Hearing @Jason speak at #LaunchEDU (Taken with Instagram at Microsoft Conference Center)
April Fools Day 2012
Those of you who read my post on why I left Invested Development may have been interested to know the exact details of what I plan to do next. I would love to answer all the handwritten letters I’ve received personally, but think a blog post addressed to everyone might be easier. So here goes: I have accepted a position in Goldman Sachs’ newly launched South Pole office and will begin my work in Antarctica June 1st. This may come as a shock to some of you, but for me, the decision couldn’t have been any easier. Antarctica is the next logical place for massive economic growth to occur.
One of my fondest childhood memories was reading Jim O’Neill’s Building Better Global Economic BRICs paper in 7th grade and, although I disagreed with the attention Jim gave Russia over Indonesia, I knew he was on to something. The resulting coverage by the financial media led me to start taking Chinese, Russian, Portuguese and convert to Buddhism in an effort to make sure that I would be able to stay above the poverty line after college graduation. With all the work I was putting in, I’m sure you can imagine my frustration when Jimmy released Global Economics Paper 134 and was now claiming that Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Turkey, South Korea, and Vietnam had the highest potential of becoming, along with the BRICs, the world’s largest economies in the 21st century.
It seemed impossible to stay ahead of the curve, so I spent the next few years scouring the globe for investment opportunities in obscure countries like Ethiopia. Finally, it hit me last week: Antarctica. While everyone else is scrambling to keep up with the hottest markets in Asia and Africa, I’m heading to Earth’s southernmost continent to work for the best investment bank ever, Goldman Sachs!
Landing the job wasn’t easy and wouldn’t have been possible at all, had I not tuned out the irony in American Psycho and invested in myself via Brooks Brothers. Fortunately everything worked out for the best, so I’ll be spending the next two to forty years preparing complex financial analyses, supporting the preparation of detailed memoranda and participating in various marketing activities of the firm.
Goldman Sachs has adopted the term “Growth Markets” to describe some of the world’s most dynamic and fast-growing economies, like Antarctica. This video offers some insights into the power of Antarctica from three perspectives: business, macroeconomic, and economic empowerment.
Australia has a GDP of over one trillion dollars and Antarctica has nearly twice the landmass! So I look forward to joining the GS South Pole team and riding the Antarctica gravy train straight to the top. Looking forward to updating everyone on how things go down there! What an exciting time!
Today is my last day at Invested Development. Although the firm hasn’t existed for 12 years and I’ve been there less than 12 months, I had an incredible experience and couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity to put what I learned to good use and potentially help solve a problem that I have identified in today’s educational system.
While my experience of going through Teach For America recruiting spurred my interest in addressing the educational achievement gap, I think my personal experience with the educational system in America was a much more fundamental driver during the ideation of The Cato Project. Everything has turned out great and I couldn’t be more satisfied with my experience at Northeastern, but I have always felt that I learned in spite of the system.
A major tipping point for me came while working for Bain Capital a few years ago. Although the halls of 111 Huntington did feel a bit cloistered at times, I loved the level of discourse within the office and the entrepreneurs that came through Bain Ventures. The problem was that I had built little to no credibility within the academic community to allow me to be taken seriously. Consequently, I languished on the lower floors assembling computers for their quants. The good news is that I was able to move to a much friendlier office at a speech-recognition startup named Vlingo that had just closed a large C round and was rapidly scaling their operations. Working on the business side of the company and watching the fierce competition between Vlingo, Siri and Google VoiceActions was an incredible experience. It seemed that everyone was genuinely too busy doing deals and building products to notice that I was commuting to Cambridge from Boston.
As cool as Vlingo was, an IPO seemed out of the question and I was interested in exploring the product side of the business. Since I was in Harvard Square every day for work, I decided to attend the Harvard Summer Internship fair and see if I had any upward mobility. Being the only Northeastern student made me a little uncomfortable but I decided to focus on my experience in finance and talk to the quant hedge funds in attendance. Most recruiters tended to lean heavily on their desire to hire from Harvard exclusively, but Citadel, a fairly successful fund started in a Harvard dorm-room, gave me a chance. The founder was in the process of filing an IPO and seemed to be very interested in entrepreneurship and innovation (Good To Great and Hardball were both required reading).
This was major validation of my personal development methodology. Although none of the e-learning I had done with Stern, Yale and MIT was on my resume, I was still able to land the job, move to Chicago, and gain access to some of the most coveted resources in the financial world.
My attitude upon arriving in Chicago was aggressive to say the least. It became clear very quickly that recent legislation was deathly serious and the financial industry was getting rocked to its core. Aspirations of going public were immediately shelved leading to a case of serious one-percent-problems. Ken Griffin grumpily fired the entire banking salesforce and began carving up the company. Although they were nice enough to give me an offer in a unit with a semi-bright future, it was clear that I needed to move on to greener pastures.
Back in Boston I was ready to rock. Econ, check. Business, check. Finance, check. Hacking? Lacking.
Although I’d gotten to dabble in Python, R and database design at Citadel, it was clear that my CS skills were an AFD (area for development). I started attending hackathons and was fortunate enough to land a job at the first for-profit VC focused exclusively on social-enterprise. Invested Development is an amazing place because Miguel practices what he preaches. With such a small team (only three full-time employees when I arrived), the firm exudes agility and hustle. I’ve never had so much freedom in a job and, although it was tough at times to balance personal development with the principles of the fund, it has felt like an autodidact’s coming out party.
From using Python to scrape data from sundry government organizations across the globe, to working with Mike Bostock to figure out the optimal way to express my findings via D3.js, ID was a pleasure.
I couldn’t be more excited to observe what Miguel has up his sleeve and, after seeing The Gates Foundation test the ID model domestically with Inigral, I can only imagine positive scenarios for the impact investing industry as a whole. As someone with a bit of a Robin Hood complex himself, I can’t help thinking that SRI companies like Kiva will be extremely successful.
So, it is with a heavy heart that I leave ID today, for the vision of the firm is truly beautiful down to its core. I hope that those who read this will take a second to examine the firm and think about the incredible potential what they’re talking about has. Stepping out into the great unknown of entrepreneurship has already been a wild ride but my experience vetting early stage tech companies and helping develop product roadmaps leads me to believe this could actually work.
Can’t get over the @TastemakerX idea. First sticker worthy of the iPhone. (Taken with Instagram at Virgin America’s Google Chrome Zone)
What an amazing trip. Thanks for everything to everyone who’s helped so far! (Taken with Instagram at San Francisco International Airport (SFO))
Taken with Instagram at Roam Artisan Burgers
I know it’s been a while since I posted last but I assure this inactivity has far from mirrored the rest of my life. From reports for classes, to research at work, to my newly launched venture, the Cato Project, things have been going extremely well. Even as busy as I am, I still feel that it’s important to take some time to reflect.My Startup Weekend Pitch
I had the pleasure of working with some extremely talented people last weekend to flesh out an idea that has been sitting in the back of my mind for quite some time. I explain the product in fairly deep detail in the video, but if you’d like to know more, please visit the site for yourself. I’m really looking forward to getting it fully functional and doing some Alpha testing with friends and family.
The presentation was really quick and, although I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare, I’m happy with the way I articulated the key points of my thesis.
In hindsight, the critical missing piece, and ultimately why we lost the competition, was undoubtedly distribution. While I had always taken “business skills” for granted in the past, the importance of having a ruthless business team willing to aggressively hit the streets and develop customers cannot be stressed enough. I know I’ll never make the mistake of slacking on validating my assumptions early on again. We simply had too much talent to loose and yet it seems perfectly clear why now when I look back on the structure of our process.
I firmly believe that a successful startup will be able to accomplish three key tasks:
- Develop: Build technologies and systems to solve problems.
- Design: Understand how human factors behind problems and shape user experience.
- Distribute: Learn from and sell to the people whose problems are being solved.
Although my reading list has never been longer, Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup has just jumped to the top. I know I sound like a broken record at this point but I urge anyone reading this to always keep a firm user acquisition strategy in the front of their minds at all times.
Anyway, I’m off to Ecuador tomorrow to build water filtration systems and research the potential for technology to improve education. I’ve been planning this trip for over 5 months now, but the fact that it’s right around the corner has me really excited. I can’t wait to share my experiences and hopefully develop a sustainable plan for improving education in the developing world. The beauty of solving problems in education, I always remind myself, lies in the fact that education suffers from cost, not quality constraints. Establishing this simple fact allows one to effortlessly apply Theodore Schultz’s theory of investment in human capital and reach the conclusion that education is merely suffering from a market slowly approaching an equilibria. I believe that incentives can be used to solve the market inefficiencies plaguing education globally and am overwhelmed at the positive response I have received thus far about my theory. I can’t wait to see what comes next and hope to share more positive news here soon.
Northeastern held an info-session today about the Fulbright Program and all-in-all it seems like a great opportunity. The goal of the program centers around increasing mutual understandingbetween people of the U.S. and people of other countries through exchange and the presenters all clearly got a lot out of their experiences. It was interesting to hear about the diversity of topics covered by grantee projects. Examples ranged from film making to education to public health initiatives. I liked how much freedom grantees have to explore a project of personal interest and gain culture understanding in a very unstructured way.
Professor Iqbal Quadir came to Northeastern tonight to speak about social entrepreneurship and his experience founding both Grameenphone and the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship at MIT. Professor Quadir constantly engaged with the audience and stimulated a lot of participation from the office. At times, it seemed that he honestly believed that the problems he was discussing, although huge (like “How can economic growth be created in the developing world”), could be solved within the short lecture if everyone just put their mind to it.
The core of Professor Quadir’s presentation focused on a historical overview of development economics that took a much wider view than I was expecting. Hopefully I’ll be able to link to his slides, because I won’t be able to do his presentation justice here. He made a great point about natural resources and foreign aid, explaining that both have consistently led to the empowerment of government authorities, and not citizens.
If your country has oil and receives foreign aid, your citizens are going to be in trouble.
In response to the usual perception that foreign aid is a best way to help developing nations, Quadir suggests that the creation of “tools” is far more important. Neoclassical development economic theory stresses the importance of the free-market in developing countries and, while this is far from radical economic theory, his point is undoubtedly worth emphasizing when discussing the value of foreign aid.
Professor Quadir identified 3 key misconceptions about developing countries:
Poor countries are under-resourced
Reducing rampant waste can dramatically improve this.
Poor people lack buying power.
Selling productivity tools creates buying power.
You need money to make money.
Shared-access breaks that cycle.
Professor Quadir provided a great overview of the many surprisingly simple solutions to the major problems faced by poor people in developing nations. He was an incredibly inspiring speaker and I look forward to learning more about his work at MIT and elsewhere.