To Hack and Disrupt

Designed to disrupt and innovate, Plaid's software offers accessible data.

By Nick Sommariva 15C

Story Photo

Zach Perret (left), Michael Kelly (center), and William Hockey 12B (right) celebrate after winning the Disrupt NY 2013 Hackathon.

Eight months ago William Hockey 12B was sleeping on his friend’s couch in New York City, struggling to get his tech startup Plaid running. Now he and his co-founder, Zack Perret, have raised a $2.5 million seed capital and are choosing larger offices in San Francisco.

“We had no money, no clients, nothing,” Hockey recalls of Plaid’s position six months ago. “When we finally finished our product, people loved it. We’ve now raised enough money to go from four guys hacking in a room somewhere to a proper company with a real office.”

Hockey is the president and co-founder of Plaid, a computer software company that as Hockey puts it “takes archaic systems like the financial transaction records of banks and credit card issuers and lets smart young people use that data to build new and disruptive companies.”

In fact, companies have been so impressed with Plaid’s software that popular mobile apps like Foursquare and Venmo, as well as American Express, Chase, and Bank of America, have teamed up with Hockey’s company.

Plaid builds a software platform for developers that lets businesses integrate with financial and transaction information, including merchant, date, category, address, and much more. “We build a product that sits between software companies and banks and credit cards, and we enable them to talk to each other to turn their unstructured data into something rich and usable,” Hockey explains.

“Companies and individuals shouldn’t have to do accounting manually. The entire process can be automated – they just need rich and high quality data,” Hockey explains. “Every time someone swipes a credit card or a company makes any kind of financial transaction there is a great deal of data tied to that act. We make that data easy to use and understand.”

According to Hockey, the startup culture in San Francisco and Palo Alto is competitive and can be egotistical, but he isn’t concerned with those games. ”We just want to hire smart people and build great and disruptive products.” Rambler is the Plaid product which won Disrupt NY 2013 Hackathon.

Building a Business

As a junior, Hockey earned summer internship offers from top tech companies in California and Bain & Company. Torn between the worlds of technology and business, he ultimately chose an associate consultant assignment with the Bain office in Atlanta.

“I loved Bain. I don’t think I have ever worked with smarter people than I did that summer at Bain.” That being said, Hockey couldn’t ignore the fact that he was spending all his energy helping someone else better their product and company. “I wanted to be in business for myself.”

Making the decision to forgo full-time employment at Bain was hard, Hockey explains, but said it was the support he received from the company that helped make the decision easier.

"Bain was quite supportive during the entire process," Hockey recalls. "They told Zach and I to go and build our idea — and offered to help us in any way they could. The resources and connections that Bain offered, before and after we left, were instrumental in forming our company.”

Hockey remembers fondly the days when he was young and did welding and woodworking with his father and grandfather, both entrepreneurs themselves. He credits those experiences to his desire to create his own company. “I always loved making something from nothing,” he says. “I think the startup is a new take on the construction company. We can build something from scratch. We just use code instead of metal and wood.”

During the summer before his senior year, Hockey began collaborating with fellow Bain associate and Duke graduate Zach Perret. The two were both interested in financial technology and its applications. Hockey took the leap into entrepreneurial business and convinced Perret to break away from Bain and found Plaid with him.

Hockey remembers the first brainstorming sessions on the seventh floor of the Woodruff Library. Perret and Hockey bounced ideas back and forth about their fundraising strategy, as well as development and design of the software foundation that became Plaid. “We built our platform from the ground up,” Hockey recalls.

At Plaid, Hockey follows a business-to-business model, rather than business-to-consumer. His primary product, which is named Plaid after the company, is designed to aid other businesses in sharing pertinent financial expenditure tracking with the end user.

Hockey looks at tax, general accounting, and lending as areas where he and his company are creating software that will bring outdated systems into the 21st century.

“We’re helping developers and other companies leverage these massive data trails, which previously have been recorded by big labor forces, to automate and simplify the process, letting our clients compete and win in these old and entrenched markets.”

In the social media-savvy environment of the digital age, “When people hear startup they think of Instagram or Snapchat, but most people will never know we exist,” he says. “You’re never going to pick up the girl at the bar by saying ‘Hey, I work at Plaid,’ but what we do is a massive step change for our clients.”

Not Your Typical Nine-to-Five

Just a year out of college, Hockey is still on a schedule most of the world is not.

Plaid

Plaid founder William Hockey 12B (right), Michael Kelly (center), and co-founder Zach Perret (left).

A typical day for Hockey and his three partners (they all live together and carpool or bike to work) means getting to the office midmorning to “hammer away” meetings and conference calls. “I try to handle all my east coast calls in the morning,” he explains.

The team usually breaks for lunch around 1 P.M., but after that the guys at Plaid put their heads down and write code straight through until 8 p.m. Dinner breaks are brief, and work resumes until 2 or 3 in the morning; bed by 3:30 a.m. Hockey adds, “Then we wake up the next day and start over again, five to six days a week.”

“Sometimes you have to jump forward with your eyes closed and not know what is in front of you,” Hockey tells.

The guys at Plaid have many more leaps to make, but Hockey is confident he’ll see Plaid become a large company that employs lots of people and creates value. “I want Plaid to become the company that employs smart, young people who disrupt and innovate in old markets.”

Editor’s Note: At the Disrupt NY 2013 Hackathon, out of 164 registered projects, Plaid won after creating the best program in 24 hours. Rambler, Plaid’s winning program, lets credit card users see their spending on a map. Watch a Tech Crunch interview with Plaid.

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Michelle Valigursky