Atish Davda: CEO & Founder of EquityZen

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Atish Davda CEO/Founder of EquityZen, the platform to trade private company equity. Atish was product lead at Ampush, a big-data advertising technology firm. EquityZen is the leading company-approved platform to buy and sell mature private companies’ equity. He launched SF-based Ampush's New York office as first engineer of their Social business, and eventually successfully procured the coveted Facebook Preferred Marketing Developer membership as VP, Product. Atish began his career as a financial engineer at AQR Capital, before which, he founded and operated an education technology firm, Knolsoft. When not at the office, Atish can be found playing tennis and traveling.

How did you get into the industry?

I began my career at a quantitative hedge fund, where I was able to build on my Finance and Computer Engineering training by focusing on long-term investing. After the hedge fund, I worked at a young advertising company, where I started as an early employee and gained operational experience. Actually common theme throughout my career has been my attraction to roles where I can remain deeply involved in both fields. So, when I was thinking about the early versions of what has become EquityZen, it seemed like a perfect fit: an investment platform for high-growth technology companies.

Any emerging industry trends?

EquityZen operates in the late-stage private market. In the past five years, we have seen a structural shift in late-stage private, turning into early public companies; that is, the Initial Public Offering (IPO) market. The status quo used to be what we saw in Amazon, going public at ~$400M market capitalization at the age of four. Today, the typical company going public is nearly a teenager, worth well over $5B. This is one of the most meaningful shifts in capitalism and value-creation, and I am glad EquityZen was at the apex of capitalizing on this trend.

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

In 2012, President Obama inked the JOBS Act into law. While all of EquityZen’s business is built by servicing companies, shareholders, and investors who preceded that law, it put a big spotlight onto the fact that individual investors can now access alternative investments online. While there are hundreds of businesses offering investors ways to put money into technology, real estate, and other asset-class ecosystems, EquityZen remains the only and fastest growing platform where investors can actually take some money out when they need to. Educating the investors that this solution exists is likely one of the biggest opportunities and challenges ahead of us.

Inspiration for EquityZen, and your vision for it?

Since I left the hedge fund job, I took a meaningful salary cut for several years. Even though I earned equity in private companies and saw value of that equity appreciate, it was ultimately just monopoly money – completely illiquid. Funny thing about private markets: shareholders (and investors) with a lot of resources have many more options for liquidity (and access), but the smaller players typically get boxed out. These private markets were in effect, open only to a limited country club of investors. EquityZen began with the one mission of bringing private markets to the public.

What's next for EquityZen in the near future?

EquityZen is the fastest growing company-approved platform for buying and selling shares in mature, private companies. As such, we are proud to have worked with and helped 40+ of the largest private companies in the industry. These are real firms, all over $100M+ in enterprise value and most worth well over $1B+. On the buyer side of our marketplace, we have now served over 10,000 investors from 15 countries. Our near term objectives are to remain laser-focused on getting our offering in front of every accredited investor interested in building a truly well-diversified portfolio.

Go here to see if EquityZen can help you get started with alternative investments:

Your key initiatives for the success of EquityZen?

Unlike many traditional start-up businesses, EquityZen believes it isn’t always good to “move fast and break things.” This caution is especially important, if you operate in a heavily regulated industry like Financial Technology. As such, EquityZen has embraced the regulatory influences on the industry and is actively working with authorities to help shape tomorrow’s private markets.

Your most difficult moment at EquityZen? (and what did you learn?)

Convincing our very first client that we can be trusted with their investment was both, one of the hardest and most empowering moments in the business. People are funny when it comes to money. Some folks bare their deepest secrets to strangers on some dating solutions, but can get cagey about money. Seemingly so simple, yet, earning their trust to a deep level, before expecting them to invest was one of the biggest learnings in the business.

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

EquityZen has delivered happiness in so many forms. For instance, some shareholders selling equity on the platform when they need cash for important life moments include: buying their first house, paying for a wedding, supporting themselves as they launched their own business.

How do you motivate others?

Hiring motivated folks and offering full transparency. EquityZen believes our biggest asset is the people we work with and change how private markets operate every single day. As such, we try to empower our team and given the amount of effort we put into recruiting to hire the smartest and most motivated, everything takes care of itself. When our teammates realize everything is a learning opportunity, difficult problems quickly become manageable.

Career advice to those in your industry?

Perseverance mixed with motivation is a terrifyingly powerful combination. Strive for both.