The friendships Andrew Blane made in college have extended far beyond graduation. Together with his classmates and friends, David Genetti, Rob Pastor and Nikolajs Vedejs, he has already built and sold a software company. Now they are working on their second startup, VPR International.
“We were all class of 1997 or 1998 at Princeton,” Blane said. “We were very good friends and we kept in touch.” David Genetti joined the previous startup and he facilitated each of the others coming on board at different times. The four friends collectively represented the management of that firm.
“I was the last one to join,” said Blane. “The four of us ultimately have very complementary skill sets that are a prerequisite for building a technology company.
“We have the development and software and programming capabilities, we have the business analysis capacity, we have sales and marketing, engineering and delivery capabilities.
“So we all kind of overlap but we have our own specialties. It makes for a really powerful team. But because we are such good friends it works very well in being a nice environment to work successfully with your friends.
Following the sale of the startup, Restricted Stock Systems, to Australia-based financial services firm Computershare in 2007, the team wanted to stay together. They added a fifth member, Amos Warren, and founded VPR International to develop software technology solutions for individual performance in the asset management industry. They started the firm on October 1, 2009 and moved into their Tulane Street office on January 1.
“In the last few months we’ve been developing and building the software technology that allows individual investment professionals to establish a personal career performance record,” said Blane.
“Typically individual investment professionals don’t have a lot of performance visibility. They work on investment products at investment firms and typically the portfolio manager or an individual in a leadership role is the public face of performance on those investment products.
“So this is a tool set that allows individuals to break free from that mold to some degree and achieve a portable record that follows them throughout their career.”
The company now has a beta product and is inviting a select group of users on as they begin to roll out a platform. “We are just at the starting line in terms of introducing the product to the marketplace,” said Blane. “We would anticipate probably within the next quarter to have a stable, market-ready product that is available for public consumption.”
In addition to serving individual users, the company is exploring the potential to deliver a type of enterprise-class software solution to investment management firms that would allow them to track their individual employees and their performance.
“Those would be paying data relationships,” said Blane. “We’re in discussions with a couple of major firms now.”
Two of the five team members focus exclusively on the technical aspects of product development, the software coding and deployment.
The other three divide responsibilities of sales, marketing, marketing intelligence and client meetings. One of the three bridges the gap between the sales and marketing side and the tech side by his work in quality assurance review and application testing.
The team’s last startup was also a software business and also aimed at the financial services industry. It sold an operational software application to automate a particular type of stock transaction to financial services firms.
The idea for VPR International was generated by Amos Warren’s father, Robert Warren. In 1969 Robert Warren founded an executive search firm that focused on team liftouts.
“When he first started doing these things called liftouts it was a new concept of moving entire groups of investment professionals as a team from one asset management firm to another, bringing with them an intact performance track record and assets to follow,” said Blane. “It ultimately became a very lucrative way for an asset management firm to grow and to expand their own business. Alternatively, they would either have to develop these new managers internally.
That takes quite a bit of time. And also money, as far as getting outside investment. Or they would have to acquire an entire firm, which takes a tremendous amount of money. So the liftouts became a very powerful way for investment management firms to grow effectively and Robert became kind of a legend in the industry as a result.”
The team knew Robert Warren through their friendship with his son Amos at Princeton.
“When we were talking to him about keeping our team together and what would be the next step for us, that was when the genesis of the idea really occurred. When he started talking about a way to gather a very unique dataset and to empower individual Investment professionals with a tool to track and manage their own professional development.”
Blane didn’t expect to find a career in Princeton when he came to the university. He moved back to the area to join the first startup, which was located in Research Park, across from the Princeton Airport.
The decision to locate the new startup in Princeton was based partly on a desire to leverage the university atmosphere. The company hopes to eventually establish mutually beneficial relationships with university departments. “But really, we all just have a special place in our hearts for Princeton,” said Blane.
“We enjoy being here and we like the atmosphere. We got somewhat lucky in finding space that fit our budget but also is newly renovated.”
The company’s current focus is on the U.S., especially the major money centers of New York, Philadelphia and Boston, but they would like to eventually serve clients throughout the world.
Blane grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts, the son of parents who were both on the staff of the University of Massachusetts. He graduated from Princeton in 1997 with a degree in molecular biology and intended to go to medical school, but changed course abruptly.
“I started out somewhat leveraging my degree in that I was involved in the business side of laboratory equipment sales and doing a specialized type of lab equipment,” said Blane. “I came in at an entry level position and worked my way up. Eventually I was running global sales management for that company.”
He left that company to join the start-up venture with his classmates. “There I stepped back from the sales management role and put the direct sales hat on. I focused on that and wound up building that company’s business successfully, to the point where we wound up in acquisition and a successful exit.
“My role was the accidental salesman. I just wound up getting the most training and exposure to that in my first seven years out of school. For my next challenge in the previous start-up, I really focused on building those senior level relationships with the largest financial institutions in the world and also Fortune 100 companies.
“I enjoy that very much and transitioned that to my role here, where I wear the primary sales hat and drive the relationship building and presentations and so forth,” he says.
Blane was attracted to a career in start-up companies due to the ability to guide his own destiny. “It’s the ability to do or die by the decisions you and your partners are making,” he said. “That’s something that’s compelling to me, to all of us really, which is why we work so well together.
“There is a lot more anxiety, stress and nerve-racking moments in the start-up entrepreneurial environment, but the tradeoff is you only have yourself to blame for your failures or to thank for your successes. It makes it much more exhilarating and rewarding from a business perspective.”
#b#VPR International#/b#, 14 Tulane Street, Princeton 08542; 609-498-7772; fax, 609-498-7770. Nikolas Vedels, partner. www.vprintl.com