I find this business (and the idea) to be quite fascinating, not only because of its uniqueness, but also because I previously worked for this company as an intern position during the co-op program at University. It was extremely interesting to see how an idea like this was being executed, and what they have accomplished up to today. Seeing what goes on behind the scenes to a business, one that has an idea that one no else was executing on, is a unique combination that I knew I had to share with you.
What & Who the company is
Voleo is a collaborative investment app that can be used on any smartphone. This platform eliminates the hassles of starting and running an investment club, by providing an easy-to-access mobile platform. There is a wealth of benefits to investing together (no pun intended). Not only do you get lower commission rates by splitting the fees, you get the ideas and knowledge of all your friends. This can be useful for keeping up with the latest trends and news, and should lead to better decision-making.
The Original Inspiration
The original inspiration for the Voleo app begins with a background of the founders. The first founder, Jay Sujir, is a securities lawyer who realized that there was a lack of trust in the financial system after the credit crunch. He believed that eliminating advisor’s fees and adding transparency by letting groups manage their own funds would solve the trust problem. Over time, it became clear to him that the smartphone revolution was in full-force. People now had small computers in their pockets that could be used for much more than phoning and texting others. Social media was another clue, as Jay saw the rapid rise of Facebook and other platforms where people loved to connect. Yet another insight was when he saw how comfortable his friends were at making stock trades on their smartphones. All these insights play an integral role in the business idea of Voleo.
During this time, Jay was actively looking for business ideas to invest in. However, not using any creativity exercises to get there, he decided to combine his knowledge of the securities industry with his insights he gathered from family, friends, and strangers using social media and investment platforms.
Jay used his ability to draw from his experiences and insights from his life, and create an idea that solved a problem people had (of starting to invest and to do it better, by creating an easy to use app).
The Co-Founders and CEO
Knowing he couldn’t execute alone and possibly pivot on this idea, Jay approached his friends Mark Morabito, merchant banker and former practicing lawyer, and Glen Wilson, a recently-retired telecommunications executive. Having experience with the byzantine world of securities law and growing dominance of mobile, they were the perfect partners to invite on board. The core team surrounded themselves with a board of directors that included a former regulator as well as a US securities lawyer.
Lastly, Thomas, an ex-investment banker, was invited into the team to be the CEO and bring the idea to life. When he saw the prototype he knew right away that this filled a need and hit the exact pain point that he ran into years ago when wanting to start up his own investment club. Back in the day, even with computers, there was a lot of documentation and administration that came with establishing and running an investment club. Managing the club was also a nightmare. Another problem Thomas encountered back in the day was the complexity of multiple people accessing the account to withdraw and deposit cash. Lastly, if you wanted to propose a trade to the group you usually had to wait until the next meeting before people took you seriously. Emails wouldn’t cut it, and while there are now better tools for chat and collaboration none of them are contextual. In the end, he didn’t even end up starting the club because there was an excessive amount of documentation.
The main goal Thomas wanted to accomplish with investment clubs was to be able to help friends and family invest their money. As an experienced investor, being there for them was important as he wanted to help where he could. Having an investment club with his colleagues was also important as everyone could pool their experience so he wouldn’t miss out on the best trading ideas. Like I mentioned before, the process and documentation were too much and killed this dream early on.
So after hearing about this business idea, he started to do some digging, and to his delight, he found that no one else had done this idea before. Thomas then saw the perfect combination of timing, luck, and a great idea that could lead to a valuable service for people in the future. This confirmation was also an important validation for Voleo, as a prominent investment-minded individual saw value in the idea.
A takeaway here is that out of the founders, only one of them had entrepreneurial experience. Although not easy, this supports the fact that you don’t need to be an existing entrepreneur to think of a great business idea and execute on that idea. However, each of the founders’ experiences and roles played an integral part in the initial idea stages of the investment app.
Knowing who to bring into your circle is important as well.
Taking the First Step
Once Jay had a team on-board, they were ready to take the next steps. They all did a very good job of taking into account their resources, and utilizing them to the best of their abilities. This is a key trait any entrepreneur should learn. All of them knew they did not have the technical skills to execute on this idea. To work around this, the founders pooled their money together so they could invest in creating the prototype. This was extremely important because none of them had the technical experience to create and bring the app to life, and a prototype was essential for raising more money. After searching around, they contacted a friend to develop the initial prototype. With the prototype ready they were off to the races to further validate the idea and raise more capital. Money was an important aspect of this business idea because they are entering a heavily regulated industry.
Another key aspect to the Voleo business idea was the team’s ability to stay consistent with their vision, and choosing not to pivot when times got tough. Deciding not to pivot can be just as hard of a decision as pivoting. It is also key to note that not every company needs to pivot to be successful and make money. Each of the founders firmly believed that there are significant advantages to investing in a club such as lowering risk and costs, and the growing social media scene continued to strengthen their vision.
Doubts & Pivots
Along the way, the group did not doubt or question the vision, which could partly contribute to the success they have today. However, are people who will continually put down the idea and harshly criticize what they are doing. This happens with all startups. Thomas gives insight that to face the haters you need to get out there and make your run, ignoring the noise. If you truly believe in what you are doing, and are able to generate enough support for what you are doing, keep fighting that fight. Every startup has their challenges and sometimes failures, but staying focused and continuing to execute is critical for long-term success of the business.
The Recipe For Success
The recipe of success for Voleo came down to timing, luck, and skill. This is usually the equation for most successful startups. The timing of smartphones and social media taking mass adoption, along with the luck of other things falling into place, and having the skills to execute with the resources they had all came into play. In the world there is a lot of uncertainty, living with that in mind is a necessary requirement if you want to continue down the road with whatever vision you have.
When it comes to business ideas, Thomas also believes that the idea is critical. The idea has to be high-quality in order to meet market needs. As well, your business idea needs to be fluid enough that it can handle changes in the future and pivot if needed. Having scalability built into the business model will also be a crucial aspect to consider when thinking of business ideas. The team that executes on your business idea is also very important. Without the talent and skills that are necessary to minimize key risks and execute key activities in the business, you will fail.
Last tips for aspiring entrepreneurs
When thinking of business ideas to start yourself, this CEO recommends that you assess the resources you have available. Knowing what resources you have will allow you to narrow your idea process down as well. If you don’t have a significant amount of financial resources, but a lot of skill and time resources, then maybe a less cash intensive industry is right for you. Another benefit of assessing your resources is that you are able to know where you need to concentrate your efforts. Using Voleo as an example, the original founder knew he needed some other investors as well as a technical support to build the app itself.
Taking note of what you have access to and what you need for your business idea will help you make sure you have the capacity to execute the business idea. If you don’t have the time, or money than you will be better off using your little time to gather other resources, or using your little money on a different business idea.
Another tip Thomas shared was that if you are looking to start your business in an industry that has regulations, it will usually take a significant amount of time and money to take the idea to market and operate. Industries like mining, financial services, telecommunications, and transportations, just to name a few, are all capital-intensive industries.
Some industries that have lower financial barriers to entry are industries like SAAS, online gaming, and food (in some cases). These industries allow for the entrepreneur to invest more of their time, allowing for lower startup costs in terms of capital requirements. Smaller customer bases also can support their business operating costs at a lower level too. So you don’t need a million people on board to be successful here.
The key takeaways from this case study are:
- You don’t need extensive entrepreneurial experience to think of a business idea and execute on it.
- By being mindful of your experiences and insights you can think of interesting and unique business ideas.
- Timing, skills, and luck all play a role in the success of a startup.
- Take into account your resources and capacity to think of better business ideas.
- Don’t let the criticism beat you down as an entrepreneur, it is a plague to many startups that can be beaten.
Voleo has a live platform available in the United States. You can learn more at voleousa.com.