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“Not only did it ruin millions of lives as these loans became worthless it trashed our economy and required these same greedy institutions to be bailed out because they were in danger of failing.”

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Jason Henrichs is a serial entrepreneur with a long history in financial services. He began his career making boxes in the shipping department of Deluxe Check Printers over 15 years ago. He’s come a long way since then, helping both public and private companies to build products that better meet the needs of their customers and to discover the digital world.

PerkStreet has changed the way the average American interacts with their bank. Instead of an account being place to put money (often at a price), PerkStreet makes it a platform for doing more with every dollar. They help customers ensure they spend their money where they intended and get the most out of every dollar.

Jason Henrichs, PerkStreet Financial - Co-Founder

MO: What was your inspiration for creating PerkStreet?

Jason: Our team has a deep background in financial services and we started PerkStreet out of our frustration that the industry put profits ahead of the best interest of its customers by peddling debt and risk. We believed that by reinventing the delivery model, we could build a business that delivered real value back to customers while we built a profitable business.

We don’t try to change our customers’ behaviors but we do focus on putting incentives on things that are mutually beneficial rather than using inducements to drive behaviors that are bad for a customer’s financial health but profitable for the institution. Look what happened as a result of a mortgage industry creating loans that made it easy for customers to over borrow but would never have a hope to pay back or that they didn’t understand the payment implications. Not only did it ruin millions of lives as these loans became worthless it trashed our economy and required these same greedy institutions to be bailed out because they were in danger of failing.

MO: How is PerkStreet Financial helping create a better, more sustainable model for banking? What are the advantages?

Jason: We created a platform that helps our customers make more from their money rather than paying us to hold it. Our flagship product is a debit card that provides rewards for spending the money you’ve already earned rather than luring customers into debt with rewards they will likely never see value from. For the consumer this means getting $600 cash back per year (for the average American family).

As a business this exciting not just because we can feel good about what we do for customers, it is a very scalable model. We aren’t dependent on a certain number of customers carrying a balance and paying interest but not going so deep into debt that they go bankrupt – that’s a very fine line to maintain, especially as the economy goes up and down. By contrast, our customers are becoming financially better off by using our products that are better for them and better for us.

Building a business where the customer and company win together makes it easy to emotionally engage passionate customers and team members.

MO: How did you raise capital to create Perkstreet? Was it easy to attract investors and partners to such a different type of banking model or were people reluctant to come on board?

Jason: It was quite an effort, not because many investors didn’t see the need for innovation in banking, but because it is a product that nearly everyone uses and nearly everyone has a different view on what needs to be fixed. Convincing investors (most of whom invest in technology and are early adopters themselves) that technology was a means but not an end to solving the fundamental pain many Americans feel in dealing with finances was a challenge. Of course with rapidly growing customer base and millions of dollars of spend on our cards it’s a lot easier to substantiate the need we fill. We’re grateful Highland Capital and Globespan Capital got the early vision and are thankful for their support.

MO: You’re very active in the Boston start-up community. Have you always had an entrepreneurial spirit and if so, who or what were your early influences?

Jason: I was a builder from a young age, starting with all manner of wood scraps and graduating into model rockets and stitched together electronics. This led to an intense interest in creating solutions to unmet needs, including the way teams work together. I knew from an early age that I wanted to follow the footsteps of my father who started several businesses and my uncle who was an early Silicon Valley entrepreneur.

Since then I’ve had many great mentors that continually push my thinking and skills, including those with more experience, peers that I collaborate with regularly and places like TechStars where I continue to learn while mentoring them.

MO: Your company motto is ‘ask for forgiveness, not permission’ which is pretty bold maxim to operate on. How have you created such a culture of trust that you can feel comfortable allowing and encouraging your employees to take risks?

Jason: It starts with the team we’ve built and the way work. Our HR manual, which every new employee is required to memorize, consists of two bullet points: 1. Use judgment 2. Be trustworthy. We actively hold each other to these standards and if someone doesn’t fit, we are decisive about making a change. The team deserves these high standards because a single person that either is afraid to fail and doesn’t push or who tries spin everything as a win isn’t going to pull their weight and erode the trust by which we operate. We also spend time every week discussing strategy, performance against objectives and priorities so every member of the team is equipped to make fully informed decisions as well as receiving coaching.

There have been a few scary moments when I think to myself “eh gads, I should have been involved, I wouldn’t have done it this way,” but I remind myself that talk is cheap and I need to walk the walk. My job is to cultivate leaders that can operate without being told exactly what to do and that are empowered to make the right things happen. If we didn’t work this way, our organization potential would quickly tap out limited by the capacity at the top.

MO: What technology and products are you launching this year to help customers even more?

Jason: Mobile applications, the ability to deposit a check with camera, a savings account and proprietary software to help customers shape their spending habits are all being launched early this year. In addition, we’re finalizing deals with merchants to provide even greater cash back in the place our customers love to shop already.

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