Fintech Product Growth Insights With Paul Garibian Of Nota | Soar Payments LLC

Fintech Product Growth Insights With Paul Garibian Of Nota

There is no shortage of fintech products these days… more organizations than ever before are leveraging technology to revolutionize payments, banking, finance, and beyond.

But when it comes to fintech products, what are the keys to long term growth and adoption?

Paul Garibian, president of Nota. Nota is M&T Bank’s fintech solution for attorneys joins the show to discuss. Paul has spent nearly 20 years helping financial institutions drive product development and grow revenue and market share

Payments & Fintech Insights In This Episode

  • What can go wrong if an organization is not focusing on fintech product development and growth from the beginning.
  • The story behind Nota, and how it’s development process helped it to become so successful.
  • What some of the most effective approaches to marketing and growth for fintech, as well as payments products, are.
  • How to break through the noise with any financial product.
  • Paul’s thoughts on the future fintech landscape, and what kinds of products may see true success.
  • With so much more!

Episode Transcript

Scott: Hey, PayPod listeners, Scott here with you, and welcome to another fantastic episode. I am so excited about today’s show because we are going to be exploring something that is crucial to so many organizations across the payments and fintech world. And that’s growth. More specifically, we’re going to be diving into what it takes to achieve fintech product growth.

Joining me to help explore all of this is Paul Garibian, who is the president of Nota. And Nota is M&T Bank’s fintech solution for attorneys. Paul has spent nearly 20 years helping financial institutions drive product development and grow revenue and market share. So we really couldn’t have a better guest on the show to discuss this very thing. Paul, welcome to the show.

Paul: Thank you so much for having me, Scott.

Scott: Well, thank you for being here. As I said, today we want to explore the ins and outs of fintech product development and growth, of course. And I always like to kick things off with a big question. Whether it’s a startup or an established fintech developing a product, why is it so crucial to have the right strategy and planning in place? What can go wrong if you’re not focusing on development and growth from the very beginning?

Paul: Yeah, a really good question. And honestly, in my experience, it’s all about striking a balance, and it all depends on the journey that you are with your product-market fit or just a business life cycle in general. So, for those starting out, which we built Nota from scratch, you know, it was basically started as an idea around the pain point with trust account reconciliation and went kind of on that journey to find more pain points and find ways to create value for our target market, which is the solo and small attorney firms.

And so as you go on that journey, the amount of effort that you try to…the formal, our resources and effort and, you know, amount of time that you spend on product development versus grow to market activities, growth, you got to kind of balance that. And at different stages of the business, that ratio will change.

So, in our case, we’ve started at the beginning investing a lot of time in product development because we have to define and build our minimum viable product. And as we’ve done that, we started doing tests with go-to-market. At some point, we felt that we have the MDP with trust account reconciliation. We brought it to market. And then we realized that that in itself is not a solution for our market.

So, we went back from shifting our focus from product to more growth, and then we kind of reset things and went back and invested a ton of time in development activities again and repeated this cycle. And once you unlock that part of the market, then certainly you can start considering scaling a certain part of the product or the offering, so to speak, as you achieve or claim product-market fit for that particular part of the business.

Scott: So, bottom line, striking that balance and focusing on the product first before trying to run in and do that and focus on the growth, which is important. It’s key because if you don’t do that, you’re kind of putting the cart before the horse, as the saying goes.

Paul: Yes. And you gonna end up being very inefficient, burn a ton of capital, and investors are not going to be happy with it. And also it’s just not a sustainable business practice because it’s all downhill from there. So, it’s very important to stay in tune than have a pulse on the process. So, I think having that structure defining those hypotheses up front of what success looks like and being disciplined with it, I think it is just table stakes

Scott: Absolutely. You mentioned a bit about Nota, but I’m curious to learn a bit more. It’s M&T Bank’s fintech solution for attorneys. And clearly, it’s seen a lot of success and growth. What’s the whole story behind it? And can you offer some insights on the development and the success that you’ve seen with it?

Paul: Absolutely. M&T for your listeners that are not familiar with M&T is soon to be 11th largest bank in the nation, but it’s only in 10 states. So, it’s a very large presence in the Northeast, headquartered in Buffalo. And M&T considers itself as the bank for communities. And as they kind of went through a transformation effort about two and a half years ago, then collectively the team identified a pain point around for one of their communities, which is the attorney community, around trust account reconciliation.

And that’s how our journey got started. We said, “Listen, you know, attorneys can have a huge impact on other communities that they serve, particularly solo and small attorney firms. So, how do we help them on their financial journey? How do we become a better partner in that journey with them?” And that’s how the whole thing got started. And we said, “Listen, we need to help them with trust account reconciliation.”

And as we started building the solution, we uncovered additional challenges that solo and small attorneys face, which, by the way, is majority of the market. And as a fintech, as a community bank, we said, “We’re committed to helping them, so what can we do to help them on that journey?” And that’s how we released our second product, which is business checking account, and also invested heavily into integrations in their tool stack.

Scott: It’s fantastic. And once again, finding that fit and filling a need, I think that’s so crucial when you’re developing any product but certainly in the realm of fintech. What do you feel though are some of the other maybe important keys to getting a fintech product “right” from a development standpoint? I think there’s so many folks out there and certainly listening to this right now who they’re excited about an idea but they wanna get it right. What are the keys in your mind?

Paul: I think the keys is building something that people need. There are founders that are…either they’re part of the target market. So they have certain insights around what the target market would want, the people that they’re building this for. And there are many successful examples like that. But for the rest of us that are not part of the market that are passionate about solving a certain problem or seeing certain opportunity, like, which is the case for me personally, then it’s all about co-creating the product with your customer.

And that’s effectively what we’ve done with Nota, is that, you know, we’ve had very generous users at the beginning that were willing to use the product and help us validate our hypothesis. And then based on that also be very vocal as early adapters to provide us that feedback loop. And I think that’s one of the things we’ve done right. And we’ve done many things wrong and are still doing certain things wrong but at least creating that build, measure, learn mechanism from lean startup to apply the learnings or fail forward, so to speak, and improve our value proposition to our users.

So, I think net-net, one thing I would recommend not doing is building something for a long time and hoping that the market will reward you for it without having those iterative check-ins with your customer. I think that has a very high probability of failure versus being iterative, continuing to check in and understand how your users are using the product. And, frankly, like, it’s easier said than done, but you have to be, you must be intentional with that process. Because if you don’t, with ventures in general, have a high probability of failure. And so that to me reduces that probability significantly.

Scott: Right. Constantly making sure that, “Hey, what are we doing here? Are we doing the right things? Are we marching in the right direction, so to speak?” And you can only learn that. I think I’ve heard this from a number of guests and yourself included now about that importance of saying, “Hey, are we giving the customers what they want? Are we doing things the right way?” Not what we think they want. Right?

Paul: Yes. And, you know, Scott, another thing that we started doing, and we have two user advisory sessions with two different groups of users every month. And one of the things that we found, we’ll come to them, we’ll say, “Hey, we’re thinking about building this.” And they’ll go, “I don’t need that. Yeah. That’s not helpful.” And then what we started doing, we said, “Okay, why don’t we create mockups and show them the flow and then get them to react.”

So, we did that, and they started saying, “Oh, my God, that was amazing,” the same person that told us that’s kind of stupid, they’ll never use that. And then they see that as a mockup, as a wireframe, and then they go, “Oh, wow. Yeah, I would definitely use that.” So, it’s difficult for most of us, it’s very difficult to visualize certain things.

Only a few people are very gifted to be able to have a better understanding of what they want and how to visualize that. But when you put pen to paper, that also forces you as a founding team to also better articulate how you are planning to address that need from your user community. And we found that to be extremely, extremely useful.

Scott: Right. It’s almost like establishing that dialogue. And as you said, put pen to paper and kind of really get it out there. I can see how that’s helpful in so many different ways. So, okay. Someone’s created the product. They like it. The customers are liking it. Now, we got to talk about growth because growth is so critical in fintech, payments. And really it’s just across the financial and business world. And marketing efforts specifically, they frequently serve as a significant growth engine in a lot of folks’ minds.

Paul, when pursuing growth, what are maybe some of the mistakes to avoid when it comes to just marketing your product? And maybe this does connect to what you were just saying about the communication aspect, but I’m sure there’s even more.

Paul: Great question, Scott. Let me ask you this, who are the most valuable companies in the world today? There’s probably the four and five, right?

Scott: Right.

Paul: Google, Facebook, top of that list. I think Google hit, what, like $2 trillion market cap yesterday. Why is that? Because advertising and growth is key to your business. So, those guys, advertising is increasingly getting more expensive. And the reason I started with that is because if you start trying to scale immaturely, if you start spending money on advertising prematurely, without having a very clear understanding of your customer persona and having achieved product-market fit, which by the way is not a straightforward conversation, at least in my experience…

Scott: Right. Lots of back and forth and winding.

Paul: Yeah. And, to me, I think a product-market fit is not static. You can achieve it and then lose it. But once you have it, then you can start, you know, focusing on growth because if you do that prematurely, you know, it’s not gonna give you the results. So, like, my advice would be stay very focused in that. And once you feel really good about, “Hey, we have a minimum viable product. There is clear demand for it. We get that feedback loop from the customer,” then now it’s like, okay, how do you take that building block? And now how do you try to reach that target customer?

And to me, if everyone is your customer, then no one is your customer. So, it’s very important to have that right before you start doing media buying. Because to me, ideally, you don’t wanna just acquire customers with paid advertising, which is increasingly getting expensive. But you also need to have your organic side of the equation and also have that flywheel effect or with your existing customers where they’re willing to recommend your product or service.

So, if those things are not happening, your CAC is gonna be out of control, customer acquisition cost. And you need to also have a better understanding of your unit economics at that point. And to me, I just don’t see how your unit economics will work, which means you can’t have sustainable growth unless you really nailed your product-market fit and you have about good understanding, which is… By the way, let’s talk about that. What the hell is product-market fit?

Everyone kind of throws around those acronyms, and sometimes we’re not clear what those are. To me, product-market fit is a very simple notion. You have a product, which means you have an MVP, minimum viable product, and you have a target market. And those two things are along. So, whatever those set of features are, your MVP, and you have a very specific market that has the need for that product. And you have to prove that to yourself first.

Once you’ve done that, then you can figure out how you’re rewarding your customers, your net promoters, which I think it’s the first opportunity to do that. That’s a huge opportunity. And then doing media buying, you know, some organic, you know, advertising to reach those customers, etc., etc. But even with the organic stuff, that is still effort. That is still your time, your team’s time, you know, which is still, you know, some people sometimes think of it as a free exercise. Nothing is free in life. There is no such thing as free lunch. And that’s an example of that, where you gonna have to spend time, even though if you’re not paying Google or Facebook, but you’re gonna have to invest resources, which, again, equals money.

Scott: So, let’s say they do it right. They’ve got the products sorted. They know who their customers are. They’re doing all the things that need to be done. They’re going after the right channels, all of that. Growth, and I think it’s kind of the ironic thing, it can sometimes come with growing pains. And when you’re considering the fintech product landscape, especially for newer organizations that maybe sometimes find success in growth even faster than anticipated, they hit the main vein, and they didn’t even realize they’d hit it. How can growing pains be avoided?

Paul: Honestly, I think you know when you hit it. You hit it because things just start to happen for you. You start to see spikes. Things are just flowing. And with that, of course, that introduces a ton of other issues. You’re gonna start having performance issues with your product. You’re gonna have to have lack of processes to support that growth. So, on one hand, it’s like, you know, you’re hoping that happens, but when that happens, it’s gonna be an oh shit moment because now you’re gonna realize your customer success team is gonna have issues.

All the other functions are gonna start getting stressed because it’s gonna be a maturity exercise for your organization at that point. So, you’re gonna have to fix that first before you continue to scale, in my opinion. So, at that point, you have to slow down a bit, invest in your product because there’s gonna be deficiencies. You know, having 10 customers, 100 customers is very different from having 1000 or 10,000 customers.

So, different feedbacks, different problems. You got to fix those first because, if you don’t, then you’re gonna have a leaky bucket because you’re now gonna have a lot of unhappy customers and unhappy employees. So, you got to fix that first. At that point, you know, you got to be like, “Hey, we hit it. We’ve got growth. That’s awesome.” Like, we got to 1000 customers, 10,000 customers, whatever that next milestone is for you and your business.

Then the next thing is, like, it’s that pendulum, right? That you and I talked about at the very beginning of the call, growth versus product and operations. Now, the pendulum swings this way. It’s, like, you got to go fix those issues and then come back to growth again. And you go from 1000 now. Now, the pendulum swings again. You know, you invest in growth. You get from 1000 to 10,000 customers, different set of issues.

In some cases, you’re also gonna have to hire certain people that can help you go from that point A to point B. So, to me, it’s a constant… As an entrepreneur, as a founder, you are constantly prioritizing problems to deal with. And I think in that mindset, it is critical, critical to be able to say no to things you’re not going to do. And the framework that we rely on at Nota, and we embraced it, is the OKR framework, objectives and key results.

And to me, that tool really helps you say, “Hey, here are the things we’re not going to do.” And that is very powerful because if you don’t do that, it just doesn’t work.

Scott: Absolutely. I think that’s really important to sort of outline there. And, really, I feel like this theme just keeps emerging, of not resting on your laurels, constantly taking a look at: is this working, is this still working, what can be different, what can be better, whether we’re talking about the development of the product, whether we’re talking about the marketing of the product, whether we’re talking about kind of experiencing the success of the product itself. Right?

Paul: Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. Another lesson in that journey is that you need to have your product people closely in-tuned with your growth people. Because if you have a disconnect between those two functions, then you’re not gonna have that feedback loop. Originally, when we were building Nota, we were just thinking of build, measure, learn only in the context of product and engineering.

But then as we kind of matured, we realized that that feedback loop, build, measure, learn from lean startup needs to be applicable to your growth activities as well. Because you build your assets, you go to market, you measure the success of those assets and efficiency of your go-to-market activities, growth activities. And then you need to apply, take those learnings, and be intentional with it.

That’s another thing, is that we’re trying to be very intentional with our takeaways. What does this mean? How are we interpreting the data? Because building and measuring alone doesn’t do you justice. You have to be very intentional with your learning assets that you kind of take that and say, “Okay, what is this telling us? How are we interpreting the data?” And then repeat. Then you go through that process.

So, as I said, like, it’s having the maturity to put those processes in place, and you might find your audience or, you know, might find better frameworks. But for us having the build, measure, learn framework, the OKR framework is something that we are relying on very heavily to keep us grounded as the pendulum swings between product and growth kind of context switching.

Scott: Absolutely. On the flip side of that, maybe there’s folks listening right now who maybe there’s some frustration because there was just so much noise in fintech today. There are apps, SaaS products, crypto, banks, open banking, all of this, I could go on and on. Breaking through that noise is not always easy. So, I’m curious, what are some of the most effective strategies you’ve seen to really break through and reach folks with a fintech product?

Paul: So, I was at Money20/20 last week. I think it was in Vegas. You know, for me, it’s one of the best fintech conferences of the year. And I haven’t been in a couple of years. I mean, last year, I think they canceled it, and the year before that I couldn’t attend. And you see that. Particularly crypto, you know, a lot of my friends and family and just, you know, former colleagues obviously know that I’ve been in fintech for a long time.

So, increasingly, I get pinged about crypto, “Yeah. Hey, what do you think? What do you think about this? What do you think about that?” And, frankly, you know, that’s a space I’m not very close to and I wouldn’t consider myself a subject matter expert. And so I have a hard time giving people advice from that. But I’m human, and I see what’s happening in that space. And, you know, sometimes you get tempted to jump in and try to figure stuff out.

But I think it’s like having blinders on. Sometimes you just got to… You know, if you are working on something, focus is super important. Where focus goes energy flows. Where focus goes energy flows. So, staying focused on what you’re working on and if you’re passionate and if you see progress, I think it’s very important for folks to do.

Otherwise, you know, if you look at any of the successful founders, the generational unicorn founders, you could see that, of course, if something is not working, there’s always an opportunity to pivot. But nevertheless, I think I’m a believer in the biggest trait of an entrepreneur is perseverance, resilience. And the only way you can do that, if you stay focused on the problem in the market that you’re working,

Scott: As we sort of wind down our conversation here, Paul, I always like to look to the future because there’s so many exciting things that are gonna be happening. If you could peer into the crystal ball, what do you see in the future for the fintech landscape long term, say 5 to 10 years? What kinds of products or innovations might be coming down the pipeline, might we see?

Paul: That’s a really, really tough question.

Scott: It’s a big question. Yeah.

Paul: It’s pretty big, but I think there’s gonna be a lot of personalization. That’s gonna be embedded in different experiences. You know, fintech is gonna be not just isolated but I think better integrated in a lot of the experiences that people have and different domains of their lives, business or personal. And, increasingly, you’re seeing that. Social media companies, SaaS companies are increasingly integrating fintech offerings in their solutions to improve user experience.

So, I think we’re gonna go much deeper than that. And I think you’re gonna start seeing even a bigger divide between fintech infrastructure providers, like banks, and then companies that are focused on the user experience. And it’s not gonna be necessarily isolated to fintech. I think there’s be a lot of integration and blurry lines between everything else.

And that’s gonna be powered by Amazon Web Services type infrastructure, powered by a lot of the players, which I foresee the banks kind of doing that, you know, providing that data processing, you know, providing that kind of balance sheet and compliance as a service capabilities to a lot of those user experience providers across different domains.

And from a user standpoint, I think that creates hyper-personalization and a much better experience, much more seamless experience, and lower barriers to entry, hopefully, to a lot of underbanked segments, which the way I personally define underbanked is not just people with low disposable income. You know, it goes back to lack of personalized financial services for that particular segment, attorneys included.

Scott: Right. Well, and great lead-in. What’s next for Nota? Any exciting upcoming features or happenings that you can share, of course, that our listeners might find to be interesting?

Paul: Yeah. So, I mean, look, we’re on that journey to really do what I just described, really provide a world-class hyper-personalized banking experience for the legal community. And we believe that the legal community is underbanked. And when I tell people that, they say, “Well, what do you mean?” Like affluent attorneys, highly educated, how can you think of them as underbanked? Because, usually, that’s not how that phrase has been used.

Well, I believe they’re underbanked because their needs are not served, their financial needs. So, we’re gonna continue on that journey. We’ve got consumer checking account coming next, business credit card coming next, and a ton of integrations, additional integrations to really enhance their user experience and marry their financial and operational data on one platform. And that’s really where I see the opportunity for Nota to add value for the communities that we serve.

Scott: It’s gonna be really exciting to see. Paul, we have a segment that we like to end with on each and every show. It’s five questions. It’s rapid-fire. Are you ready?

Paul: Ready.

Scott: Make a prediction about the future of fintech that you expect will happen in the next 12 to 24 months, so more short term.

Paul: I think there’s gonna be more normalization with inflation and crypto. So, I think there is probably some kind of, I would say, anomalies happening there, which I expect to normalize, which would be good for the investors and the founders as well.

Scott: What’s one cool piece of payment or finance-related technology that you’ve come across recently, unrelated directly to your company that impressed you?

Paul: I’m very long on blockchain. And I think blockchain technology is here to stay. And there are some really innovating use cases that are happening there. So, I’m personally trying to look at that space much more closer because I think it’ll make the payments infrastructure a lot more efficient than it is today and more cost-effective

Scott: In the next five years, most people around the world will make a purchase with either Bitcoin, Apple Pay, something else entirely. Which one do you think and why?

Paul: I don’t know if it’s Bitcoin, but it’s definitely digital currencies. If I have to make a bet, I would say that it’ll be governments are gonna play a role in that. They’re not gonna give up that fight. So, I’m more bullish. If I had to make a bet, I think it’s the government digital currencies.

Scott: What’s one piece of advice you would have for someone who’s considering the fintech industry as a career?

Paul: Look. So, first of all, you need to understand why you wanna be in fintech. And then I think there are probably two distinct ways to go about it. Do you want to be part of the infrastructure play for fintech, or do you want to be more in a personalization user experience side? And also, like, you know, fintech is a very broad term, but I would start thinking about it consumer versus enterprise. That’s another way of saying what I just said.

And then based on that, you know, find a problem in a market and, you know, wholly commit yourself to it. Similar to what we’ve decided to do at Nota. You have to really understand who needs that solution. I know there is a lot of interesting things happening in fintech right now, but staying focused is key. I see a lot of people early in their career, they’re kind of all over the place, but fintech is a massive, massive space. So, first, kind of differentiating between those two categories and then going deep on a specific niche is what I would recommend to specialize.

Scott: Last question here. What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received and from whom?

Paul: Honestly, it’s hard for me to identify just one thing because it’s…

Scott: There’s so much out there.

Paul: So much. So much to figure out, but I think it’s just like anything else. I think it’s having that feedback loop. I learned by doing and, you know, kind of failing fast and failing forward. So, starting a business and being intentional about what you’re doing, having that build, measure, learn framework is the best teacher out there. And one thing about mentors and advice, that can come in very different forms. I’ve relied heavily on books to help me marinate some of those ideas.

And some of the ones that I would recommend is “Crossing the Chasm” is one of my favorite ones. And, you know, I think for your audience that will be very relevant. If you haven’t read that book, “Crossing The Chasm” by Geoffrey Moore is a great one to start thinking about product-market fit and markets you’re trying to reach. So, I would highly recommend that. So, I would say that book in this context has been very impactful to me in my journey.

Scott: Absolutely. And we’ll drop a link to that in the show notes there. Paul, thank you so much for joining me on the show today, sharing so many insights, the story behind Nota, and all of that really, really good stuff. And, before I let you go, if folks want to find out more about Nota and what you guys are doing, where can they do that? Where should they go?

Paul: So, it’s And if you’d like to stay connected with me, drop me an email, Would love to stay in touch.

Scott: Awesome. Thanks again, Paul.

Paul: Thanks, Scott.

Industry Spotlight


Nota by M&T Bank leverages proprietary technology to provide business banking built for solo law firms. Designed with insights from real attorneys, Nota focuses on user support and the user experience to offer a banking solution that integrates into the workflow of a law firm. Everything from reviewing balances, transaction categorization and trust compliance to account transfers and checks, Nota gives attorneys the support and efficiency gains of a dedicated banking solution. Nota is committed to delivering transparent pricing, simplified account management with integrations to firm tools, as well as concierge service from bankers dedicated to supporting attorneys.