By Marco Derhy
“It is no secret that entrepreneurs work very hard, and sacrifice many other aspects of their lives to build their companies. Family and friends who saw and knew how much I worked constantly encouraged me to take breaks often, and not ignore my personal life. It was difficult for me to switch off, and whenever I forced myself to do so, I felt quite guilty. There were several others depending on me and my decisions to get their work done. It took a long while before I could switch off when I needed to without feeling guilty. When I found myself being more happy and productive after doing so, the guilt started to wear off, and I wish I had started sooner.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Raj Ramamurti. Raj is the Founder & CEO of Utavi, a trading platform that transforms illiquid assets into a market of liquid securities transactions. Investors need no longer be locked-in for several months or even years in traditionally illiquid and hard-to-access asset classes, such as private placements, real estate and long term debt. Utavi’s tokenization technologies and trading silos provide investors with both liquidity and ROI opportunities in these types of investments. Institutional investors participating in the Utavi platform now have access to new capital allocation and portfolio diversification strategies. All transactions on the platform are fully compliant with SEC and FINRA regulations.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
Out of college, I started my career in the corporate world in Silicon Valley, during a recession. I had sent out over three hundred resumes, landed five interviews and two job offers. Very different times. Even during my college years, I knew I would be an entrepreneur someday, but first had to get a job to pay off college loans and have a savings account. Little did I know what life had in store for me. Although I had been tinkering with business ideas and prototypes during the evenings and weekends while I worked full-time, it took two decades before I finally left the security and comfort provided by a lucrative corporate career to become an entrepreneur full-time. My first venture was in the wine industry. I developed an online brokerage platform to connect buyers and sellers of fine wine. Then came Utavi. The financial crisis exposed several flaws in the financial system, and the very significant disparities in the economic well-being of individuals and institutions. It was obvious that fixing what was broken was not the long-term solution. A new way to form and allocate capital was necessary. These were some of the driving forces behind Utavi’s mission — to remove the constraints of illiquidity from all types of investments, so that capital can flow un-encumbered, when and where it needs to.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company
During the company-building days, I spent a lot of time working on Utavi from my neighborhood Starbucks — it became my “office”, and the Starbucks crew got to know me quite well, including my “usual” order. I even had my “spot” in the cafe. Over time, I got used to referring to it as the “office”, in almost all conversations regarding Utavi. Once, when I was scheduling an interview with a prospective intern, I asked her to meet me at my office, and sent her the address of the Starbucks. She showed up at the appointed time and place, but was very confused that the Utavi “office” was the same as a Starbucks store. It took a full ten minutes to convince her she was not interviewing for a job at Starbucks, and I indeed was Raj, the Founder & CEO of Utavi, with no professional affiliation to Starbucks. It certainly did not help that the crew and regulars there knew me so well, and kept greeting me as they passed by. From then on, I was extra careful when mentioning Utavi’s “office” to anyone.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
When one considers the plethora of recent ventures in the financial technology & services industry, they seem to be using the decentralized ledger technologies to either gain recognition or raise capital, regardless of whether they need this technology or not. We started out the opposite way, by first addressing a hair-on-fire market problem with a scalable business model, and then figuring out the technologies we needed to implement our business model. In fact, it was during a demo to one of our prospective customers that they requested we implement a decentralized ledger in addition to the ledger system we had developed. We believe that our deep customer pipeline is due to the fact that we are providing a secure and scalable solution to a very real and large market problem, more so than the technology stacks we have built our platform on. In addition, a very important part of our business is our decision to only allow SEC & FINRA compliant transactions on our platform from the start, with no retrofitted compliance processes post-launch.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There are many people who have so generously given their time, advice, support and strength without hesitation to Utavi’s journey. In large part, Utavi is where it is today because of these wonderful people. If there is a particular person that I would single out from this special group, it would have to be my long-time mentor and advisor Dr. Mark Feldman. I met Mark by chance at a entrepreneur event several years ago. He was on the panel, discussing business strategies. I was very impressed by his thoughts and advice to the audience regarding startup strategies, that I approached him after the panel discussion and introduced myself. Since then, we have been meeting regularly and he has been advising me on all aspects of building Utavi, from fundraising, market positioning, product features, and customer acquisition. My entrepreneurial path has been long and windy. Mark has been most patient with the mistakes I have made, and has encouraged me to think outside the box to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. It’s not just his depth, but breadth of experience in the startup world that has been a well of knowledge I have been able to draw from to build Utavi to where it is today.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
We are currently working on Rev. 2 of our platform — the enhanced architecture will allow the platform to be deployed in to several existing financial markets, and create new ones. The Rev. 2 architecture will include a mobile application and payment system, which we are quite excited about — this will open up new markets to deploy Utavi into. Our team is already quite international, and will continue that way.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Since the first days of conceiving the Utavi platform, the goal has always been to make this a global business and company. We realize there are many regulatory hurdles to overcome, and possible political barriers to entry. However, we know they can be overcome, and when we are a global platform, enabling borderless financial transactions, we can envision a more stable and fairer financial world for all. The feedback so far strongly indicates we are on the right track in building this global financial platform. Creating stable and self-reliant economies around the world is why we are here, and as more and more come into existence, we believe the economic goodness that comes from this will benefit many, many people.
Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?
The Golden Revolution, by John Butler. During the early days of Utavi, when I was conceptualizing the platform and business, I was out to dinner with a friend. During the course of the conversation, I mentioned what I was up to with Utavi and why I thought the world needed a different value exchange model than what we have today. She immediately jumped in and strongly recommended I read this book. It would confirm many of my thoughts on monetary policies and currencies. I ordered the book online that very night, and read it cover to cover within a few days of receiving it. I was able to relate to much of what the author wrote regarding global economic policies and what the future would look like if we continued down this same path. It validated several assumptions I had made in building Utavi, which provided me that much more motivation to continue on with the venture.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Things take twice as long and cost twice as much, but that’s okay
Coming from the corporate world, I was used to strict deadlines and detailed schedules. When starting my entrepreneurial ventures, I used the same templates for the Utavi project plan and budget. I soon found out that the more dependencies a project has, the longer it takes to complete, and the more it costs. Even if one or two pieces of a complex task are not in place when they need to be, the entire task is delayed. During the code development phase of the Utavi platform, we found a feature had been overlooked in the design phase. Incorporating the feature meant changing a large portion of the design, which then impacted code development. We found this missing piece due to the regular eview processes we had in place. It was one of those cases where finding it early on and taking the hit was much better than a customer finding it for us.
Making a bad decision is better than no decision at all
As an entrepreneur, one receives plenty of information, from many sources. Often times, this leads to decision-paralysis, since several options sound like the best one. The most valuable commodity in an early stage venture is time. Decision-paralysis wastes time. Making a decision and moving forwards (hopefully) at least reveals whether the decision was right or not and whether to backtrack or continue forward. I once had to select a development vendor from several choices. Before committing to one, I ensured that a short-term contract would be in place, and selected one of my top two choices. It turned out to be the wrong choice. I was able to switch to a different vendor within a short time-frame. If I hadn’t made the decision, I would have never known, and the platform development would have stalled.
Only taking advice from the right sources and ignoring the rest is critical
In the entrepreneurial world, I have noticed that people love to give advice. Over time, I have learned to only heed advice from those who have experienced the situation first-hand. I’ve come across several people offering advice on how to construct a pitch deck and pitch to investors, only to find out that they have never pitched to investors, but have taken online courses in preparing pitch decks, or seen pitch decks from successful entrepreneurs. When I ran their advice by experienced entrepreneurs and advisors, I almost always got negative reactions.
When someone is looking to sell or close, exaggerating seems to be a common occurrence all around. Taking time to diligence the story, and run background checks is crucial before engaging. This was something I learned the hard way. I had expected this from others who were also on the path to trying to make it, but not from experienced professionals who had made it in the corporate world, but wanted to be part of something new and exciting in the startup world.
You should not feel guilty turning off the phone and computer when you need to
It is no secret that entrepreneurs work very hard, and sacrifice many other aspects of their lives to build their companies. Family and friends who saw and knew how much I worked constantly encouraged me to take breaks often, and not ignore my personal life. It was difficult for me to switch off, and whenever I forced myself to do so, I felt quite guilty. There were several others depending on me and my decisions to get their work done. It took a long while before I could switch off when I needed to without feeling guilty. When I found myself being more happy and productive after doing so, the guilt started to wear off, and I wish I had started sooner.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
I would probably say breakfast with Elon Musk — we were at the same university at the same time, but never crossed paths. I am fascinated by his ability to create new ventures in rapid succession, and manage to make them all successful. I’d be very interested to learn how he manages his time amongst all his ventures, and why he does what he does.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series In Huffpost, Authority Magazine, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.
Originally published at medium.com