Payback for Venmo close up image of hands over dinner plates with phones
April 30, 2018

Payback for Venmo

Tony Robbins and Venmo co-founder on finding your own story and getting to “yes”

In this episode of the Tony Robbins Podcast we’re continuing our Business Mastery Panelist series with an exclusive interview between Tony and Iqram Magdon-Ismail, the co-founder of the digital payment platform Venmo.

Tony talks to Iqram about the evolution of Venmo from idea to fruition to acquisition, and how they were able to persevere through the darkest periods. They discuss the importance of learning to embrace criticism, creating your company’s story and using the no’s to refine your approach to find that pivotal yes – the yes that allows you to begin to build your business.

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What is the Venmo app?

In case you’re not familiar with Venmo, the premise is this: You connect the app to your checking account and you can send and receive payments to anyone with just a tap and a swipe of your smartphone. It’s the ideal solution for splitting bills and paying your friends back – especially for anyone who doesn’t like carrying around cash.

Venmo makes exchanging money incredibly easy, and it takes the awkwardness out of asking someone to pay you back. Paying for everything from cab rides to dinners to rent and utilities is streamlined.

Venmo was acquired by Braintree in 2012 for $26.2 million, which in turn sold to PayPal for $800 million. And now, Venmo processes more than $6.8 billion in payments per quarter.

Finding your passion

As ubiquitous as Venmo is today, it wasn’t an easy path to success. Iqram and his co-founder Andrew Kortina endured countless obstacles in their early years, struggled to raise capital and almost closed their doors at one point.

Iqram and Andrew didn’t want to just be business operators – they wanted to be true business owners. They had many entrepreneurial traits, like drive, authenticity and resilience. But they hadn’t yet discovered their passion.

Iqram says, “We didn’t want to chase something that we really weren’t passionate about.” So even though everyone they knew had a job and all of their classmates were working toward traditional careers, they chose to write their own blueprint. “We said, ‘Let’s take time to figure out what we’re passionate about.’”

At dinner one night, after an awkward moment of splitting the bill, they found their way to their most groundbreaking idea: a cash app that could easily transfer money between friends.

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Growing – and selling – the business

How do you make a business more than an idea? You learn from the best. One of their engineers always said “Success leaves clues” – a line inspired by Tony himself. So they studied the popular apps of the day and adopted some aspects of social media.

The social aspects also helped increase trust. They knew that Venmo was a platform people would use if they saw their friends using it. Through investment, a little luck and a lot of determination, they were able to slowly expand their user base and grow their business.

Still, they realized they were spending more than they were making – and they were acquired by Braintree at the perfect moment. Listen to the podcast to hear about the entire journey and discover key takeaways any entrepreneur can use.

Co-founder of Venmo Iqram Magdon-Ismail

Co-founder of Venmo Iqram Magdon-Ismail

Becoming a successful business owner is 20% skills and 80% psychology. Iqram had a deep belief in himself and an inner strength that gave him resilience and perseverance – and it paid off for him in a massive way. What’s his secret? He sums it up in ten words: “If you feel something and it feels great, follow it.”


[00:57] Introduction
[02:45] Welcome Iqram
[02:55] Their origins of Iqram and Andrew’s partnership
[04:35] Building websites for restaurants
[05:30] The serendipity of forgetting his wallet
[06:10] A weekend in NYC footing the entire bill
[07:10] When are you going to pay me back?
[07:50] The tipping point
[08:30] Using smartphones to send money
[08:50] The moment Venmo was born
[09:20] The social aspect of Venmo
[10:30] Success leaves clues
[11:20] Looking at the most popular apps
[11:40] The difference of sharing on social platforms
[12:05] Cataloguing memories
[12:50] How long it took until they found success
[13:50] Starting with your inner circle first
[14:35] Getting over the trust factor
[15:10] The network effect
[15:45] The decision to sell the company
[16:50] The dark period before selling
[17:40] How naivety paid off
[18:35] Fixing their “cost structures”
[19:40] A lack of financing
[20:30] A passionate team of employees
[20:50] Getting ready to close up shop
[21:50] Landing on Braintree’s radar
[22:40] Groupon, Facebook, Mastercard
[24:05] All no’s until that one yes
[24:20] Learning to accept criticism
[24:50] Refining and reshaping the story
[25:10] Iqram’s involvement with Venmo now

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