I recently sat down with fellow Wharton alum turned entrepreneur, Ben Katz, NU’02, W’02, WG’02, to talk about his latest venture, CARD.com. Looking back, it is not surprising that he was one of the rare candidates chosen to submatriculate directly into the Wharton MBA program from undergrad. Ben is an example of an entrepreneur who was born, not made.
You have to be on your toes to talk with Ben, as he will be several steps ahead of you the moment you get the inkling of a thought out. He’ll see where you are headed, have an answer and already be on to the next topic—all while texting his team to set up a remote group Skype session and concurrently intermingling snippets of advice on your own business ventures.
One thing that is for sure: his driving passion for his family and for CARD.com.
Here is an excerpt from our conversation:
PAUL SHRATER: What is CARD.com?
BEN KATZ: CARD.com is the world’s first likeable financial company. We make payments fun, fair and fashionable. CARD.com offers Visa cards and MasterCard cards featuring card art and amazing perks from the best brands in the world, like Star Trek, Elvis or The Walking Dead.
PS: What made you want to start CARD.com?
BK: Most banks target, attract and optimize their experience for customers with significant deposits. But most Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Since banks price discriminate with an eye to attracting “savers,” the pricing offered is very expensive for the 75 percent of Americans with insignificant cash savings. “Free checking” isn’t free for the vast majority of Americans.
PS: You went from Wall Street to Hollywood to entrepreneurship—what lessons did you take from one stage of your career to the next?
BK: Wall Street gave me solid financial analysis skills. Movies taught me how to work with and manage people who march to the beat of a different drum. And my brief time in corporate America reminded me that I prefer working in environments where my ideas are actually put to the test.
PS: What experiences did you have that helped shape your concept for CARD.com?
BK: In 2006, I founded Coveroo.com, which is now the largest seller of personalized iPhone and Android cases on the Internet. From that, I learned how to work with great brands and how to market them on a highly targeted basis using channels such as Google and Facebook.
PS: Why do a business like this now?
BK: Mobile phones with broadband access are ubiquitous. The phone screen allows all core banking functions related to your card, like checking balances, reviewing transactions, paying bills and even sending money. The phone’s camera enables remote check deposit. The phone is location aware, so it can find nearby fee-free ATMs. Compare this with the necessity of brick-and-mortar branches for depositing checks and getting out cash just a couple years ago. This massive disruption is in its infancy, but will not be stopped.
PS: How can you compete with the big banks?
BK: We sell on the sizzle of the best brands in the world. We retain members by making their lives easier with the best mobile-first product. Not many people have love for their bank. They just have no better option. Thanks to the smartphone, that is changing.
PS: What does Wharton mean to you?
BK: Three of the first six employees at CARD.com are Penn alums. Penn is our recruiting department! Looking back, though, Penn and Wharton have represented an open door. I can reach out to an alum at almost any great company in the world and connect with an open-minded individual with whom I have a shorthand. The words “open-minded,” “welcoming,” “smart” and “optimistic” sum up my experience with Penn alums.