Talking to Martin Bshouty, it’s clear that a typical day job will never be his cup of tea.
“My wife asked me the other day, ‘What would you do if you had to work a nine-to-five job?’ I can’t even imagine it, I would call that retirement,” Bshouty chuckles.
That ability to self-motivate has led Bshouty — a 2014 graduate of Red River College’s Graphic Design program — to a tech entrepreneur career that’s already seen dazzling highs in just half a decade.
His latest role is with the creative team at Neo Financial, a new fintech startup headquartered in Calgary that has set out to revolutionize the financial industry. Neo presents Canadians with an online banking experience, one that boasts a simple interface, no-fee banking and instant rewards.
“We want to simplify money and life for every Canadian,” Bshouty explains. “We’re building this financial platform from the ground using modern technology to create a fully digital experience right from your phone. No visiting branches or waiting on hold over the phone — you get full control over your finances right from the Neo app. The hope is to revolutionize the way banking is done in Canada.”
Founded by Skip The Dishes co-founders Andrew Chau and Jeff Adamson, Neo has created a Prairie dream team uniquely qualified to disrupt the Canadian banking industry — 100 employees that include tech creatives and former Olympians. Bshouty fits the billing, as he made a serious splash in 2016 as a co-founder of Geofilter Studio, the world’s largest Snapchat filter producer.
Starting as an idea between Bshouty and collaborator Chris Schmidt in Winnipeg, Geofilter has since created over 100,000 filters that have accumulated over five billion views, attracting business from major corporations like McDonalds and Coca-Cola.
“We saw it as an opportunity, that people can go to a local coffee shop for a quality cup of coffee, or get a streamlined experience at Tim Hortons. We figured we’d be the Tim Hortons of designing geofilters, but with the quality of local coffee,” Bshouty says with a laugh. “So we started an online design agency for designing geofilters for people around the world.”
“We had no idea if it was going to work or not, but then it started to catch on and we would say, ‘Woah, we’ve got as many orders today as we’ve had in the last month.’ And then, ‘Woah, we’re getting over 10,000 orders a week now.’ It pretty quickly became, at the time, one of the fastest growing companies in Canada.”
“This crosses over into other areas of my life — if I’m going for a run, I’m going all out,” says Bshouty. “If my wife lets me work a 12-hour day, I’ll jump on the opportunity. It’s what I love to do.”
Starting the Graphic Design program in 2012 meant jumping into the Red River College experience feet-first. Bshouty recalls how a more pragmatic academic experience fit his temperament.
“College was similar in ways to me and provided similar value that high school did, in the sense that you’re learning how to learn,” he says. “Graphic Design was a good base to pave the way to what I wanted to do, which was more along the lines of entrepreneurship.”
Just in case his days at RRC weren’t full enough, Bshouty also spent a season playing for the Rebels United soccer and futsal teams, earning an academic student-athlete award in the process.
“I had never played organized soccer in my life, but I’m very competitive with myself and took it as a challenge to try and make the College team.
“I would wake up at 5 a.m. every morning and train for hours — I didn’t even know how to train — I would just sprint, kick the ball and try to get good enough so I could go to tryouts. My technical ability wasn’t the best, but I found success just being the guy who would go all out.”
It’s clear to Bshouty that bending time to finish projects, run hills, start businesses and push ideas forward has prepared him well for where Neo Financial is at in this current moment. After soft-launching in Calgary earlier this summer, Neo will be rolling out in Edmonton, Winnipeg, and across Western Canada.
With the reality of COVID-19, Neo also appears to fit a landscape where Canadians are thinking differently about what they need from their banking. For Bshouty and the creative team, that means creating a user experience that is transparent.
“It’s about empowering Canadians to have more control over their money and time,” he says.
“If you are late on your credit card bill, it should be clear how much you owe and how much you need to pay to avoid further interest charges. If you misplace your card, you should be able to freeze it right from the app. Banks should care more about your well-being, not just your money.”
It’s also no surprise that Neo has a community-first approach to its rewards — one that fits neatly into a renewed, pandemic-prompted desire for Canadians to support local and keep small businesses thriving. One of the major features Bshouty points out are instant cash-back rewards when customers spend at local businesses that Neo has partnered with.
“Why should a mom-and-pop shop down the street not have access to the same marketing platform as nation-wide companies? Local partners are a huge part of our community — the aspirations of our partners are just as important to us as our cardholders.”
And while Neo isn’t Bshouty’s creation, it’s helped him put his young career into perspective — perhaps setting up his next great idea.
“It’s funny, when I was with Geofilter Studio building my own company, I had to jump in and do a lot of different things that I had very little experience in. Now, working alongside such an experienced team, I can look back and be like, ‘Wow, I actually did this really well, but definitely missed the mark on other things.’ That is the beauty of a startup: you are constantly exposed to and learning things outside of your area of focus. Working in this type of environment opens you up to a whole new realm of opportunities.”
Profile by John Gaudes (Creative Communications, 2012)