The Founder's Legacy with Brett Allred, Chief Product Officer, MX
About this episode
Today, Sam will be talking to Brett, Chief Product Officer at MX, and they discuss the early days of MX, the legacy of their recently passed Co-founder and CTO Brandon Dewitt, and how he's striving to follow in Brandon's footsteps.
Brett Allred is the Chief Product Officer at MX: a fintech company that aims to connect people with their financial data in a way that automates their money experience. Brett started his career as an entrepreneur before joining MX as an early employee. He left MX to lead Nuvi, a social media reputation management company, growing it from a small startup to an international market leader. He's since returned to MX in a leadership role.
Sam Kothari (00:00:01): Welcome back to another episode of Launch Lessons, where we have honest conversations with founders and investors of successful global scale-ups to unpack key lessons along their growth journey. Today, I'm talking to Brett Allred. Brett is the Chief Product Officer at MX, a fintech company that aims to connect people with their financial data in a way that automates their money experience. Brett started his career as an entrepreneur before joining MX as an early employee. He left to lead Nuvi, a social media reputation management company, growing it from a small startup to an international market leader. He's since returned to MX in a leadership role. We'll be discussing the early days of MX, the legacy of their recently passed co-founder and CTO, Brandon Dewitt, and why Brett is striving to follow in Brandon's footsteps. All of this and more right now on the Launch Lessons podcast.
Brett Allred (00:00:50): This is like, pre-internet era. I got really into computers. My dad brought home a computer, a PC back. We played computers. We did a few things, but one day he got a modem, and we were able to dial up into America online back then. Just at a pretty young age, I fell in love with computers and started with modem games and just dialling in. Then eventually, I'd break the computer, and then my dad would take it in, get it fixed, and then he'd bring it back. I'd break it. He'd take it in, get it fixed. After about three or four times of doing that, he's like, "look, if you keep breaking the computer, I am not going to go take it and get it fixed. It's really expensive."
Brett Allred (00:01:34): Now, being a kid, you just don't really listen. And I broke it again, and he held the line. He said, "Hey, I'm not taking it back, and you better figure out how to fix it." And that was my first foray into troubleshooting computers. So from there, I really found a personal passion for computers. Then networking came on the scene. Obviously, the internet came about, and high-speed computers and bandwidth, really. And I just fell in love with computers. Got into programming. Did IT a lot.
Brett Allred (00:02:11): There was a time I remember it, it was when Salesforce was just brand new, and they were out pitching this no software movement. They're like, "Hey, no software." They're talking about this idea of running an application in a browser. I remember seeing that and being like, "wow, this is really amazing." The industry, as I understand it, is going to shift. We're going from CD-based software to software delivered online. And that will probably be the biggest shift in computation that will happen in my lifetime. And I really need to make sure I'm understanding this, what we now call SaaS. It wasn't called that back then, but I really need to make sure I'm understanding web-based applications, distributed system architecture, and how you can actually deliver a web application through the internet.
Brett Allred (00:03:05): Anyway, so that was a pivotal moment for me, learning about that concept, the software movement. I learned the Apex programming language, developed a bunch of stuff on Salesforce's platform and then went on from there.
Brett Allred (00:03:22): So through that journey of learning software development, particularly for the web, we could go into a lot of different areas, but built a lot of different startups and then had the opportunity to go work with a local startup called Money Desktop at the time. And they had a really cool mission, which was to empower the world to be financially strong. And the premise of Money Desktop when I started was, there's all of this data that the banks have. As banks are now being able to be connected to, and there's a way to get this data, if we could enrich and cleanse and improve this data, we could actually build really powerful tools that would help users improve their financial life. And with the power of financial data, when it's cleansed, and it's enriched, and it's classified, we could do some really impactful things.
Brett Allred (00:04:16): So I was an engineer on the Money Desktop team for a while. Then about a year and a half into my journey at Money Desktop, I got a call from a venture capitalist group that said, "Hey, we've got a new company that we've invested in." It's a completely different space. It was in social media analytics. And they said, "Hey, we want to change out the management a little bit. Would you be willing to come over?" And I looked at it and said, yeah, sure.
Brett Allred (00:04:43): At the time, there were about 13 employees that was called Nuvi, and I was there for four years. We grew it to about 120 employees and then sold it. When leaving, when I was done transitioning, the Money Desktop guys called me back. At that point they had rebranded to MX and said, "Hey, would you like to come back and run product?" And we went through the discussions, and that's what brought me back to MX. That was about four years ago. So that's the book-ends of my journey, and happy to jump in anywhere you want. But that's a little bit how I got to where I am today.
Sam Kothari (00:05:25): Thanks for sharing that. I think that it is just fascinating that curiosity that you displayed as a kid growing up with computers, understanding that space. That insight, that you... I'd love to double click on that insight around understanding that realisation that software as a service or that the web-based applications are going to be a thing. Was that when you were in college? When you were working? What was that realisation? When did that moment happen, and how did that influence your decisions in your career?
Brett Allred (00:05:52): Yeah. So, double-clicking there. At that time of my life, I went through this little stint in my early twenties. I would've been 22. I loved computers. I loved computation. But for some reason, I had this idea that I wouldn't go into computers professionally. And I'm like, "you know what, it's a hobby for me. It's a passion for me. I'm not going to work at it because I don't want this passion and this hobby to just become a slog." So I determined I wasn't going to do it.
Brett Allred (00:06:22): So instead, I started a company that was importing products from China. I travelled over to China, went all over the place, learning how to source products from China, brought in containers and was doing a whole bunch of work that way.
Brett Allred (00:06:36): Well, what happened was, we needed a way to inventory all of the products that were coming from China and the products that we were inventorying had a complex system that would be considered like a matrix-based inventory management system. So it was very complicated, and I was looking for solutions that I could buy off the shelf. I called a bunch of places, and I was talking to people about solutions, and they were all of these; I'll call them IT systems, CD-based install systems. They were hundreds of thousands of dollars. I was running a little startup. I didn't have a hundred, $200,000 a year for a licensing subscription to Microsoft dynamics, which said that they could do this matrix-based inventory.
Brett Allred (00:07:23): So I started realising like, "Hey, maybe I could just build this myself." I knew how to program. I knew a lot about computers. So it was when I was actually researching how to build a matrix-based inventory system that I came across this idea of delivering applications over the web and thought, "Hey, maybe I should build it doing that." Long story short, I built this system on the Salesforce platform using the Apex programming language, and it was digging into that whole ecosystem that I saw, "whoa, this is powerful." Like I mentioned before, computation, as I know it, is shifting, and it is shifting now. And it was in that moment, I decided I am going to get back into tech. I'm going to do this professionally. This is a massive opportunity, and I want to take advantage of it. And that's when I switched my mindset back to, "yes, I want to make a profession out of this." When that all happened, I was about 24, 25.
Sam Kothari (00:08:23): Out of interest. What was the product that you were importing and selling?
Brett Allred (00:08:27): We were importing construction materials. This would've been in the 2006, 2007 time range. The housing economy in the United States was just going gangbusters. And people were throwing up these massive multi-unit developments all over the place. So two, three, 400-unit townhome or condominium complexes. So we would bring in cabinets and sinks and faucets and granite, and all kinds of stuff to do these massive developments. It was trying to track all of that and orchestrate all of that we needed inventory management and, not to get too deep into it, but we ended up building a system where our sales people could quote out a job or a big project. Then it would calculate all of the build schedules and everything else we need to do, send it off to China, and then it would handle everything in between so that we could then get the product.
Sam Kothari (00:09:22): It's very different to starting a business, doing something direct to consumer. It sounds like you went in on a different pathway. That's real B2B. I'm sure the volumes would've been huge, the long order cycles and things like that. How did you get, I guess, the courage to start venturing into that space? Even flying to China and starting to source and figure that out. I'm sure the language barrier would've been difficult as well. Where's the courage to run at some of these challenges coming from?
Brett Allred (00:09:56): Motivation is kind of a mystery. I've tried to figure out where it comes from. Because if you look at... Where I've thought about it in this context is me compared to my family members. There's this drive inside that I just want to go try it. You talked about curiosity before. I think that's probably what it is. If I was to boil it down to one idea. Just super curious and having the belief that all things are possible. You can go out, and you can try it. You can give it a go. And I probably learned that from computers in my early days. Because I started learning, "hey, if you read," I would've been 13 years old, I could read all of this stuff about computers and then I could go do it.
Brett Allred (00:10:51): Just realising that if you let the curiosity drive and you're not too rigid, then there's opportunity. So the first time I went to China, it was that curiosity type of a trip. Let's go over and just see what it's like. Let's go meet people. We found down in Guangzhou they have the Canton fair, and it's a huge trade show. We're like, "let's just go to the trade show and just see." Later I've learned, people say half of success is just showing up. It's putting your rod in the river. And for me, it was really, could we do this? What if? Let's try it. And trying to protect yourself on the downside as much as possible, but still, it was, "We're young, and who cares. Let's go."
Sam Kothari (00:11:41): I really love the curiosity comment, but also that willingness to have a go and give it a crack. I'm interested in your first foray into MX. You would've been a fairly early hire in the team. It would've been quite small and growing. What drew you to join Money Desktop? What was the appeal, and what was it like working in that small team and growing and building the product?
Brett Allred (00:12:07): In Utah, where I grew up, there's a company called Vivint, which does home security automation. Big company. And their CTO was a friend and a mentor of mine. I was talking to them about my just personal journey and getting some advice, and what's the next step? Because I'd done a lot in the startup world. Like I had just talked about, "Hey, we're importing." And I was building all of this software, and I had worked at a number of different startups and was... And when I'm saying startups, I'm talking like two people, five people, ten people, starting at the ground level and then building from there. As I was talking to him about my own personal growth path, he said, "Hey, I would suggest you go work for a company that has a little bit of a bigger engineering team. That's like a 20 or 30-person engineering team because you're going to learn a different perspective of engineering at that level than just at the ground level."
Brett Allred (00:13:03): And Money Desktop happened to be across the street. And he said, "This company is about this size. You should really go check them out." As fate would have it, one of their lead engineers was a friend of mine from high school. So I called him up, and his name was BJ. And I said, "Hey, BJ, I'm interested in Money Desktop. I've heard good things." And he invited me over, and he said, "Look, you need to come over. You need to meet our CTO. His name is Brandon Dewitt, and come meet Brandon and talk with him."
Brett Allred (00:13:37): So I went over there, and I met Brandon for the first time, and I was just blown away. He was so smart. So articulate. I had never met somebody that could go so deep in the principles of computer science, we'll say, as Brandon. He was so deep. And I was like, I want to be around that. And I am a believer that you are the average of the five people that you spend the most time with. Then just by being around good people and being open and flexible, you'll level up. That's a good, strong way to level up your own skills. So I said, "I need to go do this. I need to spend time with Brandon." It took me about six months to actually make the leap and say, "I'm going to go from being an entrepreneur at a startup, doing this stuff, to having a job. Just working as a software development engineer."
Brett Allred (00:14:35): But I did it, and I loved it. In the early days, I met so many super-smart people and people that were just really, really smart. I got to surround myself with very intelligent people. In the early days... Oh man, I could go. I don't want to go on a tangent. Maybe I'll pause right there. Happy to go into anywhere about MX. It was cool because we were building and we were discovering what to build, but yet we were talking with financial institutions. We'd go meet with big banks. Even though we were a small company, we were building really, really cool technology that made a difference for the banks. So it was just a different level. And because of my background in startups and running businesses, I had the opportunity as an engineer to travel around and meet a lot of these financial institutions and talk to their CTOs and their executive team and get involved at that level, which was really, really exciting.
Sam Kothari (00:15:43): I'm interested in that. That sounds like a fascinating journey, and we'll double-click on Brandon and your relationship with him a little bit later. What made you a good early hire? Because clearly they obviously, after you left, wanted you back. So there was something special that you had to... I think being an early employee, you went from being in the startup scene, running your own thing, to now being an early employee. One, what was that transition like? Because there may have been a more of a lack of autonomy, you're not your own boss, you've got a paycheck, you've got to rock up to work. So how was that transition? And I think the second part of my question is, what makes a good early employee? What were you doing to add value that was different to... When your employee number 1,000 versus number 20, 30.
Brett Allred (00:16:28): I'll hit on the first question. The transition was actually really, really good. This may sound crazy, but when you're an early startup doing your own thing or being the first five or really young 10 people or less, there's no difference between work and life. It is one thing. So 100% of the time, 24/7, 365, it doesn't matter if it's Christmas, it doesn't matter if it's New Year's. Nothing matters. You are on. You are working. You are thinking about work. When you're in charge of making payroll, you are thinking about work all the time.
Brett Allred (00:17:07): And I remember the transition in the first year, we got to Christmas time and MX, they were Money Desktop at the time, they had this Christmas shutdown. So they would shut down the business from the 25th of December to the 3rd of January, and everyone was off no work. And I remember that experience, and my wife, she was like, "this is the most amazing thing I've ever had the opportunity to be a part of. You didn't work for eight days straight. That has never happened."
Brett Allred (00:17:41): Now, I had been married for probably nine years at that point. In the nine or 10 years of marriage, that has never happened. We go on vacation and your work, work, work. So the transition, I actually liked it. I know some people talk about the rat race and other things of being part of jobs. But until you've been in the grind of just working for years and years and years on your own, or in a small group where you are responsible for everything, you don't realise how great it is, even a holiday. "Hey, it's Memorial Day, and we're going to take the day off." So for me, I actually really liked the experience. Honestly, it was a very good transition.
Brett Allred (00:18:23): So I didn't know this at the time, but looking back, I think I've since learned this. Just for reference, where I got the concept from was the company Valve. They have the Valve company handbook. And for any of the audience, if you haven't read it, go search. It's really cool. They have some really, really great alternative concepts to running a business and hiring and how to just run a company in general. But in the valve company handbook, they have this idea about a T-shaped employee, and they say, "We really want people who are T-shaped that they have a broad range of skills and they can cover a lot of different areas, but yet they do have one area that they can go deep in and they're experts, they're pros at that thing. But yet, they're pretty..." Growing up, I used the term well-rounded. They're pretty well-rounded people.
Brett Allred (00:19:21): So what I think was a good benefit for me going in is that I was, I would say, T-shaped. I was a well-rounded employee. I could get in with finance, and I understood accounting. The fundamentals of accounting. And I could look at a P&L, and I could look at a balance sheet and a statement of cash flows, and I could read it and understand it. That's not really the role of a software engineer, but I could do that. I understood marketing and not really deep, but marketing 101. How to generate a lead, how to create an ad, how to do basic internet marketing and understanding the flow of a buyer journey that how people come in and actually buy software.
Brett Allred (00:20:04): You go into some of these different areas. So it just, especially when it's early, I could just contribute in a lot of different ways than just software engineering. And I don't mean to downplay software engineering because that's what I love and that's my passion, but we would be building things and having ideas and then meeting with clients, and I could put the whole picture together and be like, "oh, look. This is a product that we could take to the market. Maybe this is how we could price it. Maybe this is how we could pay for it. Maybe this is how we could capitalise it. And this is how the R&D tax credit would work." You just know a lot about a lot of different things. And early on, that is very, very beneficial. Now, as you get bigger and bigger and bigger, you're generally looking for hyper-focused experience and super depth. I'll say PhD-level depth because you need those specialists, but early on, those T-shaped employees are invaluable.
Sam Kothari (00:21:02): That's really helpful. I think that is almost the concept of a generalist, but then with a degree of depth to help drive an area and function, but being able to substitute in and add an opinion on other areas. What about from an attitude or mindset perspective? I've been at Airwallex, and it feels very chaotic often all the time, but there's a lot of challenges that come with working in a startup environment. What mindset do you think is important to contribute well and continue on that journey? Because often, I think one reflection I've had is it often feels like a sprint, but it's a marathon. You have to work at it for a very long time, but it feels like a sprint almost every day. So talk to me about your mindset and how that's been helpful.
Brett Allred (00:21:52): Yeah. So I'll give some very tactical things on the mindset and then maybe some higher-level things. You're right that it feels like a sprint, and there's a lot of chaos, but it is a marathon. You have to have the longevity to make it. So when I went and transitioned to MX, sorry, Money Desktop. I'll use those interchangeably, MX and Money Desktop. But when I was at Money Desktop, I started doing MMA in the morning. So I'd go box or learn jujitsu. There was an MMA gym, and look, I'm a software engineer. I'm not a fighter. I'm not built and tough or any of that. But I started exercising really, really hard in the morning, harder than I ever had. And I found that when I got to work, my mind was, it was an outlet for all of the stress.
Brett Allred (00:22:42): So my mind was very, very clear and having something that you can focus on, especially if you can do it in the morning, you can focus on, and it requires your full attention that you can't be thinking about work. You can't be thinking about problems. So MMA was a big one for me when I started, and I did that while I was at MX or at Money Desktop. Later, I got into downhill mountain biking, which is very similar. You have to be a hundred per cent focused. For the last two years, I've been really into surfing. Surfing is the same way. Big waves come in, you got to duck, dive, or you got to drop in. You're not thinking about anything.
Brett Allred (00:23:20): So on the mindset side, first of all, is to find something that can just take you away and get your adrenaline rush, get your focus, take you away from work. I think that's really helpful with your mindset. The second thing is, and this is in software engineering, but you could apply it to a lot of different skills. I had this mindset that there were two halves of the day. There was morning and the afternoon. And when I came in the morning, my goal was before lunch, I was going to write enough code to get a poll request out. And I don't know how technical the audience is, but it's basically a change to the code that is complete and that you can take up to production. So I'd start the morning with a very clear goal, get a poll request out. Then I would go to lunch, and I would just release. I wouldn't think about it. I'd try to go with people and take a break.
Brett Allred (00:24:12): Then I would come back, and in the afternoon, I'd either have meetings, or I would do another poll request. I'd try to say before the end of the day I'm going to get another poll request out. And my goal was always to get two poll requests a day, assuming I didn't have meetings in those days, two poll requests a day. What that did for me mentally was it put me on a cadence that was aggressive, but it wasn't going to burn me out. But I had this little mantra that I would say, "make measurable progress and reasonable time." And every day, I just need to make measurable progress. In a day eight-hour work day, a 10-hour work day is enough time to make some progress. But I saw a lot of people that would just spin and spin and spin, and they weren't making consistent progress every single day.
Brett Allred (00:24:59): And I just found, if you can find a way every day, make progress. Sometimes the days, one-day, two-day, three-day, it may not look like you've made a ton of progress, but you go 30 days and look back, and you are just blown away with what you've been able to accomplish. Just to use a story from MX, or Money Desktop, early days. I did a couple projects, and then Brandon said, "Hey, I want you to take on this really challenging project. We have to rip out a bunch of code from all of the different micro-services that we have in the system. And you really have to go in like a surgeon with a scalpel and just cut this out. And you've got to be extremely careful because if you mess it up in one place, it could take down the entire system."
Brett Allred (00:25:46): So I just said, "okay. That's the project I'm on." And I just, every day, two poll requests a day, just boom, boom, boom. Made tiny iterations. Made sure it was safe, deployed early, deployed often. Got it out. It took me three months. That's a long project, but at the end, it was awesome. And after that, Brandon came to me, and he said, "anything you want to do in the platform, you can do. The fact that you were able to do that is a huge project. It is massive. You pick your work. You get to do anything you want." And that was just, for me, it was just another validation point on consistent daily effort over a long period of time leads to really good results.
Sam Kothari (00:26:27): The amount of trust he displayed in that situation, both to one, give you the project, and then two, the statement you just made, whatever project you want, whatever you want to work on. That's a lot of trust to have with someone. How did that build and evolve over time? Was that from the minute you joined and straight away? Or was that something you developed with him over time?
Brett Allred (00:26:48): I don't think it was from the minute I joined. I don't think everybody had that, but one of the things that I did, he commented on this later, years and years later. But when I started, I went to Barnes and Noble, and I bought this... It's an artist sketchbook. It was probably; it was big, too. It was like 11 by 17. This thing was massive. And it was just full of blank pictures that you would do sketches on for an artist. And I would carry this thing around. Every time I met with somebody, an engineer, I would diagram out what we were talking about. I'd diagram out the system. I'd diagram out the code.
Brett Allred (00:27:27): Probably after my first 60 days, I had this book full of how the system worked. Our own documentation wasn't as good as my little artist sketchbook. So then what ended up happening was, when new developers would come on, new engineers would come on to the team, and they wanted to get trained. Brandon would just say, "go talk to Brett. He's got this book. He can take you through how the system works." So over time, what had happened is all these new people would come in. I would start teaching them. And I just knew so much about the system that I think that relationship was built.
Brett Allred (00:28:01): He saw the work I was putting in and the dedication I had to really understand the system and the care for quality that I had. Then as I was teaching new people, that's when he is like, "Hey, why don't you take this really critical project?" And then when I did, it was... So it was earned over time, but that was... Later he told me about the book and the impression that made on him. And that was such a unique thing in his eyes that I would put a lot of the trust that we built from that practice. It wasn't like I was doing it to impress anyone. I was just trying to understand a complicated system.
Sam Kothari (00:28:38): That's amazing now. Thanks for sharing that story. What prompted the decision to leave MX and join Nuvi, and what was the Nuvi experience like as well?
Brett Allred (00:28:48): That was a hard one because in the year... Over the time that I worked at Money Desktop, I became really good friends with a lot of people all across the company, from the sales team to obviously the engineering team, but even marketing. I just built so many good relationships, but when this company called me, there was a family office based out of Provo, Utah. They had invested in Nuvi gave me an initial capital raise. They had gone through that money, and then the owners of Nuvi were coming back to the investors to say, "look, we need another round. And we think we have a cool idea, but obviously, we need more money." And so they called me up and said, "we want you to come in, and we're going to bring in two leaders. We're going to bring someone to run sales, and we want you to come in and run pretty much everything else."
Brett Allred (00:29:40): So that was the accounting, and the marketing, and the product, and the engineering. And it was running a lot of different things in a startup context. It was a hard decision, but the thing that rang true to me was getting back to the startup roots, getting back to not just software engineering, but doing software engineering in the context of product and tied with accounting and marketing and everything else. I saw what they were doing. I thought it was really great. It was taking large amounts of data from social media, doing sentiment analysis on it, doing analytics on it for big brands, and then really understanding what the market was saying. So I thought the problem space was fascinating, but it just rang to that entrepreneur side of me, and then that's why I made the change.
Sam Kothari (00:30:33): I'm interested because leaving a company that you've had a fantastic relationship with. You've built lots of friendships. How did you do that in a way that didn't burn those bridges? It sounds like you were a very highly trusted, valued person in the company at that point. So I'm sure they would've tried... They would've been terribly disappointed to see you go. But how did you maintain that relationship and keep that trust with them so that you could have another go in a few years and come back around?
Brett Allred (00:31:06): I'll put the credit on Brandon for this. I remember I went to lunch with Brandon, and I said, "I got this call from these people. Here's the opportunity. Here's what they want me to do." And I just took him through it. I was just super transparent with him. And I asked him, like, "what do you think?" And he turned that around on me. What do I think? And I said, "I think this could be a really good opportunity for me. And it's in my wheelhouse of things to do. And one I know how to do." And he was just super supportive of it. Like, "I think this could be really good for you. I think this could be good."
Brett Allred (00:31:49): And I was really appreciative of that. That was a big defining moment for me. A leadership moment. So to this day, when people come, and they say, "I'm thinking about... I've got this other job offer, or I'm going to go work at this company", or whatever. They decide to transition. I'm probably people's biggest advocate because of that in saying, "Hey, you should. If it's your time to move on and you feel like you've outgrown..." Not saying I had outgrown MX or Money Desktop, but "if you feel you've outgrown what you can do here. Great. Continue to work on yourself, develop yourself, level up, gain new skills, gain new friendships, gain new relationships. And if you think this is the right path, I'm your number one supporter."
Brett Allred (00:32:36): I think what that's led to at MX and just for Brandon is you have a lot of boomerangs that come back. They may leave MX, and then they come back. And I'm one of them. There's a number of people on our team that are like that. So I'll always remember... Because I spanned so many different departments and had a lot of relationships, they threw a party for me at the end, my last day. And they gave me a surfboard, a wake surf board, that you use behind the boat. And it said MD on it. It was green and black. I could show you a picture of it sometime. I just have it in my office at my house. And it's just, it's hanging up there, and it was a cool... I could have a picture of that moment. That moment actually went down in like MX, or Money Desktop, history. Nobody got a surfboard since. So I'll take that as a sign of good relationships.
Sam Kothari (00:33:31): That's amazing. I think that ability to put the person before the needs of the business, it sounds like that's what Brandon's done. That's what you've been doing now in your career. I think that's really special. It's hard, I think... As a founder or someone senior in the business, you've got goals that you need to hit, targets that you need to hit. These are key people that they might be leaving, but to be able to put that context to one side, compartmentalise that and say this is probably what's best for this employee or this individual. I think that's really special.
Brett Allred (00:34:06): Yeah. I think Brandon was a real... I could sing Brandon's praises my whole life and what I learned from him, but he just had this really profound ability to look at the individual and see the next three iterations of that individual and then show them the next three iterations of themself. "You can get to this point. You have this in you, and this is what I see for you." He was just very, very good that way and really looking at just the person and really understanding, having empathy for the person, when I think it's so easy to just think about your own problems, the impact that it probably had on him for when I left and the rest of the team. A lot of us are self-centred in that approach. And I think that's natural. Brandon used to call it our default mode and just to get out of the default mode and think about other people and what is it that's best for their journey and for their next best iteration of themselves. He was really masterful at that.
Sam Kothari (00:35:16): Maybe let's talk a little bit about your experiences Brandon, some of the challenges. And maybe, if you wouldn't mind sharing, I've watched a bunch of videos of Brandon speaking and reading articles that he's written. I feel inspired just to be able to even see and hear a little bit about what he had to share with the world, but do you want to talk us, the audience, through what happened? What was the challenge and those circumstances that you all had to go through?
Brett Allred (00:35:48): Yeah. Yeah. I can speak, speak a little bit to that. So this is hard for me. Brandon became one of my really good friends, one of my best friends, and it was about a year after I left, a year and a half after I left MX, Brandon was diagnosed with cancer, and we had a little tradition. We would go to lunch. We'd go to this place in Orem called Bailey's Sandwich shops, best sandwiches around.
Brett Allred (00:36:22): One day, before I knew, I'd just text him, "Hey, do you want to go to grab some lunch?" And he said, "yeah, that would be great." And we sat down, and that's when he told me, he's like, "Hey, I've got stage four cancer. They've given me... Basically, they've told me to wrap up my affairs, and I've got 90 days if I'm lucky." I remember that moment just your whole world starts spinning. Somebody that you care, and you love for and has been a mentor for you tells you, "the end is in sight. They've told me I have a date. I'm just trying to wrap things up."
Brett Allred (00:37:07): It really puts a lot of perspective on life and the meaning of life and what we do with our time and the way we treat other people. But anyway, to make a long story a little bit shorter, after he got over the initial processing of this idea, he was like, "no, I'm going to fight. I'm going to go. I want to figure this out. Can we prolong this diagnosis? How long can I stay around for because technology is advancing so fast in the area of medicine? If I could just hold on for one more year, maybe medicine would be to the point that it could cure this cancer and maybe another year."
Brett Allred (00:37:50): So he travelled around the United States, visiting a lot of different doctors, looking at his situation and saying, "how can we treat my condition?" And miraculously found one doctor that said, "Well, there's some treatments that we can try and let's give it a shot." And that ended up prolonging his life for about... So well, let me go into some of the details. So he starts getting on this treatment, and it starts to prolong his life. It actually, the cancer starts to reduce and basically go away. And it was just this miracle story of having this 90-day terminal diagnosis and being able to overcome that.
Brett Allred (00:38:47): So when I was finished with Nuvi and Brandon called me, he's like, "Would you be interested in coming back to MX?" I thought, "this is probably... I don't know how long Brandon's going to be around for. This is probably the last chance that I'll ever get to be able to work with him again." Every day, day in and day out, solving problems with him. And it was on that one idea that I decided to go back to MX. That I don't know how long Brandon's going to be around for, I'm just going to do it. So I joined the team, and Brandon continued to have his battle, but for four years, he was doing really, really good. And then last year, at the beginning of the year, it took a turn for the worse, and it started going downhill. And they tried different treatments and different things and alternative approaches to battling the cancer. And eventually, in November, he passed away from cancer.
Brett Allred (00:39:54): So that was just a few months ago. It was a bittersweet moment because, on one hand, this friend and this mentor, this person who had just impacted the world in such a good way, was gone. That's the bitter part. The sweet part was he was free from the pain that he had been living in. At that point, I think it was six years. Free from that pain. He had left a beautiful legacy, and I just thank god that I went back to MX and had the opportunity to work with him again. I'll never regret that.
Brett Allred (00:40:39): So part of what I'm trying to do at MX, and to just carry forward some of his philosophy and some of his approach and his ideas, and what he stood for and try to carry that forward in some way. Sorry, getting a little emotional about this, but it was just such an amazing life from a genius person. And it's unfortunate that sometimes the most special people in the world we lose too early. And that was the case for Brandon. We lost him far too early.
Sam Kothari (00:41:13): Thanks for sharing that Brett and for being so honest. I'm sure it's difficult today, and I'm sure it was difficult over the years as well. What did you learn about being a good friend for him over that period? What lessons did you learn about being a good colleague because you were a friend, a close friend? You were a colleague, you were a peer, you were working with a team that was, I'm sure, also impacted by this. How did you both navigate through this difficult circumstance? It's still a high-growth environment as well. You guys were growing. The business was going places and still is. So it's just a really complicated, difficult situation. What were some of the things that you found helpful, whether it was for yourself personally, for your team, or even for your customers? I'm sure who would've been impacted?
Brett Allred (00:42:14): A couple of things I found myself doing is that when we would hang out, we would be together, go to lunch or go just hang out on the weekends or whatever it may be. I tried not ever to talk about work. I didn't talk about work too much, and I didn't talk about his cancer. The default was for people to ask about the cancer and I think, show empathy through asking questions and being interested. And a lot of people would want to show I am interested, I care about you, I want to learn about this. For me, I thought, he tells this to so many people. Every time he's got to tell his story, he's got to relive the pain of it and the realisation. So I tried to stay away from that. Sometimes we would talk work because he wanted to talk work. And that was really interesting. But I tried just to keep it pretty neutral to have that downtime. So it wasn't always on 24/7, like I talked about before.
Brett Allred (00:43:23): But then when I went to work in the day, it was just, what can I do to lighten the load? What can I do to make it easy? How do we make it easy for Brandon? Because it's so hard. Running a company is so challenging. It's very lonely. I don't think people really get this idea until they've really experienced it, but there's a lot of, I think perceived glamour of being... Like in Brandon's case, a CTO, "you're the CTO. You're a co-founder." And we give a lot of accolades to that position in society, the co-founder title, the CTO title, but it's tough.
Brett Allred (00:44:07): Every day, you get to hear all the problems. And I don't know if people realise that. You get bombarded every single day with all of the problems. So you take all of that on top of your own personal problems. And in Brandon's case with his cancer, it's just a lot to bear. So I would just try... That was my mantra. What can I do to make it easy for Brandon? What can I do to make it easier? And if there's anything that I could put on my shoulders, if there's anything that I could take on, if anything I could do, I just make it easier. And I actually learned this phrase from a book. I think it's called 'The One Thing' by the Keller Williams CEO. He had this focusing question, and he asked himself, "what's the one thing that I could do that by doing it, everything else would become easier or unnecessary?"
Brett Allred (00:45:01): And that became a really interesting mental exercise for me because I would start thinking through that and in helping Brandon and helping other parts of the business, I would just ask myself that focusing question. What's the one thing that I could do that by doing it, everything else would become easier or unnecessary? It's actually really powerful. It took me a while to really get into the spirit of what it was saying, but I can see why he wrote a book about it. It's a very, very powerful question.
Sam Kothari (00:45:34): I really empathise with... I think we've had a few guests on the show who've talked about how leadership can feel very lonely and often a very thankless job. I think even as employees and folks who are working in startups and working for founders, I think we all need to develop a degree of empathy. And I think an understanding of the fact that these are challenging circumstances to be in, even when things are going well and you don't have crises at home or in your personal circumstances.
Sam Kothari (00:46:15): What about for your team? The organisation is enormous. You have, I think what, 1,000-plus employees now? Around that? How are you as a leader, a senior leader in that business, helping the junior employees, the folks that are just joining, the folks that have been around for a while? How are you helping them to figure out how they can process and move forward? What did you do to support your teams? What did you find effective to help them through this journey as well?
Brett Allred (00:46:46): One of the things that happened naturally, this wasn't... Because I was so close to Brandon, and it's a really tough situation and a very emotional situation. I would talk about it with the team. And the team, I believe they saw the emotion coming from me and how impacted that I was, and had a few vulnerable moments in front of the team that I... It just naturally happened. But the feedback I got later was, "it was helpful to see that you were having a tough time with this and how much it had impacted you. And it made me feel justified in the way that I, as an individual contributor, a team member, was feeling because I've been having a rough time, and everybody seems like they're doing okay. But just to see that it's okay that this hurts."
Brett Allred (00:47:44): It's okay that you can be your true and authentic self. That you can be vulnerable in front of the group. There doesn't need to be this like macho-ism or this... You're stone cold. You can be a human, and you can be a human at work, and that's okay. And just allowing that environment to be present and for that to be okay, I think, was one big, impactful thing. I think the other part of it was just giving people the time. At this point, we're still... We're remote now, and back then, we were probably even more remote. But when we'd start a Zoom meeting, just letting people share their thoughts, letting people share good memories. Sometimes we would start a meeting with, "what were the funny things, the funniest moments with Brandon?" We'd laugh. And, "what were some of the hardest moments?" We'd just talk about it. We just let people be open and let them express their emotion. So they didn't have to bottle it up, and they didn't have to be alone.
Brett Allred (00:48:49): That's one of the challenging things is when you have to be alone and remote work, and COVID, and isolation that we've had, hasn't helped. I know there's bigger themes there with authenticity at work and being yourself. And I think there's a lot of power in that when it's done authentically and not from a check the box. Like, "oh, we're supposed to do this, and so we do." But when there really is an authentic ness to it, and it felt like there was around Brandon, it really made a big cultural difference.
Sam Kothari (00:49:22): How do you handle the responsibility to continue on? Even though things are really hard? You've run your own startups. You've had small teams where you've had to make payroll. So you've, I think, felt that pressure and accountability for other people at a micro level, but also now at a very large organisation. There's this, I think, a burden that comes with leadership in your role, where you need to make sure that people are getting paid. They've got a job to come to. How do you continue to handle that responsibility and that burden without it affecting you adversely? How do you carry on and move forward? In addition to those existing responsibilities, with all the things that were happening in Brandon's situation as well.
Brett Allred (00:50:09): Yeah. There's something about the human psyche, the human brain, the human spirit, that when you have a purpose that you're working towards and that it's not artificial, it's not made up, it's really something that you're passionate about. You do have that true sense of, call it, higher purpose or purpose. It just seems to carry you through difficult times. When Brandon passed away, we had had enough discussions to... I knew where Brandon wanted to see the business go. I knew what his vision was. I knew what he was dedicating his life to. And for some reason, I felt like that just transferred to me, and there was a duty to carry that forward and to have the best possible outcome for MX and to carry forward the mission and really what he was trying to accomplish with the business.
Brett Allred (00:51:09): Brandon used to say... He had all these aphorisms and these little sayings that he would use. But one of them was "purpose over profits." And this idea of having a company that's really out there trying to make a difference in the world and make an impact, and it's not out there to just create more shareholder value. It's not out there just to create more profits. It's not a nonprofit. But it's out there to create real value for society. That was impactful for me. So as we look at our mission, "empower the world to be financially strong."
Brett Allred (00:51:43): One of the things for me that coming through this was, "what can MX do and what can I do as a leader to really impact the world that we live in and in the United States, open banking, isn't really a thing." We have a closed financial ecosystem, and I do believe that as data gets out and as data is shared that it actually can spawn a lot of innovation. But all that data resides in these silos. So right now, for me, that purpose is the way that we can empower people is actually unlocking this data source, and we're going to empower them somewhat indirectly in the sense that, let's get data flowing, let's get innovation on financial health, really ramping up.
Brett Allred (00:52:32): Fintech obviously is very hot, but so many people are in a different financial state, and they come from different upbringings, and they come from different... They could come from different religions, and they could come from different backgrounds, and there's so much diversity in the United States that I'm not a believer that there's one financial application that's going to solve it for everybody.
Brett Allred (00:53:00): So you start to break down, what are the components first principles thinking about how do we actually then help people? Well, one, we start with the connectivity. How do people get their data? Then two, what can they do with that data? Then three, can we get that into the hands of as many really smart financial technology companies that want to go help people as possible? And let's go solve this problem. So maybe some startup is out there trying to optimise finances for a very specific demographic that they are very close to, that they understand the mindset of, they understand the belief system of, they understand their approach to money, and they can build technology to help that group out and in the paradigm, or the worldview, that they have.
Brett Allred (00:53:47): So for me, my big passion project right now, if you want to call it a passion project, but the thing I'm driving towards is, how do I help every bank and credit union in the United States and Canada get an API? Because once we can get that data flowing, I believe there's going to be a massive amount of innovation that happens.
Brett Allred (00:54:09): There's a lot of innovation happening right now. A lot of investment going into fintech. But I think that will just be exponentially compounded, and that really is the basis of it. Not to get too much on a tangent here, but you look at what Tesla's doing with autonomous driving and the fact that we can have a vehicle that has all of this engineering and machine learning and data science going into making it drive itself. They're able to do that because they have all of these cars that are on the roads with cameras. And there's all of this data coming in, and they're able to take the data, learn from the data, improve the models, and you have this self-driving autonomous vehicle.
Brett Allred (00:54:54): Well, why can't we do that with finances? Why can't we have a computer that just goes and grabs all the information? It knows my paycheck, it knows my mortgage, it knows everything about me, and it just handles my finances. It pays my bills when they need to be paid, tells me how much I can spend. It just, it runs my financial life for me, and it makes sure I don't drive off a cliff. The technology is there. We have the computational power, we have the bandwidth, we have the memory power. We have supercomputers in our pocket that could do this. What we don't have is this ecosystem where the data can just freely flow to train all these systems. It's way too closed.
Brett Allred (00:55:42): So if we can unlock that and we can get the data out there, we can start training these models, we can start training these systems, and we can have this autonomous, I think about as a personal financial controller. You look at very, very wealthy people. They have controllers that just run all their money, and they do it all for them. And they can do that because they have the money to pay somebody full time. Well, the great levelling factor of technology is that we can take things that were once only available to the super-wealthy, and we can bring that to everybody. I think this idea of a personal financial assistant or a personal financial controller is possible with technology. And I think that we have the tech. We just don't have the data flowing in the right way.
Brett Allred (00:56:29): So, sorry, that's a big long tangent coming back to your original question. But these were things that Brandon and I were riffing on and talking about how this was possible and what needed to change with regulation, and what needed to change in the minds of bank executives and credit union executives in order for this world to happen. And this is how we think we can put our dent in the universe, and this is what we're going after. And I feel like it's carrying the torch a little bit from Brandon's legacy to make this a reality.
Sam Kothari (00:57:05): That really, I think, is quite an amazing mission and vision. I think it's incredible to see you in your role at MX. I think trying to pioneer and push for that in so many different ways. I'm mindful of time. We've got a couple of quick closing questions and appreciate the insight so far. I wanted to leave you with one of my, at least get your reaction to one of my favourite Brandon quotes. One that I heard in one of his talks. And interested in your reaction to this and what it means to you. He said, "always good to be humble. Often good to be humbled."
Brett Allred (00:57:43): Did you hear the story of where that came from?
Sam Kothari (00:57:46): No. No, I didn't. Yeah. I'm interested. Yeah.
Brett Allred (00:57:50): Yeah. That's a good story. So not a lot of people knew this at the time, but Brandon started dating this girl Kara. And Kara worked at MX in a different department. One of the things that Brandon liked to do is play ping pong, and Kara liked to play ping pong. We were at the, I think it was the fintech, what we call the "FinTech Festival". We bring a bunch of people to Sundance, a bunch of fintech, banks and fintech, and we get them together, and we talk about the industry.
Brett Allred (00:58:18): Anyway, there at the conference, there was a ping pong table, and Brandon and Kara were playing ping pong. Brandon was competitive. So even when he was playing with his girlfriend, he wanted to win because that was just him. He is a competitive person. And Kara ended up just stomping him at ping pong. It was one of these things like, "Let's play a game." And then Kara won. Then, of course, "Best two out of three." And it progresses until you're 20 games into it. And Kara's still just laying the smack on Brandon, just beating him at ping pong.
Brett Allred (00:58:55): There was another one of these little Brandon-isms. He had this belief to make it memorable. What could you do to memorialise a moment and you could make it memorable and you could remember it for your whole life? So anyway, after that experience with Kara playing ping pong, he saved the ping pong ball, and he had a trophy made where he mounted the ping pong ball in a glass box. Then on the front, he had that quote, "often good to be humble. Often good to be humbled," or something like that. Just memorialising that he had just totally got humbled at ping pong. And he had such a great way with words. He was very big on using the right words in the right context to convey the right meaning. So that saying is a really good example of Brandon taking a moment and finding the right way to articulate and capture the spirit of the moment in that saying. Always good to be humble. Often good to be humbled. So that's the story behind it.
Sam Kothari (01:00:05): No, I appreciate that. I think I had heard him say it. I think I'd seen a video of the table tennis ball, but I didn't have the context of the story behind it. The story makes the saying even better, I think, to be honest. No, that's fantastic. I guess my last question, Brett, if you could give yourself one piece of advice at the start of your career, travel back in time, knowing everything you know now, what would that be?
Brett Allred (01:00:34): Going back to my early twenties, and maybe even before that, I was really, really ambitious, really motivated, really driven. And with that became a sense of urgency. I had to do it fast. I had to get to a certain amount of money in a certain point of time. I had to have a certain size company at a certain size time. And I had to have a certain number of employees in a certain size building. There are all of these goals that I had.
Brett Allred (01:01:08): You read some of the basic ideas around goal setting, and you'll learn about smart goals, and it needs to be specific and attainable and measurable and time-bound, and all these things. And I think some of that time-bound concept, I didn't realise you've got time, and you don't have to be a billionaire in your twenties. Or a millionaire in your twenties. Whatever your ambition is. And honestly, if you try to chase it too much, if you try to chase success, it will flee from you. It runs away. And if you try to cut the corners or you try to make it happen too quick, it'll just be fleeting. But if you can turn it around and say, I've got time. When you think about all the stuff you learn in college, four years, your there four years or six years. There are so many experiences you have. So many classes you're taking. You're learning things, and you're consuming all this information. That's only four years. You turned 22, you got another... You got a long time to go.
Brett Allred (01:02:15): And I don't think people... I didn't. So I won't put this on everybody else. But I didn't realise I've got a long time to go. So I don't need to chase success, but I need to attract success. And the way that I attract success is by becoming an attractive person. I become an attractive person by working on myself. I gain the skills. I learn multiple skills in the marketplace. I learn about accounting. I learn about software engineering. I learn about computer science. I learn about marketing. I learn about finance and accounting. Talk about T-shaped employees. You become an attractive person, and then you attract success. The success will come once you have become that person. And I believe in that. I've lived by that.
Brett Allred (01:03:07): For the best that I can tell, that's why a venture capitalist group called me on the phone one day and said, "Hey, we want you to come do this." It wasn't like I applied. I didn't fill out a resume or something because I think I had worked enough and said, "I want to be a well-rounded person that someone would want to call on the phone to run their company. I want to be the person that MX would call to come back and run product, and they would call me because of the person that I had become, not because I was chasing success or anything else."
Brett Allred (01:03:44): So just going back to the beginning and saying, "Look, let me chart out some of the key things that I can do over a long period of time to become attractive." I hope that word's okay in the context I'm using it. To become an attractive person in the marketplace.
Brett Allred (01:04:09): So maybe you start thinking about it differently. You start saying, "I didn't like writing in college, but if I'm going to be effective in the marketplace, I need to be a good writer. I need to be a good speaker. So maybe let me get some speaking coaching and let me actually work on speaking for two years, or three years, or four years." It seems like an eternity, but in the span of a career, it's really not that long. Take time and go to a negotiating class and a course and just learn... You might not be in procurement as a procurement officer, but go take some courses in procurement after college and in your thirties or whatever, to learn the craft of negotiation and vendor management and how to get the best price and the best deal, and just work harder on yourself than you do on anything else. That work will pay off, and success will come because it'll be attracted by who you are, not by what you're chasing.
Sam Kothari (01:05:18): That's incredible. Brett, I think it reminds me of my favourite Charlie Munger quote, "to get what you want, deserve what you want." That insight that you're sharing of attracting success by being an attractive person, I think, deeply resonates with me. And I think it's something we all can take away and think about. How are we working on ourselves rather than chasing this goal of success or attaining success that can often be fleeting?
Sam Kothari (01:05:48): No, really, thanks so much for this conversation and for being so honest and transparent and talking us through, I think, some very deeply emotional topics and how you've, I think, navigated a fascinating career, and I think personal journey as well. I guess as we wrap up, are there any thoughts and anything else you want to share with our audience? Where can they find you know publicly? Is MX hiring, looking for talent? Is there anything we can do and the audience can do to help you in your journey?
Brett Allred (01:06:22): Yeah. I'm on Instagram, and I do have a public profile. You're mainly going to see surfing pictures and lifestyle-type of stuff. So it's not literally business, but more just... We have one of our values at MX is "exuberance for life." I love that. I just love life. Learning to surf, I got my private pilot's license. So that whole exuberance for life part, you can see on Instagram. I think my Instagram's Brett Allred. And I'm on Twitter, @BrettNAllred. You can reach out to me there. DM me or ping me or whatever. Would love if there were questions, love to answer questions, and engage with the community.
Brett Allred (01:07:05): One of the things I love just personally is just helping where I can help and sharing parts of my own journey with people on an individual level. So I'll often go speak at colleges and share some of my just approach to life. I love it when people reach out, and they just say, "this is who I am. This is what I'm doing. And this is what I'm confronting" because life is different for us all. So just reach out on Twitter, @BrettNAllred, I believe is my handle, or on Instagram, Brett Allred. You can follow me, message me, whatever. But I'd love to engage. I'd love to chat with the audience, and I'd love to get down to Australia and come surf and come hang out, see what... Just catch up.
Sam Kothari (01:07:53): Thanks for listening to another episode of The Launch Lessons podcast brought to you by the builders and makers of fintech unicorn Airwallex. Airwallex's global financial infrastructure empowers businesses of all sizes to grow beyond borders. If you found the lessons in this episode helpful, please share the link with a friend or a colleague or subscribe to the podcast and leave us a rating. If you've got any questions you'd like to ask our guests or topics you'd like us to cover, please reach out to us via details in the show notes below.
Writer, content strategist and storyteller. Shani is a digital marketer with a passion for brand storytelling and empathy-led copywriting. Responsible for Airwallex's content marketing efforts in Australia, and other parts of the world.
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