From Wall Street to Google to creating a startup out of a trailer park, Adam Saven has had quite the interesting career journey. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, he now works as a full-time entrepreneur who hopes to empower student entrepreneurs through his latest startup, Campuskudos. In the following interview, Adam shares his story and advice for current undergraduate students.
Q: What has your career journey been like, and what have you learned each step of the way? What startups have you created and what inspired you to pursue them?
A: My career journey has gotten off to an interesting start. An analyst program in investment banking and running a startup out of a trailer park across from Google Headquarters will do that to you.
Upon graduating, I was a classic Wharton “success” story, or so I was instructed to believe. I landed a job at a prestigious investment bank, the stated rite of passage to future riches. Yet, it didn’t feel so awesome when my Managing Director told me to “mute my phone line” while the grown-ups talked or informed me there were “only 5 chairs in the conference room” for our meeting with our Fortune 500 software client. Unfortunately, I was the proverbial sixth man, again.
From Dean’s list student to humbled Excel robot, it was not what I imagined for myself. I very quickly grew antsy in my investment-banking role, and on my 365th day, with my year-end bonus in hand, it was time to move on.
It was a much easier decision after receiving an offer to work at Google. It was a surreal experience transitioning from investment banking to the rainbow-colored halls, organic cafeterias, and gratuitous yoga classes at Google. It was amazing to work at a company that encouraged all of its employees, regardless of experience level, to speak up in meetings and challenge existing assumptions. Equipped with a newfound appreciation for free-time and inspired by the intoxicating levels of Googley-ness at work, I decided to pursue a “side project.” Frustrated by my own job search experience and inspired by the widespread popularity of the dating app Tinder, I, along with my two co-founders, launched the first Tinder for Jobs application. Essentially, a jobseeker was presented with roles at companies and simply had to swipe right to indicate his or her interest or lack thereof. If the employer was mutually interested, the two parties would be connected via chat.
Every day, I could not wait to get home from Google around 6pm, so I could get to work on Emjoyment. I surmised that leaving Google would be equivalent to ripping a Band-Aid off, so I did it quickly and pursued my startup dream. Emjoyment, despite disrupting the English language with an ‘emj’ sound, did not disrupt the job recruitment market. We had some early wins – raising ~$500k from impressive angel investors, numerous downloads, building and managing a team of six, and laudable PR. Living and working out of the Santiago Villa Trailer Park community, we certainly kept our costs low and focus high. I whiteboarded, stayed up late, wore sandals, but looked in the mirror…and was still a business guy trying to learn the ropes.
I quickly learned that brains and work ethic were merely the price of admission for startups. Nevertheless, our team hadn’t given up. We decided to “pivot,” a nice word for “it didn’t work out, so we went a different direction.”
Just recently, we launched CampusKudos.com. It’s a website for student to form relationships with alumni – think LinkedIn designed for students. Students come on and create e-portfolios of their projects, both academic and extracurricular. These portfolios enable to students to engage and connect with alumni. I have found one of the biggest impediments for students to take their projects further is the lack of advice and resources available to them. I hope bright students, with the help of the CampusKudos community, are able to disrupt different industries and make a huge impact. I imagine that CampusKudos will adapt and change over time, which is strikingly similar to my career journey thus far.
Adam adds that each job required different skills and responsibilities. While investment banking for Credit Suisse, it was important to be able to create persuasive pitch decks for clients. Meanwhile, Google focused more on technical skills such as SQL, the ability to analyze problems and data, and build experiments. His Google manager left a meaningful impact on him and taught him many of the life lessons ingrained in him today.
Q: If you could do college and post-college all over again, what would you change, if anything? What do you wish you knew?
A: If I could do things all over again in college, I would do more. It’s easy to believe that, while you are in school, that you don’t have any time. In fact, college is a period where you have more time to pursue different ventures than ever. There are tons of great resources and individuals to help you gain the experience of building a business. You’ll learn so much more from trying to do things yourself. I’d also probably take some computer science classes. In truth, there is nothing more impressive and a better conversation starter in an interview than talking about the business/venture you started in school. We’re hiring college ambassadors at a bunch of universities for those who want to get experience while in school. Just check out our site to apply.
Q: What’s your advice for current college undergraduates? What should they embrace?
A: I often chat with current undergraduates about their careers and goals. Often times, they are considering going into investment banking. When I hear that, one of the first questions I ask is whether they read the Wall Street Journal or Financial Times in their free time. I didn’t, and, looking back, that was a strong indicator that I wouldn’t find the work interesting.
Q: How did you go about starting a tech company without any formal tech experience?
A: Growing up, I read TechCrunch and GigaOM every morning. In fact, I even volunteered at TechCrunch’s Disrupt event in San Francisco hoping to see my idol in the flesh, Elon Musk. It should have been clear to me that breaking into technology should’ve been my first step. After college, I was forced to catch up, completing CodeAcademy lessons, teaching myself SQL and conversing with others who had taken a similar leap. I had always been super interested in startups. My good friends and office mate at Credit Suisse shared similar interests. Fortunately, he some background in coding and, working together, we were able to get things off the ground enough where we could attract others to join us, including his own roommate and computer science major from college.
Q: What do you think you did in school that may have helped you the most in the real world?
A: While my parents would probably hope that I would mention the great classes and teachers I had at Penn, the truth is the relationships built have proven to be far more valuable. Penn is a community of incredible individuals from all different backgrounds. I was fortunate to be in a fraternity where the members came from dozens of countries and studied diverse topics. I learned a great deal about different cultures and perspectives from being around other people at Penn.
Q: You’ve been through many career changes. Has there been an aha moment or particular job that has been especially valuable to you?
A: My time at Google was especially valuable. It was great to be around people who not only had great ideas but also went about executing on those ideas in a very thoughtful way. I’ve taken those lessons to my own startups.