College Savings App UNest Taps New President As It Dives Into Crypto

Since its founding in 2018, UNest has focused on helping parents save money for their kids. Offering customers flexible accounts to go toward things like college tuition, wedding expenses or a down payment on a house, the North Hollywood-based fintech startup might seem like more of a low-risk institution.

Yet in the next few weeks, UNest is jumping headfirst into the world of cryptocurrencies.

On Thursday, the company announced it has hired Jon Walker as president to help lead the app’s expansion as it looks to hire more people, grow its product offerings and raise more funding. In the newly created post, Walker will work alongside UNest founder and CEO Ksenia Yudina.

In an interview with dot.LA, Walker said his first job is to spearhead the launch of UNest Legacy—its upcoming product allowing users to invest in crypto and individual stocks—as well as expand the company’s presence in Utah, where he resides.

“Our goal is to help families build a lasting financial legacy,” Walker said. “Crypto investors tend to be younger and more diverse than retail stock investors, and we believe that this is becoming more and more mainstream.”

Before joining UNest—which counts former NBA player Baron Davis and actress Laura Dern among its investors—Walker served on the leadership team at KPMG Spark, the accounting giant’s bookkeeping and tax preparation service for small- and mid-sized businesses. He joined the firm after KPMG’s 2018 acquisition of Salt Lake City-based online bookkeeping startup Bookly, where he was a board member and part of the founding team.

He also participated in exits at Utah-based startups EcoScraps and GroSocial, and held positions at venture capital firms Signal Peak Ventures and Kickstart Seed Fund—all based in the “Silicon Slopes” area south of Salt Lake City, which earned that moniker thanks to its booming tech startup scene.

Walker hopes to poach from the region’s deep tech talent base as part of a hiring binge for UNest this year. The startup plans to double the size of its workforce to 70 employees by the end of 2022, including new engineering, marketing and operations personnel.

“Utah has become quite the vibrant ecosystem in regards to startups and the VC community,” Walker said, adding that there are no plans to move UNest’s headquarters there.

UNest is aiming to grow from 400,000 users currently to 1 million by the end of the year. The company is fresh off a $26 million Series B funding round last fall, led by Houston-based The Artemis Fund, which took its total capital raised to $40 million.

Walker said he is tasked with executing an even larger Series C raise by the end of 2022, and laying the foundation for a possible IPO in the years to come. “That’s definitely on our roadmap,” he said of a public offering.

Walker said that UNest also plans to partner with one of its investors, asset management giant Franklin Templeton, to introduce a product focused on ESG (environmental, social and governance) stocks.

UNest isn’t the only family savings startup on the fintech scene; its competitors include Chicago-based EarlyBird and San Francisco-based Backer. After it bought out two similar apps—San Francisco-based Littlefund and New York-based Kidfund—in recent years, Walker didn’t rule out more acquisitions for UNest.

“Right now, our focus really is on hyper-growth mode,” he said. “If the right opportunity comes along that makes sense for both parties, I think it’s our fiduciary responsibility to shareholders to look at opportunities that present themselves.”

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Pejman Nozad, a founding managing partner at Pear VC, joins this episode of LA Venture to discuss Pear VC's current initiatives, including its accelerator and fellowships. He's seen as one of the most successful angel investors in the area, and for good reason: he has made more than 300 investments in his lifetime.

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Minnie Ingersoll
Minnie Ingersoll is a partner at TenOneTen and host of the LA Venture podcast. Prior to TenOneTen, Minnie was the COO and co-founder of $100M+ Shift.com, an online marketplace for used cars. Minnie started her career as an early product manager at Google. Minnie studied Computer Science at Stanford and has an MBA from HBS. She recently moved back to L.A. after 20+ years in the Bay Area and is excited to be a part of the growing tech ecosystem of Southern California. In her space time, Minnie surfs baby waves and raises baby people.
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Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.