Podcast Transcript – Series TWO, Episode 43
Jarrett wright, higher rewards September 2021
[00:00:00] The response that I get it does raise an eyebrow and you do wonder, but you know, what are the check boxes that they usually want you to have? You have to be an experienced founder. Okay. Well, I’ve been building multimillion dollar corporations since I was a teenager. Well, you have to be able to prove that you can execute. Okay. I built a bank in the middle of a pandemic. Okay, well, you have to be able to prove that you’ve put together a team. There are 30 people currently working for me for free. I’m all into this, hit all the points. I am putting all of this together. So please look past my black face and notice what I’m building here is something that is truly incredible.
[00:00:45] Why is this difficult? So it’s hard to say, this is exactly what it is, but I’m running out of reasons as to what else it could be. And it sucks that that’s even a consideration.
[00:00:58] What’s up Unfound Nation. [00:01:00] Dan Kihanya here. Thanks so much for checking out another episode of Founders Unfound. That was Jarrett Wright, founder, and CEO of Higher Rewards, a company that offers nonprofits and faith based organizations, the ability to provide their members of self branded credit card, where a percentage of every purchase goes back to the organization. Jarrett is from several generations deep in the San Francisco bay area. He showed drive and ability from an early age reading by two years old. And doing the family’s grocery shopping at six. But the pace and structure of school frustrated him. So instead of putting his intellectual horsepower to work in college right away, he started a property development company at 19. And within a few years, he was nationally recognized and bringing in millions in revenue.
[00:01:41] And that’s just the start of this story. The rest is amazing. You’ll want to listen in.
[00:01:45] Our episode is sponsored by a Trajectory Startup: Ideation to Product Market Fit. This new book by entrepreneur and investor Dave Parker is THE playbook for those are the earliest stages of the startup journey. Even if you’re just contemplating the jump to entrepreneurship, it’s the [00:02:00] guide for you. To get Dave’s book today, look for a link in the show notes, or simply go to dkparker.com, amazon.com or anywhere you’d like to buy books.
[00:02:10] Before we continue, please make sure to like, and subscribe to the podcast we’re available anywhere you get your podcasts, even YouTube. We so appreciate everyone in Unfound Nation who shows up to listen to the great founders we get on the show.
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[00:02:27] Now on with the episode, stay safe and hope you enjoy.
[00:02:40] Hello and welcome to Founders Unfound, spotlighting, the best startups you don’t know yet. We bring you stories of exceptional founders from underrepresented and underestimated backgrounds. This is the latest episode in our continuing series on founders of African descent. I’m your host Dan Kihanya, let’s get on it.
[00:02:57] Today, we have Jarrett Wright, founder and [00:03:00] CEO of Higher Rewards, a company that offers nonprofits and faith-based organizations the ability to provide their members, a self branded credit card, where a percentage of every purchase goes back to the organization. Welcome to the show. Jarrett. We’re super excited to have you on.
[00:03:14] Thanks for making the time.
[00:03:16] No problem. Happy to be here.
[00:03:17] So I tried to give it a shot explaining what higher awards is, but in case I didn’t really capture it. Why don’t you quickly just give us and the listeners a quick understanding of what exactly is Higher Rewards.
[00:03:29] Well, first and foremost, you pretty much nailed it. That’s exactly what we do. And really for me, it is a way about supporting those who are already supporting others. I mean, literally our mission statement is to empower those who are already dedicating themselves to others. For me, it really boils down to support. And when I take a step back and look society, I think to myself, well, who is it out there that is having the biggest impact on the world?
[00:03:55] And. Comes down and nonprofits and faith-based organizations really, and we’re looking [00:04:00] to solve the problems of them having no real easy, affordable, or a scalable way to raise funds. Current options require tons of overhead and prevent these vital programs from growing, you know, kind of hurting the institutions in the equivalent of the communities they serve.
[00:04:14] So Higher Rewards is, uh, using capitalism to solve some of these ills that, that we’ve seen as this.
[00:04:22] I love it. And in full transparency, this really captures two major passions of mine. I’ve started my career in the Lord’s face and, uh, working with credit cards and points, and I’m a proud and dedicated member of a faith based organization.
[00:04:36] So I really love the concept and I think it’s very timely. But before we dive more into the company, let’s hear a little bit about Jarrett. So tell us kind of where you’re from. Where’d you grow up? Where does Jarrett come from.
[00:04:49] So I am a Bay Area native, but a true native. My family’s been here for goodness, but a hundred years now, we’ve been in the Bay Area.
[00:04:58] I grew up in Richmond. Most [00:05:00] of my family’s from San Francisco. I grew up in Richmond. Um, I spent the first 15 years of my life there bounced around, uh, throughout the Bat Area ever since then.
[00:05:08] So tell us about growing up. So Richmond, I lived in Berkeley, obviously you and I have that in common. We were both for Haas Haas people. So to tell us about growing up in Richmond, do you have brothers and sisters was life kinda angelic difficult somewhere in between.
[00:05:25] So I’m 38 now. So growing up in Richmond in the eighties, you know, it was an adventure for all the wrong reasons. I don’t come from a fancy family, you know, we didn’t have any money.
[00:05:37] And so we’re very much like the United everyone else, you know, in, in that neighborhood. But for me, my mom was just determined to be the perfect mother. You know, she taught me how to read when I was two years old. And I mean, I look at. Two-year-olds now. And I’m thinking to myself, I could lower it. Like who has the patience to teach that thing?
[00:05:59] How to read [00:06:00] my mom? You know, she would give me 40 bucks when I was about six or seven years old in the parking lot of Lucky’s and send me in the grocery store to get two weeks of groceries. This is back when two 40 bucks would give you two weeks of groceries and I’d come back out with a shopping cart full of you know what we would eat for the next, the next couple of weeks, you know, she wanted to make sure that I was on every form of transportation.
[00:06:23] Was that out of necessity or she was just trying to help you learn or that’s really fascinating. Six years old. I mean, I have kids. I mean, I wouldn’t send them in to buy a pack of gum.
[00:06:35] My mom. She was just determined to make sure that I was prepared for anything. I mean, even now to this day, I’m never lost because, you know, she taught me, you know, how to read maps and how to navigate, you know, survey my area, my spatial awareness, like all of that comes from her. Um, making sure that I am in tune to the smallest details because.
[00:06:59] You know, as she [00:07:00] puts it, you know, perfection is made up of all the tiny details lining up.
[00:07:04] I love that. And what a gift of a mother to have that intentional insight around how to put you in places where you learned and were given the skills. That’s incredible. And so did you have any sort of entrepreneurial, inklings or aspirations when you were younger?
[00:07:20] Do you remember thinking about like, what am I going to do as I grow up? Or how did your story evolve as you became a teenager?
[00:07:28] I was a terror in class. I was the worst child imaginable and it’s so much weight on me now because by the time I got to first grade, I had already been reading for three years.
[00:07:42] So, you know, back then, The book that you’re going to be reading for the school year. And I was so excited to get into the book. I, you know, I’d read it that week and then, you know, the next week they’re like, okay, we’re on page two. And I’m like, oh my God. And so I was just a little [00:08:00] terrorist in class. I was just so bored out of my mind.
[00:08:04] They wanted to skip me up two grades, but the other teachers were like, oh, he’s not coming to my class. I don’t want that guy. And so it had to be just incredibly frustrating for my mom because on the one hand I would consistently test in the 90th percentile. But also we consistently get DS and apps like throughout my school career.
[00:08:24] And she always wanted to, you can now imbue all these lessons on me and it just didn’t click like these larger life lessons of, you know, not being a jerk and, you know, And these things just didn’t click for me until around the 11th grade. I don’t know what it was, but I just heard it for the right time and the right way to, at a certain particular point.
[00:08:45] And it all blew open for me. And I just, I understood, but I had like this awful track record that I couldn’t shake. So I changed schools, clean slate. And I don’t know. I just [00:09:00] always seem to think bigger. My always wanted to do more and eventually I thought to myself, okay, well, what do I want the ultimate Gerrit life to look like?
[00:09:11] Like, okay, let’s figure that out. Okay. Well, what does something like this? Cause all right, I’m gonna figure that out then. Okay. Well, Jobs pay this. And one of the things that I came up with was property developers. Okay. Well, what, what does that person do and spent, you know, a few months in my room, figuring it out.
[00:09:30] Okay. I think we can do this. And I just kind of launched into it. That was the birth of a real estate company that I started when I was 19. Within 30 months, it was a national organization, uh, you know, bringing in millions a year.
[00:09:47] Wow, wait
[00:09:47] a minute, wait a minute. Okay. So hold on, hold on. So most kids at that age are thinking are still sort of like, I won’t say it’s a pipe dream, but for some people it is, they want to be an actor or a [00:10:00] musician or an athlete or video game designer, or, you know, own a restaurant. So what put real estate property. Into your mind, like, did somebody introduce that to you? Did you look it up at the library? Like how did that even come into your purview?
[00:10:14] The two things that were really pivotal for me when I was a kid, my uncle Rosaro he lived next door to me in Richmond. And. One day out of the blue, cause when you, when you grow up, you know, where I grew up with the people that I was around, either you worked at the cable company or you went to work at Big O Tires, or if you were super lucky, like super lottery style, lucky you would become a longshoreman. Right. And that was like the ultimate dream job that nobody got.
[00:10:41] But my uncle just out of the blue, for me, it was that’s the out of the blue was like, you know what, I’m going to go down to LA and be a dancer. And he did he just up and left and has been sucks to this day is this 30 years ago, you know, to this day is very successful, um, in that [00:11:00] realm. And so that opened me up and I was like, oh my goodness.
[00:11:03] So you can just go off and do pretty much anything as long as you like, really get down to it. You can, you can make things happen. My auntie, his sister, Dana, she one day completely out of the blue, said, you know what? I want to start off. I started hot dog. And I’m like, auntie you, you don’t even know anybody that has a hot dog cart.
[00:11:25] Like, how are you going to do this? That’s crazy. But she did, it was summer vacation for me. So I spent a lot of time with her and I was with her as she went to the city and she measured out the streets as she sourced the car, as she sourced her ingredients and what it was going to take that showed me that you don’t have to know anybody in a certain field to get in there and make it happen.
[00:11:48] Between those two examples. I was thinking to myself. Okay, well, you know what? Let’s get weird. Let’s just get out here and try something that gave me the courage, I guess, to [00:12:00] try anything. And so just Googling where at the time it was like Yahoo and excite different things. I just happened to come across it.
[00:12:09] I didn’t know what it was. It didn’t words that mean anything to me, but it didn’t frighten me because I had two prime examples right there in my life that made it happen. So I’m okay. Well, I can, I can do this too. Okay, let’s go.
[00:12:23] That’s a great story. And so much of entrepreneurship at some point is looking to the people who have gone before and being inspired and emboldened by the fact that, Hey, they’re doing it right.
[00:12:38] It’s possible. And yeah, maybe they’re special people. They put their pants on one leg at a time, just like me. And part of it is self determination. So I love that. And so you’re here doing this real estate company at 19, I’m interested to hear the story of kind of where this went, because obviously you’ve done other things since then. So talk [00:13:00] us through the evolution and kind of what happened with that business.
[00:13:03] So I went to my. With this just massive overwhelming data set that I had been in my room curating for months and me, I tend to obsess about details. And at the time I said, I tended to be like a little bit frantic, you know, when I had details.
[00:13:25] And so I come from like, okay, mom, this is what we’re going to do. I have this, I have that. And I’m going to look at telling her. I can do this and I can do that. And she is just like, whoa. Okay, well, what do you, what are you looking to do here? And I convinced her to let me use her home equity line of credit on her house to flip a home in Stockton.
[00:13:47] And I did, I was 19, my first flip and I was off to the races. That was my first taste of money, but I realized, man, I know what I’m doing, but not really. [00:14:00] So I went to, I went door to door. To different real estate loan agencies to say, Hey, I have no experience. Have no idea what I’m doing, but I want to learn, can I work for you for free one person eventually said, yes.
[00:14:13] I started to learn the business. As I, as I learned the business. And once again, doggedly tracking down those details, I started to put together dots that other people previously hadn’t put together and was able to. I hate to get off buzzwordy, but I was at HIPAA to find like unique opportunities with which to monetize.
[00:14:34] And so I, it wasn’t like an HGTV flip, this house kind of deal. I did like really creative deals in real estate all across the country that were incredibly lucrative. And I have to tell you, it was absolutely awesome, you know, because of all the stress and pain that I put on my mom, you know, It’s a Kanye west song, dear mama, or Hey mama, something like that.
[00:14:59] It’s only [00:15:00] dedicated to his mom and there’s a lyric in that song that resonates so deeply with me. When people ask me, like, where does my, this incessant drive come from? He says, you know, I feel like there’s things. I gotta get things I gotta do just to prove to you that you were getting through and I’ve always reached a little further, have always gone a little harder than my dimmer.
[00:15:21] I contemporary. Yeah. And so I, yeah, it was awesome right up until it wasn’t the financial crisis. Financial crisis took me out, man. Well, actually it took a few years for it to catch up to me. Um, by that time I was doing some really interesting things and like subprime went away and it didn’t really affect me. A couple of other things went away. It didn’t really affect me, but the banks have stopped lending completely period. I started losing money. Um, it took me three years to run out of money, but I eventually did, you know, I was losing, you know, the equivalent of a brand new Lamborghini a month, every month for years straight.
[00:15:59] [00:16:00] So, you know, when you go from the Midas touch to like, this is incessant failure. It takes a toll on you and it’s pissed me off, you know, because as smart as I was supposed to be, I could not figure it out. I could not put the pieces back together. And I knew that there was a way that I could do it. It was like having a big, garbage bag of Legos and someone asking you to build the death star.
[00:16:29] I know that I can, I have all the pieces here. I just don’t have any instruction on how to put this thing together. I can’t figure it out. So not to make any excuses. I don’t come from anywhere fancy, but as I started losing money, as I started getting desperate, as I started making like, you know, worse and worse and worse decisions. In the height of my mania while I’m getting indicted. And that was just a whole nother thing. It’s been a little bit of [00:17:00] time to Club Fed, which was not fun.
[00:17:02] Wow. That’s a pretty good teaser. So we’re going to take a short break and we’ll be right back with Jarrett Wright from Higher Rewards.
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[00:18:21] So we’re back with Jarrett. So Jarrett just gave us a really interesting tidbit. So coming off his first business, which was super successful until the macro events of the great recession came calling. And as he mentioned, it ended up with him being indicted and having to serve time to tell us about that
[00:18:43] That was super rough, you know, because when you’re a kid or when I was a kid, You know, we used to be riding bikes outside its friends and fantasizing about just awesome life.
[00:18:58] And you know, it’s like, [00:19:00] oh man, you know, if I had a million dollars, you know what I would do, my whole family would never go a broken pump, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And here I am clocking in over 5 million a year net. Couldn’t figure it out. Handed a shot, you know, maybe not handed on, but this is my shot. I felt like this was my shot.
[00:19:20] I…no drugs. I don’t, you know, I don’t have a rap. I don’t play any sports, very non-athletic athletic body, but I can’t dribble a throw. You know, it’s not my thing, but I found my way and I blew it anyway. You know, it was a super low point for me. While I was there, interestingly enough therapy, federal prison, Capitol, Oregon, you know, you’re out there with like some really interesting people, international tax attorneys, real estate moguls.
[00:19:54] I met the guy that put together the billable indicates foundation. Yes. Because interestingly enough, really, really wild stuff. [00:20:00] But while I was there. I would just draw them with. What about this? Why would I do this? Why would I do that? You know, once I figured out who they were, and I was like, you went to like, you know, we like broad stroking yet right now, you know, the CliffNotes but really intricate details and stuff.
[00:20:14] Anyway, this is what I was trying to do. This is where I was going with it. This is where I went wrong. Oh, yeah. Now that, that is a thing, but you just need to tweak it a little bit this way. And it would have been perfectly legal. We would have never met, and that was a shot to bed because you want to roll over and die, but celebrate, you want to cry, but.
[00:20:38] There’s just this duality there, because on the one hand, I wasn’t crazy. I did figure something out that could’ve, might’ve worked where I wouldn’t have fallen off. You know, this is, you know, something that the quote unquote, big boys are out there doing. Right. But the label set in the death desktop, I did have a way to put it together. I [00:21:00] didn’t know how.
[00:21:00] That’s fascinating. It’s almost like. Davos conference inside the prison. I mean, it’s not, I’m not making light of it, but like it it’s actually, it’s pretty interesting that you were around people that probably ended up impacting your journey going forward in some form or fashion, whether it was just this post-mortem on your past business or connections, maybe even as you came out of there, that’s, that’s really fascinating. How long were you there? And obviously you’re out and you’ve been out for a while. So how did that come about?
[00:21:31] Yes, I was there for 18 months. And when you’re in a place like that, they don’t just open the door and say, all right, there you go. They send you to a halfway house. A halfway house was in Oakland.
[00:21:42] I spent another 12 months there, but I was no longer with the white collar guys. I was with everybody else that couldn’t afford to get on house arrest and go home. I didn’t have a home to go to. And even if I did, I couldn’t afford how cigarettes cause you have to pay for. So I was there, [00:22:00] but while I was in prison talking to these guys, that’s when my mind was blown open.
[00:22:07] Whereas if I knew this stuff that these guys knew I wouldn’t have fallen off, or if I just knew these guys, I wouldn’t have fallen off. So that’s where I was when I decided to go and get an MBA. My grandmother, she went to UC Berkeley. So I wanted to continue a tradition in, in going to the youth to go to UC Berkeley in her footsteps.
[00:22:26] She actually talked me into getting my first degree in rhetoric because although I wanted an MBA, I wanted something to compliment an MBA because I had to start from scratch. I hadn’t been in the classroom since I graduated. When I was 19, I wasn’t in college. I was running the company. Yeah. Right, right. So I have a degree in the art of persuasion.
[00:22:47] Nice. That’s not something you hear often, but it’s a, I’m sure it’s a powerful part of your toolkit.
[00:22:54] Oh, without question another one of those pivotal moments for me, it really opened my mind [00:23:00] up. I’m always say that, you know, when I was in class, I like coming out of class.
[00:23:05] It was like, I could see the world in matrix code. Like I just understood so much more. And by this time, you know, getting my degree, this was during the 2016 election cycle. And so studying. While watching what was going on in the political sphere. Oh my God. It was, it was really mind blowing for me.
[00:23:27] Yeah. You were probably like, oh, that’s this method and that’s this man. So tell me, so you’re actually going to school as an older, more mature person. Who’s seen a few things. Well, how was the dynamic for you with, you know, 17, 18, 19, 20 year olds who obviously have a different view of the world. They’re still figuring out who they are. Was it uncomfortable? Did you feel like, you know, you, you kind of had life experience over them, so it was easier for you. What was it like to be in [00:24:00] school at that, that kind of stage?
[00:24:02] For me, I was laser focused on what I w what I came there for. Where does an MBA and a new, the behaviors in my way to get there. But I have to say there were a number of like fall out of my chair kind of moments. I remember this girl in class, raise your hand. And she’s like, no, but I was born in 2001 and I was like, whoa, I graduated high school in 2001 and you were born and now we’re in the same class. This is crazy. But. Black don’t crack.
[00:24:32] So while I was in class, you know, there wasn’t like a visible difference. In fact, you don’t remember like, you know, being out with my, my friends, my classmates, and they’re like, they’re like, you know, whispering like, oh, well she’s so much older than that. She’s 26. I’m like, that’s cute. 33, but that’s that the dorms, but you know, to, to get more to the meat of your question, [00:25:00] it was a strong advantage because I had what nobody else in the room had, this perspective where all of these lessons were immediately.
[00:25:10] It wasn’t like, oh, well, on page 29, the book says, I’m like, okay. So I remember I was putting in this one deal and what had happened was, you know, and so I can immediately apply, you know, the lessons that we’re learning in class to a thousand different scenarios in my past. And I knew exactly how I’d be using these things in the future.
[00:25:31] So I felt like I had. I was far more grateful for the lessons, getting them at 31 23, then I would have been at age 19. Cause at age 19, I was just focused on balling and now I’m more focused on the world and those around me. I loved it. I had a fantastic experience and I very much identify as a rhetoric major. I’m a rhetorician through and through.
[00:25:59] [00:26:00] Nice. I didn’t even know that was the term rhetorician. I love it. So let’s, let’s hop into Higher Rewards. Tell us about like, where did the idea come from? What was the spark for Higher Awards?
[00:26:10] You know, Broad strokes. We’ve gone over a lot, a lot of them the resume, but none of it, I feel that none of it was just due to my own special mightiness and all of it was because of the examples that I had around me, my auntie with the hot dog cart, my uncle, you know, going off of dancing.
[00:26:33] Support, you know, support. Doesn’t always come in the form of a check. Sometimes it’s just somebody believing in you. Sometimes it’s just somebody, you know, showing you the way showing you what’s possible in that more than anything else. You know, my mom teaching me all the lessons that she’s taught me over the years, that is the difference.
[00:26:51] I find that 100% of the difference is support and I just couldn’t help. But to wonder what if the rest of the [00:27:00] world had the same type of support that I enjoy and chasing that question spawned 600 plus hours of face-to-face interviews. I’ve dug into tens of thousands of pages of research, not looking like, oh, Kenya, we issue credit cards because that’s not where my mind was.
[00:27:18] My mind was how do I support these communities? And as I was digging into it, all these data points that they were kind of swirling around a singular idea and that singular idea. It just kind of burst out. It was a credit card. That was the common denominator. That’s how something that people can use that they, you don’t have to teach them how to use it in front knows what a credit card is. Everybody knows rewards points are, and we can use that to funnel money back in, into organizations that are. Already out there putting in work. Cause I don’t, I don’t know how to do that stuff that they do. These guys are incredibly talented, you know? Um, I don’t know how to run a homeless shelter. I don’t know how to, to, [00:28:00] to run a men’s program, but you know, I can always say I’m a sharp negotiator. I got an eye for win-win scenarios and I build incredibly efficacious teams. This is me just bringing, bringing my best self to the world.
[00:28:12] Was there a point at which you said, I mean, that’s a credible discovery process and I love that you started with kind of what’s the big picture and what’s the, what’s the thing that I’m trying to solve.
[00:28:22] Not like here’s this idea and how does that map to something, but was there a point where you said, okay, This is what we’re doing. This is going to be a company and let’s go, or was it still sort of evolutionary and sort of like you just sort of at one day, like, okay, we’re incorporating and let’s go.
[00:28:39] There were two things. One that I glossed over. But I’ll go into low detail. Now during this time period. I was running a marketing company and a mentor of mine. I’d already been doing this research and mentor, and mom’s like, you know, you should really take care of your marketing company. You take it into the church.
[00:28:56] And he’s a great guy and has lots of [00:29:00] wonderful ideas. This was just not one of them. I’m like, oh my goodness, no, this is not what I’m going to do. And so we’re just like kind of pitching each other, right. Across the table over the period of like three or so weeks or already been doing this research in the background. And I can’t remember what he said, but whatever it was, he said, um, I’m like, no, no, no. That never works. The only way that it works is if you gave him your own credit card. Oh my God, wait a minute. That might be a thing, but I was still doing research and it was such a simple idea. It was such a pure and a beautiful idea that I couldn’t, I couldn’t figure out why it hadn’t been done before.
[00:29:47] And it wasn’t until I just so happened to find myself in the same space as a executive. Or with an executive or executive from chase. And he told me why [00:30:00] he was like, uh, excuse me. She, she said, well, we would have loved to do this at chase, but there’s a division between church and state. And that very much translates into the financial world. Um, and there’s no way, there’s no way we could even touch something like this. Um, so it’s beautiful that you’re taking the mantle on. And when I figured out why no one else was doing. Then I pick it up and ran.
[00:30:25] So tell us, where is it today? So like, obviously this is a situation or a company where you’ve got to get organizations and it’s all this FinTech backend stuff you have to do. W where is the company in terms of its development? Do you have partners yet? Where’s the company at right now.
[00:30:45] As you might imagine, building a bank. So we essentially done during the middle of a pandemic is not easy, but we’re able to get it done through. It’s called a bank identification number work been been [00:31:00] comes from across the bank and I’ve been number 4, 3, 4, 4 7200.
[00:31:05] I it’s like burned in my brain at this point. Very proud of that. So we have established a bank. We have built out the infrastructure needed to issue credit cards, and we have actually started issuing credit cards that are out there in use. Currently we’re looking at expanding. Outreach. We’re looking at, um, giving a larger credit line so we can start onboarding those on our waiting lists.
[00:31:31] Currently we have almost 700,000 people on our waiting list. Um, been broken to the books, 40 or so different organizations that have signed up with higher rewards. So massive waiting lists. The infrastructure is nice, strong, very proud of, of what the team has been able to put together. Uh, 30 people, you know, working where we’re in a really good place.
[00:31:57] Um, you know, the train is on the track and it’s [00:32:00] moving downhill. So I’m doing everything that I can to, you know, stay in front of me, keep the train on the track. I guess.
[00:32:06] So 30 people that’s quite, that’s quite a number that’s, uh, that’s impressive. And can you share who, who some of the early partners are at this point?
[00:32:15] Can’t share too too much, but one of the organizations that has given us the green light as they are. It’s a nonprofit organization based in Santa Rosa, First Responders Resiliency. Um, and they focus on helping our first responders, cops, firefighters, et cetera, deal with PTSD. That was interesting. Very, very important work that they’re doing. Derek. Chauvin, the cop that killed George Floyd. Without making any excuses for his behavior, he moved straight from active duty combat in Afghanistan, straight over to, to American civilian streets. Very, very, very different space. And there’s no transition. There’s no training like this. You are no longer in a war [00:33:00] zone. We are all Americans. We are all on the same side here.
[00:33:03] That’s an interesting group for sure. That’s cool. And so that’s a nonprofit, I take it.
[00:33:08] Yeah. So they, they help, they help cops, you know, deal with that. And you know, for me, they’re making my black life safer on the streets. It fills me with pride to be able to support organizations like that. And this is a singular example of the organizations that we have, um, that we have signed up. And it’s a singular example of the organizations that we will continue to sign up across the country.
[00:33:34] So let’s fast forward a little bit. So, you know, you, you have a really healthy perspective based upon your experiences, but let’s say talking to your mom and a few years, however long it takes, and you say, mom, higher awards is a success. We have done it. What would that look like? What was that going to feel like? Well, how would you describe the outcome in a way that made you feel like this was as a success?
[00:33:57] You know, I, I hate to boil it down [00:34:00] to a really cold. But I’d say $200 a share. I can boil it down to that because it’s indicative of the number of cards that we have out there is indicative of the amount of revenue that we are pushing out into the community.
[00:34:19] And Higher Rewards is a household name. We all know this. You want a card program setup? This is where you go. Our waiting list right now is so large that we have, uh, stopped reaching out to two organizations. Um, and even though we haven’t been spending really any money on outbound marketing, you know, organizations are reaching out to us, um, by me, us looking for something like this, and I mean, there’s a form on a website, filling it out, know, and this is before we even.
[00:34:53] Any real money towards marketing. I can’t wait to be, get a foot outside the door, but to answer your question more directly [00:35:00] it’s when, when rewards is a household name and we are pouring millions upon millions upon millions of dollars into communities that truly need it literally all over the world.
[00:35:13] I love that, uh, investors are gonna love that answer to $200 a share. Sounds pretty good too. But we’re going to take another short break and we’ll be right back with Jarrett, Wright from Higher Rewards.
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[00:36:34] So we’re back with Jarrett. So before we move away from Higher Awards, Jarrett, I did notice on the website that you, you had a big announcement with Visa. Maybe tell us a little bit about that.
[00:36:45] Yes. Yes. So visa brand spanking new just started an accelerated program Visa Fasttrack.
[00:36:54] So being inducted into Visa’s FinTech accelerator program, we gained [00:37:00] unprecedented. To Visa’s experts, technology resources. It means that visa hand-select and connects us with the very best enablement partners in the world. Partners who give us exclusive discounts. Let’s put being affiliated with Excel at what the accelerator, but on top of these discounts, we negotiated an additional 170 $500 for the savings. Um, And what that means. Like since we’re first to market, nobody else would have access to the very same enablement partners because their partner was someone else that does the same thing. It would cannibalize their already existing contractual relationship to have with hiring wards effectively boxing out the company.
[00:37:42] I’m not saying that nobody else could ever do this ever again in life. But what I am saying is that if someone else wanted to do exactly what we’re doing, that’s fine, but one now they not have access to the same enablement partners. Uh, it’ll be [00:38:00] at least $200 million, more expensive minimum. And I mean, they’ve lost first movers advantage.
[00:38:06] We’re already issuing cars and generating revenue. The only thing is missing right now is the investment to onboard those that are on our waiting list. Um, another fun fact, actually the Visa FinTech program are these a fast track? Technically we did not qualify because. When you signed on, um, you’re supposed to already have millions in revenue. It’s supposed to already have millions and investment, neither, neither, which we’ve had, but it took a look at the team. It took a look at what we built, what we built with and visa visa went to their legal department and we wrote the contract just to let us see. Very very proud of that. Very, very proud.
[00:38:49] That’s awesome. And, uh, I’ve had across my career opportunities to explore a partnership with Visa and MasterCard, and I know it’s no trivial thing [00:39:00] to get it and do it all through that process and to have it is, uh, certainly good wind in the sails. So you, you mentioned a little bit about fundraising. Let’s talk a little bit about that. How, how have you funded this company so far? Have you raised any money? Are you raising money now?
[00:39:15] Yeah. So I had an exit in 2019 and sold the marketing company. And so I have put somewhere in the neighborhood of 750 grand of my own money into this, up to this point. Um, on top of that, there is about a quarter million dollars. Um, and safe notes. These are these a little friends and family that have, they’ve seen what I’ve built in the past, in the bake me to get on the early. So there’s that. And then there’s, um, there’s a few other safe notes from. From a handful of investors that are, you know, from, from more, from more traditional sources, but yes, we are currently fundraising and that has been an [00:40:00] extreme challenge.
[00:40:01] If I’m just being. You know, I would love to say smooth sailing, great idea. Plenty of traction, plenty of numbers, literally checking all the boxes that they all say that you should be checking. Um, no problem. We knocked it out of the park, but it’s not the case, you know, it’s not the case in it’s crazy hard. It’s crazy hard.
[00:40:23] So, yeah. So it sounds like it’s been, it’s been challenging. Do you feel like there’s any dynamic about being a black founder that’s involved with that? Or do you think it’s more around the opportunity itself? What’s your assessment of the, the challenge with the fundraising?
[00:40:38] I am always hesitant to pull the race card, however. It is the response that I get it does raise an eyebrow and you do wonder, but it’s one of those spaces where you can never really tell for sure, because it’s so subjective, you know, they can hide behind any answer. [00:41:00] Right. And I mean, when I look at it, yeah, I’m biased. But you know, w what are the check boxes that they usually want you to have? You have to be an experienced founder. Okay. What I’ve been building multimillion dollar corporations since I was 18. Well, you have to be able to prove that you can execute. Okay. I built a bank in the middle of the pandemic. Okay. Well, you have to be able to prove that you’ve put together a team. There are 30 people currently working for me for free, and he’s a damn good individuals.
[00:41:29] I mean, they’re the ones who built this back. You have to have a demonstrated market for it. Okay. Well, there’s, there are more people on the waiting list and there are citizens in Oakland, California. Okay. Well, you have to prove that people are going to use it in the market. I have credit cards in hands that people are currently using.
[00:41:50] I’ll get into conversations with people, I’ll say, Hey, what are your revenue requirements? We don’t have revenue requirement. Great. This is what we’re [00:42:00] doing. This is where we’re at. Okay. Well, you’re a little too early for us because you know, you don’t meet our revenue requirements. Oh, I thought you said you don’t have everybody.
[00:42:09] Well, we don’t have revenue requirements. It’s just, you know, the requirements that we, and so they’re like going back and forth. And so it’s like, what is it really? What is it really? I know that we’re on a podcast and no one can see me, but I am standing in front of. $10,000 worth of equipment, professional lights deal, no current camera professional.
[00:42:32] Right? I practice, you know, like the pitching thing, I’m a rhetoric major first and foremost. I’m, I’m all into this. Uh, I, I hear all the points. I am putting all of this together, so. I am just please look past my black face and notice what I’m building here is something that is truly incredible, truly incredible.
[00:42:59] [00:43:00] And this is objectively that thing. And so why is it so difficult? I felt like I’m holding the color diamond in my. And I’m going around trying to sell it. That shouldn’t be something that you’re trying to sell. The Conan diamond. I’m looking at Brex. Brex is valued at what? 7.4 billion right now, our cards, uh, it’s a charge card for. No shade on, on what Brex is doing. Um, I am very proud of looking at what that team has built. However, I will say that our cards being that they are actual credit cards and not charge cards, um, we generate 40% more revenue than their cards do. Use it for usage. Why is this difficult? Why is. So it’s hard to say, this is exactly what it is, but I’m running out of reasons as to what else it could be.
[00:43:57] And it sucks that that’s [00:44:00] even a consideration. It sucks that that’s even a thought, which I sucked at pitching. I wish we didn’t have revenue. I wish that we didn’t have a waiting list or it was something else that I can point to. I can’t fix my face. I can’t fix my color and I shouldn’t have to be proud of who I am. Very proud, very proud of being the black American. I just hate that it’s even a consideration.
[00:44:30] Yeah. I can hear the frustration in your voice and you’re right. It shouldn’t be a consideration. And that’s, you know, part of the foundations for why we started this podcast is to show that the boxes are checked.
[00:44:42] And we’re not entrepreneurs looking for charity or some sort of feel-good where we’re looking for people to recognize the value that we were building and the strength and fortitude and resilience we have as entrepreneurs, which you are a perfect [00:45:00] emboldened example. Let me, let me ask a different question.
[00:45:03] Have there been organizations, folks, uh, specifically, or events, experiences that have been beneficial for you as a founder or, and, or as an African American founder?
[00:45:16] So being a part of the UC Berkeley ecosystem has been an incredible boom for me and for us, it’s really a wonderful place to be. If you’re, if you’re an entrepreneur.
[00:45:28] You know, Skydeck is blessed us with no, almost unlimited supply of interns. Um, they’re phenomenal. They, they, they get it done agentic. They’re driven. They’re smart. And so, yeah, very various programs within, uh, within UC Berkeley as. Been in an incredible help to me, I’m trying not to lean into the negative bit of it.
[00:45:56] Not of UC Berkeley, but just some of the places that I [00:46:00] thought would be more receptive to me. I feel like they aren’t those being like mainly like impact investors. Usually I’ll get more love than those who aren’t just like hard, hard, cold facts, like, okay. Hey, are you, are you hitting the check boxes?
[00:46:18] Oh, you are. Okay. Well then you will get a lot further with those, with those individuals with impact investors, which is surprising to us because. My whole modus operandi is to impact the world in a way that we haven’t seen before. Um, you know, I’ve said that I said earlier in the podcast, you know, we’re looking for millions of dollars into communities that for real needed.
[00:46:43] And so it, I guess it was kind of surprising that that wasn’t a place for us. Um, or hasn’t been a place for us thus far. But yeah, those who are deeper into the FinTech space, I think that they get what we’re doing and understand how [00:47:00] large what we’re working on is. Um, so I probably get the most love there.
[00:47:05] Great. That’s good to hear actually. So one of the questions we like to ask Jarrett is if you could go back in time and let’s pick the Gerrit, that was still a rhetoric major, I guess. So had done your first entrepreneurial endeavor and gone through its ups and downs, but not quite yet into Higher Awards. What kind of advice would this Jarrett give that Jarrett? What to do? What? Not to do what to double down on what to run away from? What kind of advice would you give that Jarrett?
[00:47:34] Do it now. Do it right now. I have this idea when I was an undergrad at UC Berkeley and it hit me like, oh, I hate to be cliche, but it hit me like a bolt of light.
[00:47:48] Like, oh my God, this is going to be amazing. This is going to be so good. I can’t be distracted with anything else. So I’m going to wait until I graduate. And then I’m going to dive [00:48:00] in deep. Big big, big, big, big mistake. Because what I did was I waited until I was out of the ecosystem. I waited until I was out of my support system of UC Berkeley, where there is, you know, times entrepreneurs and resources to get into it.
[00:48:20] And I am suddenly by myself, there was a big difference, you know, living 30 minutes away from campus, as opposed to. I lived across the street from campus. There is a big difference between, you know, bumping into your friends. You know, you no doubt on sprout, then having to call and set up a meeting and okay, Hey, let’s what are we going to do this?
[00:48:42] And it was a big difference and I wasn’t really able to get any traction. I was working on it by myself until I came back to UC Berkeley to get my MBA to the part-time MBAs. I could still work on it and then time, and then. [00:49:00] Gasoline all over gasoline all over it, and we’re launching off like a rocket and it’s been fantastic ever since. So my big advice that I would give to myself as a matter of major, as soon as the idea hits, do not delay, that was my biggest mistake.
[00:49:19] I love that. And, uh, we hear that as a common refrain, that urgency and that trusting year initial instincts. So we always like to end with a call to action to unfound nation. So tell us, Jarrett, how can we be helpful to Higher Rewards? How can we be helpful to use specifically tell us what we can do to help impact your journey.
[00:49:38] First of all, give us a follow, um, Higherrewards.com. @higherrewards. That’s on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, uh, keep up with us, but a direct call to action. One. We were in the middle of fundraising. So, um, early stage, uh, [00:50:00] Seed series a round. We can talk about, about, um, offline. When we have the conversation and organizations. We’re not, we’re not reaching out, but I’m looking to throw rocks into several polls. So we are working with the fraternities and working with the fraternity. You start working with lots of different fraternities. We’re working with, you know, a Christian organizations and a select few number of places. And then you start working with a number of organizations, you know, around them saying same thing with Islamic centers in Atlanta. You know, we started working with a number of organizations around them.
[00:50:37] And so these are rocks into separate pools, um, where we ripple out to the edges. It is, we want to, we want to be a rock in your pool. Um, and we want to rip it out to the edge of the community to make sure that we are fully impacting everyone and not leaving out anybody.
[00:50:57] I love it. And, uh, and hopefully we can marshal the [00:51:00] audience to help.
[00:51:00] I love this. And, uh, so Jarrett, I want to thank you for sharing so much. And for coming on today, your story is great. You typify, why we exist and what we’re trying to do to help spotlight and showcase great entrepreneurs like yourself. So thank you again for coming on the show.
[00:51:16] Appreciate you for having me. Thank you.
[00:51:18] We’d like to thank our guests, Jarrett Wright, and our sponsor, Dave Parker and his new book Trajectory Startup.
[00:51:24] This podcast was produced by yours truly, Dan Kihanya.
[00:51:27] Audio editing and production by We Edit Podcasts.
[00:51:30] Don’t forget to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts or simply go to foundersunfound.com/listenedto. That’s. LISTEN T-O. And follow us on Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn @foundersunfound
[00:51:42] Thanks so much for tuning in. I am Dan Kihanya and you’ve been listening to Founders Unfound.[00:52:00]