Interview by Howie Rhee '04 on September 14, 2011
After going to Davidson College, you worked in finance at Fidelity for several years. Tell us a little bit about what you were doing and what sort of skills you picked up in your roles.
This was was a dream job for me. I have always been fascinated by the “art” of the stock market, the quest of conducting in-depth fundamental research, and the challenge of out-smarting the market. The best part about being an analyst is that you get paid to learn about new industries and businesses.
After 3.5 years on the equity research side, I joined the LBO group because I had as desire to have a more tangible impact on helping companies create value. The LBO group focused on buying majority stakes in smaller-sized companies with stable cash flow and a strong market position, with the hopes of enhancing their competitive positioning through thoughtful acquisitions and a more quantitative management approach. I was responsible for sourcing deal flow, analyzing investment opportunities, and serving as a business analyst for our portfolio companies.
Overall, my experience at Fidelity was invaluable. The key technical skills I learned were: 1) how to analyze corporate strategies and industry dynamics, 2) how to gather valuable information and filter that data down to actionable ideas, 3) becoming proficient with Excel, and 4) communicating efficiently. Also, an important social skill I developed was being comfortable with high-level executives at a young age. In both roles, I was constantly interviewing CEO’s and CFO’s, so I became comfortable engaging with people well above my pay grade.
Tell us why you came to Duke for and what you were hoping for from your MBA.
After 7 years at Fidelity, I was ready for change and wanted to broaden my horizon beyond investing and finance. My time with the LBO group, where I served as a consultant to one of our portfolio companies, made me realize that I enjoyed helping businesses create value. Therefore, I decided to attend business school to develop a skill set that would help me succeed in a more traditional corporate setting. I choose the Duke MBA because of its reputation for producing great all-around business leaders, a team-oriented culture, access to the broader undergrad and graduate ecosystem, and a budding entrepreneurship program.
Tell us about your time at Duke. Were you planning to be an entrepreneur? How did you get connected to the entrepreneurship scene?
While at Duke, I realized that I wanted to move away from working at a large organization, while also becoming enamored with the culture of entrepreneurship. But it didn’t happen overnight.
I began my MBA program knowing that I wanted to participate in the Program for Entrepreneurs (P4E), but I expected to be a team member, not a team leader. I felt as though a student couldn’t graduate business school without learning how to write a business plan, and I was going to use P4E as the venue to learn this skill. Over time, I was bitten by the bug — it’s a culture that embracing smart risk taking, accepts failure as a sign of trying, and is collegial. I had not experienced this in the asset management world.
As I mentioned, it took time for me to fully commit to the start up route. I waffled day-to-day for much of my first year, particularly after realizing that I did not want to join a large organization after school. This hesitation caused me to return back to my roots for my summer internship—as a high yield analyst in Boston. Fortunately, my summer experience made me realize that I was ready to move on to another career path.
Your initial startup team eventually disbanded. Why did they disband, what were your options, and what did you choose to do next?
I was on a great team for the first year of P4E, working on Biogenic, a project focused on improving stent technology. Dr. Achneck, a Duke surgeon and inventor, utilized our team to size the market opportunity, determine the best path for commercialization, and assess the prospects of fund raising. Ultimately, we decided that the product needed another year in animal trials, which forced us to move on to another idea.
I wanted to stay involved in P4E and had an alternative business to pursue. The business was called E-Newal, an auction platform for electronic waste (old smart phones, lap tops, computers, etc.) I mentioned the idea to two friends in my MBA section—whose intellect and critical-thinking skills I admired—and asked them to be part of the team. Ultimately, we brought on board two super-talented undergrads. After months of intense analysis, culminating in a trip to Nashville for an e-waste conference, we decided that the business model wouldn’t work. Now it was onto a third idea – Investors Mosaic.
How did you finally come upon your current startup concept, Investors Mosaic?
I thought of the basic concept while driving home from my summer internship. I realized that investors are not being properly served by traditional asset management firms because they tend to underperform their index and propagate the erroneous message that investing should be left to professionals. Furthermore, these firms were not properly utilizing the power of today’s technology to make more-informed and better investment decisions.
The idea of Investors Mosaic is to use social networks and crowd sourcing to make investing more approachable to the average investor, while making fundamental analysis more efficient.
You were in the Program for Entrepreneurs (P4E) for the entire program. What did you like about being in P4E?
P4E made me realize that the startup culture is one that I wanted to be a part of and opened my eyes to a new career path. The students in the program were amazingly passionate and the faculty had an unparalleled level of engagement. Equally important, P4E allowed me to incorporate what I was learning in my other classes into a real world project. This made the class concepts more concrete and helped me make the most out of my MBA.
Give us an update on Investors Mosaic. What is the goal of the site? What are some of the next steps for your business?
The website is progressing nicely and we are looking to launch a beta version in late November. Our launch will focus on investment clubs at universities and business schools because these users are looking for a better solution to conduct fundamental analysis and share information in order to make more-informed and better investment decisions.
Our goal is to disrupt the asset management model by empowering the average investor through effective use of technology. We’ll start by making research easier to access and analyze, but the longer-term plan is to establish a new class of low-cost, active money management—one that leverages an engaged, collaborative Investors Mosaic community.
Business school is fairly active, with lots of classmates, deliverables and activities. Starting a company, you're around a lot fewer people and activities. How has the transition gone from being a full-time MBA student to a full-time startup founder?
The transition has generally been easier than I expected. I’m enjoying the ability to focus on the business with 100% of my brain power and energy. I have no regrets about leaving behind the asset management world. The hardest part has been staying laser-like focused on the core services that need to be offered first and not try to solve the entire problem at once. We have so many great ideas that we want to implement, but we need to start small. Also, it was important for me to set a strict daily schedule to maintain a sense of normalcy after working so many years in a structured environment. But the true testament is that I wake up every day excited about getting to work.
If alumni or students out there want to help you with Investors Mosaic, what sort of help are you looking for?
We are looking to bring on board two full-time developers, one focused on the front-end development and one for back-end development. If you have interest in disrupting the world of asset management and can code, please reach out to me.
Anything else you would like to share with students?
Even if Investors Mosaic fails, this process will be invaluable to my personal and business development. I am concurrently developing skills around people and project management, financial budgeting, and fund raising. What a great learning experience!
I will close by saying that entrepreneurship may not be for everyone, but you’ll never know unless you try!