TCT Exclusive: Allison Barr Allen, co-founder @ Fast
Here at The Cap Table, our mission is to help you get (and stay) on the capitalization table
We're thrilled to announce this week's exclusive with Allison Barr Allen, Co-Founder & COO at Fast! In addition to running Fast, the 1-click, passwordless checkout for users of the internet, Allison also runs Trail Run Capital, a personal angel investment fund.
Before founding Fast, she was an early Uber operator, overseeing Uber's Money products (including Instant Pay, Driver Payments, etc.). With experience as an operator and investor, Allison's cap table knowledge runs deep. We discussed:
How Uber Money operates 💰
Domm's inspiration for Fast 🧠
Trail Run Capital's diversity commitment to founders ✍🏽
Cryptocurrency myth's ⚡️
Her secret to getting on the cap table 🤫
The State of Payments in 2030 🔮
TCT: Thanks for sitting down with us, Allison. Let's jump in.
You spent a number of years at Uber, most recently as Head of Global Product Operations on the Money Team in 2019. What was the most challenging issue drivers faced for payment methods? On the flip, how about riders?
Initially, my focus at Uber was within driver operations in the Chicago market. Uber was run very much like a decentralized startup, and each city and region had their own General Manager and team focused on the market's growth and health. My role was Driver Operations, so we focused on the driver experience in Chicago end-to-end (onboarding, engagement, support, payments, incentives, marketplace health). While working with the in-person driver support center there, and interacting directly with drivers, I realized payments are the most important part of the entire ecosystem. Since Uber was one of the first platforms that enabled partners to sign up, complete the work, and make money, all on one platform, without filling out extensive job applications, resumes, and interviews - it was very revolutionary, and a lifesaver for a lot of people. But I knew we had to get it right for the drivers. We launched driver bank accounts, debit cards, and Instant Pay, which let drivers receive money at the touch of a button, even after just one ride. The ability to quickly and seamlessly deposit that money directly into their accounts was vital and a key step to improving their experience with Uber.
For riders, the main priority was launching new payment methods around the world. Each country is very localized in terms of which methods they accept. For example, Uber accepts cash as a payment method in nearly every country except for the U.S., so we had to build security measures around accepting cash from riders and getting the cash from the drivers.
What was the "aha" moment for starting Fast?
My co-founder, Domm, had the idea for Fast when one of his kids was in the hospital, and his grandmother-in-law was home taking care of his other child, but she couldn't order groceries online for the family because she couldn't remember her password. He knew there had to be an easier way to access online accounts; everyone should be able to order online, easily and quickly. Coming from Uber and working on the Instant Pay product, I was really passionate about finding new ways to reduce friction in all payment processing experiences, and knew we could solve the problem of e-commerce checkout that requires people to tediously enter their payment details and passwords every time they want to buy something.
Things are moving fast in terms of your company growth (no pun intended 🤣). How are you approaching scaling the culture at Fast?
When we started Fast, I was in an interesting position of looking at core principles and thinking about how I wanted to lead; especially as a woman leading a company, I get to look at things from a different lens that not a lot of leaders see through. One thing I'm focused on is diversity and inclusion – we want employees from all walks of life, and to allow those employees to focus on projects they're excited about and can pull meaning from. At Fast, we're building a product that essentially anyone on the internet can use, so it's important we build a team that represents all different types of users.
We're also very focused on getting to know our employees past seeing them as a coworker. The more we allow employees to bring their full selves to work, the more they'll feel included and important at Fast, which helps us foster a great culture.
Additionally, we place an emphasis on recognition, taking time at our all-company meeting every Friday for team members to offer praise of each other. This helps set a positive environment for employees and encourages everyone to bring their best work to the table.
What's the biggest challenge Fast will face in 2021?
The biggest challenge that Fast will face in 2021 are some of the same areas of focus for us in 2020 - building our team and execution. A startup is a marathon, and our whole philosophy is to build the very best team and get a little bit better each and every day.
Shifting gears. How did you get into Angel Investing? What was your first investment?
My interest in Angel Investing developed over time, I didn't know anything about it at first. At first, founders would reach out to me on Twitter for feedback about their product. Coming from such a huge company, like Uber, it was fun to see these small teams of 4-5 people developing important websites and products. Over time, I started building my portfolio and created Trail Run Capital.
The first startup I invested in was AirGarage, a parking management and enforcement solution.
Trail Run Capital believes in expanding opportunity and access, noting that only 1% of US VC-backed founders are Black, only 2% are Latino, and only 9% are women. (Source: RateMyInvestor). What needs to happen in the V.C. and startup ecosystem to achieve this?
As an investor, it's important to find people outside of your usual network. One of my main focus areas is in finding great people, not just great products, to invest in. There are teams that have people that are often undervalued or overlooked that have great ideas, they just need a push or someone to believe in them to get started. As an investor, it is your responsibility to actively pursue those startups and bring diverse voices to the table, rather than taking a passive stance and waiting for them to approach you with their ideas. I'm proud to say that 70% of the companies Trail Run Capital has invested in have female, immigrant, black or Latinx founders, and I've pledged that, moving forward, at least 50% of the startups I'm investing in will fall under these categories as well.
If running a company and being an active investor didn't take up all of your time, you're also an avid trail runner and marathoner! What's your secret for staying healthy? How do you effectively balance your time?
I always focus on getting enough sleep and keeping a consistent schedule. I also use Strava, not only to track my own running habits, but also to follow other runners. Seeing how many miles other runners are tracking helps to keep me motivated and inspired.
What's your secret for getting on the cap table?
It's all about showing up and reaching out to founders and companies you're interested in to show them how you can bring value. Don't be afraid to ask for meetings with people – building relationships and your personal network is one of the most important aspects of investing and fundraising.
What advice would you give to a first time investor?
Invest in companies that your friends and families are talking about. Most companies that fail aren't trying to solve a big enough problem, so look to founders who are creating a solution for a problem that people in your life actually deal with.
Myth or Fact: "Cryptocurrencies are the future of payments."
Myth: Most of what people have predicted with cryptocurrency hasn't happened. They've identified the right problems – payments need to be easier, identification needs to be better, we need to remove friction – but cryptocurrency isn't the right technology for that. Part of the reason is the solution needs to be formed within the sphere of existing regulations and government identification.
The year is 2030. What's the state of payments?
All payments will be digital and consumers will have much more control over their online identity. I also think Q.R. codes will become much more prevalent than they are now. We've seen continued adoption of the technology, especially as contactless payments are on the rise due to the pandemic, and I think now it will stick.
Thank you for your time and thoughts, Allison. We look forward to the continued success of you and Fast!
Deal News 7/18-7/24
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Quorum raises $2,000,000 led by Adjacent, LocalGlobe| Quorum offers a chat interface application with user-friendly features such as conversation control, in-chat payments, track & many more.
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Forge Biologics raises $40,000,000 led by Perceptive Advisors| Forge Biologics is a gene therapy development engine, focused on enabling access to life-changing gene therapies.
Chowbus raises $33,000,000 led by Altos Ventures, Left Lane Capital| Chowbus is a delivery platform that provides authentic Asian food sourced from local independent restaurants and stores.
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WAVE.tv raises $32,000,000 led by CoVenture, GPS Capital Partners| WAVE.tv is a sports media company that curates content on a multitude of digital platforms.
Vesigen Therapeutics raises $28,500,000 led by Leaps by Bayer, Morningside Group| Vesigen Therapeutics is a biotechnology company that develops groundbreaking therapeutic products.
Branch Financial raises $24,000,000 led by Greycroft, HSCM Bermuda| Branch Financial is a technology-driven home and auto insurance company.
Tasso raises $17,000,000 | Tasso is a Medical innovation company changing the way diagnostics are delivered
Calypso A.I. raises $13,000,000 led by Paladin Capital Group| Calypso A.I. provides a platform that allows organizations to accelerate their use of A.I. technologies.
OrthoFX raises $13,000,000 led by SignalFire| OrthoFX offers a consumer-driven, dentist-delivered orthodontic and teeth-straightening service.
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Afresh Technologies raises $12,000,000 led by Innovation Endeavors| Afresh is a supply chain company that uses cutting-edge A.I. to massively reduce food waste and increase profits.
Shelf Engine raises $12,000,000 led by GGV Capital| Shelf Engine is a provider of an automated prediction engine that recommends what to order everyday.
Mobalytics raises $11,250,000 led by Almaz Capital, CABRA VC| Mobalytics is an eSports company that creates a robust way for competitive gamers to analyze and improve their performance.
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Religion of Sports raises $10,000,000 | Religion of Sports is a Santa Monica, CA-based sports media company.
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Sources: Crunchbase, LinkedIn, Twitter