We Asked Kairos HQ’s Ankur Jain 20 Questions About Money

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Millennials tend to get a bad rap when it comes to money. You’ve heard the tired, old lines about avocado toast that conveniently ignore factors like stagnant wages, a rising costs of living, and an unprecedented student debt crisis. It’s a generation that entered the workforce in the wake of a 2008 financial crisis (which they had no role in causing in the first place) and never had a chance to build the nest eggs enjoyed by prior generations. Meanwhile, millennials continue to pay into Social Security despite having little faith they’ll be able to rely on it once they retire.

Needless to say, these bleak realities only speak to the greater need for people to be financially literate. You literally can’t afford to be careless with your money, and so you’d be smart to do whatever you can do to make your hard-earned cash go further.

Ankur Jain understands this well, which is why the 31-year-old co-founder and CEO of Kairos HQ has focused on building a portfolio of companies that make life more affordable when it comes to expenses like healthcare and childcare. His latest endeavor, Bilt, takes aim at housing. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than a third of Americans are currently renters.

“Rent is our single largest expense…and it gets you no closer to homeownership,” Jain says.

Bilt is the first credit card and rewards program that allows you to earn points on rent with no fee, and Jain believes it can help create a path to homeownership by allowing consumers to earn rewards like airline points and money for fitness classes like Y7 and SoulCycle, and even accrue credits toward a future mortgage.

As someone who’s made his fair share of smart financial moves, we linked up with Jain to get his best tips for managing money, using entrepreneurship to solve problems, and what we can do to close the wealth gap.


What motivated you to become an entrepreneur in the first place?

I didn’t mean to become an entrepreneur. It started by just wanting to solve problems I was facing myself. I accidentally started my first company when I was 11 after getting my first cell phone. It was so hard texting people using T9 (yes, I’m getting old now) that I learned to code and built a service where you could send a text to your friend’s phones, straight from your web browser or AIM. It ended up spreading like wildfire and at one point we had almost 2 million people use it!

Your businesses focus on attempting to solve social issues. What would you say is the most pressing social issue right now?

The fact that life keeps getting more expensive, but as a generation, we keep getting less. Housing costs more, but we get less space. Healthcare gets more expensive, but we get worse care. These are problems that can be solved by innovation.

What’s one misconception about millennials that really bugs you?

That we aren’t “financially responsible.” I believe our generation is really good at making the best of a tough situation. We were pushed into mountains of student debt and graduated into the tough job markets and record rent prices. Despite that, we manage to find ways to live our lives and still pay the bills. This idea that buying “avocado toast” for breakfast suddenly makes us “spoiled” is absurd.

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Let’s say I just graduated college and I’m independent for the first time in my life. What’s your advice in terms of the first steps I should take in terms of managing my personal finances?

Make sure you start building credit early. That will save you thousands of dollars throughout the years — and not just on loans. For example, it can help you qualify for apartments with a much lower reserve requirement.

What’s your most recent purchase that changed your life?

The Peloton Tread. With the long hours at work, having this at home has been a lifesaver in terms of getting time to work out during the week.

What’s the last book you read that challenged a preconceived notion?

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If You’re Life Depending On It by Chris Voss.

Who’s a lesser known entrepreneur that’s inspired you?

Ben Marathapu, one of our partners at Cera (the leading UK health tech business) who is so sincere about changing healthcare, but proving that doing so can be a big business opportunity.

Are there any resources you’d recommend for novices when it comes to learning more about personal finance?

The Points Guy is an excellent resource for learning how to make smart decisions when it comes to choosing a credit card and maximizing your benefits. There is so much that you can do with all those points. The @KairosHQ instagram is also a place where we share personal finance content and memes that resonate with our generation

What’s one purchase you really regret making?

Every dollar I spent on renting in San Francisco.

What are some of the problems you see with the current home-buying experience?

The whole process is opaque and confusing. It’s hard to know how much you can actually afford, how much down you should put, what a good interest rate is, or how good of a deal you’re actually getting on the house. Not to mention, it’s so hard saving for a down payment when you’ve been spending all your money on rent every month.

To that end, what are some of the problems you see with the current experience for renters?

Rent is our single largest expense. And yet 80% of rent payments are still made by check or cash. Paying on-time doesn’t build our credit history, even though it hurts our credit score if you don’t pay on-time. And renting gets you no closer to homeownership.

Wealth inequality is an existential issue facing our country. What do we need to do to close the gap?

Historically, access to homeownership has been the single most important driver of wealth creation. It’s the only form of levered equity most people will ever own at that scale — and that’s only possible because of government support. We need to ensure more people in our generation are able to build a path to homeownership or else inequality will get even worse as a small fraction of millennials own homes that compound in value while the rest are stuck living paycheck to paycheck.

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How do you believe money (both having it and not having it) impacts mental health?

As if life doesn’t have enough to be anxious about, worrying about making your bills each month can have a serious impact on mental health. If we can help people take care of the basics, then we can remove that stress and give people a chance to get ahead. It’s why the stimulus checks had such a meaningful impact on getting people through the Covid crisis.

In 10 years, what do you foresee as the biggest innovation?

CRISPR is and will continue to change healthcare forever. As CRISPR advances, we’ll be able to edit our own DNA in ways that could finally tackle so many chronic diseases that have been unsolvable to date.

There’s a fair share of disillusionment right now, both with people in government as well as people in the financial sector. How do we overcome that disillusionment?

The rhetoric in big institutions and governments has become so toxic and polarizing that it’s no wonder people have lost trust. The needs of the vast majority of us get drowned out by loud voices on the extreme. We need these institutions to start putting everyday people first. We need them to be transparent. And to just figure out common sense solutions to the things that actually matter. Not just whatever gets them another PR hit or viral tweet…

What’s one thing that money can’t buy?

Trust.

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?

Check my phone.

What’s the last thing you do before you go to bed?

Kiss my girlfriend goodnight.

What’s your personal mantra or motto?

Do things by the book. Just be the author.

How would you define “strength”?

Persistence to the point of success. Not letting “no” stop you from the things that matter.

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