In the summer of 2008, I was preparing a large strategic product shift within Myriad Systems, Inc. to unify a suite of ancillary banking productions I had built and managed: remote deposit capture, merchant capture, expedited payments, e-Statements, e-Notices, check imaging, and a one-to-one marketing solution among many others. A key opportunity presented itself in that we had several large and progressive financial institution clients that were interested in what an MSI online banking offering could look like, particularly given the relatively poor user experience in the online banking offerings at the time. This would have completed a big piece of the end-user product portfolio for MSI, and while as daunting as online banking from the ground-up is, it stood to provide substantial strategic value to our whole suite.
Computer Services, Inc. began courting MSI and started a full acquisition in August of 2009. It was clear CSI’s intent was to maximize the value of the print and mail operational assets of MSI, but it had little interest in its online banking products other than to preserve existing revenue streams. This disinterest in the strategic vision of the online web applications as a product portfolio was the impetus for me to pursue my personal career interests of building a best-in-breed online banking solution outside of the MSI umbrella.
Jeff Vetterick and Richard Owens, two industry colleagues that had previously had stints at MSI, reached out when they heard of my desire to continue to build online banking and move on and encouraged me to reach out to Gary Nelson, an acquaintance who was part of the very successful build and sale of Advanced Financial Services to Metavente (an interesting and great story in of itself), who had interest in this as well. After AFS, Gary had many interests and projects, a significant one being part of an idea to build a learning management system that provided tools for schools to impart educational content in an online tool where students would have a fictitious bank account balance and through different learning modules, understand concepts of spending, budgeting, and the time-value of money.
When I spoke to Gary in September, I found this initiative was in wind-down: the project had exceeded its funding, and only an IT manager had been retained as a temporary contractor to document and turn over all the company’s assets. Gary engaged me as a consultant to perform an analysis of the source code developed by that team to determine if there was any value in it as an asset for sale as the company was closed up. I reviewed the company’s source and patents, but when I started looking at the few cloud VM’s and pulled open the Subversion repository where the source code was to be, I found a shocking lack of value: what did exist were some architectural documents and some demoware in the form of static screens coded into a .NET MVC ‘shell project’ that had no actual implementation or integration of the key concepts around educational content delivery and assessment. Looking back at the Finnovate presentation the team from this company did, I found only that minimal proof of concept presented on stage, but little more complete.
The internal company documentation in the form of ‘wikis’, agile storyboards, and some unorganized developer notes showed no cohesive technical direction or architectural plan. When I began reviewing invoices for consultants and local contractors, a sad picture materialized: I felt Gary and other investors had been somewhat duped by a mixture of technical ineptitude and probably some overbilling greed by people and local development ‘firms’. I delivered the news that what assets I could find and review had little fire-sale value, other than perhaps one patent that had some intrinsic value, but no implementation. I exemplified this situation by opening the source code for the portion of the system that purported to calculate a ‘relationship score’ about how much an end-user understood financial literacy content and how their behavior in their accounts, transactions, and progress in meeting their financial goals; the source code simply ran in an endless empty loop, doing nothing. Demoware.
After delivering the news to Gary and preparing for whatever my next endeavor would end up being, Gary suggested I reach out to Stephen Bohanon, a consultant with Catalyst Consulting Group who had previous been a high-performing salesperson with AFS. After several discussions, it became clear Gary had an appetite to try a pivot in the financial technology web application space, and both Stephen and I were interested in building a world-class online banking solution – he as a formidably talented sales executive to build relationships and grow the organization, and myself to grow a technical team that would architect and build our next-generation online banking user experience.
And with no pre-existing source code, and only great ideas, tremendous perseverance, and some money (thanks, Gary!), we founded Alkami.