Five Alive! Part II
Minyanville is a humble community, one that only exists because folks like you choose to be a part of it.
The Fish Man Cometh
The vision of Minyanville was crystal clear inside my crowded keppe. I wanted to build a learning ladder of financial literacy from the ABC’s to the 401(k)’s. Traditional financial media cut a horizontal swath across select demographics but nobody ever viewed finance through a vertical lens.
Earning, spending, saving and giving is the construct of finance. It becomes more complex as you grow older but the primary tenets remain constant. I focused on the higher-end dynamic as a trader but always believed that the building blocks were of equal or greater importance.
Twenty years ago, during my first day at Syracuse University, I met a fellow named Kevin Wassong. He was a personable kid with sincere eyes and I instantly knew I found my first college friend. I said at the time and say to this day that, save Ruby, he’s the best man I’ve ever met.
Upon graduation, Kevin ventured west to seek his fortune. After a stint at CAA and a successful career in advertising, he founded (and was the CEO) of the digital group at J Walter Thompson. I watched with pride as he built his charge into a top ten global digital media services group.
While I was immersed in my own career—worlds away from Kevin in terms of industry overlap—the one constant in both our lives was our close friendship. It never wavered or faded despite the rigors of life tugging us towards our individual goals and aspirations.
From the very beginning, Kevin had taken a keen interest in the Minyanville mission. I wasn’t sure if it was a function of friendship but he was extremely supportive of my efforts. Further, as a digital media visionary, his insights and opinions made my metaphorical world a much better place.
In 2004, I decided to host our first “Minyans in the Mountains” financial retreat in Crested Butte, Colorado. We had no idea how many Minyans would attend but thought, if nothing else, it would serve as a sincere “thanks” to the ten or so contributors that hung their hat in the ‘Ville.
Kevin decided to join us in the mountains and, as the content, community and critters commingled, there was magic in the air. He looked at me with a sparkle in his eye and I knew he saw it.
Now, we simply needed to show the rest of the world what it was.
Turning the Corner
While 2001 was a difficult year, the stretch between 2003 and 2004 made it look like a walk in the park. I’ve shared this before and do so now in the interest of context. Someone once told me that tenacity, perseverance and passion were the only things that separate dreams from reality. I have found this adage to be completely true.
During the back half of 2004, it became evident that if Minyanville was going to succeed, we would need to secure financing. I set up an important meeting in Los Angeles with one of the biggest names in the entertainment industry and asked Kevin to join me. We were told that we had thirty minutes and it had to be tight.
We prepped for the meeting, practiced our pitch and put on a show. I watched with pride as Kevin enthusiastically expressed the magnitude of the Minyanville franchise. Four hours later, the powerful player expressed that while he wasn’t going to invest, Minyanville was one of the most interesting concepts he had ever seen.
Now, if starting a small business has taught me anything, it’s the necessity of viewing obstacles as opportunities.
While I understood we needed money and failed to bring it home, I also knew we had found something very powerful. We unearthed a trusted partnership that shared the fever for the flavor of our critters. In a few months time, we crafted a business plan and as 2005 arrived, raised our first round of capital.
I had put three years of blood, sweat and reputation into the ‘Ville but knew the pressure had only begun. For it was no longer just my capital at risk. In addition to the responsibility of generating returns for our new investors, my best friend left a high profile position and put his chips next to mine.
Ruby taught me that all you have is your name and your word.
Failure, from this point forward, was simply not an option.
Engine Room, More Steam!
2005 was a rebuilding year, both personally and professionally. Alotta folks thought I was nuts to leave my lucrative Wall Street perch for a world of metaphorical critters and perhaps I was. But as the only difference between genius and madness is acceptance, I had the validation of a new and accomplished partner.
The structure was relatively simple. I focused on content and President Fish handled everything else. We both believed that the way to build a growth company was by surrounding yourself with people that can themselves grow. And that’s how we built the ‘Ville.
Brick by brick and Minyan by Minyan.
We traveled to Virginia to renew a content relationship with Kevin Depew at Dorsey Wright. By the time we checked in for our return flight, we had a new managing editor. That began a series of serendipitous situations that came to define our organization. Billy Meehan. Jon Schwartz. Vanessa Ohayon. Each was very good at what they did but even better at who they were.
Kevin, meanwhile, was furiously rebuilding the Minyanville website with the intention of turning it into a world-class media platform. Until then, the home page was an animated town with the entire content experience behind the firewall. Unless you knew why, where and what Minyanville was, it was a hidden from the mainstream.
He liked to call it the Universal Studios back lot. While there were many buildings and it looked snazzy, there was no “there” there. All style and no substance, as he liked to say, is no way to build a franchise.
We hand picked new professors and broadened our content proposition. We brought the News & Views in front of the firewall while, at the same time, upgrading the Buzz & Banter to a web-based application. We hosted Minyans in the Mountains II in Ojai, California, for 170 Minyans from around the world.
We were understaffed but undeterred. In a start-up enterprise, there are things you have to do if you ever want to do the things you wanted to do.
And you gotta want it more than the next guy.
This, we knew....
Close out this Anniversary Edition three part series with Five Alive! Part III.
Todd Harrison is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Minyanville. Prior to his current role, Mr. Harrison was President and head trader at a $400 million dollar New York-based hedge fund. Todd welcomes your comments and/or feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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