Janice Diner is not your typical startup founder.
She hasn’t sought venture capital funding; she doesn’t do beta and she isn’t pitching to millennials, the demographic du décennie. On going forward without backers, the CEO of Horizn says: “We never do anything for free. We get paid for what we do.”
She also doesn’t wait for the product to be absolutely perfect: “We had this theory. We go live before the paint is dry.”
The Horizn platform trains employees how to use all the products that technology has put at their unsuspecting fingertips. “Everyone is trying to build beautiful things,” Diner says in an interview. The focus is on cool. Buy-in from the rank-in-file is not front and center. “No one is thinking about that. It’s a hole,” says Diner. Referring to the focus at Horizn, Diner says it’s the “last niche of innovation.”
If you build it, they might not come — unless you show them how to use it.
Horizn launched more than four years ago, acquiring bellwether clients like Google and Lenovo. About a year ago, two of the largest banks in Canada approached the Toronto-based startup. “The employees didn’t understand mobile.” As for targeting millennials, Diner simply says: “I don’t think that way.” About 250,000 bank employees use Horizn. “We are getting all people at any age using it.” That’s quite a departure from the focus of Finovate in New York, where millennials were the raison d’etre for many startups.
Diner is a long-time warrior of the startup industry. An early employee at Facebook Canada, she quotes the Mark Zuckerberg adage: Move fast and break stuff. Horizn likes to move fast and quickly rolled out its training platform at Canada’s largest bank. Within eight weeks, Diner says the platform had an adoption rate of 84%. “Most people want to do their job well,” Diner observes. Horizn gamifies learning and makes it possible on just about any platform; some use it on their phones on their daily commutes.
The corporate philosophy gives Horizon an edge in recruiting technologists — they love skipping over the endless testing phase. They get to see the fruits of their labor much more quickly than at other startups.
The financial industry poses unique challenges for the business, Diner says. The lines of command and approval aren’t clear. Do you pitch the innovation team? The digital team? Product? “Who ultimately is responsible? Who is the buyer? You need to glue people together. Who is feeling this pain,” Diner says.
The tangled network of fiefdoms at banks is something I hear about frequently — perhaps the most cited reason for the slow-motion rate of change at banks. Pitching to banks is not for the faint of heart. It takes time and patience to find the person(s) who can say yes and make things happen.
Diner suggests that this could be changing. In private, bankers (at least overseas) are talking about replacing legacy systems completely — an idea that is almost never articulated publicly. For now, the banks have been nibbling around the edges, testing partnerships with fintech startups or creating their own accelerators internally to address discrete issues, mostly workarounds that don’t replace anything.
And even the change on the margins is hard to effect without the support of companies like Horizn.