Featured Founder: Aaron Froug of Grifin
Welcome to our Featured Founder series, where you’ll meet startup founders from Tampa-St. Petersburg who are building and scaling their ventures to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. We interviewed Aaron Froug, Co-Founder and CEO of Grifin, a patent-pending technology that lets you automatically buy stock where you shop.
What were you doing previously and what inspired you to launch your company?
Before I started Grifin, I was attending the University of Florida studying pre-med and pre-dental. I liked working with children and wanted to follow the career path of my parents to either become a dentist or work in pediatric endocrinology. During this time, I did research at the biomedical science building and ended up working with paxgene cells and cleaning blood samples. I nearly fainted every day. In that time, I realized that the medical field wasn't for me. I decided to follow my passion where I could still help people and ended up working as a counselor at a youth camp for children with diabetes. I changed my major many times before graduating from pre-med, pre-dental, accounting, finance, and finally ending at economics just trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I stumbled across wealth management through speaking with a company at UF’s career fair. He described his work as the antithesis of Wall Street and that the goal was to help families feel more prepared for their future. That sparked my interest and I changed my focus in hopes to get an internship to learn more.
I landed a position shortly after at a large institution, where I got to learn an incredible amount from the principal advisor. I remember one instance particularly where a woman came in frantic and shaking with a pile of unorganized papers in her hands. She desperately asked the advisor to help her get her finances in place to take care of her family. He confidently assured her he would help, taking the papers from her and all, only to enter her information into a system the exact way he would for all of his other clients. This was then picked up by analysts in another city who would handle the investments. It made me feel that the industry was too ambiguous, impersonal and hard to understand. People never feel good about their finances or have the confidence to invest or understand the process in themselves. It shouldn’t be that way.
My senior year at UF, I decided to minor in entrepreneurship and took a course that required us to build a creative, unique business plan. They wanted the product to be revolutionary. I connected with Bo, one of the Grifin co-founders, who was already working on an app idea called MarketChamps. This provided an open marketplace for a community of people to trade with one another. When I heard the concept, I thought it was brilliant, but asked if I could play devil's advocate because I felt there was a stronger way to solve the problems for people in this industry.
We went back to the drawing board to better understand why young people weren’t investing and interviewed kids all over campus. Most answered that it was too expensive, complicated, and impersonal. We ended up going through a hundred ideas and nothing still felt right. It wasn't until I went to Starbucks with my sister that it hit us. We had ordered 2 cups of coffee that came out to $10. My sister laughed at the price and mentioned that she should really own stock considering how much she shopped there. The light-bulb went off. I realized then that this was the way to change the way people could start to invest, by connecting them to the things they cared about most. Something so simple and easy that it just integrates into their daily lives. A concept that could become a habit like brushing your teeth.
We fully developed the idea of Grifin in the last semester of our senior year, presented it as our final project for our course, and entered two state competitions. We placed first for one and made the semifinals for the other. We ended up changing our name from MarketChamps to Change, then Interest Investments, Interest, Beanstoc… and finally Grifin. That in itself is a whole story. As the school year came to a close, my co-founders and I had a long discussion if we were going to really do this full-time and after two more months of working on it every day, sleepless nights, and quitting our jobs, we took the leap and officially moved forward pursuing Grifin.
What pain point is your company solving? What gets you excited to go to work every day?
The average person starts investing at 31, but can start investing at 18. The difference between those who build wealth is when you decide to vs when you can. The finance industry usually enters our life under negative circumstances where we’ve already developed a poor relationship with our money. There are few places to learn how to manage personal finances. You aren't taught it at school, most don't learn at home and it's never approached as a fun or positive experience. Often times, people push further away from it as they become more uncertain. Our goal with Grifin is to make people feel excited and motivated in not only themselves and their capability to invest and save, but just to feel confident in their financial status in general.
What gets me excited everyday is seeing users test our product and genuinely light up because they fully understand the concept. They become energized and inevitably want to share it with other people. This let my team and I know that what we're creating is truly going to change people’s lives in a positive way. It's going to put them in a position to protect themselves financially at a young age. This is an industry that hasn’t been changed in the past 200 years. It’s time for something different. The most powerful part is that Grifin means something different for everyone who uses it based on their life, their habits and what's important to them. You don’t build a product for your own story, it should be to help shape someone else's.
Name the biggest challenge you faced in the process of launching the company. How did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge we're facing now is trying to create our product with limited capital in a space that is newer to the consumer side of the startup industry. We are extremely fortunate for all of the opportunities we’ve had so far and how much the city is changing. It is why we want to be a part of this growing startup culture and all of the amazing things that are happening here in Tampa. We want to do our part and help in every way we can to make the city grow enough to become the next startup capital of the world! Doing the right thing just takes time and patience. With that, the capital will come.
Plus, with development, it always takes longer than you would anticipate. We went in with a lot of ideas to create something ready to put in consumers’ hands, but truly doing it the right way takes a lot of work. We're lucky enough to have people help us reach out and provide the resources we need. Still, there's only so much you can do even when you want to do everything without overextending yourself. I have an amazing team where each individual is working on 10 different jobs at a time. Everyone in the startup industry knows how this feels! We have many sleepless nights and are constantly learning how to take care of ourselves while running a business. The most important thing is to keep looking forward, do the best we can, and learn to deal with the unexpected. As long as you can build a team that is open to adjusting accordingly where they need to, that remains strong enough to stand back up after they fall, you are on the right track.
Where do you see your company headed next?
Our biggest goal right now is raising money. We just opened our Seed round to have the funding necessary to help us put the product in people's hands. We've built the external infrastructure, have early adopters and have all the right relationships we need to bring Grifin to the market. Our main focus is to market the product and hire the right talent to share Grifin's story. We've worked to make it a company, now it's time to be a business.
Give us a tactical piece of advice that you'd share with another founder just starting out.
Be okay with failure. Because usually after the lowest lows come the highest highs. We've had a lot of hard moments in this business where we honestly didn't know if it was going to work out. The key is to stay confident and continue to be positive as you move forward. Most companies fail not because their products aren't great, but because the people let failure overcome them rather than look at the success that failure could lead to. Every time we've “failed” something better has happened as a result. Be excited for your failure and then push forward. Always continue to innovate, execute, and look at a situation with every perspective possible. It's a long process to create change, but it's worth it. Anyone willing to be innovative has to be willing to be misunderstood.