Finovate: Winning Beyond the Stage

“I forgot my belt at home, so I’m trying to compensate,” I half-joked to my Kasasa brother in between bites of a lukewarm, gouda-covered-hard–boiled egg with bacon biscuffin sandwich. Eagerly walk-running.


John Waupsh presenting at Finovate
John Waupsh during BancVue's first Finovate Best of Show presentation (2009)


Like a 5 year-old trying to cover miles of black-top parking lot on his way to Disneyland glory, but still ruthlessly governed by his parents who can’t seem to keep up.

But at a freshly minted 37 years, and a career in financial technology, my governor these days is civility and my Disneyland is Finovate.

Dubbed “Disneyland of FinTech” by @leimer, known to FinTech illuminati as Finovate, and completely ignored by normal humans, this two-day banking tech nerdfest packs in over 70 seven-minute product demos, countless hours of spiked-drink networking, and enough twitter-spiked cynicism to make Chandler Bing blush.

Turns out that two-minute free hotel breakfast was the perfect fix for my temporary belt-loss and the necessary fuel for my last-second semi-dash to arrive an hour early.


For the futurists, engineers, product owners, and entrepreneurs earning the stage, Finovate is a first/last-ditch roll of the dice with their most prized possession before an excessively diverse audience united by a single dream theme: demolishing the way its always been done.

More of a shared lust, than an REM-provoked vision. A hatred for all things the way it is.

Under one roof, more than 1,200 caffeine-tweaked, adrenaline-soaked, lanyard-wearing, multi-device-toting banking modernists sit in wait of their ideal idol reformist showering seven minutes of religion over their weak, hungering souls.

There is, after all, a very thin line between Saturday night and Sunday morning.

And the audience, half-certain they’re getting away with doing something wrong that feels oh so right (many of whom are fat-bankrolled by the status-quo), quasi-comprehend the thin line they’re pushing won’t too easily pull-back to the “good-ole days.”

(Note to reader: re-read that last paragraph. It alone is worthy of 3 blog posts.)



On stage at Finovate fintech conference Blinded by the light at Finovate


And the audience, as united as they may seem, looks quite diverse when you view it from the pulpit-pounders’ perspective, who are allbut blinded…both by the 50M candlepower spotlights and a supercharged fight-or-flight hyper-arousal.

For some high-strung presenters, the onlookers are those who might give them more money (aka “runway”) or acquire them (aka “retirement”) in a time of the richest valuations this industry has ever seen.

Other, more white-corner-mouthed types, see snarly competitors looking to steal (or beat) their baby.

Some casting a shadow on the Finovate stage see their current clients, and are vying to not lose them to the squeaky Chuck-Taylored-suits who were on stage just 30 minutes prior.

Regardless, each presenter is unequivocally biased that the collective they are facing will give up some foolishly positive press and the oh-so-coveted votes for Best of Show.


To be selected Best of Show from this discerning audience, you need a superior combination of fearless naiveté, impeccable presentation skills, righteous indignation of vision, and reckless abandon of purpose. And since no PowerPoint (aka poorman's Keynote) is allowed, the new product revealed unto the masses must actually work.

So add expert UIX (encapsulating an engineering masterpiece) to that list of trophy-winner requirements.

A very breakable, 3lb glass trophy by the way. “Best of Show” in starburst-shaped logo-etched transparent glass.

There is a reverence buried in its fragility. Poetry, ornamentally and sentimentally schemed. It's a finger-printable, gravity-prone symbol of an entire team's achievement in execution.


A slight digression...

Let's not confuse the Best of Show trophy with the similar-sized, similar-glass thing they now give to all participants.

For all its prestige and glory, Finovate has started awarding a participation thing.

I think if you were to ask team Finovate, the participation untrophy is now given because just making it to the stage is a big freakin’ deal.

Big freakin’deal.

Perhaps in their more private moments, Finovate Posse ponders the real purpose of doling out that participation thing: their Y/millennial/Z audience, “just kind of, um, well, deserves it.”

Enjoy that participation tchotchke, bro.


Yes, Best of Show at Finovate would mean the team performed at zero percent if that didn’t mean something else quite the opposite. The team delivered entirely, in entirety.

And those in the Club esteem it appropriately. They defend its honor. Rightfully so.

But long after the FinTech wreck Disneyland pixie dust pile is swept away, long after the thousands of bone-dry, gluten-free beer bottles and wine-stained plastic glasses meet the recycling center, after the taunt-tainted Tweets, with spent shelled egos in their wake…long after all of those wickedly significant, rouxly-fundamental ingredients fade into a vapid “Top Ten Companies You Missed At Finovate” listicle regurgitation…the real analysis begins.

Or, more appropriately, the real verification.

That’s when we see if the voting press got it right. Did the demonstrated work of FinTech Genius® ship or was it all simply a one-act, third-grade stage play?

At the risk of stepping on an important phalange or two*, the demo might just be yesterday’s slide ware. No doubt @netbanker and The Finovate Group would agree: a dramatic demo without a viable go-to-market strategy is worthless.

Today’s FinTech Imagineers must think beyond the demo to market success — demanding complex, multi-departmental craftsmanship and execution of the highest order.

With a B2B2C product going to market (as in, a financial institution offering your product to its consumers), in addition to everything mentioned earlier, you must also over-engineer your B2B and B2B2C distribution and pricing, roll-out launch and support teams, work through multi-tenancy obstacles and potential scaling challenges, drive B2B marketing, equip your FIs with B2B2C marketing, prepare all B2B compliance considerations and due-diligence packages for third-parties affiliated with your product, budget for adoption incentives and ongoing consumer research and UIX improvements, etc.

The list is without end.

It might be interesting to review all previous Finovate presenters and Best of Show clubbers. Check the work for actual, sustained delivery to market.

See who shipped and who staged. You might be intrigued by what you find.

I’ll hang back here, still believing in the happiest place on Earth.

See you next Finovate,

- @Waupsh

*Eric, Greg, Jim & Kate: thanks in advance for not shunning me! : )

Tags: Industry