Table of contents
- Founders - Kane Jackson, Ally Atmadja, Arjun Agarwal, Cait Robinson
- Melbourne, Australia
- Started in 2019
- 4 employees
So Kane, let's start with your backstory
II grew up in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. We lived in the house my mum bought when she was 21 and where she and my dad still live today.
Both my parents left school early to work. My dad did an apprenticeship, and mum became a loans officer at Teachers Credit Union before finding herself managing the accounts for my dad's automotive repair business. From there, they both retired.
I had what was a fairly average Australian childhood, which is obviously defined by how many camping holidays you've been on... (too many, by the way).
That changed somewhat when mum decided she'd work her butt off and send me to an elite private school for the education she wished she'd had. I wasn't wrapped about the idea because they didn't do woodwork, and, at age 12, that's all I cared about.
📷 Kane and Dad below.
Camberwell Grammar is where I first learned I don't fit in and that I can be quite bright; 'if only he'd apply himself'.
It's also where discovered my knack for writing and challenging things - which I've been doing ever since.
I challenged everything I was taught at school and often everyone teaching it. That made me unpopular with teachers who didn't like that. So, most of them.
I made enemies with many teachers, including my deputy headmaster. He was a man that liked to convince people of his opinions and often used quotes to do so.
One day, he was filling in for our teacher when he asked why I was talking instead of doing work. I said, "Because, Sir, I've never let my schooling interfere with my education, why start today?".
He didn't quite know what to do with me. I'd been disrespectful AND quoted his literary hero, Mark Twain.
Nevertheless, it's fair to say I learned a lot more about Mark Twain in detention that week.
Mr Dowse disliked me even more when our Church of England School was observing the Christian period of lent, and he saw me talking at an entire school assembly.
He asked over the loudspeaker, "and what will you be giving up for Lent, Mr Jackson?". In reply, I shouted: "I'm going to stop forcing my opinions on others, Sir. You should try it". It was worth the week of detentions to hear 1500 people simultaneously fail to contain their laughter.
Everyone in that room knew what nobody wanted to say - except me - and that has pretty much been the theme of my life.
📷 Kane, Mum and brother below.
Because I was a smart-ass and could out-wit and out-joke most teachers, and could make a room laugh, I was relatively popular with other students, but I was never their peer because I was gay, autistic and Jewish - 3 things people at a misogynistic and homophobic boys school didn't seem to like.
I learned from an early age that saying what I knew everyone else thought was one of my biggest strengths but also a big weakness.
A hard time at school was made easier because I was shown incredible support by two teachers who helped define who I am today.
Mark Williams, who succumbed to cancer before I could thank him (one of my only regrets), honestly believed that I would change the world, certainly more than I ever did, anyway. Other teachers treated me as if I existed only to be an inconvenience to their day, but not Mark.
Mark taught me some of the most valuable lessons of my life. He encouraged me to challenge power and invested enormously, and at great personal cost, in teaching me how to do it best.
He taught me how to circumvent those with positions of authority in society who have very little real power. But also, that they were the people who could frustrate and impede others from realising the authority. Their characteristics meant people genuinely want them to have.
He knew I would never fit in, and instead of trying to teach me how and failing like everyone else, he tried to equip me for the life he knew I'd have.
I owe much of who I am to Mark - and in many respects, he is probably why I find myself marrying a teacher. I think they are the people society most needs to be good people.
I also spent a lot of time with our school chaplain - as all dissidents did. For if punishment doesn't extract compliance, damnation surely will...
But Rev Butler didn't have much chance with the damnation card because I was gay. I was used to being told I'd go to hell just for existing, let alone for challenging authority. So, he tried something else.
He started dragging me along to St Vincent De Paul's Soup Van in Melbourne on Friday nights. We delivered food to people living in commission housing, boarding houses and on the streets.
He treated me like an adult, and we formed a strong relationship that later led to him nominating me to attend a century-old leadership program that has spat out some of Australia's greatest humans.
Those Fridays changed me. I developed a hatred of injustice that leads to human pain, and I learned that unintended inefficiency is a bigger enemy to fairness than intentional evil ever is.
It's where I first learned that I could direct my knack for challenge towards problems that others wouldn't touch. In many respects, it changed the entire direction of my life.
My nights with Soup Van are also where I developed my view that doing something bigger than yourself is the key to finding happiness and that being grateful for what you have is a superpower that can help in the darkest of times.
I've always had a deep understanding of people and how they work, and school is where I first found myself in leadership roles I never wanted. Largely because it further alienated me from my peers.
According to one of my teachers, I "discarded a very good result and opted for a degree far below what his abilities allow" and, instead, decided to study what interested me; how humans work.
I first studied Psychology at Swinburne, and then I completed Health Science Degree and trained to be a Paramedic.
Where other people started jobs to get through Uni, I found myself starting businesses and always found business and making money easy - although not rewarding.
I believe business is really just leadership, psychology and logistics. They are the three things that come most easily to me, and so I've always been able to get decent results out of business.
Whilst at Uni, I also trained as an Officer in the Australian Army, where leadership found me unwilling again.
I'd tried enlisting as a private, but my aptitude test lead them to plead that I enlist as an officer. I agreed because they really did push, but I had no idea how problematic that decision would later become.
I'd always challenged the apparent social superiority that accompanies leadership - the notion that those in charge should be treated as if they are more important, etc.
The fact I, as an Officer, couldn't eat food in the same mess as my soldiers seemed backwards to me, alongside countless rules like it. The further up the chain of command you advance, the more detached from reality and real people you become, and that made being in the Army very challenging for me, so I left.
The inefficiency of the military was also a major issue for me, given that one of my autistic obsessions is efficiency.
After Uni, I chose not to continue with paramedicine. The career I'd chosen, thinking it would make me happy, ended up leaving me frustrated and angry.
During my training, I found that 50% of patients Paramedics attend wouldn't need Paramedics at all if they were part of a socio-economic system that treated them fairer and that was more efficient. And, I learned that that system, and all the health and well-being that it affected - which is all of it - started with financial services.
The job I'd chosen to feel good about the impact I was making started feeling debilitatingly pointless, and I felt as if I was actually failing the people I'd wanted to help because I could see a more effective solution to do that but wasn't acting on it.
Being a paramedic eventually became a non-option for me because I needed to do something that helped others, and pretending I was helping when I felt like I could do more made me feel incredibly dishonest.
So, I got into financial services, the most dishonest industry of all.
But, it's where I think we will solve the problems most of my patients and most of humanity are actually facing.
What is Maslow?
Maslow is building a new financial industry that advocates for, serves, and is owned by billions of people.
The finance industry accounts for a quarter of the global economy and is utilised by 78% of the population. It is also the only industry that sells the same thing shareholders want, and that’s a huge problem.
Because all financial products sell money - either more of it as a return or less of it as an expense - companies are forced to undermine customer outcomes to give shareholders more. There's literally no other option. That's why there's so much conflict, so many enquiries, and so many failures.
Interestingly, there is no evidence that the 3x growth of the financial industry in the past 30 years has benefited the broader economy at all. In fact, the evidence suggests that the finance industry extracts rent from the larger economy to fuel its own growth, essentially making all of humanity pay for an industry that benefits just a few people.
This conflict damages and restricts all of humanity and contributes significantly to wealth inequality. It also means financial services cost people significantly more than they should.
Maslow aims to address this issue by providing cost-price financial products that it never profits from as a company - much like Costco does with household items. Instead, we charge customers a small fee that gives them access to those products.
Because that fee has no link to the financial products customers choose to use, it means Maslow is aligned with customers. And aligned to continually improve their outcomes - instead of undermining them to make money.
In fact, like Netflix, Maslow's success is tied to satisfying customer needs and delivering more value to them than the cost of our fees.
Where Netflix has to produce high-quality media content, we have to produce high-quality financial products - which we can do better than others because our model means we don't have to add a profit margin to any of them. We can make them better so they include more, or we can make them cheaper. We can even balance those two things if that's what customers want from us.
Maslow will offer customers cheaper insurance, loans, investing, and banking, as well as a safe place to navigate money on their terms and for their benefit.
Our most significant positive impact is that we remove the conflict plaguing the industry and we replace it with alignment. This significant change will reverse the costly cycle of industry growth, and the problematic issue of wealth inequality that conflicted financial services cause society.
Maslow will initially be 10% customer-owned, with the goal of increasing ownership among its users over time as investors hit their capped returns. We'll eventually be almost fully owned by the society we serve.
Our ultimate goal is to create a Financial Advocacy Industry that is owned by the people who use it. This would replace the current industry and its model that prioritises shareholder interests over customer outcomes. Which, as we know, is very problematic when it comes to the industry that acts as the on-ramp to the global economy for all people.
It’s impossible to predict how significant the benefit to society will be in the long run because success means an industry that acts more as a collective utility and less like an industry, and nobody alive knows just how much that will improve the world. However, there are a few academics who are getting quite excited about what it could mean for society.
But, irrespective, our vision for Maslow is to allow each person on earth the same entitlement to own a share in a new system of money that is designed for their collective self-interests, not selective self-interest.
How did you come up with Maslow?
I started my first fintech in 2014 when fintech was very different, and you had to build everything yourself from the ground up.
📷 Below designing a fintech app in 2014
We had a membership-based offering that aimed to give retail investors access to sophisticated products so they weren't at a disadvantage. We were the first actively managed investment product on the Google and Apple App stores and the first retail-managed derivative fund in Australia.
We launched and hit our growth targets quickly, but our customers behaved differently from how we'd predicted. They didn't invest as much as we expected, nor did they utilise the membership benefits we offered. But, they kept paying their membership fees, which were expensive given that they weren't utilising the value they offered.
When we surveyed our members, we found they were paying to feel safe because they were uncertain about managing money and had difficulty navigating an industry that is full of confusing documents, hidden commissions and misleading marketing. One of the most common responses we got was 'how can you ever know what's actually best for you?
The comparison sites are just marketing machines that recommend products that benefit the site in commissions, and information on websites always points you to the products they make money off if you choose them.
📷 Our first filing system in 2015
After further research, we realised there was a huge opportunity to launch a large-scale, low-cost fintech that advocated for people's best interests instead of profiting from the products they chose because we told them to.
From there, things got really interesting.
We knew that our customers wanted to feel safe and wanted to be able to 'just trust' their provider, but we couldn't find a business model within the scope of the existing industry that allowed us to actually put their best interests first. So, we designed a new one. But it took a few years.
The name 'Maslow' came from our determination to serve people's true needs at all points on their financial journey through life.
Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a wonderful north star for us, and it ties in well with financial security, as well as the goals we have for Maslow as it matures and serves more mature needs for society over time.
How did you go about building and launching the business?
We're still in the process of this. It's fair to say that it takes a lot of work to build the architecture for an entirely new financial services model.
We're about to do our second capital raise to execute on the plan that we've been working on for almost 4 years. Covid also played a role in the time it's taken us to get here but allowed us an incredible opportunity to connect with world-leading academics and industry leaders to help shape the model.
One of the biggest needs we have is to attract word class talent and some of the most progressive thinkers, both inside and outside of the industry. Building a new system for the benefit of society means asking a lot of questions and planning for a lot of scenarios that most ordinary companies don't have to contemplate.
Even designing the structure of how we'd actually give Maslow to society without losing control too quickly, whilst also not binding us to a direction that customers may not want us to take, took us a long time.
It involved many a complex and confusing conversation with lawyers who'd never built a company structure like ours before. Asking them to preemptively consider all the hypothetical scenarios that might pop up and the impact each has on all aspects of our architecture was probably the toughest challenge we faced and took a long time.
My 3 incredible co-founders, Arj Agarwal, Al Atmadja and Caitlin Robinson, who joined me on this mission, have made an enormous difference, as did the incredible (and quite mind-blowing) team of experts that we now have in our corner, and who have more brains in their big toes than I do my head!
How have you grown the business?
After finding the talent and thought leaders required to develop Maslow's system architecture, one of the things we needed was to test whether the wholesale industry would get behind our new model.
That meant finding out whether we could communicate it to people who knew a lot about how the current industry works and how it doesn't without scaring them off. Even with some heavy hitters in our corner, communicating the mechanics of an entirely new system is a complex task.
We did a lot of writing and research on Linkedin - which is where our industry peers are - testing, poking, prodding and seeing who, if anyone, was interested, as well as learning what our future enemies will say about us.
In the first year, we had 6.1 million impressions with the content we wrote about changing the industry, and we ended up with thousands of people on our waiting list - all without spending a cent. That's pretty rare in Financial Services.
We gained incredible support from leading experts who wanted to come and work for us. We had journalists, podcasters and industry leaders reach out, with some of them saying some incredible things.
One Bank CEO told us, "Maslow could genuinely solve the inevitable cataclysmic conflicts that threaten both democracy and capitalism. I truly hope it does, and will be helping wherever I can".
These are the kinds of statements that progressive thought leaders are starting to say about the model we've built, and that really helps us push ahead.
Even Sequoia Capital reached out because of what we'd been saying in the open, among other VCs, and their strong interest is what led to us putting a cap on investor returns - we knew once we started validating our model, which they still need to see, there would be strong interest, and we needed to make sure Maslow was a net positive for all humanity, not just VC investors.
We are lucky in that we're able to sell Maslow as a concept to a layperson in about 8 seconds, and they almost all become impassioned supporters who act more like activists than traditional customers. As long as we never let them down, that holds us in good stead and offers us enviable CAC metrics.
After our next raise, we'll need some time to build before taking our launch campaign to market. We expect much of our customer growth will come from word of mouth and will start first with people who care about the future of the world and then shift to people who care about that and saving money. Then finally, the people who care about saving money and not much else - which is totally okay by us.
We have a lot of support within younger demographics as they're the ones who'll experience most of what we create today, and we expect our average customer age will start younger than where it matures at.
Any big failures and learnings?
Our biggest failure would be believing that VCs back visionary founders with world-changing businesses. That line they have on their websites just isn't true.
VCs only back businesses with proven metrics that they can wrap in a vision that makes them appear like they're saving the world. They aren't saviours, despite what they'll proudly tell you. We have no great issue with that, but learning that they do a lot of virtue signalling takes a lot of founders a long time. There are a lot of VCs in the business to dress themselves up as something that they aren't.
If you are too early, despite many saying saying "it's never too early", they won't touch you. They don't have the time, the deep expertise or the courage to make a call on an unproven model, even if it could be the next big thing. They only want to invest in metrics or to back someone who's successfully exited a startup before so that they don't have to think too hard about the metrics at all.
We've had university professors, Order of Australia recipients, ASX200 CEOs, Bank CEOs and seasoned / exited founders spend hundreds of hours with us to design the architecture behind Maslow - convincing VCs, who know very little about the way our industry really works, to bet on an Aussie startup run by a bunch of misfits who are building the world's next retail financial industry, is a big ask.
Peter Ceglinski from Seabin once said to us, 'forget VCs, man. They'll never understand what you're doing until you prove it so that they don't have to.'
We're raising money from some smart subject matter experts in the industry to prove our model, and then we'll speak to the VCs - if we haven't upset them too much along the way (we likely will have).
What's next for you and your business?
In 2023/24, we will potentially do two capital raises. A $3m+ pre-seed and a seed round. We're raising half the pre-seed from industry experts, to be thought of as our brain trust or the ultimate value investors, and the other half from HNWs, with maybe a small public offer if it goes that way.
Your go to digital tools?
Zoom, Notion, Google Drive / Docs, WhatsApp and Slack.
Any inspiring founder books you recommend?
Blueprint: The evolutionary origins of a good society - Nicholas Christakis
Operating Manual For Spaceship Earth - Buckminster Fuller
Critical Path: Buckminster Fuller
The Influential Mind: Tali Sharot
Any podcasts you love?
I'm a big fan of Robbie Crabtree for strategic narrative work, Ron Shevlin from the Fintech Snark Tank, Mike Angell - one of Australia's most prolific and honest entrepreneurs (as well as one of the smartest), Rex Woodbury of Index Ventures, who writes a very popular Substack called 'Digital Native.
I also enjoy the perspectives of Dan Kelsall from Offended Marketing in London for his no-bullshit takes on the world, and Dan Bowyer from SuperSeed VC in London, who is both brilliant and fallible all at once, which is incredibly refreshing.
Any quotes you live by?
“No one is more hated than he who speaks the truth” - Plato.
"To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing" - Aristotle
"if you're going to claim the moral high ground please ensure you understand the geography there" - me.
📷 He said yes!
What do you love + hate about being a founder?
My mission makes being a founder incredibly rewarding, albeit tough.
I haven't earned a wage for 3 years and have sold everything I'd ever accumulated before starting Maslow, but that in itself has changed my perspective in a really good way.
I owe a lot to Maslow and to the people it has forced into my life.
How do you look after your mental health as a founder?
I'm incredibly fortunate that, as an adult, I've never struggled with mental health issues the way that so many others do.
It's one of the things I am most grateful for. But not feeling like I work at all makes a big difference, and I think that's why finding your purpose is so important and why working on something bigger than yourself can help with a sense of purpose that outweighs any of the hard times.
In a few words what does it mean to be a founder
I'll do it in one: Responsibility.
I am responsible for everything that occurs at Maslow, and that is why when Covid hit, and the environment meant we couldn't raise more money at the time, I chose to sell all my assets to fund the company - instead of wind it up and lose my investor's money.
When I take money from investors, that responsibility weighs on me heavier than most. Whilst it's business, it's also deeply personal to me. I've had so many people tell me my position on that is wrong, but it will never change. I've always worn less favourable financial outcomes more heavily than my shareholders, and I always will.
Our investors are all great people - we don't associate with or take money from anyone who isn't.
Telling great people you've lost their money is not something I enjoy, and that's what a business failure means has happened, whether you blame market conditions or not.
One of the things I am proudest of from this journey is something my first investors, Andrew Vrech and May Thandi, say to me quite frequently "the way you keep getting up, pushing forward and not stopping is incredibly admirable, and seemingly endless - it's undoubtedly your greatest strength". And if that's one thing I can offer our investors that others can't, then I'm wrapped.
To sum it up, I believe a great founder understands that nothing is 'just business'.
Every contact point between a business and a human is personal for investors, staff, and customers.
Whether its an investment that comes from the proceeds of work people have spent their lives doing, or customers whose life you are affecting with the provision of your product or service, or a team member whose employment funds the life they live with their loved ones and whose conditions at work affect that too, business is VERY personal.
Believing that, or not, separates founders.
Any advice for other founders?
If you're starting a company to make money, don't. The world doesn't need any more of that. And if you're smart, there are easier ways to do it.
If you're starting a company to change the world, start yesterday.
And the money will flow if you achieve the latter. So why not at least aim for it?