171: Bill Harris (Nirvana)

Bill Harris on Innovation City

“Sometimes if you have that kind of intense belief, you can sort of make it happen.” – Bill Harris

Welcome to Season 4 of Innovation City (The Miami Edition), a podcast featuring innovators, creators, and disruptors to discover how business is changing in the modern world.

Created and produced by SLAM! Agency and Aīre Ventures, Innovation City gives you an inside look at how rapidly business and culture are changing thanks to increasing diversity and inclusion, heightened creativity, and a stronger and better-connected business community.

Today’s guest is Bill Harris, CEO of Nirvana, an early-stage digital consumer financial services firm In Miami Beach. Bill has been in the tech/financial/cybersecurity space for over 30 years, and has started or run 11 companies. In this episode, Bill sits down with the team to discuss his career and story, his new venture in Miami, disrupting the personal banking industry, and much more! 

They discuss:

  • Bill’s superpower – getting through South Beach traffic on his new bicycle faster than the Lamborghinis 
  • His career and story
    • What initially sparked his interest in this space?
    • He didn’t get involved in his first startup until he was 40
    • Followed the path he thought his parents wanted him to take
      • Went to college, got a degree, went to work for a corporation
      • At 40, he was CEO of a company with 5,000 people
      • He realized, “I don’t really like what I’m doing – it’s all administration”
      • He discovered that he wanted to be a product manager
    • Joined PayPal early as a CEO
      • It was complete chaos, but he loved it
      • Things evolved from week to week
      • When we got the formula right, we went from 0 to a million customers in 6 months
      • Thought “This is what I want to do – this is fun!”
      • Went on to found eight more financial tech/cybersecurity startups
    • What drives me?
      • Wants a career that’s more than about making money
      • Wants to do something to help other people
      • Inspired by “newness”
  • The bold decision to pivot from a successful career as CEO to getting involved with a startup
    • Advice for others who might discover they need a big change
      • The most important thing is learning what you’re actually good at/not good at, what you like/don’t like
      • It’s hard to admit what you’re not good at
  • What he took from his time working with Peter Theil and Elon Musk, and what he left with them
    • Peter is one of the smartest people he’s ever worked with
    • Elon’s superpower is an incredible boldness, aggressive thinking
  • If you believe you can jump that hurdle, you can
  • His new venture in Miami
    • Why Miami?
      • Loved Silicon Valley but it has become increasingly difficult to recruit and retain quality talent there, and the cost of living is astronomical
      • The economics of Miami are more encouraging
      • One other thing about Miami: Sunshine and the beach – “Silicon Beach”
    • The new business is a global digital bank
      • Starting in the U.S.
      • Trying to give people access to banking services in one simple format
        • Short-term money needs and making it easy for you to use your money
        • Taking fragmented financial products (checking, high-yield savings, credit, etc.) with gotcha fees and simplifying, removing the fees, so people can relax
        • A big problem in the world is stress, and money is one of the biggest stressors
      • How this product will address challenges for “underbanked” individuals
        • We’re trying to create a credit-savings ladder
        • Universal approval
        • People on the lower end of the socio-economic scale need credit that’s not exploitive and predatory
        • Getting rid of gotcha fees, like overdraft
        • A starter-kit for credit
      • Opportunities and obstacles
        • Opportunities
          • Make more flexible and transparent banking products
          • Fairly price banking services
        • Obstacles
          • Institutional and regulatory obstacles
          • Technology is old
          • Sometimes the biggest obstacles come from the people you are trying to help, with a better product
            • People like things they’re familiar with, even if there is a better way
            • Getting them to try something new is probably the biggest challenge
      • To learn more about Bill and Nirvana, visit Nirvana.tech. If you’re interested in getting involved, email happiness@nirvana.tech

Lightning Round:

What was your childhood dream?

  • I wanted to be a newspaper editor, with the ability to “Stop the presses!” In fact the first 10 years of my career were in the media.

What question would you ask a fortune teller?

  • Who’s going to win in 2024? Actually, I don’t want to know.

Where have you found peace?

  • When I’m doing something and I can be happy and satisfied with it – not necessarily finished – I get the sense that this is a weigh station. Then I always take another look, sit back and enjoy what has been produced. That gives me peace. The steps in the process.

What is most important to you?

  • My dad and I are very similar, with one big difference: He runs on discipline. I don’t. I run on enthusiasm.

What inspires you?

  • Seeing people who persevere.

What is your purpose?

  • The two most important words for me in my life are “purpose” and “curiosity.” They’re on two ends of the spectrum. Fundamentally, my purpose is ideation. I hope I leave behind some ideas that people thing were important and successful.