How Andrew Chau’s Fintech Company Put the Prairies on the Map
Four years ago, Neo Financial was a handful of people in a room in the Prairies trying to figure out how to reimagine the Canadian banking industry. Today, co-founder Andrew Chau’s fintech company (he also co-founded delivery app Skip the Dishes in 2012) has more than 700 employees working to give its million-plus clients a better relationship with banking. Neo’s intuitive app offers real-time spending insights and has more than 11,000 merchant partners where users can earn cash back. This year, it’s launching a travel card with Cathay Pacific Airways and building a credit card for Tim Hortons in the coffee chain’s foray into financial services. With investors like Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures and Shopify’s Tobias Lütke, Neo Financial is now valued at over $1 billion.
Title: CEO, Neo Financial
Degree: B.Com., University of Saskatchewan
Currently lives in: Calgary
When I was a kid,I thought I’d grow up to be: I just knew that I wanted to build something one day. My parents had to build their own future when they came to Canada from Vietnam—they owned a restaurant for 30 years. I practically grew up in that restaurant, peeling carrots and potatoes. So I developed this practical view of “If they can do it, I can too.”
The biggest takeaway from my education is: When I think about my journey through university, classes themselves were more of a formality. It was all of the extracurriculars—the clubs, the social aspects—that made a difference because that’s where I met the people who I would go on to collaborate with. University is where I met the people I co-founded Skip the Dishes with.
My first job ever was: I worked in sales, cold-calling people and trying to persuade them to sign up for these cable-TV packages. I learned a lot through that experience—mostly how to deal with hearing “no” all the time.
A significant challenge I had to overcome was: When we started Skip the Dishes, we had no credibility—we came from the middle of Canada, we didn’t go to an Ivy League school. We put in a ton of blood, sweat and tears to prove that we could build a meaningful business in the Prairies. And the second time around, with Neo Financial, we felt again that we were debunking the myth that you have to be in New York or San Francisco, with all the resources and networks associated with those places, in order to build an amazing tech company; we can do it here too.
My most influential mentor was: I never really had a traditional mentor. Instead, I made a point of talking to as many people as possible to get as many perspectives as possible. The best mentors to me have been my colleagues, my peers and other founders who have been through what I’m going through.
One thing I was forced to learn the hard way was: Becoming a parent for the first time. (My son is now two.) There was no easy way of learning how to do this, regardless of all the advice I received—you just end up diving right into it and learning along the way. I would be holding a fussing baby who was trying to grab the laptop while I was trying to run a Zoom meeting.
The thing that keeps me motivated is: I want to help Canadians save more money, earn more interest on their bank accounts and learn how to budget better. Right now, the big banks don’t really serve these needs. As an upstart, we’re in a position to question things like monthly bank fees and find a better way of doing things.
“For those who are thinking about entrepreneurship, I usually just encourage them to go and do it”
The biggest misconception about being an entrepreneur is: It’s not as glamorous as it looks. Behind all the media announcements about launching new products, raising capital or winning partnerships, there are hundreds of people pulling all-nighters. In winning a partnership like Tim Hortons or Cathay Pacific, there are thousands of behind-the-scenes hours, from initial conversations to building the code to launching the product.
The advice I always give others now is: For those who are thinking about entrepreneurship, I usually just encourage them to go and do it. Build a plan to figure out how to dedicate time to an idea and how to build enough capital. It might mean sleeping less or taking on a side gig, but there are always ways. The question is, are you willing to make those investments to be able to start something?