How I decided my startup needed a new leader

Marqeta CEO Jason Gardner is looking for a “late-stage co-founder” to lead the fintech in its next stage of growth.

Jason Gardner

Jason Gardner, Marqeta's CEO, spoke to Protocol about stepping down.

Photo: Marqeta

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Jason Gardner announced in August that he would step down as CEO of Marqeta, the fintech powerhouse he founded 12 years ago.

Gardner launched and led Marqeta at a critical time. The rise of fintech sparked growing demand for infrastructure for issuing debit and prepaid cards and processing payments.

Marqeta, which went public in June 2021, subsequently expanded its reach by offering more financial services tools to businesses. Last month, Marqeta announced a new suite of products that would allow clients to offer direct deposit, bill pay, ACH features, and other capabilities.

Marqeta is currently looking for Gardner’s replacement. Gardner, who’s still running the company in the interim, will take on the role of executive chairman once his successor is named.

Gardner’s story, as told to Protocol, has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Building companies is about brute force. You’ve got to get people to work well beyond their capacity. I've been doing this for 27 years through three different companies.

I founded this company by myself. I felt that, heading into my 13th year, I needed to find that late-stage co-founder. I can move from chairman and CEO, largest shareholder and founder, to an executive chairman role where I can continue to do the things that I love doing, which is [dealing with] our customers and talking with them all the time, our culture and our people and our products.

A private company CEO is very different from a public company CEO. As a private company CEO, you can change all kinds of things that you want to change at a whim. You really can't do that as a public company CEO. In some ways, entrepreneurs just aren't built for that. So I decided that, ultimately, for the next three decades of growth, [I need to] find someone who was born and bred and trained for this stage. And I can partner with them to really drive the business.

I won't be dealing with the day-to-day running of the business. I actually love talking to analysts. That's one that I'm going to miss, talking to analysts and our investors. They've told me they enjoy talking with me. It's like a good debate. I believe that the company and our investors will be better served by focusing on people, products, and our customers, because that's what I'm great at.

The folks I'm interviewing for the CEO job, they want that. I've seen how that works, whether it's like Reid Hoffman and Jeff Weiner [at LinkedIn], Scott Cook and Brad Smith [at Intuit]. Look at what they've been able to create, the value they've been able to create together. It's extraordinary.

When I made the decision [to step down], the economy was in a different place. But as I've said to the company, don't focus on what's across the street — focus on the horizon line. I've been through this before. We will come out of it. It's definitely a cyclical trend we see now. We've been in 13 years of a bull market. But we built a formidable business. We're so much better off than so many other tech companies out there, even in fintech.

The secret to building businesses is you fail a lot more than you're successful. Find out what you don't want to do. That’ll lead you to the direction that you should be on. I've definitely deployed that strategy here. Once we found product-market fit, we knew exactly where we needed to be headed. Everything else, I just turned off, cut out, and we just became hyper-focused on delivering what we had to deliver. As we began to find a tighter and tighter market fit, we began investing a lot more in that, even when there was pressure to focus on this and focus on that and focus on the other thing.

Companies don't die from starvation. They die from overeating. So I became hyper-focused on modern card issuing. And that strategy was the right strategy for us because it really just completely tightened the product-market fit that we had.

I'm not going anywhere. Certainly being the largest shareholder in the company, I'm definitely not going anywhere. The future of my kids and the generational wealth that's been created by leading this company, not only mine but many Marqetans and our investors and Marqetans to come — I want to make sure that that is intact.


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