And that goes far beyond your current account data. Right. Like if you’re a consumer and you have a mortgage, why should you be able to easily connect to another service and have them look at your rates and say, oh, actually, we can give you a much better rate than this or consolidate your student debt with one of our customers, for example. SoFi in the US will help with where student debt is a much bigger problem. That data used to be behind locked doors and Plaid helps unlock that and create great services that ultimately will benefit consumers. And so I think you’re going to see this shift from open banking to the new buzzword being open finance, which is about giving consumers access their entire financial lives so that they can really improve their financial health. And I think that will ultimately benefit consumers long term.
Lloyd Wahed: A lot of the guests we’ve had on the podcast so far, if we get to that mana part of why they’re doing this. What’s the mission that they’re related with? Whatever company they’re in, it’s somewhere around,after the financial crisis having wanted to contribute to making finance more trusted.
Lloyd Wahed: And then right now being excited about some of the things that have just prevented people who could afford some things actually be able to afford them free, sensible credit ratings, just sensible access to sharing of data. So what’s the buzz word?
Keith Grose: Open finance.
Lloyd Wahed: It sounds like it is brilliant when that comes about and therefore, you know how. Who knows how long you’ll be part of the mission with Plaid and trying to make that.
Keith Grose: I think there are many, many more years of things to do. I think that open finance is going to take time. But I mean, I think I would echo that motivation, like having got started in my career right after the financial crisis, seen what it did to folks and thinking about how do we build trust and access back into this ecosystem and what could that mean for people if it if it’s out there? I think that is what drives me and what drives a lot of the folks at Plaid. And I think. Still early days for that, so I’m excited to see where it goes and, you know, knock on wood that there isn’t another huge recession in the wings at this point. But I think I think there’s still a long way to go to provide real healthy options to consumers out there.
Lloyd Wahed: But, you know, if there is an assumption that there’ll be some form of recession, it doesn’t always need to be as dramatic as the last one then. Actually, some of these solutions will help people through that time. Right. Because you on necessarily in some type of defaulting product because of the open access. So you can’t stop the economy from having a recession, but you might be able to prevent some of the dramatic effects it had on less fortunate people last time. And actually there.
Keith Grose: Yeah, Absolutely. Like you’re trying to help build a floor underneath people. Right. And I think part of that falls on the government. But part of it falls on the market. And I think there are great businesses to be made helping people through those things. They don’t necessarily have to be diametrically opposed.
Lloyd Wahed: And you get to look at a lot of them because you serve them through Plaid. But just broadly, generally in the market right now in fintech, is there a particular company or area that you’re really focused on and excited about?
Keith Grose: Yeah, well, I guess I’ll highlight one company that I’m personally passionate about, but I think I think Cleo is doing a great job of helping this for young people. Right. So you can connect all of your accounts and it will help you figure out how to save more. Right. And how to be live a healthier life. And I think you’re going to move towards a world of automated savings over time. And so I think there are lots of companies trying to attack that space. And I think that would be really interesting when you get to this point where you can trust a program to run your financial life better than you. And then there’s a ton of value in that. I know I personally would find a lot of value in that. But you have to build up that level of trust and security. I think that’s something that, again, Plaid is really important, plays an important part in the ecosystem is to make sure that you’re building trust with the user, that we’re safeguarding your life or we’re safeguarding your data. We care about it as passionately as you, so they can then trust your service and trust that you’re going to bring them value.
Lloyd Wahed: Very commendable, Keith. What an exciting creative habit. Absolutely. Pleasure having you on the podcast. Thank you so much for your time. Thank you for having me.
Also published on Medium.