Khristian Gutierrez

Passport to Success

Some entrepreneurial success stories seem to follow a classic blueprint: Frustrated idealists leave lucrative, but uninspiring careers to pursue their startup dreams.

Khristian Gutierrez’s career journey has some of those elements—but not all. It’s why his evolution from Wall Street analyst to a major player in the parking and transit industry is so unique. Gutierrez’s exploits, along with those of fellow alumni Jessi Berrin and Paul Share, will be honored Friday at the University of Florida’s Outstanding Young Alumni Awards.

Gutierrez (BSBA ’09, MSF ’10) had most of the pieces of that classic blueprint in place. He had the coveted career position as an Analyst at Wells Fargo Securities in New York, where he provided analysis and support on multi-million dollar transactions. His entrepreneurial drive had been on display since his days at Ocala’s Lake Weir High School where he started a teen night club that drew hundreds.

Warrington’s Other UF Outstanding Young Alumni Honorees

Jessi Berrin, Corporate Manager of Government and Community Relations, Baptist Health South Florida: Berrin (BS ’07, MBA ’12) is responsible for strategic planning and developing a state and federal legislative agenda among other duties.
Paul Share, Managing Director and Shareholder, Conway MacKenzie Inc.: Share (BSAc ’03, MAcc ’03) provides interim management solutions and financial advisory services for one of the nation’s leading turnaround consulting and corporate restructuring firms.

The difference for Gutierrez was that he was in no hurry to leave Wall Street. Although he only spent 16 months at Wells Fargo, he wouldn’t trade a minute of his time there.

“I loved it,” Gutierrez said. “I poured myself into what I was doing. Sometimes I was sleeping under my desk because of the 80- to 90-hour work weeks. But from the raw number of hours worked, and exposure to strategic management decision options, I feel like I gained three to four years of experience in just one year.”

And it wasn’t just experience in crunching numbers that made his time at Wells Fargo valuable. Gutierrez developed meaningful relationships with Wells Fargo executives, and was included on projects that had him travelling from St. Louis to Argentina.

One of those relationships led Gutierrez to his current position at Passport, Inc., which among other services, develops and manages online payments systems allowing patrons to pay for parking without ever having to drop coins in a meter. Gutierrez remained in touch with Bob Youakim, a former Vice President at Wells Fargo, who co-founded Passport in 2010. Six months after leaving Wells Fargo, Youakim reached out to Gutierrez about joining Passport as a Managing Partner and its Chief Business Development Officer.

So Gutierrez faced a dilemma: Remain in a lucrative and desirable career with the investment banking arm of a Fortune 50 company or become Employee No. 3 for a startup in Charlotte.

He chose the startup.

“Everyone thought I was nuts,” Gutierrez said. “About 18 months before, I’m celebrating my dream job with my family. Now, I’m walking away from it.

“I saw this as a huge learning opportunity. I felt I was at the point where I was prepared to fail. That’s when I made the leap.”

Gutierrez, 27, said he’s never regretted leaving Wells Fargo, but admitted the early stages at Passport were “less than glamorous.”

“The first 18 months we had virtually no clients and no new capital,” Gutierrez said. “We just kept our heads down and focused on building a business.”

Passport’s fortunes turned, Gutierrez said, when the company realized it needed to alter its services. Passport’s original plan was to be a parking management company and focus on developing hardware to manage its efforts.

But the market was not responding. So Passport switched gears and focused on software, developing an enterprise payments platform that transportation agencies could use to process payments and manage operations.

Passport Inc. transformed itself to better connect with the market’s demands. Here are three tips from Khristian about what a company must do when changing its business focus:

  1. Keep Your Head on a Swivel: “The market is a beautiful thing. All of the answers are around you; research and determine what is working well for competitors as you continue to refine your product or service.”
  2. Embrace Change: “You can never get too comfortable with the way you are doing things. Change should be embraced as a way to unlock growth and scalability. If you’ve dipped your toe in and it feels right—don’t wait too long to dive in.”
  3. Always Gather Feedback: “Keep your ear to the ground and get collective feedback. Study the way people use your products. You may get polarized opinions, so it’s important to determine what would work well for the large majority.”

The company’s new direction caught the attention of two venture capital firms which supplied Passport with $6 million. At the same time, Passport landed its first major client—Chicago Parking Meters (CPM)—which operates the nation’s third-largest metered parking system. Passport developed ParkChicago, CPM’s mobile payment option for street parking in Chicago.

Passport’s agreement with CPM, which operates approximately 36,000 parking spaces, represented the largest municipal mobile payment deployment in North America, Gutierrez said. Passport eclipsed that mark when it reached an agreement with the Toronto Parking Authority, which operates around 55,000 spaces.

Passport’s growth has been remarkable from its humble beginnings. The company has agreements with parking and transit entities in 48 states and provinces in North America, and Gutierrez estimates Passport will process approximately $200 million in mobile payments by the end of 2016. He said Passport is eyeing international expansion beyond Canada with Europe as its next aim.

Gutierrez said he was thrilled to learn he would be receiving UF’s Outstanding Young Alumnus Award because UF, the College and the Master of Science in Finance (The William R. Hough Program) had meaningful impacts on his life. Returning to campus will also give Gutierrez the chance to see his company in action as Gainesville recently became one of Passport’s newest clients.

“This means even more to me because I’m now able to do business in the city of Gainesville,” Gutierrez said. “UF meant so much to me, and I would love to continue to be a resource for the university.”