Asked when he first heard of Archie Puri, Galileo founder and CEO Clay Wilkes can't quite remember. "Boy, that's a good question," he said. "It's like asking me when did I hear first about McDonald's."
In the fintech world, Puri is a household name. She's a respected veteran technologist who helped build the pioneering payment platforms at trailblazing companies such as Braintree and PayPal.
Puri was the general manager of PayPal's Braintree until December. When she gave her notice in the summer, she said she wanted a break to figure out her next move.
That turned out to be with Galileo, one of fintech's top infrastructure players, which enables clients to build financing products, including debit cards and bank accounts. On Wednesday, the company will announce that it has hired Puri as its first chief product officer.
Wilkes said Puri will fill "a gaping hole."
"We weren't necessarily missing product capability, but product strategy, definition and articulation," he told Protocol. "It's about bringing somebody in that could really put their arms around that, and it felt like a natural with Archie. ... I knew that she had worked at Braintree and had done really, really good work there."
Founded in 2000, the Salt Lake City-based Galileo was acquired last year for $1.2 billion by SoFi, the startup that offers a host of financing products, including student loans, mortgages and deposit accounts.
But it remains a standalone company. In fact, it's looking to expand its reach in an increasingly competitive market, Wilkes said. "The big pushes are into new geographies," he said, citing Galileo's recent expansion in Latin America. It has similar plans for the Asia-Pacific, the U.K. and Europe.
Galileo, whose major clients include Chime, Robinhood, Revolut and TransferWise, is also looking to expand its product mix, he added. "Where do we go from here? What do we add in terms of, say, credit products, "buy now, pay later" and these types of relevant technologies?" he asked. "Those are the kinds of things that Archie is looking at."
Logan Allin, founder and managing general partner of Fin Venture Capital, a SoFi investor, said Galileo is "an older tech stack," but one of the "preeminent dominant players" in banking and credit or payments as a service. It's also a key player in the trend called embedded finance, in which financial services tools are integrated in the platforms of non-bank companies, such as online retailers, car dealerships and even tech giants like Google.
"Google [and] all these guys have come out and said, 'Hey, we're gonna create an embedded finance offering.' Well, Galileo has been doing that for 10 years," Allin told Protocol. "These other ways that embedded finance is getting integrated with fintechs and then traditional players is something that Galileo does very well. They just need to continue to evolve and add new products."
Galileo's top competitor is another payment platform, Marqeta, and "in some cases they're competing with Stripe," Allin said, but "they're very much the oldest and most scalable player with the largest customer base in the space."
Leading in the background
In fact, Galileo's seemingly ubiquitous and dominant presence in fintech was what made it stand out for Puri when she was considering her options beyond PayPal and Braintree.
"I started doing research to go check out who were the most recent fintech players that have come up," she said. "I looked at Chime. I looked at Robinhood. I looked at SoFi. All these different players had one thing in common: The platform that they were built on was Galileo. That was mind-blowing for me."
For Puri, taking a C-suite post at a major fintech company marks a high point in her remarkable journey as a technologist. She grew up in India where her father owned a small forklift service company.
"He did well for a number of years and then suffered quite a bit of losses to the point where he had a lot of debt and no money by the time he passed away," she said. "He was our single breadwinner for the family and when we opened his wallet, he had two rupees in it. If you convert it to U.S. dollars, it's two cents."
Puri had planned a career in banking. "I was well on my way to becoming a bank clerk, but one fateful bus ride actually changed the path of my life," she said. During her commute, a little boy handed her a flyer advertising computer coding classes, which Puri decided to take.
She didn't own a computer. To practice coding, she would rent one at a neighborhood cybercafe. "I would go there and type as fast as I could, type, type, type to see if my code works; 30 minutes was all I've got. And I can't afford another 30 minutes for another week."
That launched her into a career in tech. Puri went on to work for Yahoo in Bangalore in 2005 before moving to the company's Silicon Valley campus five years later. In 2012, she joined the payments platform company Braintree, which was acquired by PayPal the following year.
Last year, Puri decided it was time to move on. She gave notice around August in order to have a smoother transition at Braintree, she said: "When you run a sizable organization and are running product and engineering, which is pretty meaningful, I think it is very irresponsible to just walk out of the door and be like, 'Two weeks notice. Bye, see ya.'"
Did she know what was next? "I was very sure I wasn't going to do anything outside of fintech, preferably B2B, because that's what I love doing," she told Protocol. "I love building platforms that power fintech so we can recede into the background so that our clients can build these beautiful experiences."
But it was toward the end of 2020 that she set her sights on Galileo as her next stop. She spent the end of 2020 trying "to figure out a way by which I could be a part of the Galileo team."
"Fintech is a small world," she said, noting how she eventually found people in her network who knew what Galileo was doing and "whether there might be something for me."
The fact that Galileo was looking for someone to lead its product team "was almost serendipity" she said.
"What I love doing the best is finding a place that was ripe for scale and had a really proven-out idea and helping that team grow and helping the business grow and really low rolling up my sleeves and getting into things," Puri said.
A key goal she will be focused on is how to make Galileo an even more effective fintech platform, she said. "What are the capabilities that we could be adding that makes it even easier for different businesses to go online? The whole idea is technology and fintech should not be accessible to a few. It should be accessible to all," she said. "You need to democratize access to fintech. That means you have to lower the bar of complexity. How do you do that? That is where most of my thinking and time will be spent on."