At TransparentCareer, we love featuring our fellow MBAs and the businesses that they’ve started. This week we’re interviewing Matthew, who started UpperRoom, a fintech company, after graduating from IU Kelley.
Are you an MBA that’s started their own business, or know someone who has? Reach out.
Hey Matthew! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us! Why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself?
I grew up in the Chicagoland area and as I grew up, I was blessed to be able to travel throughout my adolescent years. When I started taking Spanish classes in freshman year of high school, I can’t explain it, but I just connected with the language in a very natural way. With a love for other languages and cultures, I went to Olivet Nazarene University and double majored in International Business and Spanish.
In 2010, I participated in two different study abroad experiences that still have a transformative effect on me. In the spring semester, I studied abroad in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Cuba and lived with native host families the entire time! I carried away not only skill in using Spanish, but an awareness of the beautiful qualities of different cultures and the richness of relationships. The European study abroad, the International Business Institute, focused more on global business and featured many corporate visits such as Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt, Germany, Mars Candy in Russia, and the European Union in Brussels, Belgium.
Life’s experiences chip away at us and sculpt us into a more refined and conditioned individual. I am blessed to have had these defining experiences in my life that have shaped me for the better.
After college, I married my college sweetheart, Elizabeth, and throughout our almost six years of marriage, we have lived in Yorkville, IL, Green Bay, WI and even Liberia, Costa Rica! Yes, we actually moved to Costa Rica for a year where my wife taught English. (By the way, this wouldn’t have been possible without the flexibility of the Kelley Direct MBA program.)
Personally, our Christian faith is deeply important to us. I’m also a musician and play piano, guitar, and sing, and so I also lead the music at our local church. Currently, we live in Green Bay, WI and just bought a house!
I see you’ve already finished your MBA. Would you tell me about your experience? What did you enjoy the most? Any dislikes? Any advice for current MBAs?
Going into the Kelley Direct program, I had two main concerns: 1) Can I build a network in an mostly-online program? And 2) Is the degree still as legit as one would receive in an in-person program? Looking back, I am SO thankful that I decided upon this program. First of all, in the Kelley Direct program, there are so many opportunities where I had the ability to meet individuals virtually or in person and build my network. For example, Kelley Direct offers week long intensive experiences on the Indiana University campus where students compete in a consulting case competition, as well as plenty of networking experiences outside of the regular classwork. Many classes are offered with an in-person component, and in many of those classes, students work with Fortune 500 corporations on a project. One of my favorite experiences involved consulting for a medical device startup in the West Bank of Palestine, and I actually spent the last week of the class in Bethlehem verifying our data and presenting to the company! During the program, I also consulted for a new startup in the Bloomington area, another consulting project for an entrepreneur looking to develop a product and enter the Chinese market, and an amazing opportunity in Silicon Valley, which I’ll mention later. Such a life changing program!
As I mentioned above, during the Kelley Direct program, I actually lived abroad for a year with my wife in Costa Rica where she taught English classes. So, even though I went into the program with concerns about the quality of an “online program,” I left being fully convinced that not only did I get one of the best educations possible and came out with an MBA and Masters of Science in Entrepreneurship and Innovation, but didn’t have to sacrifice a business network or formative experiences… or even living abroad!
What led you to get an MBA? What were you doing prior to your MBA?
After my undergraduate degree, I worked at JP Morgan where I acquired my Series 6 and Series 63 investment licenses. My role was a Spanish/English bilingual Relationship Banker in the West suburbs of Chicago.
Even during that time, I set my eyes on higher education and getting an MBA. It’s a competitive world and the MBA is undoubtedly a differentiator. Little did I know I would walk away from the experience with much more than just three letters after my name!
What are your goals post MBA? Have your goals changed between right before business school and now after you’ve graduated?
Before the MBA program, I had my sights set on getting a corporate job post-graduation and had a few industries I was interested in. But then through a variety of circumstances, my father, Jack, and I co-founded UpperRoom Technology, almost to just set something to the wind and see what happens. We honestly didn’t think anything would materialize and it would just stay at the idea stage. But as my coursework progressed, I picked up insights that I would employ to develop the business, and IU professors coached me through challenging moments. As the company began to come into its own, I began to feel more of a drive towards entrepreneurship. Coincidentally, about halfway through my plan of study, Kelley Direct established another Master’s degree – a Masters of Science in Entrepreneurship and Innovation. I’m unsure of the current rankings, but in the recent years, Indiana University was ranked the #1 Entrepreneurship program in the nation among public universities. The degree involved four different in-person immersion experiences, and right when I received the email announcing the new degree, I knew it was for me. I actually was part of the pioneering class to graduate with this new degree! The capstone of this program was pitching UpperRoom Technology to an elite group of VCs and entrepreneurs who are IU alumni in Silicon Valley. Such a spine-tingling experience, but truly one of the most memorable moments of my life.
My classmates and I developed skill sets around taking an idea, refining it through the customer development process and sifting through the highest points of value, and building a business around the most compelling points of value. Because of my experience through Indiana University, I can envision myself in the future founding or working with startups. I’d love to do it for the rest of my career. When I told you my Kelley Direct experience was life-changing, I wasn’t kidding.
Tell us about your business, UpperRoom Technology.
UpperRoom Technology is a FinTech startup focused on the bond market. One of my favorite quotes is from the Wharton School of Business: “Bond markets are struggling to move out of the 19th century.” Would you believe me if I told you that the bond market, the world’s largest capital market, is still largely traded by talking to someone else over the phone? Or, that it often takes many minutes to even hours to decide which bond to buy and sell? The bond market is one of those markets that is so antiquated and devoid of disruptive technology, yet is often misunderstood by the general public that it doesn’t get a ton of publicity.
UpperRoom Technology is launching a product that articulates two points of value: 1) The product aggregates disparate bond lists from various sources and, 2) Combs through that data and the thousands of bonds available to buy and sell, and presents a “best-of” list of the bonds customized to the preferences of the trader or portfolio manager based on value and efficacy. This is analysis that the human mind just can’t process without considerable time and effort.
What inspired you to create UpperRoom Technology? Have you always wanted to start a business?
Whenever I worked with business owners at JP Morgan, I respected their perseverance and dedication to their business, but I had always intuitively thought that entrepreneurship is reserved for those with a special skill set different than myself. So, I invariably took myself out of consideration to be an entrepreneur. I mean, if you Google, “Top traits of entrepreneurs,” it will give you a list of qualities that someone somewhere has decided that entrepreneurs should have. But here was the turning point for me: It wasn’t until I realized through my MBA program and work in the venture itself that entrepreneurship is not about embodying a list of character qualities. Those are meaningless. Rather, it’s about employing a consistent process. The lean startup methodology, yes, but also understanding that the tactical details of a business are what steer the ship, not ultimately the strategic aspects. Having a consistent process on different levels is what is necessary for entrepreneurship.
My father, Jack, and I started this venture together. Jack has years of experience in working for a bond software analytics company, and my financial markets background at JP Morgan and my experience with startup consulting and the MS in Entrepreneurship and Innovation has afforded me the skill set to take our idea and bring it to market.
What are some of the struggles you’ve gone through since starting UpperRoom Technology, and how did business school prepare you for it?
The struggles I went through, and still go though (let’s be honest), are not unique to our venture, but new companies in general. There are countless challenges such as managing assumptions, risks, devising methods or processes on how to mitigate the risks, sifting through customer feedback, etc. But, one of the most important things that I didn’t expect about a virtual program is how well it would pair with my work with UpperRoom Technology. For example, I went through a marketing class and I picked up insights on how to structure my customer feedback. Throughout the entire program, it was amazing how different articles or readings would apply to the company. The virtual program has a way of marrying the class material with your job, such that the material is much more meaningful and alive to you. At the end of the day, we go to business school to think and act differently in our jobs, and Kelley Direct delivered on that 100%.
What’s your ultimate goal for UpperRoom Technology?
One of the things that I enjoy most about the financial markets and investment management industry is that it’s based on relationships. From my work at JP Morgan, my proudest and most emotionally satisfying moments were not the moments I was plunking away at the computer, but a moment of interaction with a customer, maybe helping a client invest for the first time, or the moment when the client trusts you enough to puts his or her assets under your discretion, or the connection you have with a client that fosters an enduring relationship for years. It’s these emotionally satisfying moments that you feel in your soul. It’s these moments that you feel that you are changing someone’s life through power of investing. It’s these moments that the investment professional is reminded of his or her reason for existence.
Investing is, fundamentally, a relationship business. Technology should do everything in its power to make the investment professional’s work easier and then get out of the way so that investors can get back to their most satisfying and important job – changing lives through the power of investments.
At UpperRoom Technology, our goal is to create software that enables bond portfolio managers and traders to spend less time on analysis, and more time on fostering these moments. We aim to make the world’s largest “relationship business” more… relational.
Thanks for your time Matthew! And congratulations on UpperRoom Technology.
You can check out Matthew’s startup, UpperRoom Technology, here.
Questions or comments? Reach out.
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