“If you give up, you're done — so don't give up.”
That’s the advice Casper Wong, president and co-founder of Financeit and an Arts & Science alum, has for those with entrepreneurship ambitions.
“Keep working and just find a way to push through,” says Wong, also a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council. “Perseverance is the number one quality I would say defines the difference between success and failure.”
Wong, who earned his honours bachelor of arts in 2006 with majors in sociology and criminology as a member of Innis College, was speaking to students and alumni at a special presentation of Disruptors & Dilemmas Presents: Founding & Leading your Start-up in Uncertain Times. The recent event also featured alumni from Applied Science & Engineering, the Rotman School, Law and U of T Scarborough. Panelists provided insights and advice to those eyeing a career in entrepreneurship amid the uncertainty of 2022.
The first step, Wong says, is to connect with people.
“If you want to be an entrepreneur, it's not always going to be obvious what the path will be. A lot of people have this idea that you can figure it out sitting inside a room, but that has not been my experience,” he says. “I really feel strongly that in order to refine your knowledge, and to get the confidence, you need to get out there, connect with other people, go to conferences, be in the industries and go deep.”
As president of Financeit, an industry-leading consumer financing platform that serves the home improvement industry, Wong has been responsible for the overall success in loan originations, budget management and business strategy.
Financeit has grown to more than 250 employees in 2022, up from 10 employees more than 10 years ago, and was named one of Canada's top growing companies in 2020 and in 2021.
It isn’t quite where he thought he was headed when he started his U of T career. His original plans to go to law school changed when he realized he didn’t have the grades, and he pivoted to a career in finance after graduation.
“One of my favourite quotes is, ‘You can’t connect the dots looking forward, but you can do it backwards,” he says. “Life is super unpredictable.”
Post-university roles with BMO Capital Markets and goeasy, a Canadian alternative financial services company, gave him a better understanding of how to approach financing for the everyday consumer in the 21st century. As a board member for ZayZoon, Wong demonstrated a dedication to the burgeoning financial technology landscape, a reflection of his ambition of improving commerce for Canadians.
As a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council, Wong collaborates with other distinguished Arts & Science alumni and friends who are deeply committed to the value of an Arts & Science education. Through this work, the council is helping advance the Faculty’s strategic priorities.
Wong is also founder of United Nations of Cyclists, a racing team dedicated to providing a safe space for cyclists from all backgrounds, supporting their development and inspiring others to start cycling.
“Running a cycling team has been extremely rewarding and made me a better leader as it has provided me with exposure to a broad set of diverse people and social issues that have had a profound impact on my development,” Wong says.
Now 12 years into Financeit’s existence, Wong says being an overnight success was never the goal; he knows the most significant value in a company is built in the second decade of its operation. The company started before financial technology became commonly referred to as FinTech. The idea of perseverance comes up again.
“It's been an incredible journey but it has not been easy — and we are not here because of luck,” he says.