The Peak spoke to Daniel Kalso, the CEO and Co-Founder of Kalsa, a new expense sharing app. We asked Daniel about the journey of becoming a founder, the process of taking Kalsa from an idea to a product and the business's launch plans.
Let’s start with a little background on your career. Can you give us the quick notes on your education and work experience prior to founding Kalsa?
I was born in Venezuela and my family moved to Canada when I was 13. In college, I studied business thinking I would run a music studio but then I discovered quantitative methods and accounting, and I fell in love. My career started as an accountant servicing investment funds. From there, I transitioned into roles in operations, risk management, and algorithmic trading at a hedge fund. Those experiences provided me with an opportunity to eventually become an investment associate at an AI and Fintech-focused VC firm based in Toronto where the inspiration for Kalsa was born.
How has the transition from VC to Founder changed your perspective on either of those professions now that you’re on the other side of the table.
One of the privileges of being in VC is that you get to spend time with some of the most driven, creative, and smart individuals in the world. That said, there’s no magic formula to building a business other than learning to focus on building something people love. Starting Kalsa has helped me empathize and appreciate the rollercoaster of emotions founders go through when doing their life’s work. Something most people don’t realize is that when a founder is building a company, what they are really doing is building themselves day in and day out. This journey is incredibly difficult, humbling, but also rewarding.
What did you do to prepare and adapt to being a founder? What did it take for you to leave your job?
There were a couple of things. The first one was to speak to as many potential customers and do as much work as I could on the product and regulatory side of the idea (due to the product being in fintech) without having it eat into the mental bandwidth I allocated to my VC role at the time. The second thing (and probably the most crucial) was to “pitch” my partner and emotional support network in order to get buy-in for the journey I was about the embark. The decision to start Kalsa was not something that happened overnight, there were various iterations on the concept. It came to a point where it was evident that there was a massive opportunity at the intersection of financial services and social, but no one was taking any action, so I decided to build in the space.
What is Kalsa and where did the idea for Kalsa come from?
Kalsa is an app that lets you split expenses with friends and automatically collects money from those who owe you. The original idea came from researching a company called FlipGive and the space in which they operated. During my research I saw a fundamental shift in the way financial products were being consumed by populations in Asia and Europe. In essence, community-driven consumption was driving all kinds of interesting use cases in insurance, investments, and payments – This insight was the initial spark.
How did you take Kalsa from idea to action?
There’s a saying that goes something like “just because there is a gap in the market, it does not mean there is a market in the gap”. So, I spent lots of early mornings and late nights figuring out if there was a business to be built in Canada or the US that could take advantage of the shift in behaviors I had observed. I was lucky to get my co-founder on board, followed by some incredibly supportive angel investors who provided capital to get us going. That said, it’s worth nothing that there have been a few iterations on the original concept. Before focusing on shared expenses, the app was designed to help groups of people save together for things like trips, weddings, and everything in between. While this concept remains in our roadmap, what we found was that beta testers were hacking the app’s flow to split expenses for things like rent, Netflix, and internet. So, we decided to go all-in on that.
Is Kalsa built to process payments or does it work as a tracking tool?
Kalsa is built to process payments and act as a “source of truth” for shared expenses. What we’ve found is that while tools like Splitwise help with tracking shared expenses, having groups of people each individually send money to one another for various things is riddled with lots of friction that current services do not address. Kalsa removes this friction and creates an awkward-less and seamless user experience that helps people avoid feeling like a debt collector among their network while ensuring they get paid.
Have you raised any capital for Kalsa? Do you have any plans to? (if no, how is the company funded)? Give us some details on this experience.
We raised a pre-seed round in early 2020. But it wasn’t easy. We pitched 72 people and only 10 ended up investing. We are not taking investment at this moment, but will probably look to raise a seed round later in the year.
The Peak is speaking with you right at launch, what’s your plan to grow the business. How do you view the acquisition process?
The first 100 Peak readers that sign up for our waitlist will receive some cool prizes when we launch -- More broadly, user acquisition is always tough to execute, particularly in financial services. With this in mind, we designed Kalsa to be social from the start and inherently provide more value as more and more people use it. We believe that if we succeed in delivering a magical user experience, then those users will invite other people to join and network effects will start to kick in.
What are your ambitions for Kalsa in the long run?
We believe that in the future the power of community will give rise to social-first products that will layer-in financial services on top of core utility applications. Moreover, these products will transcend traditional distribution channels and will permeate across all types of online and offline mediums. To that end, we believe that Kalsa can become a leader in building social-first products and experiences.