A unique part of the entrepreneurial journey is telling my story; this is my first post here written in the first person, so I’m still refining my voice.
My back story
My delightful journey on the internet started at The Exploratorium back when we all used Gopher because the web did not yet exist. In April 1989 my ninth birthday present was a 2400 BPS modem which connected to early social networks like Prodigy and local BBSes. A direct result of this experience was an early internship at UBS in Zurich followed by two summers on the technology investment banking team at WestLB Panmure in London. As a side note, my co-founder Steve Smoot also lived in London back in 2000 and 2001.
My path that led here…
A big problem during the first internet boom, persisting to the present, is that traditional valuation metrics do not easily fit information businesses. For example in social networks, the viral growth model (driven by virality, cycle-time, retention rate and carrying capacity) means that traditional financial metrics are at best a derivative of actual business performance.
I was given the task of building a model to price initial public offerings, and used a Bloomberg terminal to cobble together a model not *that* bad. It largely looked at comparable public companies to estimate a market capitalization range. It was very cool that the model could be updated with fresh information—but required someone, with training) to actually sit at a terminal to update the model. It also had another key weakness: it was not connected to other types of data which influence outcomes.
After graduation I joined pioneering venture capital firm Inter-Asia starting in Hong Kong. In this role I became intimately familiar with currency risk, and how changing commodity prices fundamentally affect business. (At the time the US dollar and HK Dollar were kept at a 1:7.75 ratio, as the Renminbi gradually waxed in value.) During this time I also calculated statistics and ratios to measure corporate performance. With either type of problem I eventually had to type in numbers into a database or spreadsheet which would generate ratios. While I loved my colleagues and our customers, the aspect of manual data entry was the least satisfying part of the job.
As an MBA student at Thunderbird, a focus of my work naturally was valuing difficult to quantify cash flows. Whether simulating the treasury department of a US-Japanese multinational, or modeling the value of a private company, much of the coursework built on the earlier foundations modeling and inferring value. After graduation I helped a variety of startups, including BagCheck.com (sold to Twitter) and X-Fire (acquired from MTV Networks), better understand their business through financial models derived from first and second party information.
My pain point:
Going through this professional experience the costs of manual data entry and difficult integration of third party data was painfully obvious. No one knows how many times mistakes are made because a comma is not typed into a number, or the data is stale, but I’m just as guilty as the rest of us. It was clear to me that there had to be a better way.
Some thinkers who influenced us
Working with fintech startup Bankbox (now Finxera) the platonic form of Two-Sided Markets captured my imagination. Working with Steve Smoot, we began the process of identifying and imagining large underserved marketplaces. These marketplaces all had vendors, customer and a platform connecting the two sides. Our first thought was to offer a solution for entry-level workers, but after some investigation we felt that the addressable market size was too small and required work too high. We tried out a few more ideas before we discovered the underserved market for third-party data. The HBR article, “Pipelines, Platforms and the New Rules of Strategy” further clarified our thinking.
Thus we began building Odge as a way to help people just like me who struggle with helping their teams make better decisions in a fluid world with constantly changing numbers. Every day I think back on my younger self with empathy knowing that with Odge others will not have to face my former pain.