Alvar Lumberg is the CTO and co-founder of Grünfin.
A long-time engineering leader at Wise, he helped it grow into one of the most loved tech companies in Europe. Now he’s aiming to do the same at Grünfin, focusing on sustainability and helping our money change the world for the better.
What do you do at Grünfin?
I’m the Chief Technical Officer at Grünfin, which packs in a lot. In short, I look after building and operating Grünfin’s IT systems, make sure our customers' data is safe and secure, and build the best engineering team to keep improving our products.
What does your typical day look like?
No day is typical at Grünfin - we’re trying to make a change here! I prefer to work from the office for team building and concentration. Some days I spend a long morning or afternoon at home babysitting my toddler daughter since I believe it’s more about work/life integration than work/life balance.
As we’re getting up to speed as a company, my day primarily consists of working on the product with my team, building up the organisation with my peers and keeping an eye on the engine that powers Grünfin to make sure everything’s working well.
I prefer to commute by train or bicycle. If I’m lucky, or determined, I squeeze in a run.
Why did you start Grünfin?
For half of my career, I held it important to grow as a professional software developer, then an aspiring technical leader. After years of building “someone else’s products”, I realised that agile, iterative, customer-centric product development is what would really drive me. Some smaller efforts and seven years in Wise later, it was time to focus my efforts on something I truly believe in.
I’ve known for long I’d want my next mission to contribute to improving education or reducing wastefulness in the world.
I was fortunate enough - and humbled - to be trusted with a co-founder role by Triin and Karin, which seemed a better fit for me than I knew to hope for.
Grünfin has an opportunity to help people align their own and the world’s better future, and I think we have all we need to succeed in that.
You were an early team member at Wise (formerly TransferWise). What lessons did you take away from that experience?
It’d be a long list and I’d keep adding to it forever, but a few stand out.
Customers, customers, customers. Once you’ve identified a pain they have, and believe in your ability to fix it, everything else comes together around it as long as you keep your customers at the centre.
Excellence and autonomy. People with aligned goals, enough smarts and the right motivation know the best solutions to the problems in their domain. I’ve learned to trust my engineering teams and myself to find the answers, even if they lack experience. It might take more time than providing answers top-down initially, but in the end, you’ll have people who know and love their stuff.
Embrace change. A fast-growing company is always chaotic and rewards adaptability. There’s a good chance it’s intimidating, and a good chance it’ll be fine if you keep your customers' interests first.
Also check out the TransferWise tech blog here.
What are some of your least “green” lifestyle choices?
Oh, dear… I think my #1 gripe with myself here would be driving more than I need to, instead of using public transportation. And then there’s the exotic holiday once a year that I really don’t need. And I could get by with fewer gadgets.
Something that I’m actively trying to work on is meat consumption – but having vegan colleagues is an excellent start to cutting back by ordering plant-based food for lunch together.
Do you have any principles that you follow in your personal investment decisions?
My investments are generally split into three - long-term fund holdings, angel investments in startups and gambling with stocks. I’m much too impulsive to invest in single stocks, I’ve found.
A principle I’m working to adopt is to imagine a future world I’d like to live in, then check if a given investment works towards building that world. Doing so, that imaginary world becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy!
And this is yet another reason to work on something like Grünfin - make it accessible to as many people as possible to invest in the world they’d want to live in.
Any book/podcast recommendations?
A book that recently left a deep impression was Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, which explores the idea of our brains being lazy and taking shortcuts and how these shortcuts influence our decision-making. Often for the worse.
Another classic, Born to Run, helped me introspect to understand why I like walking and running so much, and add meaning to spending time on one’s feet.
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