Written by Andrew Seale
This past Fall while relocating the Koho headquarters from Vancouver to Toronto, Daniel Eberhard decided to rent two houses next to one another on College street for his team to work and live while they resettled.
“It was like a hacker flophouse – I’m 31, my days of that are behind me,” says Eberhard, who grew up in a small town in British Columbia. “But it was an incredibly fun way to get to know the team better and explore the city.”
The Koho founder had been visiting Toronto since 2014, when he launched the fintech startup – which allows users to manage their money in a (mostly) no-fee spending account via a mobile app and the reloadable prepaid Koho Visa card. But his early exposure to the city, he admits, was somewhat stunted.
“My experience coming to Toronto was to fly to Pearson, ride the UP downtown, go to meetings in the financial district, get on the UP and go home,” he says. “In my 50 trips to Toronto, I think I covered four square blocks.”
At first, it was very much intentional, a part of the strategy. While Koho Financial is not a bank (“We work with a chartered financial institution in the bank account product we offer,” explains Eberhard), it builds heavily on the foundations of Canada’s enviably reliable financial services sphere. But to do so, and to truly do so differently, to offer something that would resonate with tech-savvy Canadians jaded by the big banks, Eberhard wanted to steer clear of fintech indoctrinated designers and developers.
“The earliest hires we had for building this banking application were video game designers,” he says. “We deliberately stayed away from anybody in the banking space… we wanted to really look at it with fresh eyes from a first principals perspective.”
They raised their first disclosed $1 million funding round in May 2015, and an additional round the following year from from Power Financial Corporation’s Portage3 (which backed other fintech wunderkinds Wealthsimple and Borrowell) alongside Shopify co-founder Scott Lake, Hootsuite co-founder David Tedman, Rashay Jethalal, former CIBC Head of Global Banking, and Adam Felesky, former CEO of Horizons ETF.
“I was increasingly finding myself on a plane back and forth to Toronto as we were going further, there's obviously a lot of gravity here in the financial sector,” he says. “I'm a believer in proximity and there is a speed of Toronto, there's an incredible amount of talent in Vancouver but there is not the same velocity and so there's a tenacity to the work here that I find very addictive.”
Koho has since moved out of the “slacker flophouse” and into OneEleven in the heart of Toronto. The company has grown to 30 employees between its Toronto headquarters and an office in Vancouver.
“I think I was always worried about the saturation of the financial type… of thinking that might run counter to the types of things we were trying to accomplish,” says Eberhard. “It wasn't immediately obvious how much complexity and richness there is in this city and how much diversity of thought there is here – I'm finding it super energizing.”
Photo Credit: Cameron Bartlett (www.snappedbycam.com)