Given the velocity of dealflow in VC, it is pretty rare to recall from memory the precise date and place you first met a founder – however impressive. Shachar Bialick, the CEO and Founder of Curve, proved to be a notable exception.
Introduced by a mutual friend and with his trademark charm and chutzpah, Shachar outlined a bold vision: to move “banking to the cloud”. His pre-MVP app was still in stealth – but its initial mission was clear – to centralise your fragmented payment experience via an “all your cards on one” offering.
As the pints flowed, I kept challenging him on why this product even needed to exist. We all knew payments would ultimately novate to mobile but surely his idea was a mere “nice to have”. European retail banks were certainly not a mecca for innovation but my bank was doing a decent job keeping my money safe and like countless others, I managed fine with 3 or 4 cards in my wallet.
The “penny drop” happened as Shachar (correctly) played out the future…inescapable digitalisation would entail a rise of challenger banks, a plethora of wealth, fx and savings products – to be closer to the customer. The irony would end up being that far from simplifying your financial life, a wave of competing unconnected apps and experiences would merely fragment it further.
Finance was stuck in the present whilst a new “over the top” category was being forged. One didn’t need to look that far for some form of validation – Alipay was adding c.3m users a week in China. Why could there not be a better Western equivalent.
Shachar’s idea was audacious but he was honest enough to admit it was riddled with landmines. China was not Europe – a continent littered with well-funded incumbents and stifling regulation that would, more than likely, ensure the demise of any new category creator.
Context is key here. Coin had just crashed and burned in the US; Apple Pay had launched only a month earlier; Neo Banks had yet to be born; Open Banking and PSD2 barely conceived – and here I was listening to a fast talking Israeli describing a utopian land of “milk and honey” where you can send, spend, see and save all from the same place.
One must view Curve’s ensuing story through this prism of history to understand why it merits such note. No entrepreneurial journey is ever easy but creating a new category requires a special resilience. From being told by Mastercard the mission was “likely impossible to achieve”, to the inevitable bullying and legal intimidation attempted by many incumbents, to being caught in the crossfire of Wirecard, Curve had its fair share of roadblocks to overcome – sometimes cast as a scrappy dissenter that dared to dream whilst incumbent models hogged the limelight.
Fast forward to today and Curve’s 2m+ users and $175m+ of funding is starting to resonate… one man’s vision is slowly morphing into reality.
P.S. the date was 4 November 2014 @ Marylebone Sports Bar for those that wanted to know. My beloved Liverpool were playing Real Madrid. Shachar would have been given remarkably long odds to get more than a death stare for even trying to compete for attention with the TV screen that evening (let alone garner support for his audacious idea!). However if history has taught us anything – success is, more often than not, the child of audacity.
Devin Kohli, co-head Outward VC