Erik Brieva's professional life so far has been dedicated to entrepreneurial ventures, enterprise software and internet-based business —having co-founded and managed several companies in Spain, the United Kingdom and United States before propelling Strands to a world FinTech stage.
In this interview, we sat down with Erik to talk about life before Strands, how Strands has grown since he took over in 2014, and what the future holds for the company.
How did the journey start? What are the qualities you value most in a leader?
After co-founding Intelligent Software Components, we scaled the company from 5 to 180 employees in two years, and then sold it to B2B Factory Ventures (Santander Bank) in 2002. Then, I founded Polymita Technologies starting my journey as CEO, and pioneering the Business Project Management software industry by selling our solutions in 32 countries. Being recognized as a Visionary by Gartner and Major Player by IDC, the company was acquired by Red Hat Inc. in 2012.
In 2014, I got a call from Strands to help turn the company around. I took the CEO position when the corporation only had 36 employees and 5 banking clients. Today, Strands has 120 employees and its technology has been implemented for more than 600 financial institutions worldwide.
Regarding the qualities I value most in a leader, leading by example would be first place followed by passion and the ability to engage your team.
What are the major challenges a CEO faces in today’s technology-driven market?
Innovation and the recruitment and retention of talent are undoubtedly the biggest challenges a CEO faces in the tech ecosystem.
On one hand, the speed at which you innovate is critical in positioning a technological company as an industry leader. On the other hand, finding and keeping the best employees is paramount to developing and delivering that innovation.
How do you promote new ideas and innovation within the enterprise?
At Strands, we promote innovation in every area.
The R&D department, also known as our Machine Learning Lab, is the team in charge of creating new algorithms and data models that are then transferred to Product Engineering. The R&D activity is also nurtured by the other areas within the company (Engineering, Professional Services, Support, Marketing and Sales), being aware of what our competitors and other FinTech players are doing.
We are also continuously listening to clients’ needs to develop the best financial technology in the market.
We frequently hold in-house innovation workshops with our customers. These sessions benefit both the client and us, generating ideas to consolidate digital banking software into convenient, intuitive and contextual experiences.
All the feedback from financial institutions and R&D proposals are integrated into our product roadmap, building a framework for driving Strands’ strategic innovation plan.
How can Strands become a major trendsetter in the FinTech industry and what plans are in the pipeline for the company in the near future?
Strands has been a trendsetter in the FinTech space since BBVA - one of the most innovative banks in the world - implemented the first Personal Financial Management (PFM) solution in Europe, powered by Strands. Today, 10 years later, the BBVA app is still positioned at the top of the best mobile banking apps around the globe, according to Forrester.
Having demonstrated our leadership in PFM with more than 600 financial institutions using our products worldwide, next in line is our Business Financial Management (BFM) solution so that banks can help improve SMEs’ liquidity and cash flow, helping them manage their business better and grow.
We complement the development of money management technologies with a strong personalization and recommendation techniques. We recently launched a new business model named Customer-Linked Offers with Swiss bank PostFinance, allowing merchants to target their end-customers more directly and with greater impact.
In the near future, we plan to consolidate an even more intelligent breed of banking that understands the individual needs of the customer and tailor-makes services to fit, using AI and predictive analytics for highly-relevant, personalized recommendations.
Our goal is to keep identifying customer needs in advance, proposing next-best actions, not only in the personal finance management space but in all areas of user’s daily lives.
Our Engager solution will continue transforming every conversation into a guided and meaningful conversation, remodeling complex data into relevant customer insights and added-value solutions in real time. It will serve as an enabler of a new breed of Relationship Banking.
Moreover, Strands will keep leveraging Open Banking to connect multiple external services securely in one place. One platform offering customers an overview all bank accounts and the ability to connect to third-party APIs, benefitting from the services of a wide variety of external providers.
How do you establish the vision for a new product or a solution in your company? What’s the best advice you can give to entrepreneurs trying out new product ideas?
At Strands, we set a vision for a new solution by listening to the market, clients and prospects, and by creating a minimum viable product (MVP) for each of the proposed solutions. We only develop the complete set of features after considering the feedback from the product's end-users. For that purpose, we nurture a community of about 20,000 end-users to test every new feature and improve them according to the outputs.
So, my advice for people trying out new product ideas would be: listen to the market, talk directly to your potential customers, co-create with them and use them as beta testers.
How do you measure success? How do you ensure higher levels of productivity within the team?
To measure success, we first set up our company strategic goals and make sure everyone in the organization knows them.
It is important that everybody understand that, beyond their everyday tasks, and beyond personal goals and project objectives, they are all contributing to a more global and strategic goals.
Then we define the objectives for every department of the company, for every project and, finally, the personal goals. Some effective metrics we track and analyze periodically are Achievement, Helpfulness, Efficiency, Initiative and Quality. The realization of personal goals within a project or department, holding all people accountable, ensures the overall company success.
The eighty percent of our team is involved with technical or engineering projects. To ensure higher levels of productivity within the technical teams, we also follow an Agile approach with the Scrum methodology, measuring performance on a weekly basis.
How fulfilling has your leadership journey been? Any great experiences you would like to share with us?
My leadership journey at Strands has been truly, genuinely fulfilling so far.
Our mission is to enable banks and merchants to anticipate customer needs and proactively suggest next-best-actions to increase long-term value for customers. Strands’ vision is to empower people to better manage their life and make smarter decisions with their money.
Having succeeded in building a robust, innovative and passionate team made up of very talented people, the experience just keeps getting better. It has helped Strands grow and remain a leading company in the FinTech industry.
We are enjoying the ride together and believing in something bigger than us.
What are the major milestones of your career that our readers shouldn’t miss? Tell us about the future goals you are setting for your organization in 2019?
At Strands, there are many relevant milestones so far, naming just three recent ones:
- Reaching more than 600 banks and 100 million digital banking users worldwide (powered by Strands).
- The recognition of Strands as Market Leader in Money Management Technologies by Forrester.
- The partnership with MasterCard to empower small-to-medium enterprise banking with AI and cutting-edge payment technology.
As for Polymita, major milestones include having the company recognized as a Visionary by Gartner (Magic Quadrant 2009 & 2010) and Major Player by IDC (MarketScape 2011) in the Business Process Management (BPM) software industry, as well as the merger within Red Hat Inc. in 2012.
In 2019, Strands will continue scaling up worldwide and consolidating our position in the market with cutting-edge technologies and solutions that will keep disrupting the financial industry.