Faced with myriad regulatory hurdles and a changing landscape dominated by “too big to fail” banks, investors and entrepreneurs alike have traditionally shied away from fintech. But that doesn’t at all bother Whurley — born William Hurley — who once exited a TEDx talk on a mind-controlled skateboard powered by an XBox Kinect.
His latest startup, Honest Dollar, bucked the trend in fintech after it “won” South by Southwest this year by announcing its acquisition by Goldman Sachs.
Despite regulatory headwinds and plenty of competition, Honest Dollar carved out a niche in financial services by servicing the nearly 16 million self-employed people in the “gig economy” who lack access to a retirement plan or 401k.
Honest Dollar “wasn’t really validated because we weren’t necessarily people from finance” according to CEO and co-founder Whurley.
Acquired by Goldman Sachs only one year after its launch, Honest Dollar gained early traction with corporate customers who used the service as both a retention tool and a gap-fill for contractors who wanted access to retirement benefits that are traditionally reserved for full-time employees. Today, Honest Dollar counts Lyft among its clients.
The acquisition opportunity started under serendipitous circumstances. Whurley’s other company, Chaotic Moon Studios, sold to Accenture in 2015 and led to a meeting with a financial adviser from Goldman Sachs who offered to manage Whurley’s money. Whurley took the meeting as an opportunity to instead pitch Honest Dollar as a fit for Goldman.
“Added to Goldman Sachs,” Whurley said, “the combination would be unstoppable.”
Whurley also spoke of one guest he invited to South by Southwest at the time of the Honest Dollar acquisition announcement. Whurley invited President Obama to the annual tech conference in Austin and also invited him to his home for a fundraiser featuring rapper J. Cole and co-host will.i.am. “The best part of the event,” says Whurley, “was riding in the Presidential motorcade.”