Jason Lee

Founder of Salt Labs

Jason Lee is an American businessman and fintech entrepreneur. He is currently the Founder and CEO of Salt Labs, a loyalty and payments technology company that enables frontline workers to own the long-term value of their work. Jason was the founder of double unicorn DailyPay, the global leader in on-demand pay, and also the creator of Friday, a disruptive digital consumer banking app and debit card. Jason co-founded The Alicia and Jason Lee Foundation with his wife Alicia to support organizations dedicated to fair representation, equity, and re-entry. Jason is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. He lives in New York City with his wife Alicia and their three children.

What is your typical day, and how do you make it productive?

No two days are the same in the startup world, but I try to keep balance and routine around my office hours so that I can show up refreshed each day and get time with my family in the evenings. While at work, I have set tasks I set for myself every day but outside of that I could be doing anything, from a phone call with investors to answering user support questions. Keeping busy, collaborating with my team, and hearing from our users is what drives my productivity.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Have a strong thesis and world view that you’re working towards. Then attack it day by day, with smaller, attainable milestones. One of the curses of being a repeat entrepreneur is knowing what it takes to build that big picture, but if you remain focused on the day to day you can work towards that big vision with focus and purpose.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I wouldn’t say it is a trend, per se, as I firmly believe that the technology is here to stay, but I am really excited by the integration of blockchain technology in the lives of everyday consumers. Social changes have resulted in consumers expecting more from their interactions with companies and I deeply believe that blockchain can enable them to have a more meaningful interest in the companies that they are loyal to. In the retail world, the Starbucks loyalty program is a fascinating example of this, and my latest venture, Salt Labs, is exploring similar applications in the employment context.

What is one habit that helps you be productive?

A daily list with critical to-do’s helps me focus when the world around me can feel chaotic.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo.

Tell us something you believe almost nobody agrees with you.

Across the venture space, I constantly see investments in technology for rich people. People always ask me ‘why hourly workers, it is so hard to build for low and medium income individuals’. I wouldn’t say that they disagree with my commitment to develop products for the un and underbanked, but a lot don’t take the time to understand this huge portion of the population and their needs. I have to spend a lot of my time educating my peers on the subject but I’m so passionate about it I will shout it from the rooftops of Manhattan!

What is the one thing you repeatedly do and recommend everyone else do?

Take a day off work every week. For many, it can be hard to shut off. But I try to stay away from emails and socials at least every Saturday through to Sunday evening and I recommend my team to do the same. You need time in the outside world to bring fresh perspectives into work.

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do?

Think of the end-user. In my world, no matter how hard my day might seem I can guarantee that hourly workers are facing harder challenges than I. Listening to them and hearing about their lives inspires me to persevere and stay focused on our mission.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business or advance in your career?

Build products that solve a deep consumer need. It is as simple as that.

What is one failure in your career, how did you overcome it, and what lessons did you take away from it?

There have been too many to count! But perseverance. There is always someone fighting a harder battle than you, so face the failure heads-on, learn from it, and keep building.

What is one business idea you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Think of your everyday life and problems you have. Not every great idea is built on complex technology. I have ideas ranging from vending machines to pillows that I plan to build one day. If a business idea solves a problem, customers will find and use it.

What is one piece of software that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

My company Salt Labs is HQ’d in NYC but we have employees based across the US. Much of my career was based on face to face interactions so remote working is still a learning experience for me but applications like Slack help me to stay connected

What is the best $100 you recently spent?

I had lunch with some users when in Puerto Rico. Spending that money, but more importantly, that time to hear the pains they feel every day, and their hopes for the future, helps my team to develop our product with real customers in mind.

Do you have a favorite book or podcast from which you’ve received much value?

About ten years ago I read The Unbanking of America, by Lisa Servon, and it was an eye-opener into the lives of more than 25% of Americans. It was also a catalyst for me starting DailyPay, and subsequently Friday and Salt Labs. The banking system is dysfunctional and inaccessible for so many people across society and this book perfectly demonstrates the deeply rooted issues that the companies I have founded look to solve.

What’s a movie or series you recently enjoyed and why?

Last month I brought some of my team at Salt Labs to see ‘Air’ , the new movie starring and produced by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. While the movie’s premise revolves around Nike’s pursuit of Michael Jordan for an endorsement deal in 1984, the underlying message is much more profound, and highly relevant to the times in which we are living. At the heart of the story is Deloris Jordan, Michael’s mother, who insisted that her son receive a percentage of revenue from every shoe sold with his name, in addition to a fixed salary. As Deloris made her case to the Nike executives, she posed the line of the movie: “People who work for a living? They don’t get to own anything”. It resonated with me because it closely resembles the overall beliefs my team and I at Salt Labs have – essential, frontline workers deserve to build ownership as they work.

Key learnings:

  • Success is not a linear path
  • Always build with your consumer and real pain points in mind
  • Culture trumps everything else