Tell us a little bit about OTTO. Your tagline is, “Intelligence for purpose-driven investing.” How do you describe OTTO?
OTTO is a platform designed to enable purpose-driven investing. It will allow financial advisors to deeply understand their clients and connect those values and preferences to their clients’ investments. It’s about being able to look at purpose-driven or value-driven investing with the clients’ values as the main ingredients of their investment strategy.
That’s something that has previously been the icing on the cake or a layer that’s added on after the fact. OTTO is meant to provide the insight and data for financial advisors to have deeper conversations with their clients about their values, to understand who they are as people and what they want in life, and connect that with what they’re trying to achieve.
There are a bunch of companies that are focused on things like EFG metrics, the sustainability of companies, how they contribute to certain positive and negative themes, themes you want to invest in and things you want to avoid. There’s nothing that connects that company scoring to what people want. OTTO is meant to be that bridge. When you look at the financial services industry the end investor, the person, has been left out. OTTO is trying to figure out the person.
What you care about matters. Right now the conversation’s been mostly qualitative. We’re going to find a way for financial advisors to act in a quantitative way. We’re trying to give advisors a language that they can speak to bring this into the conversation.
In my experience, often the questions that come to investors are ‘What’s your time horizon?’ ‘What’s your risk profile?’ These are the first questions I’ve typically been asked in the past and the values have been tacked on at the end. Integrating it into that process earlier on sounds like a valuable addition.
What that looks like practically is it starts with survey experiences and digital service and games that are meant to be part of the discovery process. A client might even come to the table and say, “I know I have values; I care about things,” but not be able to necessarily prioritize or articulate them, or know how they connect to investable themes.
OTTO facilitates that learning, both for the advisor but also for the end users to help them understand where their priorities actually lie, and learn about themselves. Part of the exciting opportunity for OTTO is the greater financial engagement in literacy that can come out of this. It’s kind of a gateway to a lot of other learning about their own personal finances.
When you came to Commit, what stage were you at with the organization, and what roles, in particular, were you looking to recruit through Commit. What were your objectives?
When we came to Commit we were looking for an engineer who could bring our vision to life. We had just gotten started on actually building our product and we had the benefit of a great advisor who had worked with us from the beginning to guide us on the technical side. But we needed someone who could be in the weeds with us full-time and execute, who wanted that start-up life.
This is not a 9 to 5 job, and we needed someone who was going to be excited about the stage that we were at, who wanted to help shape what OTTO would become. Someone to be part of making the decisions, who would be willing to pull some all-nighters when they were really required and just be in it. We were looking forward to creating our engineering team of one.
That’s an important role. I assume that’s why you went through Commit. How did you hear about Commit? How did you get connected with them?
I was connected with Commit by a former colleague of mine who went on to start her own tech startup. We had been working with someone whose contract was ending and we needed to fill a gap.
What was exciting about Commit was that they already had a roster of people who they had worked with before and could tell us concrete things about what those people liked and were looking for, what worked for them in the past, and what they were looking for in the next opportunity. From that perspective they were able to move really, really quickly, which was beneficial for us.
Did you bring Shu Yang onboard for a pilot?
We did. He impressed us right away with the quality of his work and by understanding what we were trying to achieve. He got that ramping up right away and wasn’t shy to ask questions and brought an energy to the table that was exactly what we needed to hit the ground running.
Has he been brought on full-time?
Yes. As lead developer.
What in your experience would be the typical challenges of hiring for that type of role? What are the pitfalls and the risks?
Right now it’s hard to find development and engineering talent. So with that as the starting point it’s even harder to think about whether they might integrate nicely with the team. That makes Commit appealing, because they have a community that they’ve built and a name that’s trusted. I did the whole LinkedIn searching and went down the rabbit hole spending way too many hours with random reach-outs. With Commit I had confidence that anyone that I was looking at was someone with potential.
I felt like it limited the risk because someone was already vetting them and knew what their background experience was. What’s difficult is that you never really know what the working relationships are going to be like. I think that’s the most important thing. At the end of the day it’s always about the people that you work with. You can have the greatest idea but it really comes down to whether you want to be with the people you’re at the table with.
Luckily, because Commit helped us streamline the process, we knew we were on the right path to finding someone we would enjoy being in it with.
What would you say to other start-ups thinking about working with Commit?
I think it’s worth checking them out! We really have had a successful time with Commit. They were so easy to engage and we felt prioritized in terms of what we needed at the time we needed it. We said what we needed and found the person that fit that really, really easily. Based on our experience I would definitely recommend Commit to others.