Andrés Ugarte is the type of person who’s always on the lookout for the perfect app to help him navigate life, but he never found one for managing his money. “I lost count of how many I tried,” he says.
So in 2018 he quit his job as a software engineer and started working on Copilot. This privacy-first app lets you view details across all your accounts with a clear, colorful interface. Machine learning automatically categorizes spending to help you budget, while elegant charts make financial data — not always the zingiest of topics — easy to make sense of.
We caught up with the New York–based founder to chat about when he knew Copilot was an idea he could bank on and why a CEO should always code.
How long did it take to launch Copilot?
Roughly a year and a half. For the first six months, it was just me designing, prototyping, and building. We had seven users, and each week I would launch new features and send out an email.
How did you persuade people to trust Copilot with their financial information?
I’m wary of sharing my personal data, and that was one thing that bugged me with other apps: They’re free, but since the company has to make money, they’re selling your data. In the early days users told us, “Please don’t sell my data or put in ads. I’m willing to pay a few bucks for this service.” That was when we decided to charge a subscription, even though nobody really charges in this category. We can cover the cost of growing the business and building new features.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
In the early days, it was fundraising. I thought I was going to be able to fundraise with just an idea, honestly, but I got a lot of pushback: “People have done this. You’re wasting your time. Do you have any other ideas?” That’s why we started fully bootstrapped. But once we had a product — and with the type of love we get from users — the dynamic changed.
From a technical standpoint, what else is key to the Copilot experience?
We want you to open Copilot and feel like it’s a first-class app. I believe that having a native Swift app makes a difference the moment you start interacting with it. We invest a lot of engineering resources in crafting an experience you want to come back to.
What’s it been like to go from software engineer to CEO?
I still code. Not as much as I used to, but I believe that to be an effective leader, I need to stay close to that. Engineers and designers are often told they should focus on the technical aspects or the design and leave the rest to businesspeople. I believe that’s fundamentally wrong. We have a little bit of a superpower when it comes to understanding what goes into crafting a product that people want to use. At the end of the day, users can tell if you’re doing something with passion and love.
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