Plaid People: Charley Ma
As a growth manager, Charley Ma is responsible for helping clients successfully launch, grow, and scale with Plaid. As one of Plaid’s earliest employees, he has also been integral to many aspects of Plaid’s evolution, from building out its Sales team way back when to opening Plaid’s first New York City office. In our latest installation of Plaid People, Charley tells us about his career trajectory and the one thing (ok, technically two things) he’s proudest of.
Photo by Kevin Hu
When you joined Plaid, you were one of only about a dozen employees. What did you do then, and how has your role changed over the years?
When I started with Plaid, I was working out of our San Francisco office as one of the first business-slash-revenue-focused hires. I was initially doing a mix of everything—finance, compliance, support, sales, marketing, customer success, etc. After a while, I focused on building out our sales function and started our Sales team with one of my colleagues. Last year, I rejoined our Growth team as a manager, which brought me to New York to open our office here!
What has that experience been like?
It has been a lot of fun! From day one, the primary focus has been trying to find key early hires to build a strong foundation for the type of culture that we want to create here in the New York City office. In a relatively short period of time, the office has grown pretty dramatically, especially with the acquisition of Quovo, which was based here. We’ve combined our teams under one roof, making us about a hundred strong or so in New York City.
How do you define workplace culture?
I define culture as a sum of all the people that you bring into the organization. So, one of my hiring criteria is making sure that people align with Plaid’s values. Transparency, courage to be bold, and humility are some of the things that I look for during the interview process.
What do you enjoy most about your job now?
The Growth’s team mission is to launch, retain, and grow customer relationships. It’s incredible to witness all the growth and progress our customers make as they continue to build different products and come up with new ideas that leverage Plaid. I really love fintech, and my job gives me broad exposure to a wide range of companies, products, and people across the industry. l also really love the people I work with. Everyone at the company is driven and passionate about what they do, not to mention the fact that this is the smartest group of people I've had the opportunity to work with in my career. They are also extremely nice—every single person on every team. The default state across the company is, “Let me figure out how I can help you.” It's the number one reply I get when I ask somebody a question!
What’s challenging about your job now?
I think a lot about how to continue to grow and scale communications and processes between teams as Plaid expands. We have four offices now, including a global presence in London and Amsterdam. Making sure everyone is on the same page and moving in sync while dramatically adding to our headcount is a pretty interesting problem.
What led you to fintech in the first place?
I stumbled my way into it. I went to Penn for undergrad with vague aspirations to get a PhD in biophysics. But then one day, in the physics lab, I was doing research, and I thought to myself, "Do I really want to be in this lab for the rest of my life? Am I really passionate about this?” I realized pretty quickly that the answer was “nope.” So, I went into my junior year with an undeclared major, desperately trying to find to find an internship for that summer. I managed to land a summer internship with JP Morgan in their treasury services division in New York City, which is the division that works with large enterprise clients to help them conduct payments and manage their finances. That was my first exposure to financial services (and the lack of technology within it). I remember being really shocked by the fact that everything was so manual, even at one of the largest financial institutions in the world. I thought, “There's a real opportunity here.”
How did you parlay that internship into a career with Plaid?
In my senior year of college, I did a lot of independent research around fintech and then went back to JP Morgan to join a rotational analyst program. I ended up dropping out of my program early and joined an R&D team as a product manager focused on emerging technologies in payments. One of initiatives my team was exploring was building out an API platform for our wholesale bank. I was also following a few companies in that space, and Plaid was on the top of the list. One day, Plaid posted its first open growth position online, and I applied via API without thinking it would go anywhere.
Did anything about your experience at JP Morgan prepare you for Silicon Valley?
I think one of the big things I took away from JP Morgan was a good understanding around how decisions are made in large, regulated enterprises. I learned about building consensus and the patience required to drive a decision in that kind of environment. That's really helpful with some of the banks and other financial institutions that I work with. I can speak their language and put myself in their shoes, because I was there at one point.
What’s your favorite Plaid memory?
My favorite moments at Plaid tend to be the really challenging moments—the days we have a big client problem, and we have to bring in a war room of people across Engineering, Support, Growth, Sales, and Marketing to figure out what the problem is, fix it, and communicate it. It’s quite stressful during those times but also very rewarding once we are able to navigate through the storm. I also find that those are the moments that teach me the most in a highly condensed period.
What makes you proud?
I consider myself really lucky to have had the opportunity to explore a lot of different careers and make a lot of choices when it came to my personal and professional life. My parents didn’t have that luxury. They were born and raised in China, went through the revolution, and decided to move to the United States in the ‘80s with pretty much nothing. They worked their way up to give me a foundation to be able to explore the things that I'm truly passionate about. So, I would say that I'm really proud of all the things that they've done that enabled me to create the life I want to live.