From Beef to Pork — My Journey from Professional to Entrepreneur. Part One
I am on a journey, and typically a journey would entail defining your North Star and doing everything to reach that singular goal. In a case when someone has decided to completely alter his or her career path and become an entrepreneur in an altogether unfamiliar industry, one might expect that person to write about the journey upon its completion. But I have decided to share the journey, kind of in the same way as I live blogged my roadtrip around China.
Astonishing success, or miserable failure, only time will tell.
My North Star? — Well I could say it is to build a unicorn — a company that attains a $1 billion valuation in a short period of time. But that was never ever a motive, even if I do suspect the business model I have stumbled across has the potential to become a unicorn. With Quimojo, the goal is to become the single largest searchable database of graduate job seekers — significantly impacting youth unemployment amongst college educated.
Over two decades in finance afforded me a comfortable life, and a life which I actually enjoyed tremendously. But dig down deeper and I realize that it was not so much the work that I enjoyed as the trappings that came from having a relatively high income. Work was fun, especially in the early days as a broker when financial instruments were traded in pits and we had to scream orders down a microphone. Working through the technology revolution was also a fun time when we honed our order placing skills, as screen trading became mainstream, by becoming extremely good at Tetris. Then at the turn of the millennium something changed. Brokers around the world found that instead of being conduits for trading, they were now having to adapt to a world where trading was no longer being conducted by humans. The ones that survived were the ones who could trade their interpersonal skills — relationship building with traders over $500 steaks often followed by dot dot dot — to skills that actually involved having a decent intellect — Talking Prime Services, Exchange Connectivity, Proximity Hosting, understanding NDF’s, Basel II, Basel III, Dodd-Frank etc.
I could have continued like this for the next 20 years, most definitely, but from around 2010, I started questioning my value. How could I make my life meaningful? I had become a leading expert in advising financial juggernauts on accessing China’s opening Financial markets, advice that typically involved telling hungry firms to hold off until the doors open completely. Honestly, they were like “Barbarians at the Gates”, wanting to exploit capital market inefficiencies at every turn. Comfortable and challenging yes, but fulfilling … erm, no.
In 2012 during my tenor as China head of a major Global Brokerage, I got a call from a Dr. Mark Holder, the then Program Director, MSc. Financial Engineering at Kent State University. Mark was looking to place some of his students in summer internships in the Financial Services sector. I took on a couple of interns, and later that year, upon their graduation, I helped them secure their first full time job in finance. It was the same story the following year, and soon word got out amongst the college class that I had helped a number of students secure decent jobs. I suddenly found myself being inundated by requests to connect, or emails asking if I could help often desperate students get a good start to their dream career in finance. I had not, until then, realized how dire the situation was graduates today. Literally millions of graduates were entering the job market every year and typically the onus was on each individual to seek out jobs that were not plainly visible. There appeared to be no global database where hiring companies, large or small, could search for graduate job seekers in specific disciplines or with certain lingual skills.
In April 2014, I met up with Holder to discuss the idea of building a searchable database. In many ways, Holder was an ideal partner from the outset, having a comprehensive knowledge of an education system that I had disregarded for 25 years. Holder suggested we ask for a proposal for the platform build from a Singapore based custom web/cloud development company with whom Holder had previously engaged for his Review of Futures Markets web portal. A surprisingly reasonable quote and timeline was received and we budgeted to go live by end 2014. We brought in a couple of partners for funding, and signed on the dotted line. I guess at the time we had no clear idea of what a powerful and complex tool we were building and the complexities of setting up a start-up from scratch. A full 18 months of blood, sweat, but no tears, and Quimojo is ready to change the world.
Why Quimojo (pronounced Kimojo)? Well I wish I could give a clever answer, but the truth is, when searching for available domain names, obviously there is not much choice these days. I jotted down a huge list of available names, and even registered some names like global-campus-recruitment.com, but in the end, we decided not to go with a literal and lengthy domain name. I was having nightmares of seeing that stupid commercial on CNN for a company called MyCleanPC.com. They may be doing well, but what a silly name. In the end, I offered up my list of favourite names to my partners, and Mark suggested we go with Quimojo, which was way down my list, and just a word I thought up when typing into the available domains search engine. Obviously time will tell, but we like it, we love our branding, and I assume we were extremely lucky.
Why “Beef to Pork?” I hear you ask. Simply put, we are first time bootstrappers so we had no idea what to expect. We had budgeted to go live and create a revenue stream within six months of initiating the project. That was 18 months ago, and as a result we have had to make certain sacrifices. For me at least, that meant things like ordering pork instead of beef, swapping Hackett and Paul Smith for Gap and Uniglo, but fortunately I still have my Farragamos, be they slight worn around the sole.
Dean Owen is the Co-Founder of Quimojo, Global Campus Recruitment. Search, Connect, Chat, and Video Interview Candidates, All from within a single platform.