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July 5, 2017
With the Help of A Veteran Core, Doni Aims To Be the "Google of Finance"

Doni is like a piggy bank.

However, this piggy bank is physically non-existent. It’s digital and subdivided into different sections; sections dedicated to specific goals such as  a concert, a vacation, or a new gadget to be purchased.

This very same piggy bank is also owned by your friends, families, and coworkers. The aforementioned sections can be made visible to them, these goals you’re saving for, and they can choose to chip in to help these goals come to fruition.

This piggy bank is on a mission and has ambitions beyond your ambitions. This piggy bank wants to supplant traditional banking entirely and envisions a future where personal data ownership is not only a given but a financially advantageous given.

The piggy bank analogy may seem silly, but it represents what a Doni user aims to achieve.

A change-container-owner and a Doni user may both have a goal labeled, “Paradise Falls,” but the tech behind Doni users’ savings is certainly more extensive, and it is designed by a team that has one goal in mind.

This goal is to become a household name for consumers, just like Google has done for so many products; the app aimed at ambition-fulfillment has an aptly ambitious goal in its sights.

Doni screenshot

Doni’s origin story sits in a place largely without parallel to other fintech startups. The anomaly can be found at the foundation of Doni, or rather with the founders.

If you look at the backgrounds for some of the fintech success stories, you’ll notice a stark difference when compared to the founders of Doni. First, the idea for Venmo was spawned by Andrew Kortina and Iqram Magdon-Ismail during their freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania. Second, Mint was founded by Aaron Patzer when he was in his mid-twenties, just four years removed from college. These fintech founders were green... Elizabeth Gazda and Ronald Verbrugge are not.

The founders of Doni go back roughly 20 years, to the pre-dot-com bubble bursting 90’s. The setting was the Netherlands, where Gazda earned her MBA and first post-grad job and where Verbrugge founded his first company and established himself as a fintech titan.

Their relationship would not bear fruit until the next millennium, but they stayed busy in the meantime.

Elizabeth Gazda, General Manager of Doni
Elizabeth Gazda, co-founder & General Manager of Doni

Elizabeth Gazda established herself as a major player in Boston tech since her arrival in 1999. Her start with Doni overlapped with her end at Noteflight, where she began in September of 2009 as VP of Business Development and successfully negotiated the company’s sale to Hal Leonard Corporation. Beyond the recent past, her career has a Midas-like feel to it, with tenures tied to exponential growth and expansion across the board.

Ronald Verbrugge, co-founder and CEO of Doni
Ronald Verbrugge, co-founder and CEO of Doni

Ronald Verbrugge’s resume reads in a similarly exceedingly successful fashion, but just a bit to the right (read: 3,500 miles to the East). Verbrugge is a Dutch entrepreneur and private investor who has spent his career building, and advising successful companies in the European financial services market. He’s one of the minds behind the first crowdfunding platform in Europe, launched before Kickstarter.

Verbrugge serves as CEO and Gazda serves as General Manager.  

On June 14th, the company released the beta version of its app, four months after the 1.0 version of the app was released to the Apple App Store.

The app is straightforward; the user is greeted by “Doni” a small, cyan-shaded circle who acts as Sherpa along the path to paying for an objective. A Doni user can choose from three categories to add funds to, ‘Events,’ ‘Goals,’ and ‘Wish Lists.’

Once the user selects a category, they can go to the top right corner of the app where a plus sign creates a new project. Once that new project has been created, the user has the option to set a priority level, a date, an estimated cost, a photo, a link to the product, as well a description.

Additionally, the user can invite friends on the app to become contributors to each plan. For example, say a group of groomsmen have a bachelor party planned for August 1st, they can create an event, and all work towards the total together.

“We have a combination of financial specialists, director-to-consumer specialists and IT specialists, so behind it is a company with 60 top engineers,” says Verbrugge.  

But before Doni attempts to ascend to its ultimate goal, it needs to make its way through the trials and tribulations of beta testing. Elizabeth says beta testing of the app should be wrapped in July, a projected test period of 4-6 weeks.

Fast forward past the beta testing, fast forward past the dog days of summer, and Doni has its projected launch date: September. And Doni already has its primary demographic in mind.

“If you look at most fintech companies, they’re trying to solve the problem of millennials, but just behind the millennials is a very active goal-oriented entrepreneurial generation, Generation Z,” Gazda says. “It’s larger than the millennial population, and it’s unbanked.”

So Doni aims to address the dearth in Generation Z banking, but in a new way, something that looks entirely different from the brick-and-mortar banks yore.

“Their financial needs evolve around their daily activities, where banking becomes incidental to what they’re already doing,” Gazda says. “This is over a quarter of the U.S. population that doesn’t have a bank account. They’re not going to go into a branch, they barely open a laptop.”

According to Gazda, the Generation Z X-factor will be a major draw for potential investors. Not that Doni is sans-sources of seed capital. Doni’s angel investor is Peter Wernau, CEO of Wernau Asset Management, a veteran of the Boston investment scene.

And, just to round out this experienced team behind Doni, Shereen Shermak is an advisor and the company’s part-time COO.  

As the Doni team works away at the DCU Fintech Innovation Center, they can rest easy knowing they have the experience, the market, and the tech. The odds are in Doni’s favor in those departments and it is definitely a team that I would bank on.


Sam Benson Smith is a contributor to VentureFizz. Follow Sam on Twitter: @SamBensonSmith.