Network Advisor Spotlight: Eric Rosenthal, Rapyd
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Eric Rosenthal is currently the Managing Director of Rapyd — an Israeli fintech startup with operations in five continents and more than 50 countries — where he also serves as the General Manager of the Americas and the Head of Corporate Development. Over the years, Eric has held operational, venture, and consulting roles for firms such as First Data, Citigroup, and McKinsey. Earlier in his career, Eric held various positions for government agencies working in the field of international cooperation. Eric holds a B.A. double major in economics and environmental management from the University of California, Santa Cruz and an MBA from the University of Michigan.
At Rapyd, you wear many hats — Managing Director, General Manager of the Americas and the President of the Americas. What’s a typical day in-the-life look like for you and how do you prioritize each area of focus?
Putting title aside for a moment, let’s just say that I happen to be a senior leader at a venture-backed startup — but ultimately whether you’re a senior leader or a team member of a startup, you’re going to wear many hats. That’s what keeps it stimulating and dynamic. That’s what makes it fun. So there isn’t a typical day for me per se, but instead a personal intent to ensure balance in my personal and professional life, while also creating a cadence for myself and my team. I typically do this by waking up early, between 5:30–6:00 a.m., spending an hour clearing my inbox and touching base with HQ (they’re nine hours ahead of me in Tel Aviv) before helping get my kids out of the house and off to school. Making sure I have this personal block of time in my day is critical, as it allows me to set boundaries and ultimately communicate how I would like my team to behave and operate as well. Once I’m at the office, the “routine” is a mix of putting out fires as they emerge throughout the day and having regular touch points with clients, internal teams and partners. Ultimately people are the number one priority — no company, no technology and no success happens without making relationships the top priority.
You’ve held operational and venture roles at several fintech startups (most recently with Abra), worked in corporate venture capital (for First Data and Citigroup) and even served as Director of the Peace Corps, among many other things. Can you tell us a bit more about the stepping stones that got you to where you are today?
Rather than classify them as stepping stones, because in total fairness my journey only started to “make sense” as of a few years ago, I would rather speak to my motivation and the drivers for making decisions. My professional life began in Spain, where I went to learn a new language, obtain a work visa and find a way to challenge myself. While my challenges in Spain cannot and should not be compared to the challenges confronted by the millions of migrants leaving their home countries to another country, this experience laid the foundation for purposefully seeking out an experience that would make me feel like an outsider and having a bit of an adventure.
While I have matured and become a husband and parent along the way, everything I’ve done up until now has been tied to my desire to have an impact, challenge myself, and experience a culture different from my own. Even though I was born and raised in the U.S., the first time I really held a professional position here was almost 14 years after graduating from university. So even as I enter my fifth year in Silicon Valley, I still feel a bit like a foreigner in the same way I did when living in Spain, Peru, China, Singapore and Mexico — and I think that’s a good thing.
What specific superpowers have you picked up from past lives that you bring into your current roles?
As strange as it may sound, I think the most formidable experience for what I do today stems from my experience working in the rural villages of Peru. I came to Peru through a five-year stint living and working in Spain. In Spain there’s a slightly more direct way of communicating and interacting than in Latin America. When I arrived in Peru, I had just spent close to five years interacting in board rooms with high-ranking government officials, dignitaries and corporate representatives. I had been trained to communicate a certain way. I found myself on my first work trip to a small rural village presenting to the communal farmers organization and then the leader of a community non-profit on behalf of the U.S. government. At some point during the day, my Peruvian colleague handed me a piece of paper that had the word “please” written on it. I looked at the piece of paper and thought to myself, “Please? Please what? Is it time to go? Did I forget to say something?” I was lost.
Only at the end of the day did my colleague politely tell me, “While we are technically in command of the situation, as a provider of technical assistance and grants, you need to tone it down. You are listing out what they need to do in bullet points, while it is straight to the point, and in this country, people expect to hear a bit more of “please” and “thank you.” Since that day I have realized how critical adapting to your audience and being able to relate to them can be in achieving the outcomes you desire. I now like to say that I can easily being wining and dining with jet-setting hedge fund managers moments before or after interacting with a humble and aspiring entrepreneur. I think people underestimate the importance of cultural and contextual adaptation in business and get too ingrained in the way things are done here or there.
You’ve spent the last decade working across Latin America, Asia and Europe prior to returning to the U.S. Without being too general, what high-level comparisons can you share about the state of payment innovation in some of these regions compared to the U.S.?
I think the two largest innovations in payments, or at least disruptive forces for the status quo, have been the proliferation of real-time payment networks and the explosion of mobile commerce enabled applications. The real-time payment networks are ultimately technological enhancements to bank transfer networks that from the viewpoint of consumer behavior had long replaced paper checks in most of the world. For example, I was paying all of my bills using bank transfers in Peru in 2005 or Spain in 2003, while the U.S. market continued (and continues) to make payments via check.
The second is the proliferation of commerce apps, whether it’s Grab in Asia, Rappi in Latin America, or Amazon( and likely soon Uber) in the United States. I feel like the payment industry, at least in the U.S. and Europe, has been very bank and card centric, having “wow” moments, or payment industry news “click bait,” when a card gets embedded in a phone, or a bank app gets connected to a real-time payment network.
These are significant, and relevant, but perhaps given the depth of my experience in emerging markets and my ongoing engagement in these markets, I’m much more excited and inspired by what companies can achieve by marrying a real incentive for interaction (getting paid, ordering food, etc.), a digital form factor and the inherent necessity to transact. I believe we’re entering the dawn of multiple payment brands powered by a myriad of underlying and diverse infrastructure. For consumers, particularly those not easily served by financial institutions, transactional ease will only increase, which for incumbent players this means significant pieces of the payment revenue pool will be attacked by nontraditional players.
On the topic of payment innovation, are there any particular examples of corporations and startups in the fintech landscape working together in a way that you can point to and think ‘now that’s how it’s supposed to be done?’
Let me start by stating what I believe would make me want to qualify the example as one to follow — first and foremost, any engagement between the two parties should be about joint and equitable value creation. Secondly, the relationship should be predicated on mutual respect, and although this one sounds like me qualifying what is a good relationship between sentimental partners or friends, in reality I think that we sometimes forget that business relationships are also relationships. How to treat people, how you behave as you work through complex steps of an engagement such as infosec reviews and how you show recognition for each other matter. The third would be focus on clarity, goals and objectives.
For better or for worse, you still see innovation centers popping up, innovation tours as a key metric of activity and press release centric innovation strategies as the norm. So what are the examples that I would mention? Rather than name specific corporations, I would say there are a handful of organizations that have done an amazing job hiring genuine, sincere and forthcoming individuals who are comfortable telling entrepreneurs how it is — whether that’s, “we may be a bit slow,” “this is how our process works,” or most importantly, “this probably isn’t a fit.” I think the organizations that pay more attention to who they hire and how they incentivize these people will be the most successful with their innovation outreach.
With the company builder / venture studio model gaining momentum with corporations, have you seen any examples within financial services that have proven successful?
To be really sincere with you, it’s hard for me to qualify which ones have been successful versus the ones that haven’t been. Or better said, I wouldn’t feel comfortable commenting by name. Instead I would say that if success is measured by the number of new initiatives, business lines or revenue opportunities created, I think the models that allow the studio (which is ultimately a team of individuals) to operate independently of the mothership and to be compensated in a different fashion than the mothership, those are the most successful. I think too much time gets spent thinking about how ideas get sourced, how integration will work, etc. and not enough is dedicated to thinking through the human component — what will attract, retain and excite people to be part of this initiative?
You’re an advisor to Kushki, CuNexus, Peotic, CashDash, Crassula and OurHealthMate — what draws you into a company and what kinds of resources do you provide these companies?
All of the companies I have been involved with as advisor up until now have two things in common. First is that the companies are not only solving real-world problems that I understand and/or have been witness to directly, but that they are also problems that at first glance may not be seen as “unicorns.” I see the unicorn issue to a certain degree as a fixation in the current investor environment and more a matter of how well the entrepreneur can articulate the opportunity, not factually the size of the total address market. Second (which is closely tied to the first point is) is that I’m attracted to opportunities and companies where I intrinsically see potential and the entrepreneur is seeking guidance on telling the story and getting connected to investors. For better or for worse, success in fundraising is closely correlated to how well an entrepreneur can tell his or her story and who he or she knows. I like supporting companies that have a story and just need some help finding a fora to be heard.