Vise founders Runik Mehrotra and Samir Vasavada.
Samir Vasavada and Runik Mehrotra are the talk of the street. They are just 20, and Vise, their AI-enabled investment management company, earlier this week received Series B funding of $45 million.
Investors might be more than happy to write cheques for them now, but there was a time when they were rejected by about 1,000 investors, including Vinod Khosla, the Delhi-bred billionaire titan of Silicon Valley.
Vasavada and Mehrotra were raised in Cleveland and Detroit, respectively, and met at a North Western University’s summer research programme. Though they officially started Vise in 2019, they had been working as consultants since they were 16. We will give you some time to pick up your jaw.
An obvious lesson from their success is perseverance. The other is to keep working on the pitch and learn from rejections. The lanky Vasavada, who likes business books and recently lived without his iPhone for three weeks, maintained a detailed record of failed meetings.
Lesson number three is that perception and fortunes can change quickly even if one or two big players come on board.
After Khosla and several others turned Vasavada and Mehrotra down, and after they polished their pitch, they raised $2 million from Keith Rabois, a co-founder at PayPal and a partner at Founders Fund, and Ben Ling of Bling Capital. Both were earlier at Khosla Ventures. The tide had turned.“This was our first round of fundraising ever,” Mehrotra told TechCrunch. “So in the beginning, a lot of it was just like, figuring out how things worked and learning how to best pitch the company because it is a niche market. I think once we got the momentum, we felt like we were turning away tons of money.”
There were challenges, too. Permission from their parents to give college a miss wasn’t easy to come. According to Fortune, the two were working from different cities for a while. When they realised that wasn’t practical, Vasavada travelled to meet Mehrotra, then enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania. The duo worked on convincing the Mehrotras. They agreed, but only on the condition that the boys raise at least $ 1 million from investors.
Then there was the matter of convincing people in the trade to take them seriously but there was a positive side to that too, Vasavada said on Nasdaq Trade Talks.“A challenge of being young, which is also a benefit, is that lack of experience can sometimes bring a new perspective. People that said to us, ‘Hey, you haven’t been in the industry for X number of years, you haven’t been alive that many number of years’, we were able to say to them, ‘Hey, that’s why we have this new perspective, this new product’,” Vasavada said.
And this is what the new product does, in the words of its precocious founders.
“You can almost think of us as a highly personalised, highly automated approach to wealth management for investment advisers,” Vasavada said, speaking a million words a minute.
The deep-voiced slightly chubby Mehrotra, who once posted a picture of Po from Kung Fu Panda as himself, said, “Rather than use AI to replace humans, we use it to empower them. We build tools and technology to help financial advisers be better at their job and provide more customised offerings to their clients.”
Speaking about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on their business, Mehrotra told Nasdaq Trade Talks that it was important for them to show their clients that Vise was in it for the long haul. “With the capital raised (this was after their Series A funding), we have five to seven years of runway even as we scale the business. So it’s kind of partnering with our current advisers and customers that we are going to be here even if there’s significant market turmoil.”Vasavada said, “(Financial) Advisers saw quite a bit of client growth (during the pandemic, as people were concerned about their investments). During that, advisers thought what platform can help me better explain what’s happening (in the markets) to my clients. They saw us as one of the solutions.”