Beyond the Check Podcast Artwork Image
Beyond the Check
Empowering freelancers with Johnny Reinsch, Co-Founder and CEO of Qwil
November 27, 2018 John Weems

From skate punk and forklift operator to "recovering" M&A attorney, Johnny Reinsch has already lived a fascinating life. Those adventures--and the time he almost failed to pay his mortgage--prepared him to co-found Qwil. Qwil works to empower freelancers with the financial services they need to thrive.

Episode Transcript

Speaker 1:0:00Yeah, if you didn't need the money, would you still show up to your job? I'm John Williams. I've spent half of my career in the corporate world and the other half in full time spiritual guidance. As a pastor, I respect people of all views, unless they're totally closed my the day holds. I am not here to tell you what to believe. I am here to encourage you to think beyond the check. Welcome to this podcast where we talk about work life and the meaning of our time here. Go here from a wide range of business people from multiple backgrounds today. I'm honored to be here with Johnny [inaudible], Co founder and CEO of quill, and if you are one of the 35 percent or more of the workforce who are freelance or independent contractor or otherwise, it need to figure out how you are going to pay the bills.

Speaker 1:0:50You need to know quill, so we'll talk more about the company shortly. The Johnny, thank you for joining me today. Thank you. Thank you for that intro. Yeah, so in a, in one of your profiles, and I strongly encourage all of our listeners to follow Johnny on, uh, on Linkedin you'll learn about not only the company, but just a great follow, lots of interesting tidbits, quotes from everyone from Steve Jobs to Mlk to Maya Angelou. Just great stuff out there in one of your profiles you self describe as a recovering m and a lawyer who did over 10 billion in a mergers and acquisitions before leaving big law to tackle financial inclusion. Uh, what prompted that transition for you?

Speaker 2:1:33A lot of self discovery, um, led me to a conclusion ultimately that my heart really wasn't in what I was doing. That was kind of one and then that it was important for my heart to be in it, which was kind of the second one that I came about after leaving. But I'm doing, I'm in a law was, was fascinating. You know, you have all these really big personalities in co founding teams and in the executive teams, in the various stakeholders like the, um, the actual equity holders. And sometimes those things are purely purely in sync. And then oftentimes they're not at all until you're kind of managing all these different personalities in this massive chess game with all these different economic levers that are moving constantly. And I found that fascinating. I'm super, super engaging for me. Um, but I still wasn't, you know, there was something missing and there was this one deal that I did that I can't talk about too specifically just given confidentiality.

Speaker 2:2:36But, uh, I watched the founding team, you know, basically walk away from an extra $100,000,000 and go with a lower bid amount. And it was all on the basis of principle. They were worried about their technology falling into the wrong hands, falling into the wrong corporate hands. And when it happened, they, they sort of did it without, you know, any second guessing of, of each other, both on the investment on the investing team and the founding team. It was just like, no, we're not going to do this thing. And I was like, wow, that's a lot of money to just really easily say, yeah, we're not doing that. Um, and it, it focused, you know, my own attention inward into, well, what would I do in that, in that situation. Um, and it was really empowering for the first time I saw inaction, you know, real passion at work and started to realize that I wasn't, I didn't have that as an m and a lawyer.

Speaker 2:3:31I was fascinated but I wasn't passionate. Um, and so yeah, I, I had a great opportunity in and left, but that was kind of the precipitating event. What is the definition of, beyond the check? A lot of people walk away to wait for something bigger, but to walk away from $100 million on principle. It's very rare. Absolutely. And really empowering to see kind of over what, what timeframe were you feeling that, that kind of void where your heart wasn't in? How, how was, how was processing that for you? Um, let's see. I think so I was an MNA lawyer for about five years and for the last two intently focused on sort of career advancement. And I had been working with a phenomenal attorney and mentor of mine, uh, who was building his own practice and he brought me along to help out with that. So I was thrown onto the steepest learning curve you possibly can be thrown onto as a, as a corporate attorney in an MNA lawyer.

Speaker 2:4:27And I'm a, I think it was during that time when the learning curve is so steep. So it was around the last two years of my legal career where, again, super, very fascinated, but all the while I have this tug of going through something else and wanting something a little more. And you know, it was either in that dealer a later one. So the short answer your question is about a two year period, but it was during that deal or maybe another one where I realized like, wow, we had kind of made it, you know, we, we were in really, really big deals, really important deals. And I'm still kind of wondering what's on what else there is. Um, and yeah, it was a process and it was one that was very confusing. I think at the time too. But we'll, we'll reflect more on, on how you got here, but want to make sure we take it from the top.

Speaker 2:5:17What is quill and what inspired you to start the company in addition to that feeling that you needed to do something in your heart was in. Yeah, quill, we, we help freelancers get paid. And our, our mission statement is to empower freelancers and small businesses with access to their cash flow. We do this by advancing amounts to freelancers once they submit their invoices, but well in advance of when they would otherwise get paid by the companies they work for the um, so just to walk through a very simple example, let's say you're, um, we worked with a bunch of drone pilots for instance, and drone pilots. They actually get paid fairly quickly, but you know, we're talking still seven to 10 day lag. I'm so drone pilot or real estate survey or a risk assessment of a big construction site. We actually know exactly when that client approved that payment.

Speaker 2:6:10And so we'll offer, you know, the drone pilot, hey, we'll give you ninety nine cents on the dollar today. Or if you want to wait, we think you're going to get paid on this date based on the data that we have. So we try and provide transparency around when you'll get paid and also flexibility to get paid on your own terms. So I understand the question of when you'll get paid, uh, was, uh, at, at various times with one in particular was of central importance for you. Can you talk a little bit about that experience and your inspiration to start quill? Absolutely. As you can imagine going from Mna attorney, I'm a relatively successful m and a attorney to the startup world because I went and worked at a bitcoin startup, a meant a massive pay cut. So I was freelancing on the side to make ends meet.

Speaker 2:6:55And um, Lo and behold, I had a contract that didn't pay on time. Really good contract. I'd worked with them numerous times and I knew it wasn't an issue of their credit worthiness. It just, something happened and I wasn't going to get paid. So I was going to, you know, have my bank deduct from my checking account for the full amount of my mortgage, but I was short by, you know, at least a thousand bucks. And so, you know, after five days before that's going to happen, I'm starting to freak out. It's like, well, what happens if I get a default, what are my options? And eventually, you know, I actually go into the bank and ask them for some help, tell them the scenario. Um, I don't want to throw the bank under the bus, which I think I have done before, but, um, I won't do it this time, but, you know, ask them, hey, you know, you guys have had my checking accounts, my, uh, my mortgage, my car loan, everything since for the entire, my entire adult life you've had, you've known me when I was an m and a attorney, you know, that I pay my bills, what can we do about this?

Speaker 2:7:58And uh, I was told, sorry, nothing from us from this bank, but they recommended that I get a payday loan or go borrow money from friends. Um, and so basically I had no options from the existing financial system and lo and behold, that's a situation that many freelancers are confronted with and lack of access to financial institutions and financial products is just sort of one of the things you have to, you know, deal with as a freelancer and that that's a massive, massive problem. Luckily I was able to go get my payment within about a day before I was gonna Default on my mortgage, but I had to do so by sheer force of will, meaning I went and sat across from the person that was charged with sending my wire until they sent it with less than 24 hours remaining so well and compared to as I think is pretty well known, those who have to get payday loans ended up three to 500 percent.

Speaker 2:9:00Compounded interest is crazy. How I understand an individual independent contractor can work with quill and as can a company or an employer. Can you talk a little bit about how somebody gets on board with quill? Yeah. So we need to work with the person that you're working with and that's actually how we're able to provide our products in a very consumer friendly way that we do. Uh, so we work with, you know, numerous fortune 500 companies, a large marketplaces for freelancers and assuming we do work with that, you know, fortune 500 company that, that marketplace for freelancers, you're going to have some touch point with quill and whether it's to get paid and have transparency around when you're going to get paid or take advances from us, you'll know who we are. And then if you take an advance from us, you know, instead of having to pay that 300, 3:50 percent annualized, whatever it might be, we charge a very simple flat rate that we always display for you.

Speaker 2:9:53That's the only fee that you'll ever pay. Um, there's no interest that we tack onto it. And on top of that, the, the advanced itself is non-recourse. So if you know, let's say fortune 500 company actually doesn't pay, but we've made an advance to you. Our obligation is to go try and collect from that fortune 500 company and we're not going to come after you as the freelancer. Excellent. Now I encourage everybody to look up a q, w I l on your favorite search engine and, and learn more for yourself. When you do click around there you will see statements that said that are not typical for most, most for profits with excellence and values around empathy, transparency, a positive sum value delivery. Talk a little bit about your values as a company. How did those come to be? Yeah. It's tough for me to feel that on my own because we really came up with them and then reinforced them all together and the listeners don't see where we are, but you know, we're in a, we're not in a soundproof room or in the middle of our office space surrounded by, you know, the quill team and we put together those values together.

Speaker 2:10:58Um, you know, everybody had a chance to edit them and ultimately we all agreed on them and locked them in a. We come back to them on a quarterly basis and say, hey, does this still serve as an accurate representation of who we are as a company? Um, does this mission statement still apply? Do we need to narrow it or, or, or broaden it? Um, and so it's very much a work in progress and you know, it's an evolution that is always going to be a good representation of who we are as a team. Collaboration is one of those values so that the team has any, any one you'd want to focus on, just an example of some something that drives through the company and influences your decision making. I think excellence tempered by empathy is the one that kind of holds it all together because if you really nailed that one, the other ones are kind of a, just logical outcomes of that.

Speaker 2:11:51And really it's, you know, our philosophy is we should all be very good at what we're doing and we're very focused on what we're doing but not at the expense of the human component. And so we have a practice here that we call the stoplight, for instance. Um, we did that this morning at our morning meeting where, uh, if you are, I go three, two, one, you go thumbs up, thumbs to the side, thumbs down, and if you're not having a good day for whatever reason, it can be related to the company or it could be something personal. We want to know that because we want to understand that you're bringing your whole self to work and we appreciate, understand that and if you're not having a great day, we're here to support you. And that hopefully percolates through to the services delivery to our end customers.

Speaker 1:12:36Now, I'm sure that, um, when people are pitching to investors and you've, you've done well on that front, uh, empathy is not often in the deck. How, how do you balance these things as you're out raising funding and building the company, what, you know, how are you measured by your investors and where do those values like empathy and excellence fit in? I've been trying to

Speaker 2:12:57proliferate the idea that um, vulnerability in, in leadership and just in product delivery leads to better outcomes, but it's tough. And so the numbers have to speak for themselves, frankly, when I'm speaking to an investor, they don't care about excellence tempered by empathy. They want to see, you know, a j curve or the hockey stick. Right. Uh, and luckily we've been very good at what we do. There's that excellence component. So, uh, I've never had to defend empathy. In fact, hopefully if we continue to grow the way we are and do the job that we're all doing here at quill, vulnerability leading to better business outcomes will be it's own case study and quilt will be the subject of it. Yeah.

Speaker 1:13:41Now, in terms of collaboration in building your team, how do you select your collaboration partners, including Nepal, the genius Brewmaster as an example? Yeah,

Speaker 2:13:53the, there's three co founders and trevor and me, we've, we met actually back when I was an m and a attorney and he and I had been moonlighting on quill, you know, for well over two years before we actually got it into the market. Um, Paul, I had known while working on this brewery project that we're still struggling to, to keep alive and get off the ground, but um, you know, we, we all come at it with this, you know, very, very, you know, high excellence quotient. Uh, but again, we care like we were, we're all looking to do something not just for the sake of profit alone. Um, we wanted to have a big impact in big impact, you know, profit comes from that, but we do care and we have to be able to be okay with what it is we're doing. And so that's, that was sort of the initial, you know, very ethereal litmus tests that we all applied and luckily we've been able to put it to work and bring in other people that kind of fall in line with that ethos.

Speaker 2:14:52Yeah. Now it for our listeners as said, johnny mentioned we are in an active environment. You may have just heard a gong, which I assume means something good happened. Yes. It's a good gone. We don't have a bad dog. Yeah. Yeah. Not like the old school. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. It's not like the gong show where someone just got kid doesn't mean you're escorting someone off the premises. Exactly. Exactly. And yeah, so if you hear voices, if you hear gongs, they are not in your head. They are in fact in our, our lively environment right now and we didn't set that up. I have no idea what that room was for and I'm very excited to find out. Good. Well, we'll, uh, we'll look forward to that as well. Can you share an example or two as you've been getting rolling hero of a time when, when, you know, quill made a difference in someone's life, whether it would be the, you know, the freelancer out there trying to make it a client, a couple of shining examples you're proud of so far.

Speaker 2:15:44Um, I can give a. So we have this stuff happen all the time. Yeah. I want to stick with something that, you know, I had firsthand experience with that said, I would encourage you, John, to speak with other members of my team at some point too, because, you know, everybody that is freelancer in smb facing has, has some story on this. Um, but there was actually a, there was a time about a year ago where our product failed actually. Um, so not, not the best day from a business standpoint, but we have a debit card product that, um, it's, it's wonderful because it loads on the spot. So, you know, if you're a freelancer, let's say last mile delivery driver and you're going to get paid on a weekly basis, it's not so long, but you know, you need gas to keep going, that it'll load right on the spot.

Speaker 2:16:36And we had a customer that, uh, for, for whatever reason, the card product failed that day and the customer was about to go spend the weekend with her kids and had no way to get that money. And she wanted to have an advance in order to be able to go have fun with your kids. Uh, luckily, uh, that individual was here local and so I got it through the support channel that they were based in San Francisco and we had one of our engineers who wasn't full time here at the time, uh, but he was working for us from Argentina. He was up here and he and I actually went and delivered cached or I'm over in the financial district, so, um, I met her son and they got to go about their weekend and have fun a because of our. Well, normally the product didn't work as intended, but the advanced got to her nonetheless.

Speaker 2:17:30Yeah. That's some serious putting your money where your mouth is. Wow. Nice work made. It made her weekend. We all take it seriously. Yeah. Well it's, I asked all of our guests and one of the highlights for a lot of people's hearing, first jobs, however far back you want to go, you know, childhood anywhere. What was your first job? Not my first job, which was short lived because I then got this second job. Um, but I worked at Sam's Club and Fresno and was certified as a forklift driver and that was actually a really fun job. I'm taking pallets out of racks and, and whatnot. But I did that for a couple of years actually. Is that where you're from the Fresno, California area? Yep. Yeah, that's right. Yeah. Well, you're putting lives in people's hands with the forklift, so they must have trusted you. Apparently. I'm still certified.

Speaker 2:18:20So, uh, if anyone needs anything, you know, brought from a high rock at a Walmart store, I might be able to help out. All right, well, will you have to add that to your linkedin profile? For sure. No. Yeah. So as a, as a kid, what did you dream of becoming? Did you dream of becoming an m and a attorney or what, what were some of the things you considered early on? You know, it's funny, I did have this vague back to a time when I was little where I wanted to figure out how to start a bank, but I didn't really know what that meant. And this was, you know, around the, uh, this was before, you know, paypal and any of this stuff was online. I thought that, oh, like you could just kind of start a bank. Um, but that was all vague, vague recollection.

Speaker 2:19:02Frankly. I was a skater punk, like I didn't have really a view beyond, um, uh, you know, the age of 18 and graduating from high school when I was younger. So a lot of, a lot of my initial education honestly was with street smarts and really just using that to ultimately get myself to ucla and then see that there's this whole other world out there where it didn't need to be survival focused and it could be, you know, you could really enhance or even alleviate that sort of fight or flight response that a lot of people are going through by providing a great service that like quill. So many people view work as a means to an end, you know, pay the bills and you know that that's fine. They work hard. How do you view work? I often describe my, um, what keeps me in this as wanting to solve a very complex problem where if solved it can have the potential for a massive impact and um, I don't think that stops with this, you know, we're all, everybody that you've seen around in the quill office today, um, we're all very focused on making that impact.

Speaker 2:20:13And I think the next thing after this, whatever that end is, whatever quill ultimately is able to become, um, when it's my time to move on from that, I'm going to look for the next thing. And you know, my heart has always been in um, renewable energy and sustainability. And I actually started my professional career there when I was studying abroad in law school in China, working for some ngos and nonprofits there. Um, and so I could always see myself, you know, sort of a retired. I don't know, it retiring I guess, but that's not really a concept that I find myself coming film familiar with in my, in my later years. But sustainability in renewable energy could be the next thing that I go after. I'm not sure. So are our mutual friend Ron suber talks a fair amount about aiccu adversity quotient. Let's talk a little bit about peaks and valleys, uh, any, any time when, you know, when you were really grinding it out, what did that look like?

Speaker 2:21:16How did you persevere? A, there's really, really no answer other than through, right? Um, you know, I think a good example is when we raised our initial seed, pre-seed, whatever you want to call it. Um, we were, you know, very young team. We had never started our own thing. Um, I, I had some decent connections in my co founding team, had decent connections just from being the last job that we were in, but, you know, we were turned down hundreds of times at least over 100 times. And um, we ultimately found a champion in Alireza at Missouri plug and play. But we had to endure so many meetings where I'm either in the best case it was just, you know, an easy no, right, like great. Okay, cool. Nice to meet you. In the worst case it was, you know, a, a yes, then you just never hear back.

Speaker 2:22:08Um, but yeah, that was tough and calls into question your intellect calls into question is this idea right? You know, am I the right person to do it? And all I've got to say is that have that conviction in yourself and keep going because yeah, eventually we found our champion and many, many more after that, including Ron Suber. Yeah. Does, does any know standout is just, especially stinging or cold. You don't need a name of them of course. But uh, or, or a good note that really made you think and rework your pitch a little bit. Yeah. Actually, um, you know, for the investment community that might be out there listening, I'm most entrepreneurs don't get offended by it. No. In fact we like the data. I like the data and I've, you know, other other fellow founder friends that, that I know like it, we use that feedback and you know, oftentimes we might say, okay, well, you know, maybe they don't get it or maybe it's not their fun focused, but when you get, you know, a really pointed negative feedback, it's like, wow, that was, that was a really, really good meeting and not only that, like you're probably going to go back to that investor, um, when maybe you are within their, their thesis or, you know, the, the big question they had for you was actually a really big issue and you solve it.

Speaker 2:23:28So, um, I liked the nose where, where I get really, really good feedback. Yeah. So as you're, you're going through the valley of 100 plus rejections as you're working hard day to day, building up with your team now, any spiritual practices or practices in general that help you stay centered? What, what does life look like? How do you find a rhythm that works for you? I think the, um, the number one predictor of my morale day to day is, uh, I've done a post on linkedin about this, about my gratitude practice essentially before I do anything else in the morning. Um, I have a post it note that sits on my closet door, which is, you know, just across from where I wake up and get out of bed and it's my reminder of to express gratitude in four different ways. So the first one is something perspective about my day.

Speaker 2:24:23So today it was, the weekend was over, so I was very excited to be back at quill with my team. I'm the next one is a geographical or something about the environment. And really that's to ground myself in kind of our, our reality. If I think today it was a, I woke up around six which was right around sunrise. Now that we've fallen back and there was this really beautiful pinkish orange glow coming from the West or sorry, the east, which my apartment has windows that face out that way. So I was very grateful for that, but it could be like I'm grateful that the earth has a tilt because that means we get seasons, um, and that means things aren't going great for me, but I can find something and then the next one is something about me that I'm grateful for. So it could be I'm grateful for my heartbeat, my breath or grateful that, you know, I'm working on something that I'm really excited about.

Speaker 2:25:16And then the last one is gratitude for someone else. And it could be my wife, could be my parents, it could be my co founders, my team could be a random person I met in the street that gave me a high five, but just an expression of gratitude for someone else and doing those four things. And I say them out loud, uh, I found really sets the tone for my day. Now in, uh, in one of your linkedin posts, uh, you, you talk about trying to figure out what motivates someone. I'll personally you're considering for your team. Um, how does your awareness, through your gratitude practice as you build the company, how do you try to get to the core of what motivates someone and determine whether they're a good fit for your team? That's really tough and I'm not the only, you know, decider on that at all.

Speaker 2:26:02In fact, um, you know, we have a pretty rigorous interview process where I'm, and we have this matrix of questions that everybody kind of goes through all touching on different areas that then actually bought out to our values, um, which, which we talked about earlier. Um, and everybody gets a vote and not only does everybody get a vote, but everybody has a veto, right? And so we're essentially putting together, you know, a massive group of people, all of whom are assessing these things all at the same time and if it's not a fit or if it's a lukewarm fit, typically will pass. Um, but there's no science to it. I mean, it's really hard, uh, hiring people, making the right hires and making the right hiring decisions is easily. I think the hardest thing that we do. What does the path ahead look look like for you in terms of trajectory, how you grow in your team, what are know maybe your top two or three goals over the next even quarter, however far out you want to go?

Speaker 2:27:01Yeah. I'm, we're on track to advance over $100,000,000 to freelancers and that's going to be our next big milestone that we have a really good shot at hitting this year. We did 10 million last year and a million the year before that. So we've been growing very quickly. Um, we were just talking about in our all hands meeting today about our next round of hires two and we're in the process right now of doubling from our last number. So, um, yeah, it's growing fast. It's tough for me to give you specifics beyond that because we're all just kind of charging that, trying to hit that $100 million number and making sure that we've got the right people around the table to help us get there. Now, as I mentioned earlier, Johnny, you frequently post very interesting quotes from people you admire, including Steve Jobs leaving a ding in the universe. I think that was from today.

Speaker 2:27:51Um, you know, who are some of the other leaders you admire and how, you know, how to do some of their decisions and success and maybe even failures factor into, you know, into your own trajectory. I actually had a really, really cool time reading some of serve Walter Isaacson's recent biography. So Einstein's biography was really cool. I really admire how, uh, how brilliant he was, but also how curious and childlike he was throughout his entire professional life. Uh, and I endeavor to, to have that mindset, but he's got some really great nuggets of wisdom and um, the, the innovators was also really cool, which tracks, you know, the, the advancement of computing and technology all the way from, you know, Bletchley and before that, up to where we are today and talking about twitter and social media. Um, and yeah, there's some really great inspiration there about, uh, how teams form to actually solve really hard problems.

Speaker 2:28:52And, um, you know, one, one thing that I was able to pull out of that book in particular was a, it's never an individual, even though history typically remembers an individual or someone grabs that, um, um, that claim, you know, Alexander Graham Bell wasn't the innovator behind the technology that he's actually even credited with all throughout history. It's always a team of people and their different personalities that have to fit on that team to ultimately result in this, you know, massively valuable thing that has a big impact on society. And that's actually how I started incorporating quotes into not just linkedin, but we do this at our all hands. So that quote, I want to make a ding in the universe. I told my team this morning, um, and it was reading some of these books where I was like, man, these are, this is why we do this, you know, like we are the team. And so yeah. So I got in the habit of importance of that wisdom from, you know, the, the, the giants on whose shoulders we stand. Excellent.

Speaker 1:29:57Well, Johnny, you are on track to make a major ding in the universe. I thank you for sharing your time with the team is on track to make a dig and you don't absolutely not, not to, uh, by any means. Leave them out. Well, all the best to you and the quilt team. And again, encourage listeners to go to Q, w, I l a, check it out and get your company on board with quill. Thanks so much, Johnny. Thank you.

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