General Manager at Helix by Q2 Ahon Sarkar and VP of Product at Mana Steve Mautone have told us about their companies, spoke about the technology behind their solutions, and explained how Helix's tech allowed Mana to create a debit card for gamers.
80.lv: Please introduce yourselves to our readers. Where did you study? What companies have you worked for? What project have you contributed to?
Ahon Sarkar, General Manager at Helix by Q2: Hey there, my name is Ahon! Although growing up I thought I’d be a scientist, I ultimately graduated from the University of Chicago in Economics because of my passion for understanding people, the way they interact, and how that all comes together as a part of the economy.
Over the years, I built a company called Vylo in the voice communications space, spent some time at the hedge fund Bridgewater, and then ultimately was part of starting the banking as a service business that is today, Helix. We were one of the first players in the space and are today one of the largest – powering embedded finance products for over 10 million users across some really amazing companies like Mana, Credit Karma, Acorns, Gusto, Betterment, and more.
Steve Mautone, VP of Product at Mana: I'm Steve Mautone. I graduated from the University of Notre Dame focused on Management Information Systems and later got my master’s degree in Management of Information Technology. I’ve worked for BBC America, Showtime Networks, and Royal Caribbean helping to build their web platforms. I later worked for American Express, where I was focused on the award-winning Amex Mobile app, Enterprise Communications (email, SMS, and mobile push), and the new Amex Personal Checking account.
Intro to the Companies
80.lv: Please tell us about your companies – Mana and Helix by Q2. What services do you provide? What technologies do you utilize? How is the working process organized?
Ahon Sarkar: Helix powers companies like Mana in building unique, highly personalized banking products that actually create something new in the space (as opposed to yet another standard banking product). We give them the building blocks of banking – the ability to create unique accounts, issue specialized cards, and all the data and controls they need to make it a fully integrated part of their existing business – so they can combine it with their existing business to create something that’s never existed before.
For us, it’s all about helping companies build the product around each person. Historically, banking has been built around what’s called “ProductIDs” – there’s product A and product B and the main thing that determines which one you get is how much money you have. The reality is every person is different and has their own set of needs based on their situation, not necessarily just their income bracket. We wanted to change that – create a world where companies like Mana could customize a product to each person (taking into account their gaming preferences, behaviors, and more) to make something that’s meaningfully more useful than what you can get at a more traditional institution.
To accomplish that, we had to build a cloud-native core from scratch rather than just wrapping a legacy tech stack as many others in the space eventually did (cores are the systems banks use to offer banking, though most banks use one of 3 core systems that were built 50+ years ago). While it took years to build the platform, it allowed us real flexibility: the ability to design banking infrastructure the way it should be, instead of repackaging it the way it was. We’re fully built on Microsoft Azure and offer our clients the building blocks of banking through a REST API.
Steve Mautone: Mana is a checking account and debit card for people who enjoy playing video games and want to get rewarded for doing what they know and love. Mana offers a robust rewards program geared towards gamers who want to earn rewards for the time that they spend in-game and for their everyday purchases.
We are building mobile apps for Android and iOS in an agile work environment. The Mana team is filled with talented individuals, located all around the globe, who are coming together to make Mana a reality. We’re gearing up for our beta launch and could not be more excited to share what we have been building.
80.lv: Steve, please tell us about Mana's debit cards, how did the company come up with the idea of creating cards for gamers specifically? What benefits does it bring for gamers?
Steve Mautone: The running joke is that Mana started because of a toaster. There are plenty of debit cards that will reward users for generic purchases – new shoes, hotels, a toaster even! However, there became a point where it felt like everyone was being rewarded for the things they want… except gamers.
We created Mana to allow gamers to game the system and bank the way they want to bank. Mana rewards users for their entertainment and gaming purchases, as well as for their gameplay, with rewards they actually care about.
Mana is completely free-to-use, and also offers a boosted rewards program, Mana Pro, for extra points and exclusive perks through a yearly membership. Mana Pro members get:
- 5x points from select Gaming & Entertainment Subscriptions such as Disney +, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Spotify
- 3x points from Gaming products in the Mana Shop
- 1X points for everything else
- As well as exclusive pro perks which include a 1-year subscription to Discord Nitro, $25 Xbox Gift card, $25 PlayStation Gift card, 1-year subscription to Surfshark VPN and more.
We’ve partnered with companies that gamers know and love to provide a unique banking experience tailored to their lifestyle. Mana generates revenue just like a traditional bank, interchanges, transactions, etc. But we also work with partners to help bring products and brands into our shop.
80.lv: How do you work with the community? How do you plan to attract new clients once Mana goes live? When will Mana be available to the public?
Steve Mautone: Mana works with the community by being a part of the community. Everyone who works here at Mana loves gaming. We enjoy playing games, reading the latest news, and staying up to date on the pulse of the community.
We have a Discord space for our Pro users where we can have honest conversations about everything from what’s happening behind the scenes to what songs everyone listens to while they game and what pets they have. This allows us to stay connected with our users and get a sense of the needs within our community.
Once Mana goes live, we plan on utilizing our referral program to encourage Mana users to share information about us with their community. We believe in the product we are creating and are confident that once gamers get a glimpse at what their banking CAN be – they won’t want to go to anyone else.
The team is working hard toward the Mana launch which is scheduled to go live at the end of Summer 2022.
Helix by Q2
80.lv: Ahon, could you tell us more about Helix's platform, what does it do? What are the most notable features of the platform? What are the advantages of Helix?
Ahon Sarkar: As I mentioned, Helix enables innovative companies to build unique banking products that delight their users. We offer companies the building blocks of banking: the ability to launch bank accounts (think checking accounts, savings accounts, joint accounts, you get the idea), virtual and physical debit cards (that can be customized for each company and even for each user), a whole bunch of payment rails (ACH, Wire, Checks, you name it), and importantly the data and controls they need to design each product exactly as needed for their business and their users.
With those ingredients, our partners make all kinds of different dishes – Mana created a never-seen-before banking product built around gamers and what we love to do, Acorns built a banking product tied into micro-investing to help people start saving and investing for their future, Gusto built a unique product to help people access their cash when they need it without paying exorbitant fees, NYDIG designed an easy way to get part of your paycheck in crypto. The list goes on and on – and is continuing to get more interesting as the years go by and new companies start exploring what they can create by combining banking with their business.
In terms of advantages – companies tend to come to Helix because of our flexibility, our proven scale, and our high-touch expertise in partnering with companies to help them build a one-of-a-kind product and grow it into a meaningful business. We quite literally have a ‘client success’ team, focused on making sure each one of our clients is successful in building their business. We take their feedback very seriously and use it to decide the best way to grow our platform and the industry as a whole.
80.lv: What technology did you use to develop Helix, the website mentions that the platform has a cloud-based core, how was it created?
Ahon Sarkar: It’s actually a funny story. The beginnings of what is today Helix trace back to a company called Smartypig that was created back during the last financial crisis. Back then, the team was trying to build a goal-based savings account, one that could help you save for different things in your life. Yes – you may think that today that’s commonplace, but back in 2008, that was a big deal.
The only problem was the team would go to different banks asking if they wanted to be the bank partner to help offer the savings product, but the banks couldn’t. It wasn’t because they didn’t want to – they did – but the legacy tech costs made it so it made no financial sense to create that many unique accounts (because each one could cost them more than $3 per account per month…which really starts to add up). So, the banks said, “if you can build us a separate core that can operate standalone at a much lower cost, we’ll do it".
So, that’s exactly what the Smartypig team did. They created a cloud-native core called “CorePro” and basically built Smartypig on top of it. Over the years, they realized that the core they had built was even more interesting than the application they built – it was something unique in the market. They ultimately got acquired by Q2 and evolved into what became our banking as a service business, and then we invested deeply into it and grew the team, the platform, and our capabilities to create a 2.0: Helix.
It's always funny to me how we got here, in part because that’s what gives us real empathy for the companies like Mana building products on Helix. We’ve been there before – launching unique products that have never been seen before. That’s part of why we’re so excited for the future: as more and more companies build new things by combining banking with their business, every person will get access to unique and fair banking services that are completely designed around them. That is what will help us create an economy built for each of us.
80.lv: What are the companies' future plans? How do you plan to continue supporting your platforms? Are there any new features you plan to implement? What should your userbases wait for in the near future?
Ahon Sarkar: For Helix, it’s all about continuing to redesign different aspects of banking and working with amazing companies to create unique products, instead of just more of the same. Coming up you’ll see do what we did for consumer banking for other parts of the country: minors (it’s time the ‘allowance’ got an upgrade), businesses, and even those who may not yet have a full social security number like immigrants. You’ll also see us eventually offer credit products to help people when they need them. Finally, we’ll also launch lots of exciting tools that help companies like Mana build custom experiences that actually help users take action towards their future.
Steve Mautone: For Mana, gaming is always a leader or on the forefront of new technologies, there’s been a trend out there regarding the metaverse and what that means. Obviously, we look at gaming as the original metaverse, so how can we expand on that, that’s what users should be excited about.