The greatest engineers have ownership and responsibility!

Interview with Andreas Fragner, Co-founder of Kappa.
January 18, 2022
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Andreas is a co-founder of Kappa, a cross-border payments platform focused on sub-Saharan Africa. He heads up product, engineering, and operations. Prior to Kappa, Andreas was a partner at Jetstone, where he ran the quantitative strategies team, managing $1.5bn in AUM. Prior to that, Andreas was a co-founder and partner at High Contrast Investments, a quantitative equities trading firm which he helped build from the ground up to $80m in daily trading volume. He started his career at Oxford Asset Management as a quantitative trader and developer. Andreas is a fellow at OnDeck and sits on the advisory board of Jetstone. He holds a Ph.D. from Yale where he worked on experimental quantum computing.

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What do you expect your new engineering hires to achieve in the first six months after being hired?

Take end-to-end ownership of a significant piece of technology. This could be a core service or product feature, an infrastructure layer, or third-party integration. Ownership means going from a high-level objective — a statement of what we want to achieve — all the way to a working solution. From mapping out requirements and constraints, to understanding product goals, to choosing the right tools, and designing and implementing a solution. 

The greatest engineers I’ve worked with all have one thing in common: A deep sense of ownership and responsibility that goes beyond just building great technology. 

They think about the bigger context — how their work creates value for end-customers and what it means for the long-term trajectory of the firm.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?

There’s a lot! Two pieces of advice that have shaped my thinking in particular:

  1. Play the long game. Favor long-term payoffs over short-term rewards. Look for compounding opportunities, especially when investing your time and energy.
  2. The quality of the people you work with is everything. Surround yourself with people so good you can’t help but feel humbled. Listen and learn from them. Hire for personal and cultural fit above all else.

How do you handle tight deadlines?

Speed is one type of competitive advantage you have as an early-stage startup. Almost everything is a tight deadline when you iterate towards product-market fit. The key is to get really good at understanding what’s on the critical path vs. what’s not. Start from first principles and write down what the objective is, and what the tradeoffs are in terms of time, bandwidth and capital. Know what the risks are. Then ruthlessly compromise and say no to anything that’s not in the critical path. 

Having clarity around the goals and constraints gives you the confidence to say no. 

Tell us about your transition from quantitative trader & software engineer to starting your own company.

Running a company has taught me how to operate under time and resource constraints. As an engineer, you’re used to solving optimization problems, but the boundaries tend to be well defined. As an entrepreneur, the scope and size of the problem space is much larger, and the objectives and constraints are much less clearly defined. You deal with a greater range of stakeholders — customers, investors, team members, partners, service providers — and a greater number of constraints — time, bandwidth, capital. Being strong at a technical level is only one part of the puzzle.  

What excites you about fintech?

Finance today is full of friction and barriers. Nowhere is this more true than in the global south. Africa has the largest unbanked population in the world today. 80% of transactions are cash, 60% of people don't have a bank account, consumer lending is practically non-existent. The basic tasks of storing and transferring value are ridiculously hard right now. There's huge white space to innovate. It's the rare kind of opportunity to both build a massive business and to have a positive impact on millions of lives.

Learn more about Andreas and Kappa here!

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