People do ask if (and sometimes when!) we plan to light out for Silicon Valley like so many other Boston-founded startups. It sort of astounds me, but in my case, once they learn I grew up in SF and the Bay Area (and went to college there) they sort of assume I will make my way back there as my daughters leave for their own lives after high school.
Won’t ever happen.
Not just because I don’t want to move back there, but because it would be a bad business decision. Here’s why Boston makes so much sense for Cinch, and Cinch makes so much sense for Boston:
- Financial innovation started here: Boston has been at the center of financial innovation going back nearly 100 years, particularly in the “democratization” of finance. The very first mutual fund in the world, the Massachusetts Investors Trust, started on March 21st 1924. It offered small investors diversification and professional management at a fraction of the cost of typical Wall Street company. Since then, wave after wave of innovation happened here in retail investments, 401k programs, banking, and corporate finance that have changed the world. From mutual funds, to modern-day financial management, to even the leveraged buyout — all of these started here and that tradition continues to this day.
- Fiduciary is a Boston word: In addition to all of the innovation, the most important and foundational principles of responsible financial management now used around the world actually were conceived of here. The most important of these principles, the Prudent Man Rule from 1830, defines the key responsibilities of a fiduciary — the person or persons responsible to look after the best interests of another. And this goes on, with Massachusetts courts extending and elaborating these principles now commonplace in all areas of finance around the world. As company fully grounded in doing the right thing (the layperson’s definition of fiduciary) that matters to us, and to me in particular. How does it practically apply? A big example at Cinch is our focus on solving the real problems people have, not using fake help as a front for lead generation for ads or a crappy financial product you probably don’t need. It seems like nearly every CA-based company in consumer fintech has a revenue model dependent on lead gen or account-opening arbitrage. I think that’s because it’s easy to build and monetize even though their user is actually what they’re selling for money. The ghosts around Boston’s financial history would haunt us if we ever did that, and those are pretty scary spirits.
- The Charles River is a superbrain highway: We need the biggest brains around to solve the biggest problem in financial services, namely, how to create a comprehensive financial manager to act as a fiduciary for real people. It’s a very tough problem. We need big brains on big topics — policy implications of a “nudge”-based approach grounded in behavioral economics, model creation using advanced applied mathematics, application of machine learning and artificial intelligence to both improve the accuracy and efficacy of our service, the latest in advanced data security and privacy protections — the list goes on and on. The Charles River demonstrates why we need to be here. Upriver we have the core economic and mathematical expertise developed at Harvard; midriver the expertise and practice of financial management at BU; downriver the AI and advanced componentry coming out of MIT and affiliated institutions. Oh, and the brightest minds attending the 60-odd colleges around here. The resulting ecosystem is like nowhere else in the world. For example, one of Cinch’s partner companies was co-founded by a Turing Medal recipient. We need these brains and need them badly, and that means here. You just can’t find what we need anywhere else.
- We keep it real: Having grown up in SF and the Bay Area, and still doing so much business out there, I know the difference keenly between the two places. To sum it all up, we keep it real here. Really real. When you’re walking in the teeth of a biting wind in February, you have to keep it real. We just learn how to focus on what’s important and substantial, and relate to each other in a non-posing, authentic way. You simply have to. How did this happen? Several things come to mind: the old Yankee ethic on value instead of show; the never-put-on-airs, come-as-you-are culture of the Boston Irish; the in-your-face pluck that comes with being a bantamweight city; the coin-toss reliability of the Red and Green lines; the authentic enjoyment of a beautiful day knowing the weather will shortly change. It’s a combination of things I suppose. But all those things combine to force everyone to keep it real, and keeping it real is what Cinch is all about.
At the end of the day, I just cannot imagine — ever imagine — Team Cinch ever working out of a suburban office park just off a jammed Bayshore freeway with perfectly clean cars (sorry, Teslas). I fear we’d lose so much about what makes Cinch special, and just right for Boston.