No hoodies or garages: Huddl’s Corliss on his move from big finance to startup

At first glance, Stephen Corliss, whose resume includes senior roles at Blackrock and UBS, seems an unlikely candidate to lead a startup. But Corliss, 50, wants to use his experience from the world of big finance to help solve problems for customers of more modest means.

Corliss’ first foray into the startup arena took shape in 2015, when he founded a cryptocurrency company called Koinify. His latest venture is a social investing platform called Huddl, which will launch in August.

Huddl, which took 10 months to develop, allows people to invest with family and friends in products typically available to the wealthy, such as private equity, real estate and hedge funds. Users can invest anonymously with other users, pooling their money to invest in these expensive products. Huddl also will partner with Radius Bank to feature a high-yield savings account.

Corliss spoke to Bank Innovation about why he moved from a traditional finance background to consumer-facing fintech. The Q&A has been edited for clarity.

Your resume reads like a who’s who of incumbent finance. Why start up and why now?
I always found myself being tasked with the most difficult challenge at any one of those firms. I was tasked to solve it and usually not given a budget to fix it. That laid the foundation for my true appreciation of being really innovative. When you’re part of big firms like that, they just can’t move quickly. They tend to be very reactionary rather than really innovative. I had a fantastic time, but I wanted to continue to really push, not only my knowledge, but the impact. Ultimately, I wanted to be able to apply some innovative models and innovative tech to some of these structural problems that exist in finance.

How was the transition?
The transition was, to be frank, quite simple but also very exciting. I have a deep passion for global finance and investing, so I was very excited about the opportunity to be innovative without any sort of restrictions. It’s a complete 180 from your experience when you’re in these larger firms and how things have shifted over the years. Ultimately, though, they just can’t move as quickly.

Did you have to unlearn anything?
Probably a little bit. For me, it was being able to let go of that hierarchical dependency that you have in a firm. Being able to make decisions quickly without having to sit in a room with 20 other executives is much more fun and less restrictive. It was really [about] just stepping away and leaving some of that organizational approach behind.

Regarding Huddl, what problems are you intending to solve through it?
The two years of research that I had done was really about finding a model that could remove a lot of the frictions that are embedded in finance globally. That friction causes problems on both sides, whether you’re a financial firm trying to grow your customer channel or expand your distribution of your product. Clearly, on the consumer side, there is a ton of friction with regards to access or costs. So ultimately, what I wanted to do is look at finance and determine how to remove friction and allow for that free flow of interaction between consumers and financial firms. That’s what Huddl is looking to do.

You were on the early edge of the blockchain and crypto craze. What are some your thoughts on how these tools support traditional financial services?
The blockchain industry and crypto as a whole have started to shift over the last couple of years. It’s moving away from that very adversarial approach to something that is more about finding a solution that can work now. That can really deliver the type of benefits to consumers that ultimately, I think, goes back to the core of where blockchain and crypto started.

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