April 22, 2019
Em Minor on her circuitous route to fintech
Updated on November 19, 2019
Photo by Kevin Hu
Congratulations on the new role! Can you give us a fly over of your responsibilities?
Sure! I’m super excited to be leading the FI Partnerships team, which is responsible for managing Plaid’s relationships with the financial institutions supported on our platform. What's cool about the role is that we interface with both the technical teams and the go-to-market teams at Plaid. On the technical side, we work with Product and Engineering to ensure that end users can safely, seamlessly, and reliably access their financial data. On the go-to-market side, we work with our Sales and Growth teams to build thriving, mutually beneficial commercial partnerships with financial institutions.
You studied economics at Vanderbilt and initially pursued a career in environmental stewardship after college. Why did you step away from the environmental career path?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been drawn to all things unconventional. At Vanderbilt, that meant instructing a for-credit course called Wilderness Skills, and many of my weekends were spent paddling rivers, climbing mountains, and exploring caves. Through those experiences, I became really passionate about environmental issues. When I graduated, I wanted to find a way to tie that passion into my career. So, I compiled a list of different organizations in Nashville that had some sort of environmental bend, networked the heck out of pretty much any contact that would return a call, and ended up working at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. But it wasn’t everything I thought it would be. I learned the hard way that there are a lot of practical considerations to figuring out what kind of career is right for you beyond mission. There's culture, industry, growth potential, and having a bottom line to create a sense of urgency. My passion for the environment is now something I focus on in my personal time. It’s one of the reasons I love living in San Francisco, where there is so much easy access to the outdoors.
Where did that realization lead you?
I went to business school at Chicago Booth and eventually found myself working as a management consultant in a more traditional company, in a more traditional industry, and getting promoted quickly. But I had a hard time envisioning a future there, which is really important to how I operate. I love being able to envision a future state that I’m inspired by, to the extent that it keeps me up at night! From there, I love the challenge of figuring out how to make it happen.
Where do you think your passion for the unconventional comes from?
I've always been a bit of a contrarian. I like going left when everybody else is going right. I like solving for a unique approach. Maybe it’s a result of being a fourth child and wanting to stand out from my siblings from an early age!
Once you left the more traditional consulting path, did you land in Fintech?
Yes. Well, almost. As a consultant, I was fortunate to manage an engagement supporting Governor Cuomo’s initiative to stand up the New York Green Bank. Through that project, I had the opportunity to interview dozens of entrepreneurs who were building cleantech companies, and that was really my first exposure to the startup and tech worlds. I was working so hard that I basically didn’t sleep for two months, but I was having a great time. For me, that was a sign that I’d found something I should continue to explore.
I followed up with one of those entrepreneurs, and he brought me onto the management team of a consumer finance company in the solar industry. It was an incredible experience, and it ended up bringing me to San Francisco and introducing me to some of my best friends today. Unfortunately, the company didn’t have a great exit, and so in early 2017 I found myself in a position to again step back and evaluate where I was, where I wanted to go, and what I was looking for in my next move.
How did you tackle that analysis?
I put my consulting hat on and developed a hypothesis! I knew I loved San Francisco and the disruptive nature of tech. I knew that it would be important to find a growing company in a growing industry where I had at least some relevant experience. I also knew I loved complex, externally facing roles. Putting all the pieces together, that meant looking at series B fintech companies in the Bay Area. Thankfully, there's a limited number of companies that fit this definition! I compiled them into a list and again networked the heck out of pretty much any contact that would return a call. Through that process of discovery, I learned more and more about the fintech industry. And in the vast majority of those discussions, my contacts mentioned Plaid. To be honest, Plaid wasn’t on my initial list, but after hearing it mentioned so many times I figured it must be doing something important. Luckily, I had a connection to the Head of BD, and the rest is history.
How has your diverse resume served you so far in your new role?
Sometimes I think it’s pretty ironic that I ended up at a super cool tech company because I'm not a digital native—not even close! But honestly, my outsider perspective helps me serve as a good liaison between Plaid and financial institutions, because it’s my team’s role to bridge the gap from where the industry has been to where it’s going. Having somebody that can understand both worlds really helps me in my day-to-day work.
What advice would you offer someone feeling stuck or mistargeted professionally?
I’m a huge believer in the principle that you should diligently pursue your passion. This may take you in unexpected directions, but that’s ok! The journey itself is so valuable, and if you set some goals and have faith in yourself and the process, you’ll end up in a great place. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation may not have been the fastest rocket ship to launch my career, but it was through that experience that I met my wonderful husband, and I’m so thankful for that twist of fate. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.
What makes Plaid the right place for you at this point in your career?
I love the relentless focus on building and creating, and I think our founders have done an incredible job of making Plaid a special, energizing place to show up to work every day. It has one of the most extraordinary cultures I've experienced at any company that I've worked for or with.
Also, mission has always been important to me, and that's another area where Plaid has nailed it. In figuring out how to make financial services more accessible through an ecosystem of innovative apps, Plaid truly has become a democratizing force in the industry.
How would you describe Plaid in one word?
Galvanizing—both in the marketplace and internally. It's not a place where you can coast. It's not a place that moves slowly. It is all about taking action every day, thinking big, and changing the world.
How do you gear up every morning to take on such a herculean task?
On a typical morning, I wake up early and head out with my husband to Golden Gate Park for boot camp. It’s a great way to start the day. After a good stretch, we come back home, and I get some caffeine and a couple hours of work done before heading into the chaos. I mean chaos in the best sense of the word; there’s always a million things going on and so much creative energy in the office, but I'm an introvert, so I like having some quiet to start my day and tackle any work that requires heavy concentration. I generally bike into the office mid-morning, which again speaks to how awesome Plaid is culturally. There's trust in people and teams to get stuff done on our schedules in the way that works best for us as individuals.