Home Interviews Laurent Oberholzer of Monito: How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur

Laurent Oberholzer of Monito: How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur

by Maud DeVito
Laurent Oberholzer of Monito: How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur

Being a founder, entrepreneur, or a business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur  we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Laurent Oberholzer.

Laurent Oberholzer is the co-founder and Head of Business Development at Monito. A recognized expert with over eight years of experience in the banking and money transfer industry, Laurent has been quoted and interviewed in numerous prestigious media outlets such as Forbes, Technologist, The Local, Le Temps, and the Swiss National Television (RTS).

 

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Laurent Oberholzer: I have always been fascinated by both technology and finance, especially in an international context. During my studies in 2011, I spent a year studying abroad in Hong Kong. This was when I was faced with the problem of having to send money from my home country of Switzerland into a different country and currency. Without really thinking more about it, and as did most of my friends studying abroad, I simply used my bank to transfer my money into a foreign bank account.

After returning home, I decided to attend a “Startup Weekend” in Lausanne with my friends François and Pascal Briod. They had also been confronted with the need to transfer money, having previously created an NGO in Cameroon which they were funding from Switzerland. The three of us realized that we had been losing staggering amounts of money when making our international money transfers. What’s worse, we hadn’t even realized it, as most of the cost of our transfers had been sneakily embedded into the exchange rate used to convert our currencies.

We decided that we need to find a solution to this problem, and founded Monito. It initially started off as a website that allowed people to compare money transfer services, but it has since evolved into a portal helping all those looking to send, spend or receive money across borders. Monito users can now find and compare providers, read independent reviews, and learn everything there is to know about international money transfers, foreign exchange, travel money, and multi-currency accounts.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

Laurent Oberholzer: Our “Aha Moment” happened when we realized two things.

  • The first was that the problem we were facing personally — the cost and inconvenience of sending money abroad — was shared by hundreds of millions of others around the world, with massive social and economical repercussions on both a micro and macro level. In fact, this issue is so important that the United Nations has set a target to lower the cost of remittances (money transferred back home by migrant populations) as part of its Sustainable Development Goal to reduce inequality within and among countries. We felt that this was a problem worth waking up in the morning to try to solve.
  • Secondly, we discovered that there was a simple solution to this problem. While we initially believed that we would have to build our own money transfer service to compete with the legacy operators and bring costs down, we quickly discovered that a large number of innovative providers had already beaten us to it. The main problem was that most people weren’t using them due to a lack of awareness as well as the opaque pricing strategies employed by certain traditional channels. Therefore, rather than yet another money transfer service, what the world actually needed was a platform to help raise awareness and bring transparency to this market. One where people could easily find, compare and review the best ways to send money abroad.

That was when Monito was born.

In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?

Laurent Oberholzer: I’m not convinced that entrepreneurship is an entirely innate ability, although certain people may have a genetic predisposition making it easier to develop or apply this aptitude. In any case, I wouldn’t say that I was born to be an entrepreneur. My parents both occupied leadership positions in organizations of various sizes, but I wasn’t really raised in a highly entrepreneurial environment in the traditional sense. I started my first entrepreneurial project when I was 13 years old, having learned HTML and wanting to build websites for small businesses in my community, however it wasn’t until several years later that I took a closer interest in the world of entrepreneurship. My initial inspiration came from reading about various successful entrepreneurs, which was one of the reasons why I decided to go to business school. However, nothing can replace actually “doing” entrepreneurship and learning on the job; founding and building Monito into what it is today has certainly been my most formative entrepreneurial experience.

Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?

Laurent Oberholzer: There have been countless people who inspired and helped me so far in my entrepreneurial journey, but Sir Richard Branson probably had one of the biggest impacts. My mother gave me his autobiography “Losing My Virginity” when I was a teenager. His life story gave me a completely new perspective of business and entrepreneurship. I started seeing companies as a way to effect positive change in the world by bringing together the right people and resources, rather than organizations existing solely to make a profit for shareholders. Branson’s entrepreneurial journey was extremely exciting and seemed like a fulfilling way to live one’s life, and reading his book is where my own journey began. In addition, this answer would not be complete without mentioning my two co-founders François and Pascal, who were instrumental in my entrepreneurial career and without whom Monito would have never existed.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Laurent Oberholzer: There are many aspects of our company that make us stand out, including our unique company culture, the tools, and technologies that we use, and our approach to work on a daily basis (which our Handbook gives a good sense of). What really makes us stand out though is the fact that we are a Tech company with a strong sense of purpose. Our North Star metric is the amount of savings that we can help people achieve when sending money abroad. We believe that over $28 billion could be unlocked every single year simply by switching to the cheapest solution on Monito for each given transfer. Our company’s ambitious mission has always played an important role in our success and our ability to deliver value to users, attract talented employees, connect with investors, get press coverage, and partner with leading firms in our industry.

For example, a few months after the company was born, my co-founder François and I traveled to London to meet with some money transfer operators. Our goal was to convince them to work with us and be included on our platform. Monito back then was little more than a simple WordPress website run by three students out of a warehouse. We had extremely limited financial resources, and François and I slept in a dorm inside of a pub. Our continental breakfast consisted of a bowl of cornflakes, a burnt piece of toast, and some instant coffee, which we had in the middle of the pub which still reeked of beer from the night before. Nonetheless, we would find ourselves a few hours later in some of Canary Wharf’s fanciest conference rooms overlooking the City of London with some important CEOs. Monito’s mission was key in opening these doors and securing our first partnerships, as many realized the importance of what we wanted to achieve and the impact this could have on our industry.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Laurent Oberholzer: The most important character traits that allowed us to succeed are:

  • Determination, which stems directly from a strong conviction in our mission and the company’s purpose. This has always guided us when making important decisions which shaped the company into what it is today, and also gave us grit and the courage to persevere through difficult times. A good example of that is during one of our early rounds of funding, which took longer than expected. The company was just a few weeks away from running out of cash and my co-founders and I had to stop paying ourselves a salary for a few months. We weren’t sure whether the round would close at all but we were absolutely determined to see it through and give it our all.
  • Empathy for all stakeholders in our model, including users, employees, partners, investors, etc. Caring for and understanding their feelings and perspectives is what allowed us to garner their support. Without it, Monito would never have taken off and would still simply be an idea we had around a few beers on a Friday night. For example, we obsess with providing the best possible product and information to our users, and the three founders still personally answer some emails and chats with personalized advice from time to time.
  • Integrity, which has also been instrumental in our success. We share a strong sense of “doing the right thing” and also believe that this pays off in the long term. One of our company values is to “earn trust every day”, be it from our users or any other stakeholder in our model, because nothing can be built without it. We don’t accept compromise on this and have for example turned down very enticing offers from investors who didn’t align with our values, even at times when the company desperately needed the money.

Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?

Laurent Oberholzer: Luckily, I can’t point to any single piece of bad advice which I received and which had any kind of significant impact on the company. When making major decisions, I always try to get advice from several different sources including people I know personally (both within and outside the world of startups) and thought leaders in blogs, podcasts, etc. This reduces the likelihood of major blindspots or acting based on bad advice. Ultimately, the responsibility for the decision anyways lies with me.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?

Laurent Oberholzer: First of all, we should recognize and always keep in mind that employees can only be as productive as the environment they are in. A negative work environment cannot possibly produce positive results in the long run. Setting unreasonable expectations inevitably leads to dissatisfaction, stress, high employee turnover, and in extreme cases, burnout. This will hurt both your reputation and your bottom line, and it is therefore in everyone’s interest to ensure that this doesn’t happen.

Founders and executives should ensure that they motivate, inspire and enable their employees to do their best possible work in a healthy environment. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this should be their number one priority. Fundamentally, this requires caring about each employee’s needs, abilities, and challenges in order to set reasonable expectations, and regularly checking in to ensure issues are addressed as they arise. Once objectives have been defined, trust your employees and empower them with the flexibility and resources they need to accomplish their work. As a leader, you should ensure that this is reflected in how you approach your own relationship to work, as this sets an example for everyone else. Lastly, this is another area where having a strong, shared sense of purpose can make a huge difference.

What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?

Laurent Oberholzer: This requires constant attention and effort. There are no shortcuts here nor simple formulas. Learn as much as you can, act with genuine integrity and humility, build outstanding products and services, create meaningful relationships, and lead by example.

Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?

Laurent Oberholzer: Echoing some earlier thoughts, trust is essential because nothing happens in isolation. Your success will depend on your ability to convince and inspire others to take action, be they employees, customers, investors, partners in your industry, etc. As the world gets more complex, these qualities become all the more important to cut through the noise and create meaningful relationships with various stakeholders.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Laurent Oberholzer: There are many, but by far the most common mistake I have seen (usually first time) founders make is to obsess about the solution and not the problem they are fundamentally trying to solve. Too often, founders fall in love with their initial idea of the product or service they would like to build and do not pay sufficient attention to what their customers truly need. More often than not, you won’t get it right the first time, and by focussing solely on the pain points you are trying to relieve for your customers, you can detach yourself from prior beliefs and iterate more quickly on possible solutions. The best way to do this is to speak directly to your (potential) customers as much and as often as you can.

Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?

Laurent Oberholzer: More often than not, successful entrepreneurs set out to solve a problem they were personally confronted with. They invest a lot of time, money and energy trying to fix it. It’s like a constant itch that they obsess over and which never really goes away. In addition, as the company grows, so too does the entrepreneur’s responsibility. As a leader, they are accountable to their employees, customers, investors, industry, and even society at large. All of this dramatically amplifies both the highs and the lows that the company will go through, and is the reason why entrepreneurship is such an emotional rollercoaster which isn’t for everyone. In my experience, while employees in “regular jobs” can be highly engaged and emotionally invested in their job, they will generally be shielded from a lot of the ups and downs that a founder might go through. They often have a different relationship with their job, which might sometimes be considered healthier and more balanced.

Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.

Laurent Oberholzer: There were of course many, but one example was when I hired my first employee to help us manage the growing number of partners on our platform. She was highly experienced in account management and was one of the more senior profiles we had considered for any job at Monito. I knew she’d be a perfect fit and went to great lengths to convince her to give us a chance. I was over the moon when she finally accepted to join us, as I knew the impact she would have on the company and was proud that I managed to persuade her. In general, seeing our team grow and the outstanding quality of the people we can attract is what excites me the most in this stage of growth of the company.

 

Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.

Laurent Oberholzer: Here too, there were quite a few, but one of them stands out. During one of our financing rounds, we had convinced two major institutional investors to co-lead the round. We were drafting the investment contracts after successful due diligence, and things were looking very promising. Unfortunately, one of the two investors suddenly decided to withdraw from the round for reasons which weren’t entirely clear. We had to scramble to reassure the other investors and ensure that this didn’t sink the whole round. Thankfully, we managed to get it done. This was definitely a low because it was entirely unexpected and left us very vulnerable, as we didn’t have much cash left in the bank.

Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?

Laurent Oberholzer: What helped a lot was discussing it openly with my co-founders, both in the heat of the moment and after the fact once emotions had cooled down. Mainly, it was taking a step back from the situation and realizing that this situation wasn’t the end of the world. Our determination and conviction in our mission are what ultimately gave us the strength and confidence to overcome this challenge.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.

Laurent Oberholzer: 
  1. Conviction in the mission of the company, which as explained earlier is a key entrepreneurial trait that will give you the motivation and strength to both reach the highs and ride out the lows. Starting a company is like a marathon, it’s extremely demanding and you’ll be constantly challenged. You probably won’t succeed if you’re not absolutely determined to see it through and understand why your work matters.
  2. Support systems, typically in the form of family, friends, or professional acquaintances. These will help you get through difficult times by giving you support and perspective while joining you in celebrating your successes. Don’t forget to be there for them as well, with relationships you get out as much as you put in.
  3. Life balance, not just between work and leisure but across your life in general. There’s no “one size fits all” formula, you need to find what works for you. Having other avenues of fulfillment in your life will dampen the shocks at work while giving you energy and inspiration to execute better.
  4. Physical and mental health. This is basic advice, but make sure to find the time to prioritize exercise, get enough sleep, have a balanced diet, take care of your mental wellbeing, etc. as you won’t be able to accomplish anything with a weak body or mind.
  5. Positive attitude. Look at the bright side of life and try not to take things too seriously. Trust yourself and the people you work with. Optimism breeds success.

We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

Laurent Oberholzer: Resilience is the ability to repeatedly overcome adversity. It is a key trait of entrepreneurs as they will often be faced with setbacks and failures on a micro level, and their success on a macro level will stem from their ability to recover from these time and time again. In my view, the two main characteristics of resilient people are therefore flexibility and strength. Their flexibility allows them to withstand difficult situations by adapting their approach or their mindset, while their strength is what allows them to do so over and over again while still moving forward. As the saying goes: “Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm”.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?

Laurent Oberholzer: We all encounter adversity when growing up, be it at school, in relationships, etc. While my most formative experience in resiliency has certainly been the founding of my own company, some previous experiences helped prepare me for this. Many took place while living or traveling abroad, and in particular during my year abroad in Hong Kong and my backpacking trips with friends throughout Asia. This forced me to leave my comfort zone and adapt to new and constantly evolving environments. When traveling, things would often not go according to plan, which required me to think on my feet. For example, my friends and I were motorcycling on the island of Cebu in the Philippines one beautiful afternoon when one of my friends struck a dog that had run out onto the street in front of him. He fell to the ground and suffered multiple cuts, scrapes, and bruises, and was in a state of shock. We were in the middle of nowhere and weren’t able to get any help. I sat him on the back of my motorbike and drove alongside the coast until I was able to get directions to the nearest hospital where we got him treatment. Overcoming this experience and many others like it are what helped me build resiliency.

In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?

Laurent Oberholzer: While difficult situations often trigger an adrenaline rush, I have learned to keep calm and work through the challenge. This requires putting my full attention on the situation at hand, having a laser focus on what needs to be done to solve the problem, and constantly reminding myself of the objective. This puts me in a positive mindset which prevents me from wasting time or energy on complaining about the situation. What I have also found helpful is to try to see each difficulty as an opportunity to learn something new or as a personal challenge.

Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.

Laurent Oberholzer: I believe that a positive attitude can go a long way in life in general. Not only does it affect your own behavior and mindset, but it also radiates and affects those around you. By adopting a positive attitude, leaders are able to attract, inspire and retain employees, and create stronger relationships with customers.

Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?

Laurent Oberholzer: If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes — then learn how to do it later!” This quote by Sir Richard Branson has always inspired and motivated me. It recognizes that we are all human, that it’s normal to have doubts, and do not have all the answers from the outset. It encourages us to forge ahead regardless and learn by doing. Personal growth can only occur by venturing outside one’s comfort zone, which is why it’s better to bias towards action rather than inaction when in doubt. From deciding to live and study abroad for one year to founding my own company, this principle has repeatedly served me well. As our company keeps growing and evolving, I am faced with new challenges almost on a daily basis and make sure to always keep this mantra at the back of my mind.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Laurent Oberholzer: The best place to follow or connect with me is on Linkedin : laurentoberholzer

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with
this. We wish you continued success and good health!

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