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.