Before co-founding Honest Dollar, Whurley co-founded Chaotic Moon, which sold to Accenture. He also worked in research and development at Apple and at IBM as a master inventor. And he co-founded and served as CTO for Symbiot, a network security company.
Q. Where did you grow up?
Whurley: I grew up in a military family so we moved around a lot, but we eventually settled in Temple, Texas when my father was transferred to Fort Hood.
Q. Why did you choose to live in Austin?
Whurley: I moved to Austin in the early 90’s to work for Apple Computer and I haven’t thought of leaving since.
Q. When did you first become an entrepreneur?
Whurley: Before working at Apple I was doing some consulting, and I’ve always said having to learn how to do everything yourself was a tremendously useful experience to have early on.
Q. You launched Chaotic Moon and Honest Dollar at South by Southwest Interactive. What is it about SxSW that makes it a great place to launch?
Whurley: There are a couple of things. First SxSW is, in my opinion, the best place to launch a startup bar none. There are so many potential clients in one place, it’s very easy to get the word out about what you’re doing, and the networking opportunities are unparalleled. However, there’s another reason I always launch at SxSW; I consider launching there a lucky charm of sorts. If I ever found another startup, you can be sure I will launch it at SxSW 20XX.
Q. What prompted you to start Honest Dollar?
Whurley: I’d left Chaotic Moon and really wanted to do something new, and in a completely different direction. I’d set out to find a potential startup that fit three key areas: Something that made the world a better place, something that would be able to affect every person I came into contact with in a positive way, and something where there was a huge entrepreneurial opportunity.
Q. How does Honest Dollar differentiate itself in the marketplace for financial service products?
Whurley: Well to start we’re a company focused on savings in a society based on spending. That is, we’re constantly innovating around the core of our product and services. There’s so much opportunity to do more than put assets under management. Things like applying nudge theory, or using zero user interfaces. I’m approaching this space with the same approach to innovation that I started at Chaotic Moon.
Q. Who is your ideal customer?
Whurley: Small businesses and 1099 workers are the sweet spot for Honest Dollar. We launched our first products in both of these areas in 2015 and continue to grow those markets in 2016.
Q. Why did you sell Honest Dollar to Goldman Sachs?
Whurley: It’s really simple. The most innovative startup in fintech now has the resources and credibility of the most storied company in financial services. It’s literally an unbeatable combination. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?
Q. And how did the deal come about?
Whurley: I had met Allison Rhodes from Goldman Sachs after selling Chaotic Moon to Accenture. During the meeting, she became intrigued and started asking about Honest Dollar. Her interest led her to discuss the company internally and that kicked off a series of unexpected meetings that eventually led to the sale.
Q. Jobs and the economy in the United States are going through a great upheaval with machine learning, robots, autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence and other disruptive technologies. How can someone best navigate this brave new world?
Whurley: To me navigating an ever changing world is all about knowing yourself. You have to be objective in understanding what you’re not good at, and most importantly the one thing you’re better at than anyone else. Objectivity, even when you face the inevitable truths that will bring you down, is the key to having a successful career regardless of the environment you’re working in.
Q. What is the best advice you ever received as an entrepreneur?Whurley: My business partner Mike Erwin taught me to “Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without.” I wouldn’t say learning this first hand was my favorite experience in my career, but it has been one of the most invaluable lessons I’ve ever learned.
Q. In the startup world, the mantra is to fail fast and move on, what lessons have you learned from failures or mistakes?
Whurley: Failing fast is not a good thing. The fact is that people have made this their mantra; and that’s bad. You see failing fast leads people to think its OK, they get an endless amount of chances at the entrepreneurial game, and that’s simply not true. You build your reputation as an entrepreneur every time you change your path or start a new business. If you fail fast four or five times in a row you’ve become that great ideas person who can’t build a business instead of the entrepreneur everybody wants to work with. Failing fast is a drug, and too many young entrepreneurs get addicted to it too early in their career.
Q. What advice would you give to someone just starting out as entrepreneur?
Whurley: Don’t quit your day job. Seriously, you’ll need a paycheck and it won’t be coming from your startup. You have to understand that startups are always in one of two states, struggling or out of business. If you’re struggling, no matter how bad it seems, trust me that’s a fine place to be and in reality just the way it works. No great entrepreneurial story goes “we had a great idea, and people showered us with money, and we built it without issue, and people bought it and paid way too much, and now we’re successful and things are great.” That’s just not how being an entrepreneur works.
Q. What has been your greatest resource in the Austin startup community?
Whurley: I think the community itself. I’ve received so much love and support from the Austin community over the years and I wouldn’t be where I’m at today without it. It’s something I’ll always cherish and never forget. Startups aren’t built by founders and employees alone. You have to have unaffiliated people who love what you’re doing and support it in ways that seem minor, but cumulatively can make or break your business.
Q. In September, you announced plans to team up with the United Nations and the International Telecommunication Union to drive a global outreach effort to get more girls and women into Science Technology Engineering and Math jobs. How is the effort going?
Whurley: The effort is going extremely well. In fact I’m heading to Bangkok this month to meet the team from UN Women and the UN ITU. We’ll be signing a formal agreement, and officially kicking of the project with a number of strategic partners and organizations that have signed up since the launch. We’ll also be in a steering committee where we hope to expand on our long term goals, and most importantly document to the community how we will track and measure them. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited about a project. It’s a great cause, and the team we’ve pulled together is simply amazing.
Q. What book would you recommend entrepreneurs read?
Whurley: Massive Change by Bruce Mau, I like it because It’s not about the world of design, but the design of the world. It sounds like semantics but read it and I think it will help reshape your perspective on a number of things.
Q. Anything else that you are working on that we should know about?
Whurley: I have some surprises set for 2017, but those will have to wait. In the meantime, my son Brooks is launching his first startup; that’s pretty exciting for me to watch as a father.
Editor’s note: Whurley was featured in Silicon Hills News’ 2016 Austin Technology calendar. SHN will run Q&As with all the people featured in the calendar. For information on how you can sponsor or be a part of the 2017 Austin Technology calendar, please contact Laura@SiliconHillsNews.com. Thank you.