Banking applications don't usually create a buzz at "hackathon" events. But two consultants in their early 20s were running out of options.
It was five years ago, and the pair had just quit their steady jobs at the consulting firm Bain & Co. They had an idea to build technology that linked banks and consumers through apps, but the 70 investors they had already pitched weren't buying it. So, they decided to prove their concept would work.
William Hockey and Zach Perret spent two adrenaline and caffeine-fueled days at the 2013 TechCrunch Disrupt hackathon in Manhattan, sleeping in sporadic hour-long shifts, building an app that showed users their debit and credit card transactions on a map. The duo, plus a friend who helped out for free, ended up winning the competition and the attention of investors.
"At these hackathons, it's usually, 'Here's my new social app, or here's my new dating app for my college sorority.' Nobody had ever built a financial application," said Hockey, co-founder of the winning app, called Rambler, as well as the fintech start-up Plaid. "No one believed in our product — we figured, let's just go build something on our own technology."
Rambler is long gone but its underlying technology has since become a household name among fintech developers. That technology, Plaid's APIs, has attracted investments from the venture arms of Goldman Sachs, Citi and American Express, and some say, has helped accelerate the growth of the payment sector over the past five years.
Despite popularity with coders, the average person interacting with Plaid most likely wouldn't recognize the company. It quietly powers everything from the popular peer-to-peer payment app Venmo to the mobile investing apps Robinhood and Acorns to cryptocurrency exchanges Coinbase and Gemini.
Plaid says it integrates with more than 10,000 banks, and connects to roughly 20 million consumer accounts. While it does not give specific numbers or a full list of companies, Plaid said its customer base doubled from 2017 to 2018.
"Plaid has quietly created a very big infrastructure without the consumer knowing that they're powering it," said Christopher Dawe, co-head of private investment at Goldman Sachs Investment Partners.
Dawe, who led Goldman's 2016 Series B investment in Plaid, said the company's low-key, behind-the-scenes operating culture mirrors that of its founders.
"I actually think that approach is thematic of their leadership style," Dawe said.