Our Curriculum Director Frank Zhang had a interesting discussion with Investors of Tomorrow’s founder Andrew Tai to gather some insight regarding his career choices and any advice he may have for current undergraduate students. Andrew is the Co-Founder and CEO for Motoinsight and Unhaggle, two of Canada’s fastest growing digital automotive companies. Prior to pursuing his entrepreneurial ventures, he worked in investment banking at Morgan Stanley and private equity at Onex Partners. Andrew is an alumnus of the Ivey School of Business at Western University.
How did you become interested in finance?
When I was in high school, I worked in retail at a Staples store. All the money I made, I basically invested. Unfortunately, I had more losses than I gained.
I was interested in the stock market when I was very young. My parents worked peripherally in the industry and I heard a lot of that around the house. So, finance was something I had naturally been interested in and I went to Ivey knowing exactly which industry to go into.
What was the decision-making process for starting Investors of Tomorrow?
There were a lot of clubs for a lot of different things. At my high school, even though I was interested in finance, business and the market, there wasn’t a club that dealt with those topics. My friends and I wanted to find an excuse to spend time reading different news articles and researching the stock market - Investors of Tomorrow acted as a sanctuary for us. So,we started an after-school club to make it more official. Then, we heard from our colleagues and friends that other schools were interested in the same topics, but didn’t have a club for it. As a result, it branched off to other high schools.
We did a stock market competition, an online platform that that simulated portfolio trading. It was really a fun way to get people involved, and generate a contested spirit without creating any real rift. We were able to find a lot of different people who did not really know what the stock market was, but started playing with the simulation. It was exciting whether you won or lost money since it was all fake. The competition really attracted people who wouldn’t have normally been interested in the stock market to get involved and start talking about it. From there, I transitioned and started working in the industry and got my first internship.
You did investment banking in both the US and Canada and subsequently worked at Onex Partners. Why did you choose to pursue PE?
I spent a little bit of time earlier in my career in New York, working for JPM, then moved back to Toronto to work for Morgan Stanley full time, then I moved over to Onex Partners. Transitioning to buy-side was more of an opportunity to learn about the science behind operating companies. When you are on the investment banking side, you act in more of an advisory role. You don’t really get deeply into the operations, strategies and investment thesis behind investing in a company. And that’s what I really wanted to do. Onex Partners really provided me an opportunity to understand businesses from both an operational and a financial standpoint of a company. So private equity put me closer to an actual company whereas in investment banking you are purely acting as an agent.
Would you say by learning more about the finer details of companies, you inevitably became interested in starting your own business?
I have always loved the market but at the same time always wanted to become an entrepreneur. To this day, I still follow the market religiously since it’s always been an interest of mine. After spending the early part of my career in finance, the entrepreneurial side just kept coming back. It’s always easier to take risks as an entrepreneur when you are younger, and when you don’t have a family, kids or a mortgage. After spending few years in finance and really enjoying it, the opportunity to start a business with my co-founders, who were also long-term friends of mine, was exceptionally appealing since we were young and there was really no downside to it.
What were some of the challenges you faced when you switched from corporate to entrepreneurship?
In corporate, you generally have a boss that tells you what to do and if you do a good job at it, you will be very successful in your job. However, in entrepreneurship, it’s more complicated than that. No one will tell you what to do and it’s your responsibility to figure it out. I believe that’s the most challenging part. You really need to know how to spend your time and how to create value for your business. There are no easy solutions to some of these problems. Yes, it’s a lot more stressful but I wouldn’t say I don’t enjoy it. It’s very different from working in corporate.
Any final advice for students wishing to pursue entrepreneurship or finance?
It’s very important for you to figure out what it is that you are passionate about. Nowadays, pursuing entrepreneurship is really a rising trend with a lot of people thinking about it, but it’s a very difficult path. One piece of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to be really sober about whether or not you would enjoy living on edge all the time, working without guidance and making decisions on your own. If you enjoy being in a more structured environment, then entrepreneurship is likely not for you. That being said, if you decide to go down the entrepreneurship route, I’d say do it as early as possible. Time is your biggest advantage. I loved my career in finance as the professional services experience honed my soft skills and made me more polished. And that helped me tremendously when I was interacting with people and making sales pitches to clients.