"Any startup is the sum of the small nudges in many directions" – Nicky Goulimis, Co-Founder and COO of Nova CreditFeatured

Hi Elpha, I’m Nicky Goulimis co-founder and COO of Nova Credit, a cross-border consumer reporting agency with direct integrations into leading bureaus around the world. Our vision is to build the global architecture for financial identity so that every immigrant can realize their potential. Prior to founding Nova I was a consultant at Bain & Company where I worked with a number of European retail banks. My career began in international development at nonprofits where I spent some time in Ethiopia and Uganda. I’m passionate about fintech, financial inclusion, systemic innovation and the challenges immigrants face when starting a new life in a new location. Ask me anything about company building, team building, fintech, cross-border operations, fundraising, strategy, operations, partnerships or anything else!
Thanks so much for joining us for an AMA this week, Nicky!As a reminder: this conversation is part of our ongoing series with people in the Elpha community doing amazing work.Nicky will be answering your questions throughout this week. Please note that she may not have time to answer all your questions, so we'll be sorting questions by popularity based on most emojis 😄.
You spent the beginning of your career in the nonprofit space, something I feel is quite uncommon amongst venture backed founders. How has that experience influenced the way you run your startup?
Abadesi :wave:,Congrats again on all the Elpha progress!!!To start: at Nova, our mission is to enable immigrants to realize their potential. That's a pretty lofty goal and we're still very early in our journey -- we can't yet help all immigrants, or serve all usecases. Many startups talk about their impact in phases: first we'll build a product for one segment, then we'll grow in X way, then we'll do Y, and then....then we'll be able to have enough success to expand access and reach our mission. (I remember one company that makes cookie dough for US supermarkets but talks about how its mission is self-stable food for developing countries). At Nova, we try to think about this differently. We are of course constrained by the reality of building a business (and the importance of focus!). But we believe in embedding impact early on -- from partnering with NGOs to offer our product at a different price, to volunteering with the IRC, to providing education and services to our end-consumers beyond credit. We never want to lose sight of our mission.Very interested to see how this plays out for Elpha!
"Embedding impact early on" I love that! Thank you.
I love the idea of ethical FinTech. How are you addressing possible privacy and security issues for sharing personal financial data?
Hallo Katharine!That is such a deep & nuanced question. I'll attempt to answer it here but happy to discuss in more details. It also looks like you're an expert on this topic ;-)!!On the privacy side, our business is powered by "consumer consent": the notion that consumers own and should be able to manage their own data. It's the only way we can move data across borders. So we seek to honour that in all parts of our product -- always sending consumers copies of their data, handling their disputes, and investing in consumer education. We're also regulated under the FCRA in the US so we have opted for a model that makes us subject to a lot of data privacy and consumer protection requirements.On the security side, this has been a core problem of our industry. We have an advantage in using cutting-edge technologies as well as having an incredible team leading this (our Head of Eng is a 3-time fintech CTO and CISO). We have completed and passed several audits (ISO 27001, and SOC2) and we hold ourselves to a very robust ongoing infosec review process (including running several very fun tabletop exercises roleplaying the impact of an engineer being kidnapped etc).
Cool! I'm also happy to chat more about financial data security and privacy if that's of interest to your CiSO or data science team. We are working with a large German financial software provider as they move into machine learning -- so I have a lot of learnings on legal requirements as well as the challenges of financial datasets!
Would you shed some light on how you transitioned from non-profit to consulting to fin-tech? Did you've a learning curve changing domains and what challenges did you encounter?
Hi Ankita,Thank you for your question. To be honest, a lot of my transitions were accidental and led by an opportunity/interest. I worked in international development because I believed in the opportunity to have a social impact by growing economies. I then entered consulting because I wanted to learn skills & how the business world works. And I did a startup because I fell in love with a team and a problem. I definitely believe that longterm plans are important but I'm most often motivated by curiosity and jump at the opportunity to add another dimension to myself. Non-linear careers seem so enriching to me, and I hope that we can admire & elevate them more. I think what matters most is having clarity on the underlying values that motivate you and making choices accordingly.In terms of learning curves, I actually think a lot of jobs are pretty similar. Across all my jobs, I've been eager to do a good job, to meet and respectfully learn from industry leaders, and to work in a well-aligned and high-performing team. So basically all my jobs have been made up of meetings, email, excel, word docs. At a strategic level, the clarity of a for-profit goal vs. a for-good goal gets more nuanced today where I work in a company that considers itself a social enterprise. And the other difference for me in my job today is how much I spend talking to people!Perhaps one more thought on challenges -- sometimes it is hard not being an expert in a topic. I work in fintech and I honestly still can't fully explain how payments work. That said, I just embrace the ignorance and try to always ask as many questions as possible. And people always answer! In fact, I think learning how to ask questions comfortably is a superpower -- and it's something that we actually focus on in our interviews at Nova ("were they able to use questions to learn more").I hope this answers your question and of course happy to address any follow-ups!
Was your previous experience as a consultant at Bain good prep for running your own company? Which skills have been most transferrable?
Cadran :wave:!Congrats on all the official Elpha launch and for building this amazing community!Seeing as I'm an ex-consultant (;-)) I'll answer your question in three bullet points. The following skills were the most transferrable:1. Strategy: In every role, an individual is delivering on a part of the company's strategy. Consulting taught me to always think about the connection between my day-to-day work and the company's bigger picture, and thus to seek opportunities work to enhance my contribution. This can mean taking the time to evaluate some additional growth areas, being super-rigourous about prioritization, saying "no", or investing in aligning around a common vision as a team so that everyone becomes a strategic owner.2. Organizational dynamics: Even as a small startup, we constantly have to make difficult decisions. And we work with very large enterprises (as our customers and our suppliers) and we see a lot of how their organizations handle making decisions. This is so important: getting any change to happen is not just about the what (is this change right or wrong?) but also about the how (are we able to make a decision? Will we feel good about the decision we've made?). Consulting taught me the importance of spending time understanding how decisions are made, when and how to deliberate over them. At Nova, we've invested significantly in clarifying decision rights to make sure individuals are empowered to make decisions fast while getting input from others. And we've noticed that we sometimes have to do similar exercises with our customers (including spending hours drawing their org charts!).3. Feedback: Consulting drilled into me the value of always seeking feedback/ ways of improving. I love getting feedback -- over slack, in person, really at any time --, as it helps shape my work. I'm grateful for others taking a risk and sharing their opinion, and giving me a chance to improve. And I don't believe that there is perfection, but always opportunities to make something better -- which is so fun to keep finding new levels of good. And of course I would really value any feedback on this AMA!But I have to admit, I've LOVED the transition to operator. I love making the sausage/ knowing how it's made -- and getting to learn by making practical mistakes. I love being part of a small team where we achieve amazing things together aligned with a common mission.
My question is about creating a team. My background is in communications and so my technical network isn’t very strong. What do you think is the best way to build professional relationships with people who have technical backgrounds (in roles such as coding) when you don’t have any connections in the technical field?Side Note: I’m from the UK.
Hello Chansey,So nice to meet a fellow Brit!It's all about hustle & humanity. You've got to hustle to find yourself in the same places as them -- meetups, friends of friends, reaching out cold (trust me, it works!). And then connect with them as humans and share some of your own self. I think so many technical folks are exhausted by people trying to enlist them that they really appreciate when people just listen to them and talk more about their life thoughts.Go get 'em!
Thanks. I’ve been to a few networking events but after this, I think i’ll begin making it a priority! All the best! x
What tools or process do you use to discover when a company is ready for a partnership with a startup?
Hey Layla,Not sure I should be answering this. I remember being devastated and completely flabbergasted when we were 3 people and a public company told us we were too small & early for a partnership.Some partnerships take years so my view is that it's worth starting as early as possible. It means you get the product and go-to-market insights that you need to succeed. Just a little of building a plane while flying.That said, I'm generally against doing channel partnerships early. If you can't yet sell your own product, you shouldn't expect someone else to be able to do it.Good luck!
I read that you started Nova Credit as a school project while completing your MBA at Stanford. What do you see as the biggest advantages and disadvantages of starting a company while in school? How did you and your co-founders decide to commit to the startup full-time after graduating rather than accepting a job offer?
Hi Malena!Advantages:- You get to really dig deep into your business model. We used the academic setting to really analyse our approach on everything from the impact of Policy changes to our business, to writing a marketing plan.- You get to test out co-founders in a low risk space. Getting to know and work with your co-founders is so important. They're your allies in tough times and you must have total trust. I am so grateful to have had the time to get to work with Loek and Misha, and become so excited to build something together (and know that our relationship could withstand it).- Your official business start-date is a little earlier, ha! (this only matters if you're working on enterprise partnerships!)Disadvantages:- I see a lot of startups start in school not really move forward. Probably because a lot of folks aren't necessarily taking it that seriously -- which can be frustrating to their co-founders.- School is a major investment in yourself, and doing a startup detracts from that. You miss out on key learning and fun.Our decision-making process was an individual one as well as collective. After working together for a little while, we all went away for spring break and thought a lot about it. Eventually, we all said that we wanted to do it and committed together. Although you never quite know what you've committed to ;-)
How are you determining which markets for Nova to enter at this early stage? Is it based on superusers/metrics or potential blue oceans discovered through research?
Hi again!I think the hard part about startups is actually making decisions with imperfect data, and feeling okay about it. So of course, we do a lot of analysis on what is the size of the market / how much value can our product provide / how fast and easily can we execute in that market. But there isn't a perfect answer -- no amount of analysis leads to an obvious answer (if it did, then your company would exist). So we try to learn by testing, and also being guided by our mission.
How do you balance building a product for the partners you have vs. the partners you want to support in the future?
Hi there EBD!That's a really really hard question. And I think the core challenge of any product roadmap -- every company has tension around what should or shouldn't be prioritised and Product Management is one of the hardest jobs out there.Our amazing PM has been using the RICE framework to make roadmap decisions. I also really liked this FRC article (below) which articulates different stages of the product journey: from pioneering (building for new partners), to settling (improving features for existing customers) , to town planning/ building (growing). realise I've entirely dodged answering your question, though.
What do you wish you understood when you were in the early stages of building your company?
Hi Amy,There are so so many! I actually love this question, and would like to sit down and document it properly to myself one day.Maybe I'll leave you with just one thought: it takes a village. We often focus on one moment or other as being make-or-break for a startup (that big pitch meeting, that one product launch etc). But really any startup is the sum of the small nudges in many directions. We've had successes that have been driven by a random good gesture years ago, or virality due to a high quality post we'd forgotten we'd written, or a systems breakthrough by really combing through and benchmarking our peers. To me, this means that all the small things do, really, matter. And it ultimately raises the bar for excellence. Which is both stressful, and also kinda motivating!
I´m Samara from Mexico City, currently also working in a fintech project, I would love to know more about your solutions.
Thanks Samara! If you move to the US one day then we might be able to help you get credit...I've added our company blurb and website here, and of course happy to answer any further questions. are a mission-driven company solving the problem of credit access for immigrants. Our underlying platform is a proprietary solution which enables immigrants to transport their credit histories around the world, fully integrated with international credit databases, allowing lenders global access through a single API. In short, we're the global platform for financial identity mobility.
I used to work in Fintech at an awesome company, Aura- micro lending for the most financially marginalized populations. Definitely recommend checking them out!
Oh awesome! I remember y'all as Insiikt! We've actually been partnering with y'all for a little while --hopefully more soon.
Thanks Elpha for all your great questions and huge thanks to @NickyG for your candid, thorough and thoughtful reflections.This AMA is now closed.