How Success Happened for Mike Kennedy
Mike Kennedy left corporate America to help build a nationwide payments network.
On my podcast How Success Happens I sat down and talked to Mike Kennedy, co-founder and CEO of clearXchange. It was acquired by Early Warning Services in 2016 and its technologies are part of the Zelle Network. In 2020, Zelle processed over $300 billion worth of transactions.
The fascinating part of his entrepreneurial journey actually starts with “corporate America”. Before clearXchange, Mike had a very successful, stable and rewarding career working for one of the top 3 banks in the US as the head of payments. During our conversation, I realized how bold Mike’s decision to leave his job was, to risk everything he had built, and to start his entrepreneurial journey. I also came to understand that a lot of his experience, while extraordinary in retrospect, unveils meaningful lessons for anyone in today’s “corporate America” who wonders about taking this leap of faith, to become an entrepreneur, and make success happen.
So how did it start? How do you leave behind the cushy and convenient trajectory you have set for yourself to start a business from scratch?
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Revolutionizing digital payments in America is not an easy feat and, in some respects, even carries a little bit of magic. Yet, as Mike said, there was no “bolt of lightning” or “aha moment”. His path was an iterative one, where it all started by paying meticulous attention to his customers and the challenges they were facing to exchange money. Then came an idea, followed by many conversations to work through how it could be done. Mike recognized that success was only going to be achieved if he was ready to make the leap and start a new company.
Aspects of Mike’s background prepared him for his entrepreneurial journey. Born and raised in Omaha, NE, Mike played sports through his youth, including football through college at Stanford University. This taught Mike the joy of competing as a team, as well as the benefit of enhancing and leveraging each person’s strengths. This focus on people and competing as a team was at the core of Mike and the company’s success.
Something I really appreciated about Mike’s approach is that he didn’t immediately see the incumbent banks as competitors to be disintermediated. Rather, Mike approached the banks, explaining that he could provide faster innovation and a better user experience, while at the same time the banks could provide large built-in customer bases, helping get to scale quickly. Additionally, Mike was able to work closely with individuals and teams at the banks, leveraging the collective expertise to build the best system and company possible.
So what is Mike doing now? After transforming domestic payments in the US, he sold the company and looked for other areas with inefficiencies, settling on international payments. Cross border payments is a huge, $2 trillion market, but it is slow and expensive, sometimes costing migrant workers up to 10% in fees to send money back home. With this type of situation, Mike knew there had to be a better way. Looking at technologies to help solve the problem, blockchain, specifically the Stellar blockchain, became an obvious choice. Mike is now the CEO of Interstellar, doing for international payments what he did for domestic payments with clearXchange. He is forming a network that banks and licensed money transmitters can utilize to allow their customers to efficiently send payments to one another, only this time across borders.Related: Listen to Jillian Michaels on How Success Happens Podcast
Listening to Mike, he is now an entrepreneur and grateful that he took the leap of faith. When asked about giving advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, Mike said, “Make sure that your idea is better than the alternatives in the market, and if it is, go for it! It’s a ton of fun.”