What started as a side project that provided interactive graphs with banking data evolved into its own financial savings app that gives a user the ability to make decisions, based on that banking data.
Gil Akos and Sam Morgan launched Astra, a Me-to-Me financial savings app, to make finance more intelligent, empowering and personal. By connecting bank accounts and creating savings goals, Astra helps users manage the movement of their money with programmable “actions” all within one dashboard. Then Astra automates the rest through ACH transfers between bank accounts.
Since launching Astra in August 2018, Akos—who is the CEO and co-founder—continues with the consistent product iteration through releasing application updates every two weeks. Akos said Astra users have transferred more than $20,000 so far and are on track to save more than $600 a year, which is substantial seeing how about 46% of Americans can’t afford a $400 expense that is unexpected, according to a 2016 study.
“Dwolla offers a very solid product and one that has allowed us to do what we intended to do from the start, which is to go beyond just reporting numbers to people,” says Morgan, Chief Product Officer. “We can offer something that can actually automate the movement of money on their behalf, and that functionality is reliant on the success of Dwolla.”
Countdown To Launch
As early as 2015, Akos and Morgan started having weekly phone calls to discuss and understand consumer finance from the technical and product offering perspective. Their hypothesis was simple: present useful financial information to a user so they can make beneficial financial decisions.
“But users wanted to be able to move money around based on the information that they were presented with,” Akos says.
As they continued iterating on their application, they began the search for their ideal payment solution. Akos says that their focus was on bringing value to their users and that building a payment solution from scratch wasn’t an option given all of the features that they wanted to make for their application at launch.
“There was enough for us to tackle,” Akos says.
To establish trust with their users, Morgan says they wanted to partner with “established players” in the financial ecosystem to leverage their existing relationships that users already felt confident with.
“Part of that trust is already baked in,” Morgan explains. “Because as a small Fintech company there’s an enormous barrier to trust. We are asking people to give us their banking credentials and for a lot of people, that’s a big leap to give that kind of information. So we wanted to leverage those existing relationships that have been built over time and robust platforms that people feel secure with, without having to start from zero.”
Their first partnership was with Plaid for bank account verification. But for users to actually transfer funds from one account to another—Me2Me—they needed a payment integration.
Akos said they considered Dwolla and Stripe as potential options for their payment platform and were looking for a solution that could easily connect with Plaid, yet be manageable enough for their small development team of Akos and two part-time developers.
“That integration with Plaid was reassuring that this could be a long-lasting partnership,” Akos says. “The core functionality that we developed wouldn’t be possible without some mechanism to move money around and we wouldn’t have that if we didn’t have this partnership. Dwolla allowed us to go from zero to one in terms of our product.”
Integrating with Dwolla was a two-phase process and it was made easier due to a direct line of communication to Dwolla’s dedicated support team.
Phase one included integrating with Dwolla’s API to build the foundation for the partnership. Phase two included working closely with the Dwolla integration team to iron out the nuances of their payment flow. After a few additional weeks of testing and troubleshooting, the financial savings app was ready to go live.
Throughout the entire process, Akos and Morgan utilized the dedicated Slack channel that comes with Dwolla accounts.
“The dedicated Slack channel was huge for us, especially in dealing with those nuances, that’s not something you can extract out of API documents,” Akos says. “That part was a really high touch, high-value interaction with the Dwolla team. That was hugely impactful and very different from submitting a support ticket. The feedback time was much shorter.”
Akos says he and his developer team appreciated Dwolla’s support team and their ability to take feedback quickly and collaborate to develop a solution tailored to their business needs.
“The responsiveness…” Morgan explains. “That was super useful in terms of having it be more of a flow rather than sending something and waiting days for a response, just to play the email game.”
The Next Frontier
As the app goes through consistent iteration, Akos says they are looking into breaking down some of the silos that currently exist within the Astra application.
“Right now it’s all about that one user’s finances, their accounts and their savings” Akos says. “An obvious next step is to go lateral and we are working on something like shared savings goals and a premium version of the app, which would include using different features of the Dwolla Platform like Same Day ACH payments.”
Akos says that Astra has more than 200 registered users and 50 are verified, meaning they have completed the onboarding process. The average user is visiting the app more than twice a week and in total, more than 200 transfers have been initiated through the Astra app.
“That aspect of being able to see all of our accounts in one place in our dashboard seems to be resonating with users even more than we expected,” Akos says. “And Dwolla has been instrumental in providing us with a reliable payment solution that we look forward to helping us scale our business. Dwolla is best in class regarding ACH transfers through an app. There hasn’t been anything else that really compares in terms of how much your app can be supercharged by Dwolla’s API.”