We chat to Gene Pranger, advertising executive turned tech entrepreneur, founder and CEO of BankOn Mobile Video. Gene has more than 28 years of experience building products, brands and companies that have helped transform their industries.
In 2008, Pranger pioneered the market of video banking with the uGenius platform (personal teller machine technology), acquired by NCR in 2012. His latest venture, BankOn Mobile Video, is a first-of-its-kind interactive mobile video platform for bringing banks and credit unions a tap away from customer-centric strategy and streamlined operations, at members’ exact moments of need.
What time does your day usually start and end?
My work day normally begins at 4 a.m. and runs intermittently through 8 p.m. In the early morning, I like to catch up on emails, spend time in personal study and plan my schedule for the day. I’ll exercise at 7 a.m. then comes a healthy, low-fat breakfast around 8 a.m., and I arrive at the work place by 10 a.m. Around 1 p.m., I take a lunch break for 20-30 minutes, and work at the office until 4 p.m. After returning home, I enjoy dinner, catch up on the news, and begin working on various projects until 8 p.m.
What is your favourite part of your job and what is your least favourite part?
Being an entrepreneur allows incredible opportunity to flex creative problem-solving skills. Every hour of every day, I’m in the trenches refining marketing techniques, enhancing features in our software, and representing our products to clients and news media. My least favorite part of the job is raising money.
What inspired you to start your business? (And what made you want to be your own boss?)
After graduating from Northwestern University and entering the advertising agency business, I learned two important facts. First, very few people over the age of 50 survive in corporate management—especially the advertising business. Second, those who can create solutions resulting in positive revenue receive the greatest financial rewards. With this in mind, I decided early on I was going to start my own company as soon as I found a business model that aligned with my skills and passions.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
Years ago, I was approached by Norwest Corporation (now Wells Fargo) to design a retail bank branch for downtown St. Paul, Minnesota. After pulling together a creative team and concept that the bank liked, I found I had skills that were valuable in the banking field. Within months, I left the agency where I was employed to start my own retail banking design firm. This decision enabled me to begin integrating technology within branches, and ultimately led to the creation of video banking.
How did you fund your business?
In 1995, when I first started my business, the process for getting loans was much simpler, based on relevant experience and a solid business plan. I approached a local Minneapolis bank and they approved a $200,000 line of credit. Along with savings, this was enough to start the business and generate a positive cash flow within the first year. Today’s U.S. regulatory climate would not approve a line of credit on similar terms.
What has been the biggest challenge for your business?
Once we started investing in technology in 1997, we were definitely on the bleeding edge. Since financial services is an industry of generally late adopters, we had to be patient and persistent, which can be significantly challenging for any firm. Additionally, weathering the 2008 financial crisis proved to be an extraordinary barrier for those selling to retail bank management.
Have you made any mistakes along the way and how did you overcome them/learn from them?
For every three right decisions I’ve made, I’ve probably made at least one mistake. Mistakes in the world of business always equate to loss in cash reserves. Whether it was trusting an unsuitable vendor, hiring the wrong employee or miscalculating sales forecasts, there is a direct cost to every business mistake. Classroom study teaches the science of business but doesn’t suitably address the fundamentals of running a successful enterprise. The best educational experiences I’ve had came from making the most egregious mistakes. You learn through experience. Business owners who can identify a trusted mentor who can provide insights and guidance will help themselves avoid some of the more costly mistakes.
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to anyone looking to start their own business?
Make sure you have a deep, abiding interest in resolving a real market need that you can feel passionate about, and you’ll be headed toward success. Such an attitude of commitment will help in overcoming doubters, alleviating fatique and positively driving your enterprise forward. Without it, lack of passion results in inferior products and services.
Would you do anything differently if you could start again from scratch?
One of the biggest issues facing every employer is the retaining of human resources. Do whatever is required to retain your talented people. They are the lifeblood to growth, existing at every level within an organization, capable of moving mountains, resolving problems and collaborating well with others. Nothing is worse than losing someone whose talent brings a new dimension to your enterprise.
What do you do to relax away from the hustle and bustle of work?
Something that is vitally important to me is to “do something wonderful every day”—reaching out and trying to make a positive difference in some aspect of life. Whether it’s picking up trash on the side of the road, paying a compliment to an unrecognized individual, or giving a gift to an unsuspecting person or group, I have found great personal satisfaction in doing something wonderful every day. This philosophy has brought many moments of joy and happiness in my life.