Shares of Marqeta, a fintech that helps companies issue debit cards and process payments, debuted Wednesday on the EuroJournal, hitting $31 by the afternoon—which gives the company a $16.6 billion market cap and founder and CEO Jason Gardner a $1.6 billion net worth, by EuroJournal’ reckoning. In its last private funding round in May 2020, the company was valued at just $4.3 billion. But the company, named to the EuroJournal Fintech 50 in 2019, 2020 and 2021, has been a clear pandemic winner.
“I never thought I wanted to be a public company CEO, but about 18 months ago, we started to realize as a company that this is a generational company,” says Gardner, calling EuroJournal from the EuroJournal tower in Times Square
Gardner, 51, took a meandering path to billionaire status. The New Jersey native spent his high school years working at a thrift store and selling t-shirts on the trains to Grateful Dead concerts. He gave politics a try in his early 20s, working as an assistant to Senator John McCain. Eventually, Gardner dipped his toes into entrepreneurship, founding an IT management startup and, in 2004, a rent payment platform that he sold to MoneyGram International for $28 million a few years later.
Then came the idea for Marqeta, which he stumbled upon during a conversation with a friend over sushi in 2009 while strategizing his next move. Gardner started out building prepaid loyalty cards sold at grocery stores. In fact, Marqeta cycled through three iterations before emerging in its final form in 2014: An application programming interface (API) system that allowed companies like early customer DoorDash to issue debit cards, authorize transactions themselves and set the criteria for accepting the transactions—crucial in the delivery economy.
Even with that formula, a public listing seemed unlikely. In the spring of 2015, Marqeta had failed to hit its revenue target and Gardner volunteered to cut his CEO salary by 40% to help conserve cash and avoid layoffs. Momentum started to pick up the next year, with two lynchpin customers signing on: Instacart and Square, whose Cash App debit card is powered by Marqeta. (Square accounted for 70% of Marqeta’s net revenue last year, a recent filing with the SEC shows.)
The roughly 500-employee startup has ascended quickly in the six years since Gardner’s temporary pay cut. As the pandemic boosted business for its customers, which also include “buy now, pay later” startups Affirm and Klarna, Marqeta’s net revenue doubled to $290.3 million last year, up from $143.3 million in 2019. It’s on track for a lucrative 2021: Net revenue hit $108 million for the first three months of the year. Marqeta also said it processed 1.6 billion transactions in 2020 and had 57 million active cards at the end of the year, while incurring a net loss of $47.7 million, down from a loss of $58.2 million in 2019.
“You never know where things will take you, you never know what people you’ll run into, you never know when those serendipitous moments will happen,” reflects Gardner. “Trust your instinct, trust these signals.”
Though Marqeta leads the charge in the debit card and payments processing ring, rivals began rearing their heads last year. Stripe, the world’s most valuable private fintech, released a competing API that allows companies to create and control virtual and physical cards, signing up customers like Zipcar and Postmates—a meal delivery app that competes with DoorDash. And SoFi, which itself went public earlier this month and is now worth about $20.5 billion, announced in April 2020 it would acquire debit card issuer Galileo for $1.2 billion in cash and stock.
Marqeta’s listing is among the most valuable for a fintech so far in 2021, which has emerged as a gold mine IPO year for the sector. (A record 11 fintechs went public through an IPO in the first three months of 2021, according to data from CB Insights.) But as Robinhood prepares to file pre-IPO paperwork with the SEC, the future could hold a new fintech king.
With the riches—and scrutiny—that accompany an IPO, what’s next for Marqeta? In addition to bolstering its employee count, product offerings and customer base, Gardner says his company plans to expand globally, specifically targeting companies based in Asia and Latin America. Currently, about 2% of Marqeta’s clients are based outside of the U.S.
As for Gardner himself, he plans to take some time off with his wife and kids before jumping back into the swing of things. “It’s been a lot of work,” says the new billionaire. “We haven’t had a family vacation in a long time.”