Welcome to the NVCA Blog series, Building Better, where we celebrate the dynamic relationship between our VC members and their innovative portfolio companies around the nation. For today’s Building Better, we spoke with Julia Huang, Managing Director of Amex Ventures, and with Matthew Bellows, Co-Founder of BodesWell.io, an Amex Ventures portfolio company.
Julia Huang, Managing Director, Amex Ventures
What is Amex Ventures’ mission and how does the firm strive to meet its goals?
Amex Ventures’ mission is to bring together some of the most innovative startups with the power of American Express’ strengths to enable the world’s best customer experiences every day. This can mean investing in companies whose technologies can augment and enhance existing capabilities, or it can mean investing in companies like Bodeswell.io that can help us deliver market-leading new products to our customers. We also work with our portfolio companies to facilitate relationships with relevant Amex business units that may want to use the company’s technology within the Amex enterprise or to offer new products and services to our customers. Developing these deep relationships is a key element of how we add value for both our portfolio companies and American Express.
What does Amex Ventures look for when choosing to invest in a portfolio company? What made Amex Ventures invest in BodesWell.io? What does Amex Ventures value in the BodesWell.io team?
When we make new investments, we look for founders and companies building innovative, impactful and long-lasting solutions to large problems. We work with these companies to create joint strategic value – they help us gain insights to emerging technology and we leverage our strengths, such as marketing expertise and customer base to help them scale.
We seek to invest in good people who are passionate about what they are creating and are honest and reliable. We also look for founders who can build a team of experts in their industries with a track record of success.
Matthew and the BodesWell.io team embody all of this in spades – it’s been so gratifying to be an investor in the company and see the pilot take shape.
How does Amex Ventures support portfolio companies like BodesWell.io? How does it help entrepreneurs grow and advance?
For Bodeswell.io specifically, we were able to shepherd a very early-stage company creating an innovative product that we are now offering to select customers in a recently launched pilot.
Matthew Bellows, Co-Founder and CEO, BodesWell.io
What is the mission of your company and how did you start? How has your relationship with Amex Ventures helped you fulfill your mission?
BodesWell’s mission is to provide the benefits of financial planning to the 85 million U.S. households that don’t have a human advisor. We do this by combining an easy-to-use software interface with a powerful, predictive model so that people can plan, budget, save, and earn to live the life they want.
Amex Ventures has been instrumental in helping us grow. Julia, Harshul (Global Head of Amex Ventures), and the team saw our potential at a very early stage, invested in the business, and facilitated key introductions into the American Express organization. Those connections resulted in our recent product launch and exposure of our software to millions of people. Without them, I really don’t know where we would be right now.
What problem is your company trying to solve for?
For consumers, the problem is massive. A pre-pandemic survey of 2,000 U.S. workers across the income spectrum showed that 75% had experienced income insecurity. The pandemic has only increased the financial stress Americans are experiencing. Almost all of us have laid awake at night wondering “How is this all going to work out? How can I pay back my student loans, support my family, and live the life I want?” That uncertainty about the future, the groundlessness that comes from not having a plan, is the problem we are trying to solve. By building a software-first version of financial planning, we are empowering more people to build and own their own financial plan.
But we can’t solve this problem alone. So, we team up with innovative financial institutions like American Express and others to co-develop digital financial planning for their customers. By working together, Amex can provide a differentiated service to its cardmembers, and we can add value to the American Express relationship.
Where and how is your company looking to grow into the next five years?
We are only two years old; so five years seems like a very long time! But given our trajectory, if we execute well and continue to work with innovative leaders like American Express, in five years we hope to be the largest financial planning company in the United States.
How has Amex Ventures impacted your company’s future for the better?
It’s hard to overstate the beneficial impact that Amex Ventures has had on BodesWell.io. They made a very early bet on an experienced team and a big potential opportunity, but before we had any real customer traction. Making those early bets, before a company has clearly demonstrated financial or operational metrics, is really the definition of an early-stage investor. Moreover, Julia and her team worked hard to connect us with the right people within American Express and to guide us through the year-long process from introduction to product launch.
Most venture capitalists will tell entrepreneurs that they bring more to the table than money – they have advisors, they can make connections, they have experience – and sometimes what they say is true. But Amex Ventures was instrumental in us going from zero customers to one big customer, and that’s the hardest step for any startup to take. They helped us get from zero to one, and for that I will always be grateful. I can’t wait to figure out what we can do together from here.