When Allison and I started Proof, one of the early exercises we did was write down our shared values; what qualities did we want this company to embody? We are now at a stage where we need to start actively recruiting new employees and customers, so this feels like the right time to outwardly articulate our company values and how we settled on them.
One of the subtle things that had pushed us to leave IEX and venture out on our own was a shift in company values, both implicit and explicit during our time there. At least from our perspective, the culture had gradually transitioned from an emphasis on curiosity, personal growth, and innovation to one that valued grit above all else. Work ethic is no doubt critical, but we perceived the message from above as “put your head down and do your damn job,” and it didn’t quite sit right. I don’t mean to be overdramatic or to knock them — I treasure my time at IEX, and I even ran the culture orientation for new hires throughout my entire tenure, but this perceived shift was one of those little things that nags at you. Starting Proof was an opportunity to build a fresh culture from scratch that we personally would find energizing and motivating.
Our original list of values centered around curiosity, transparency, honesty, and creativity, and you’ll see we haven’t drifted too far from there. We also wrote down “bourbon” to represent how we wanted Proof to be fun and a place we could share our personal interests, but I don’t know, in retrospect this seems like an example of our Proof-y quirkiness that we can more naturally incorporate into shared traditions rather than shoehorning it in as a core value.
As the adage goes, you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with, and similarly Proof’s values are a reflection of our entire team, and we’re not all exactly the same. For example, Prerak actually welcomed the embrace of grit as a value at IEX: “the team had lost its sense of urgency and needed a kick.” When Prerak and Beau joined us in June 2019, we revisited our list and made one key addition: mastery. Learning and growth are wonderful, but there must also be a goal of excellence, within our respective areas and as a cohesive unit. We are not just a think tank in a vacuum — we are trying to create significant tangible value in a real-world business, and in order to do so we need be legitimate experts in our industry pushing it forward.
Finally, there’s the whole reason we started Proof in the first place, a desire that’s only gotten stronger over the past two years: to do as much social good as possible. Allison and I discussed many ideas before landing on Proof, and though an institutional equities broker-dealer may seem like a strange choice, we do still feel this is our best shot at pushing the world in a good direction on the largest scale we can. US equity trading is where we have expertise, connections, and credibility, and we hope we can turn those into significant positive impact. Proof needs to become a sustainable business in order to exist, but beyond that we will prioritize doing good over maximizing profit.
Here are tangible examples of how we’re trying to have positive impact:
Specifically within equity trading
- Identify and counteract broker-dealer conflicts of interest and bad practices that harm investors, such as misaligned/opaque routing economics, self-reported TCA, cherry-picked data analysis (and questionable data science practices in general).
- Publish all our research and openly collaborate with others in the industry.
- Participate in industry discourse and rulemaking, for example by submitting public comment letters from our perspective as an independent new entrant into institutional equity trading.
Within the finance industry overall
- Adopt practices that promote fairness and diversity such as pay transparency, utilizing a formula for determining equity compensation, incorporating consistent questions and the Rooney Rule into our recruiting process, and avoiding golden handcuffs.
- Be an example of transparency and candor as opposed to the industry standard of talking your own book and taking a black box approach to technology.
- Share our experience building every aspect of this company so that others may benefit from our thought process and avoid our mistakes.
- Rather than profit maximizing, we hope to create far more value than we capture from our clients.
As for our values, here’s where we landed:
- Positive impact. Above all else, we want to do good. Everything we do — what we build, how we operate our business, who we hire, who we work with — must directly support this goal.
- Transparency. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and promoting transparency in finance by example is the lowest hanging fruit toward creating positive impact. Whether it is our product, our business practices (both internally and externally), our goals, our accomplishments, or our struggles, we are open and candid about everything we do.
- Curiosity, Creativity, and Mastery. When faced with a problem, we have an innate desire to dig and explore until we understand the problem inside and out. We emphasize learning and personal growth and seek out further knowledge to add new techniques and experiences to our tool belt. We want to solve problems as effectively as possible, whether by improving upon what has been done before or by developing novel approaches. Finally, we want to be the best at what we do, and we want to work alongside the best. We believe these three qualities are essential toward maximizing our positive impact.
We believe these values capture what makes our team special and what we aspire to be. They are the guiding pillars by which we conduct ourselves and make tough decisions. They are also very complementary: innate curiosity is essential for achieving mastery; mastery is far more impactful when combined with ingenuity; and transparency is the glue that holds everything together- it holds us accountable and helps establish credibility, plus it inherently creates positive impact through education, collaboration, and example.