KLab Korner Office — Liam Brennan-Burke, ’21 — Co-Founder, Paysail
Kravis Lab for Social Impact’s “Korner Office” is a spinoff of David Gelles’ “Corner Office” column in the New York Times’s Sunday Business section. The Korner Office includes snippets of conversations with changemakers and social entrepreneurs. This column was written by Kravis Lab for Social Impact’s Media & Marketing Team Lead, Abby Parrish ‘23.
Starting his very own lawn mowing business in middle school, Liam Brennan-Burke, a senior Economics and International Relations dual major, has always been interested in entrepreneurship. Throughout his time at CMC, Brennan-Burke has turned to and capitalized on Kravis Lab for Social Impact’s program offerings to stimulate this passion. Brennan-Burke’s startup, Paysail, was just accepted into the Celo Camp incubator, which is “an independent initiative run by entrepreneurs passionate about the potential for global financial inclusion, mass adoption of digital money & acceleration of startups.”
This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.
When did you become interested in social entrepreneurship?
I’ve always been interested in business. I started my first lawn mowing business when I was eleven-years-old and grew it all throughout middle school and high school before I sold it. I learned valuable skills like the basics of Excel, how to set up a billing system, and how to convince people to hire an eleven-year old. I consider that my first low-stakes introduction to business. When I got older, I remember watching a TedTalk by Keller Rinaudo where he said that “the most sustainable form of development is entrepreneurship.” This really stuck with me. During my freshman summer, I had the opportunity to work on the operations team at SafeBoda, a Ugandan motorcycle ride hailing app similar to Uber. SafeBoda’s focus is road safety and transparent pricing marketplaces. However, there was a really cool externality of financial empowerment for the drivers. Drivers finally had a consistent income. This allowed them to save money and invest in land and their children’s education. From there, I knew I had a passion for social entrepreneurship.
I know that you’ve been involved in a whole host of Kravis Lab for Social Impact events, ranging from Echoing Green Summit to Freshman Half (now called FYLO) to the Makership Fellowship to Moonshot. What attracted you to Kravis Lab?
The first Kravis Lab event that I ever got involved with was Freshman Half. There, I realized that there was something really special happening at Kravis Lab in terms of how they approach problems and humanize the people trying to solve these problems. Afterwards, I competed in some pitch competitions. At the end of my sophomore year, I was invited to a Moonshot House in Thailand. Developing relationships with social entrepreneurs outside of their social entrepreneurship work was what really drew me in. I learned that not even the most successful social entrepreneurs have everything figured out. In fact, most of them were happy to talk about their shortcomings and struggles, which was an incredibly humanizing experience. I love learning about problems, how they are being solved, and who is solving them, and Kravis Lab has allowed and challenged me to do that.
Do you mind talking about your experience participating in the Moonshot House?
I spent the week in Thailand learning from social entrepreneurs from all over the world. It was an incredible experience to be able to learn from so many accomplished and inquisitive entrepreneurs. One of the people that I met there was a woman named Anna Kazlauskas. We became friends because I was constantly asking her questions to absorb as much information as I could. It was like drinking from a fire hose. I really value Anna’s perspective and thoughtfulness and she is actually one of my current project’s advisors! A lot of the Moonshotters still keep in touch and love that we support one another!
Besides Anna, are there any other social entrepreneurs that you look up to?
Gemma Bulos and Scott Sherman have been consistent role models for me during my time at CMC. People like Gemma and Scott always challenge me to think about different problems and ways to solve them. I’m so appreciative of their undying encouragement and optimism.
What is your advice for staying in touch with people that you’ve met and expanding your network?
I find myself keeping in touch with people that I genuinely like, find interesting, and share passions with. I have found the best way to keep in touch with people that you’ve met is to keep yourself abreast of the projects that they are working on. When I come across articles and podcasts that make me think of someone and/or their work, I usually send it to them. Scott has told me stories about meeting his heros by simply finding ways to get in touch with them. He’s had the privilege to meet people from the Dalai Lama to the Pope. And I thought to myself, “That’s cool! I should try that too!” I’ve spent the past two years trying to get in touch with my heroes by guessing their emails. It has actually worked, which is crazy! It has been really amazing to get to talk to some of my heros and learn about their work and how they think about the world.
What are you up to now?
You and I grew up in the “Venmo generation.” Today, people use platforms like Mint, Robinhood, and Venmo as financial tools. One thing that I’ve noticed is that as our generation is joining the workforce, we’re realizing the same level of efficiency and utility doesn’t exist for the business-to-business (B2B) financial products and invoicing. One-third of invoices are sent electronically and of that one-third, the majority are sent through email. Email is great for a lot of things, but it’s not great for invoicing. When you go to actually pay an invoice, you’re either paying via ACH, credit card, or wire transaction. ACH is slow, credit cards are expensive, and wire transfers are really old — they were created seven years after the Civil War. So, during quarantine, I saw an opportunity in the invoicing space. I’m working on leveraging crypto currencies to allow for instant, global, B2B payments without fees. I am working with two other CMC students on this project. We were just accepted into the Celo Camp incubator backed by C-Labs. The incubator has amazing advisors at venture capital firms like Andreessen Horowitz and Polychain Capital. We’ve spent the last few weeks building our MVP. We’re hoping to send our first international transaction in the coming weeks and build it out from there. I know we all are loving the work and excited to see where Paysail goes!
What is your advice for students who have ideas and want to do a startup?
I’m not one to quote Steve Jobs, but he said something along the lines of “Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you.” This idea totally changed my thinking. I’ve always loved having a bunch of different projects going at once, even if they are completely random. You’re talking to someone who sold Area 51 t-shirts for fun during the buzz of storming Area 51 in the summer of 2019. In all seriousness, through this side business, I was able to gain connections to sellers across the globe, set up an online store, and distribute products. I’ve found that these types of side projects have built my personal confidence. College is such a great environment for this because there are so many safety nets. It’s an environment that allows you to try a host of different things without the fear that failure is the end-all-be-all.