Habit House — A Summer Filled with Milestones

Ilse Paanakker, Founder of Habit House

Ilse Paanakker, Founder of Habit House

This summer Habit House had the privilege of being a part of the Stern Venture Fellows program. For 10 weeks, we were exposed to bi-weekly workshops, monthly milestone meetings, pitch practice, and went on an impactful trip to Silicon Valley. We were able to achieve a multitude of goals in a relatively short amount of time. Notably:

We expanded our team from one to three full time team members which allowed us to move forward at a more rapid pace.  Not only did this force us to develop operational processes, it also allowed us to have the time to create more impactful content for Habit House members-- we now truly have a powerful product, full of impactful text messages that empower our members to incorporate healthy habits into their daily life. We’re extremely proud of that.

We also trained two Habit Coaches and developed a manual that explains our methodology and response strategy. Having more Habit Coaches on board will allow us to scale over the next few months.

We also prototyped three new formats for our habit accountability check in, tested it with a handful of loyal Habit House members to get feedback, and then pushed the most powerful one live three weeks ago. We’ve been energized by the positive response from our members as it greatly improves the user experience.

What lies ahead is a fall term of scaling the business while being focused on tracking outcomes and measuring our impact. We want to make sure we’re creating a truly powerful product, before we raise funds to further build out our team and technology.

We’re extremely thankful for the opportunity to be a part of the Stern Venture Fellows program. The Silicon Valley immersion trip, alongside the prototyping funds, workshops, and Stern workspace have allowed Habit House to move forward at a much quicker pace. 

A Look Back on My 2019 Stern Venture Fellowship Experience

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Throughout my summer as a Stern Venture Fellow, I’ve had the opportunity to work on my venture, Crafted Kibble, while gaining invaluable insight and advice from an impressive network of entrepreneurs, mentors and fellow cohort members. Leveraging the program has allowed me to fine tune my business model as well as reach the critical point I currently find myself in - our official launch is next week!

Side note, my venture—Crafted Kibble is an online subscription-based dog food delivery company that customizes the feeding experience. We do this by using our proprietary algorithm to determine the correct kibble formulation and caloric intake needs for a specific dog based off its individual pet profile to meet its unique nutritional needs. We then pre-portion our proprietary formulas to ensure a healthy, fresh and hassle-free feeding experience for both the pet and the pet parent. (Check us out at www.craftedkibble.com and use the code STERN50 at checkout for 50% OFF the first TWO MONTHS - you and your pup will love it!)

Now back to SVF: As mentioned, the program played an important part in me getting to this point. A highlight of my experience thus far was our trip to Silicon Valley a couple of weeks ago. During our trip, we meet with a wide array of startups and industry experts including top notch VC’s, successful founders and c-suiters in companies like Rally Health, DocuSign and Credit Karma. 

My biggest takeaway from the trip was just how important having a robust network actually is. As an MBA student, the concept of a network and the prominence of networking are drilled into us from day 1. However, it wasn’t until this trip that I realized just how much having a large and diversified network increases your likelihood of success – and not just in your venture, but in life generally. On the trip, I heard stories from entrepreneurs with really successful exits explain that they were only able to achieve what they did by leaning on others, especially at the beginning. When funds are limited (as in most startups), founders need to leverage their relationships for free consulting and services, particularly when its outside their expertise. Instead of spending money and resources on lawyers to review contracts or hiring agencies to build out a team, money can be saved by reaching out to your network for help.  

Aside from my big takeaway, there were also several insights that I gained throughout the trip. One specific insight that was topical, considering I’m currently refining my marketing strategy, was the hyper customer segmentation that many successful entrepreneurs construct. Prior to the trip, I skimmed through that section of my marketing plan and constructed a general target audience. During the trip, I learnt how important it is to do a deep dive and truly segment your customers because like most startup (again), resources are limited and you have to target the segment that will have the highest ROI. This was an especially important insight for me. 

What it Really Takes to be an Entrepreneur

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Many panels tell you a lot about entrepreneurship and what it takes to be a strong entrepreneur. While traits like persistence, grit, and your ability to adapt and pivot are important, what I have found in the earliest stages that can make or break your startup is who you let in from team members to who you choose as investors. 

 In the earlier days it may seem like you don’t have a choice in these matters because you just want to get started. But you always have a choice, and it’s important to be really clear on what type of company you want to build beyond your product because it truly determines who you bring on. The people you bring on determine how you make decisions about the pivots you make, when to go fast vs. when to go slow, and most importantly whether what you are working on is worth anyone’s time. 

 Through David Ko’s Stern Venture Fellows program, David gave us the opportunity to learn from various entrepreneurs with a week out in San Francisco. They all had a different style of leading, operating, financing and in turn created successful ventures that made a dent in the world. 

 After leading digital product at multiple media and tech companies, I had learned how to have persistence, grit, and pivot. But, through the opportunity that David Ko gave Break Sports, I was able to gain confidence in the way I lead, the way that I hire, the way that we raise, and the way we build a new type of sports company that embodies the true values of athletes to come together, work as a team, and create greater access to sports. 

The Best Startup Advice I've Ever Received


One of the best pieces of startup advice I’ve ever received is, "More people want to help you than you probably think." This sentiment was particularly important for our startup, Exchange. Exchange is a marketplace where professional software engineers and data scientists train technology job seekers in an effort to get more interviews, and improve their overall performance on them. 

From May 30th - June 14th, 2019, we participated in the Summer Startup Sprint, which focused on customer discovery and problem validation. Two teams, also participating in the Stern Venture Fellow program, Grounded Upcycling and The Great Fantastic participated as well. We were required to survey a minimum of 5 people per day. 5 people a day? That's so easy, right? That's what we thought too, until we fleshed out our target demographic. To validate the intensity of the need for Exchange's services, we targeted students going for Masters degrees in Computer Science. Ideally, they'd be actively looking for full-time opportunities and were at least 6 months away from graduation. We determined that it wasn't realistic to get results by using random selection.This required us to do a lot of cold emailing and cold calling students, based off of resumes and other contact information that they left on their LinkedIn. 

Over 70 percent of our target demographic were interning at the time and had hectic schedules. We were also worried about who would be willing to take 15-20 minutes to answer a barrage of questions from a stranger. Questions and fears like these initially prevented us from doing mass outreach. We wanted to respect people's time, but also worried about rejection, lack of response, or lack of enthusiasm. But after speaking to an advisor on the issue, we realized that this fear was unfounded, because people want to talk about their issues. People want to divulge their biggest pain points, and what sometimes keeps them up at night. And, if they know you're creating a solution it makes them want to talk longer and be more engaged, not the opposite. The bigger the pain point, the more time people are willing to invest time into solving it. 

That same logic applied when doing cold outreach to customers. We promised every call to be under 15 minutes, and made sure that they were structured. After doing 80 calls, not one of them lasted 15 minutes or less. The average call duration was 29 minutes, and as the call went on, their answers became lengthier and more detailed. 55 to 60 percent of surveyees actually thanked us for calling them, as the questions we addressed and our proposed solution of personalized training resonated with them. 

How Can I Only Choose One Company to Admire?

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There are so many admirable companies and so many admirable entrepreneurs, although it seems more and more like the relationship between the quality of a companies and the quality of entrepreneurship is not so simple. During the Silicon Valley trip, one theme that emerged was the role of luck in building a successful company. In order to not conflate success with the characteristics of success, I think the safe approach is to emulate companies and entrepreneurs separately. 

The company I admire the most is Bloomberg, LP. This company has transformed an entire industry beyond recognition. They have accomplished what we hope to accomplish at Revelio Labs. Bloomberg provides an infrastructure than enabled seamless ubiquity between participants in an industry. We hope to provide the same level of ubiquity between all participants in labor market analysis. As an aside, labor markets are twice the size of capital markets (and likely have twice the complexity). Imagine a world where everyone who analyzed employment – HR managers, recruiters, employees, managers, corporate strategy groups, investors – were looking at the same information and making decisions based on a shared infrastructure. It’s hard to imagine. It was probably also hard to imagine capital markets being structure that way in the 1970s. But Mike Bloomberg imagined it and made it a reality. Today, Bloomberg has continued to evolve to make participation in financial markets easier and easier for everyone. They’ve also made a tremendous amount of money during the process. We hope to emulate their process with a different set of market participants.

The entrepreneur I admire is Rich Barton, the founder of Expedia, Zillow, and Glassdoor. The common theme between all these companies is that they deliver data to users who have never had access to it. Being well-informed is an important part of every decision process, yet many tend to underestimate the public’s capability to responsibly use data. This unfortunate tendency permeates many industries, even today (most notably medicine). Rich Barton has successfully brought power to the people and become very successful doing it.

The essence of being an entrepreneur is the dedication and sheer willpower to bring a vision into existence. Excellent examples of that can be seen through Bloomberg and Rich Barton, who’ve successfully changed the way people interact with information. It’s something that we, at Revelio Labs, think and talk a lot about. We would like to change the conversations people have around labor markets, toward higher levels of rigor and sophistication. We can learn a lot from these companies and hope to remember the right lessons as we continue down the path.

Who I Admire and Why

Soco co-founder and Fellow, Goni Light and co-founder Yonatan Sela

Soco co-founder and Fellow, Goni Light and co-founder Yonatan Sela

There are many companies that have developed innovative technology and groundbreaking products, and produced outstanding returns for shareholders. I highly respect and appreciate the work of the people that drive these companies to success.  But for me, the companies I truly admire are those that fully realize, live and breathe their mission and values, while achieving business success. Many companies advertise a lofty mission and an impressive set of carefully worded values decorating the walls of their office, yet only a minority of successful companies truly embody these values on a day-to-day basis and in everything they do.  KIND® is that kind of company. 

KIND thrives thanks to product innovation and an incredible brand that feeds off its strong commitment to using healthy natural ingredients, being fully transparent with consumers and strongly pushing its social mission. The company’s tagline of “Doing the kind thing for your body, taste buds and the world” is reflected in everything the company produces and does. KIND sold more than 2 billion snack bars to date, providing consumers a healthy choice of energy bars made from real nuts and fruits in a fully transparent package. KIND’s founder and CEO Daniel Lubetzky is leading the kind movement, which launches various campaigns promoting people to actively “do good” to strangers, and donates millions to nonprofits that support collaborations and partnerships in the same spirit. This company continues to grow since it launched in 2004 and continues to seed more good in the world by donating and creating their own philanthropic organizations in the Middle East and Mexico. 

KIND and Daniel Lubetzky also promote economic collaboration in unconventional circumstances. KIND sources its ingredients from different parts of the world to show that one can create partnerships even between communities in conflicts. This notion is at the heart of our mission at SoCo – Seeds of Collaboration – and KIND is an inspiration for us. We too aspire to develop a very healthy plant-based product, that stands on its own as something that consumers fall in love with, but also embodies values that extend beyond food. 

An entrepreneur I admire and listen to often is Naval Ravikant. Naval is the CEO and Co-founder of AngelList – a company that promotes the democratization and improved accessibility of VC investing to a broader community. He is also a seed investor of groundbreaking companies like Uber and Twitter. He is currently the co-founder of a company that promotes the formation of healthier habits. I appreciate all of his business success and the values he promotes, but the main reason I am mentioning him is his philosophy and the thoughts he shares about building one’s path, comprehending the world using a unique perspective that combines a material and a spiritual view and his practical advice about better leading one’s own life through greater intent, accountability, grit and honesty. Naval inspires me as an entrepreneur, and a person.

We're Halfway There, So What Have We Done So Far?

Drew Enyedi, co-founder of Grounded Upcycling

Drew Enyedi, co-founder of Grounded Upcycling

Grounded Upcycling was founded a year ago around the goal of diverting organic waste from landfill by finding value in perceived “waste” streams.  Founders Drew and Parker met in a Stern social entrepreneurship course taught by Professor Michael Pollack. This course allowed us to really dive deep and learn the food waste problem in the New York context. As we learned more, we narrowed our focus down to coffee ground waste produced by coffee shops in NYC. 

Now, Grounded Upcycling works with coffee shops, like Think Coffee, to upcycle their coffee grounds into closed loop cosmetic products. We are producing 2 products, an exfoliating coffee soap bar and a coffee face mask, both of which use upcycled coffee grounds collected at our partnered shops. 

In the beginning of the summer, we were selected to participate in the Leslie eLab Startup Sprint, a 2 week customer discovery accelerator, where we tested key assumptions and hypotheses around our business model. This program helped us frame how we would spend our time during Stern Venture Fellows. Since then, we have been concentrating our time towards increasing our diversion and collection rates as well as creating prototypes for new upcycled products. We have also been busy networking and connecting with key partners and experts in fields ranging from waste management, composting, material science, and chemistry. 

Here are some of the milestones we’ve accomplished this summer: 

NYC Food Waste Fair - Organized by the NYC Department of Sanitation, we were invited to represent Grounded at an expo fair focused on companies that innovate with waste. We sold over $400 worth of products at the fair, making it one of the most successful sales days in Grounded history. Among us were companies like: Toast Ale, White Moustache, Rise Products, Misfits Market, and Winnow.   

Green Biz Circularity ‘19 (Minneapolis, MN) - A 3 day industry conference dedicated to the modern circular economy, we were immersed in a series of speakers and workshops and able to connect with many experts in sustainability, circularity, design, and waste. A highlight of this conference was a connection we made with waste legend Tom Szaky, the founder and CEO of TerraCycle and now Loop. Parker was also able to meet one of his all time heroes, Bill McDonough, the pioneer of Cradle to Cradle design and the application of upcycling in product design. 

New Accounts - We are excited to announce 3 new wholesale accounts. First, we secured an account with Foster Supply Hospitality, a group of small hotels in the Western Catskills, who believe in simple fun, campfires, and s’mores as well as sustainability and protecting the world we live in. We also secured an account with the Wally Shop, an online, package-free, grocery delivery service dedicated to sustainability. The Wally Shop delivers to lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. Most recently, we received a wholesale order from Alchemist’s Kitchen in the Lower East Side, a cosmetic and herbal shop committed to “building awareness around the impact of purchasing decisions on our planet and our bodies.” We are excited about these partnerships and you can look for our products at these venues, as well as on our website or at many Think Coffee locations.  We also plan to list our products on both Etsy and Amazon soon.

We also have some really exciting news about our flagship cosmetic product, our exfoliating coffee soap bar. We are proud to say this product no longer contains palm oil or palm derivatives. As a social venture, this is important to us because “Palm oil production is said to have been responsible for about 8% of the world's deforestation between 1990 and 2008.” It is also free from other harmful chemicals like SLS and titanium dioxide. This is something we have been wanting to do for a long time, but have found very difficult due to the lack of suppliers of quality palm-free soap bases. We strongly believe impact should be guided by the whole picture. We feel it is necessary to consider the impact of the entire product throughout its whole lifecycle - just using one upcycled ingredient is not enough.

Here’s what we still want to accomplish over the remainder of the summer:

Fire log research and development - From early this summer, we knew we wanted to start testing new products that could use even more spent coffee grounds. One such product we are particularly keen on is heating briquettes/ coffee fire logs. For some inspiration, check out companies like Pine Mountain and Bio-Bean. We have created some early prototypes with good success, but need to continue refining our recipe before we can start producing.

Collection Pilot at Think Coffee - in conjunction to developing new products that use more coffee grounds, we are also engaging Think Coffee in the coming weeks about a broader collection pilot where we would collect even more of their spent coffee grounds. This will allow us to better test our collection at scale and learn where we can improve. We are meeting with our contact at Think Coffee next week to discuss the details.

Feasibility Study - Finally, we have been awarded funding to conduct a feasibility study around the redirection of coffee ground waste in NYC. Completing this study will shed light on other diversion strategies and how to implement them. Additionally, we hope to learn more about the chemical composition of coffee grounds and their potential end uses. We have connected with Planet Ark, a sustainable consulting company in Australia who conducted a similar feasibility study in 2016 within the Sydney context. We hope to use their expertise to guide us.

We are looking forward to accomplishing these goals, as well as continuing to connect with some of the awesome people we’ve met throughout the summer. Particularly, we have a call at the end of this week with Tom Szaky at Terracycle to discuss a potential partnership. As we reflect on the midway point of the Stern Venture Fellows program, we are proud of what we have accomplished so far, but still have a lot of work to do!

Get Grounded and #RethinkWaste

Founders, Parker and Drew

Website: www.groundedupcycling.com

Instagram: @groundedupcycling

LinkedIn: Grounded Upcycling

Facebook: Grounded Upcycling

A letter to my younger self: Colin Horsford, CurbGenie

Colin Horsford of CurbGenie

Colin Horsford of CurbGenie

Work with the willing young Colin-son. Because people will waste your time. You don’t realize it yet because you have yet to become an entrepreneur. You’re used to corporate life where meetings are critical, everyone is to the point and always on time. When you get emails or meet with someone, there is a clear expectation and it’s usually met.

Well, life as an entrepreneur isn’t that way. 

People will waste your time and you will compound that by chasing them. That’s why I say, work with willing young grasshopper. Wax on, wax off. If they don’t want to work with you, then cut’em off.

You will come across people who seem to have good intentions. They will sound interested. They will love what you are building. They will set up time to meet you, promise you the world. Then they won’t want to write a check. Money talks. Bull poopie walks. From that, I’ll also tell you not to get excited until the ink dries on the check or contract. You will get excited when you get some positive feedback or when you think you’ve closed a deal. That’s fine because it is exciting but I’m telling you as your older self, wait til the ink dries. See, it’s easy for people to say yes. Wanna know why? Because talk is cheap. Heck, it’s free. So people will say yes until it’s time to bust out their wallet or put their John Hancock on a contract. That is why I tell you to wait until the sale or contract is completed.

Meetings are different as an entrepreneur.

Most of the meetings you will attend in the beginning will be a waste of time. People will invite you to hear themselves talk. You will leave feeling like it was a big waste but it will build character and also sharpen your intuition. You will learn who is serious and who wants to waste your time. You will learn how to pre-empt and intercept wasteful interactions. But here’s why it’s good that you go through this. It will also help you practice. People will pepper you with questions and the more you hear them, the more comfortable you are answering them. This is great because by the time you step into a meaningful meeting, you’ll be so well-versed that you instill confidence in your counterparts. You’ll know when they’re serious. You will start to feel a rush. Just remember though, wait ‘til the ink dries and work with the willing young blood.

The Most Unexpected Lessons I've Learned: The Great Fantastic

Kyle Bergman of The Great Fantastic

Kyle Bergman of The Great Fantastic

One of the unexpected lessons I’ve learned and continue to improve upon throughout this process, is recognizing the false illusion of urgency.  Often times when people find a solution to a problem that is not currently being addressed in the market, they develop this fear that if they don’t launch their solution tomorrow, someone else will.  On a more micro level, you can get so caught up in executing, and checking off your to-do list that you rush ahead without understanding the scope or impact of the decisions you make. Putting this imaginary countdown on important objectives is natural.  We’ve been conditioned to do it our entire lives. From having a fixed amount of time to finish exams, to arriving at the airport 3 hours before an international flight...you’re rewarded for respecting, and meeting deadlines.  

So why should running your own company be any different? In my entrepreneurial journey to date, the majority of rushed decisions I’ve made have been due to arbitrary deadlines I have imposed on myself.  My default setting as a human is to “act first, ask questions later”, and having the freedom to do this with my business whenever I please is one of the most rewarding aspects of being an entrepreneur. Additionally, setting up deadlines holds me accountable, and allows me to stay efficient in my day-to-day initiatives.  However, moving full speed ahead and making quick decisions has at times caused unnecessary headaches for me and my business. For example, on the production side of things, I cut corners with quality control checks and size/measurement approvals on a production run last year. I did the bare minimum so we could get our products online and sell them as soon as possible. The time we made up in deliveries to the warehouse did not outweigh the less than amazing experience some customers had.  Not by a million miles. Had I allowed myself another week or two to thoroughly trust the process, we could’ve turned sub-par product experiences into incredible ones. Another time where I made quick decisions that weren’t the best, happened to be on the partnership side of things. I rushed an agreement with an Instagram influencer in order to meet a random start date we both agreed on. This time I was in such a rush to agree that I committed to terms I didn’t read thoroughly through, and thus couldn’t honor.  If I had just “slept on it” and reviewed the plan with fresh eyes, I would’ve been able to highlight the issue. 

Every day, business owners make hundreds if not thousands of decisions; some small and some potentially life-changing.  It’s a constant game to identify which decisions look like they’re urgent, and which truly need immediate attention...although again the large majority of choices you need to make should have some breathing room.  And because most decisions have some time, I try and use an approach I first learned on the lacrosse field. There’s a concept in sports called “slow-play”, and skilled athletes will implement it sometimes when playing.  Slow-play involves withholding from any immediate action so you can determine the best move to take. In a game, instead of lunging for the ball or trying to guard the opponent, you might sit back and see what they do. In business, you can “slow-play” by not acting immediately, and gathering more information before deciding the best move to make.  Some people think business can be analogized to chess, but the concept of slow-playing decisions is the #1 reason I think this is a fallacy. In chess, you must always move before and after your opponent (unless of course you’ve been checkmated). Yes, there is an opportunity to develop a strategy and anticipate future moves in chess, but in a real business decision-making environment you can use time to your benefit.

The learnings I developed from rushing too quickly into decisions has been critical to my development as an entrepreneur.  Every time I have a choice to make, I always think about the true deadline or time I have. Being able to gather more information, or even taking a few days to mull the decision over can be incredibly valuable to the path your company takes.

Who Saves The Hero?

Rachel Serwetz of Woken

Rachel Serwetz of Woken

To anyone nervous about starting a business or breaking away from the traditional career path, what has been your biggest obstacle (other than money) when pursuing a startup idea?

I’ve always been perceived as a strong person who can succeed with little-to-no help. Now that I’ve taken on a huge endeavor in starting my own company, I need more support than ever. However, there’s one major issue- my support system has no idea how to help. Below is my perspective on how others can help me (and other entrepreneurs), if they so choose:

The reality is entrepreneurship is extremely difficult. Often, people hear this and say, “But, you chose this path.” My response is this path chose me. Even though I wholeheartedly believe in it, it’s harder than anything I’ve ever done.  This mission requires a ton of the following: time, effort, learning, strategizing, emotional balancing, perseverance, patience, trust, fear and risk tolerance, plus a perfect blend of humility, curiosity and confidence. And truthfully, it’s exhausting.

Here’s why I’m so busy: I’m a solo founder. I am fortunate to have a team around me, but for a long time, I didn’t. As the sole leader of that team, if I don’t run the show, no one will. If I don’t support our clients, no one will. If I don’t run the marketing efforts to ensure the growth of our company, we will die off. If I don’t research the market, we’ll lose out. If I don’t figure out how to protect ourselves from a legal standpoint, we’ll be run over. And lastly, if I don’t create a successful web platform, we will have no product to offer. I am essentially running all facets of this business, and without me delegating to the rest of the team, our company and brand will not move forward. 

Here’s how I feel about all this: I often hate it. I want to relax and hang out and have a normal life again; and now that I’ve built it up to this point, I feel that I can’t turn back. I don’t want to turn back, but it requires so many things from one person. At the end of the day, I am only human and can only do so much. It’s a long road ahead. I know I will need to sacrifice a lot of time and money to invest in the potential success of this vision. I have to ask others on my team to make sacrifices as well, so that together, we can build something great for the world. Belief in my work keeps me motivated, but no real sense of security coupled with numerous uncertainties, leaves me scared as hell. I never know if I’m making the right decision. I spend plenty of time learning, asking questions, and making sure I don’t mess this up, but I know mistakes are inevitable. In reality, they will be used as stepping stones. While I believe in our goal, it all falls on me, and it’s a ton of pressure. When I finally feel like I can relax, everything is still running through my mind. If I decide to take a break to reinstate balance in my life, I am filled with guilt; I feel I’m wasting valuable time. There is constantly a plethora of these emotions- another phenomenon I’m still getting used to.

Here’s what I need you to understand: When I explain how hard my journey is, it’s because I work 12-14 hours a day and have no income. I am NOT comparing myself to you or your stress- I want to understand your stress and help you through it. But when I vent to you, I want you to simply listen. I want you to understand that I may worry slightly more than you because at the very least, you have a secure income, and I may not feel that sense of security for another 10 years. Know that every day is different than the last. Some days are great when I am learning and can do things I’m good at and love; however, most days, I’m struggling by taking on a new challenge. I have been forced to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Things change so quickly. While you used to know me as a routine-oriented person, I’ve had to embrace flexibility. I have been forced to circumvent a weakness that I never thought I could because I know that being flexible is a core requirement for any startup that wants to be operating tomorrow. Most importantly, I must pay attention to myself: my strengths and weaknesses, my blind spots, and even my emotional state. It directly impacts the business.

The reality and bottom line is: This is my job now- a full time gig that pays me nothing. Although I find having peers in similar situations typically offers the most support, I strive to build a world where we can understand people who are going through something completely different. I want to be able to share this with you, friend, in a way that you truly understand, so hopefully you can support me through it.


Here’s how: 

  • Know that when I tell you about an achievement or a struggle, I simply want you to listen and acknowledge that you hear me. I don’t necessarily need you to tell me how to feel or react; simply be there for me. Acknowledge why you see that situation is exciting or difficult. 

  • Understand when I share something with you, it is not me saying I am more stressed than you. Please try to acknowledge the complexities of being chiefly responsible for the creation and oversight of a new business, while handling all of the fear and the risks.

  • When I share my thoughts with you, ask about the issue, rather than immediately telling me your perspective. The situation is from me and my standpoint, not from yours. When I need help or another opinion, I will ask for it; I’m acutely aware of what I don’t know. Mostly, what I need more than advice, is support—know that they are different.

  • Realize that when I share situations with you, I will not boast. I rely on others to help me celebrate good moments, because even in good moments, I feel scared. I may even feel unworthy.

  • Show up. I won’t always beg you to be at my “shows,” but realize when we have a rare moment to invite others into our world, it’s an amazing opportunity to get an update on how I’m doing, what I’m doing, and to show me that you’re interested.

  • Understand that being a startup founder isn’t “glamorous.” In the early stages, before you see and hear media’s take on these companies, the lifestyle is extremely rigorous. Dealing with such risk for an extended period of time can truly affect one’s mental health and I can certainly feel it affecting mine.

  • If you recognize my stress- rather than assuming I want space, show support by asking what I may need.

  • In conclusion (I have to put one last plug here) -- If we ask for a small favor to leverage your knowledge or network, realize that your time and expertise can go a very long way. Time is precious and our resources are scarce. Startups often take a village to get off the ground -- you are that village. Your support extends as far as you are willing, and we need all the help we can get.

When in doubt, simply ask questions. This, I think, is a great rule of thumb for many situations in life. My greatest hope is that I can relate to others and they can relate to me. Empathy and active listening is the key. In my mind, these are the requirements of a supportive friend, but it’s not something we’re taught in school; it’s something we choose to learn as we grow up. I believe empathy is a skill that must be learned and practiced. My friend, this is what I need from you, and this is what I vouch to give to you as well. 



Meet Verge. Capital

Yiannis Giokas of Verge.Capital

Yiannis Giokas of Verge.Capital

There are 510m people across European Union and they do not have a common credit score in order to interact with financial institutions, either within borders or abroad; a problem solved long ago in the US. Young people, self-employed or expats face challenges getting credit facilities. Financial institutions rely on snapshots to make decisions and lack a comprehensive and intelligent tool in order to assess credit risk. This has left more that 58m Europeans without access to any credit facility whatsoever.

This problem has been persistent in Europe due to the fact that the 28 member states were not uniform in terms of laws and regulations and this made impossible to launch a common credit score. A number of regulatory changes took place since the beginning of 2018, primarily driven by the revised Payment Service Directive (PSD2), and provided unconditional access to uniform transactional data across all banks in Europe to third party providers. This was a landmark decision from the European regulators which, for the first time, facilitate third parties to offer financial services on top of banking infrastructure by giving access to baking data in uniform format throughout the EU. These laws regarding open banking APIs have been incorporated by all member-states regulatory frameworks and are fully compliant with the relevant privacy frameworks like GDPR etc.

Verge.Capital is going to become a pan-European credit scoring provider that enables consumers and financial institutions to universally assess affordability and creditworthiness of individuals by utilizing machine learning on top of open banking APIs.

Yiannis and Ioanna decided to work on this project driven by personal stories. Yiannis was actually challenged when he first moved to the US and he could not get a credit card. He was a stranger to the financial system and this made him look for ways to solve this issue. On the other hand Ioanna had been working for banks and management consulting firms that assist banks in managing risk and she was baffled that no one up to that point had ever made any steps towards streamlining consumer credit risk within European Union. Thus, when Yiannis shared with her the idea, she was like “it was about time”.

By being members of the Stern family and during our successful participation at NYU $300K Enterpreneurs Challenge, we were excited to learn about Stern Venture Fellows (SVF), a customized summer program for high potential entrepreneurs. We were even more excited to get accepted to the SVF program! It is amazing to have access to NYU Stern's and W.R. Berkley Innovation Labs’ resources, as well as access to our super successful alumnus David Ko and his network!

During our fellowship we hope to accomplish two main goals. First of all start building our brand and positioning in the minds of Europeans, as a financial wellbeing platform and in the eyes of Financial Institutions as a creditworthiness assessment supporting tool based on transactional behavior. Secondly, we want to develop automations in order to utilize our vast network of contacts and to drive awareness and new business via social media channels.

Thumbs up for fintech disrupting banking! Thumbs up for Stern that enables us to do so!