FinTech entrepreneur Lamine Zarrad in 2017 created the revolutionary banking app, Joust, which offered a suite of online tools to help solopreneurs manage their money. In 2020, Joust Inc. was acquired by ZenBusiness, which provided the nation’s 57 million micro businesses with business management and startup tools.
Rebranded as ZenBusiness Money, it furthers the mission of the two the Austin, Texas based firms, which is to cater to the needs of the burgeoning “gig” economy workforce.
As ZenBusiness Money’s SVP of Financial Services, Zarrad led the team in delivering a full suite of business banking solutions. Mind Money Media spoke with Zarrad when he was CEO of Joust.
He understands the needs of independent workers, perhaps because as an entrepreneur, he is one of them. He also is an immigrant to the U.S., having moved here with his family at 16.
“My family and I fled from our home in Azerbaijan when I was 10, after the USSR broke up. We lived in Moscow for six years and then my mother married a U.S. missionary and we all moved to Georgia. I remember thinking, we made it, we don’t have to worry about dying anymore” says Zarrad.
But acclimating to American culture was tough for Zarrad, so at 18 he joined the Marines. He spent six years on active duty, seeing combat in Iraq, and then another six years in the reserves. He joined hoping to find a sense of belonging and security, but that didn’t happen.
“As an immigrant, I’m part of a marginalized group, always on the outside, and I wanted to create inclusiveness” adds Zarrad.
Zarrad worked for Merrill Lynch, leaving to earn a graduate degree. A position with the US Treasury Department followed, which gave Zarrad a vantage point into the banking business. He didn’t like what he saw – huge swaths of people and businesses underserved by the traditional banks. He left to create a legal payment platform for cannabis, but with a new administration in DC, Zarrad and his team shifted their sights to the gig economy – and Joust was born.
“We estimated the freelance and micro-business economy generated $2.2 trillion and no one was doing anything for them. Initially, Joust was just a suite for finances, a dashboard. Then we dug a little deeper and uncovered a bigger problem: 71% of freelancers had trouble getting paid and freelancers lost on average 14% of their income to non-payment. We thought, that’s unacceptable” says Zarrad.
For women, who make up 62% of the freelance workforce, the stats are worse. They are paid late 31% of the time compared to 24% for men. Joust eliminates the guessing game of payment and saves the freelancer the time and energy previously spent chasing down a vendor. With Joust, freelancers, entrepreneurs and small businesses can send an invoice anywhere in the world and manage how they get paid. Joust offers two options – a freelancer can choose immediate payment, for a fee of 6%, or in 30 days, if the vendor pays. But if the vendor doesn’t pay in 30 days, Joust will pay, charging a small fee, because this invoice has been insured. Either way, the gigger gets paid.
“Joust gives the corporate world experience, the power of size, to enforce payment. But I encourage freelancers, especially from a marginalized group, like women or minorities, to embrace their work and their worth. Don’t underprice. And if you aren’t sure you’re worth it, fake it till you make it” says Zarrad.