First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Brian Curcio: We’re enormously fortunate that everyone at Rapunzl and our families are safe with job security and health insurance at a time when millions in America are struggling.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Rapunzl Investment
Brian Curcio: I grew up around finance and was obsessed with the stock market by 5th grade. My partner, Myles Gage, was similar. So when we met freshman year of high school, with lockers 3 apart, we quickly bonded over discussions about investments and our stock portfolios.
After high school, I studied Math at Amherst College, and Myles studied Finance at the University of Illinois. When Myles graduated in my junior year, he took a job at Private Bank.
That summer, Myles visited New York while I was interning at Tiedemann Investment Group, creating financial models for online consumer loan auctions and life insurance policies. We started talking about our experiences with finance. We quickly identified that early exposure and access were critical in captivating our attention earlier, and in that conversation, Rapunzl was born.
How does Rapunzl Investment innovate?
Brian Curcio: Rapunzl’s non-profit partnership with GCE Lab School and The Destiny Project allows us to leverage the collective insight of hundreds of high school students and educators to create a more engaging and intuitive platform.
Early on, we realized that 3 factors deter people from investing: fear, exposure, and accessibility.
All of the innovation we strive for at Rapunzl is fixated on mitigating those factors and fostering a collaborative investment community.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Brian Curcio: Covid-19 has proven challenging; however, it’s accelerating many trends in financial services and education, which were already developing. The rapid adoption of learn-from-home technologies and digital learning platforms has proven a really exciting growth channel for Rapunzl. Additionally, as younger investors have started to play the markets, we’ve seen a lot of stock price movements that seem to defy all conventional investing logic. That’s where Rapunzl’s free educational resources and risk-free investment competitions are attractive; both to new coming investors and those who are interested in testing investment strategies before implementing them with their real portfolio.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Brian Curcio: At the end of the day, I think the most important lessons we’ve learned aren’t about running a business, raising capital, or developing apps. The most important lessons have been about people and how to communicate under immense amounts of pressure daily.
There’s a lot of passion and intensity within a startup and in the first two years, controlling that fire and realizing how to inspire it in others is essential. It’s also important to learn that startups aren’t for everyone, and, frustratingly, some people don’t realize that startups aren’t for them.
We thought at the beginning that firing people would be the hardest choice, but in hindsight, what we really learned was that firing someone is usually a byproduct of screwing up hiring because they weren’t the right fit, and we rushed the decision.
To that point, the most important piece of advice we ever received was: Thinking is free. It’s a lot better to take a week to make a major decision than to dive-in to a project and only realize 6 months later that you started the project under the wrong assumptions. It’s a lot cheaper and time-saving to hire slowly, because otherwise you’ll be firing quickly, and the more time you spend managing your team versus growing with your team, the less likely you’ll be to succeed.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Brian Curcio: Conversations with advisors are very helpful. They offer positive reinforcement that no issue is insurmountable, and it’s okay to step away and regain your bearings before trying to tackle problems with a calmer state of mind.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Brian Curcio: We’re fortunate because there aren’t any direct competitors and the firms that are potential competitors with Rapunzl also provide interesting partnership opportunities. We plan to stay in the game by continuing to adapt and innovate with a small team of highly-skilled engineers & digital marketing professionals so that we stay lean, nimble, and able to pivot towards opportunities as they arise. At the end of the day, we believe that by working with the best, our rockstar team will be able to out-think, out-hustle, and outwork any competition or obstacle we encounter.
Your final thoughts
Brian Curcio: Startups are ravenous for their founder’s attention and have a tendency to consume one’s life. Within a few months of starting Rapunzl, it became more important than anything else capturing the attention of 22-year-olds. It was all we could talk about at dinner, with our friends, or at family gatherings.
We started dreaming about the app and not daydreaming about success. These were like dreams about specific edits on the pitch decks or the typical nightmares commonly associated with waking up thinking you missed a college final.
With that said, there’s an inexplicable purity in devoting all of your attention towards a singular goal. Still, that purity comes at the expense of sacrificing the comfort a corporate structure affords. Your attendance at Happy Hours becomes non-existent. Weekends become a time to catch up on work and check out from being on call 24/7 throughout the week. Each day poses its own challenges, but there’s also no feeling of safety when you make it to the weekend.
Running a startup can be incredibly lonely, mentally exhausting, and time-consuming to the point it strains existing relationships; however, I don’t Myles, or I would trade the freedom for any other opportunity. Because every other job, you’re helping build someone else’s dream.