Gregory Ugwi grew up in Nigeria and then came to the US to study mathematics at Princeton University where he would meet his Thinknum co-founder, Justin Zhen. Thinknum (a combination of the words “think” and “numbers”) offers free, immediate access to thousands of data sets and enables users to share and collaborate on financial models that are stored in the cloud. Gregory talks with Ayiba’s Eyitemi Popo about Thinknum and their recent $1 million capital raise.
Eyitemi: What was your professional experience prior to co-founding Thinknum?
After graduation, I worked at Goldman Sachs in New York for four years as a strategist. Within Goldman there is a group of about 800 people who support the trading desk: building models, writing code, solving math problems and getting deep into trading strategy. As someone with a Math degree, I really enjoyed it and thought it was something I could do for the rest of my life. There was a lot of energy in the team. It was competitive and a lot of fun.
Eyitemi: How did you come up with the idea for Thinknum?
At the time, I was working at Goldman and my co-founder was working at a hedge fund. In building financial models, we noticed that there were companies who specialized in writing data to the users. For example, if you wanted to pull up stock prices and option prices, it was easy to do, but there was nothing that allowed analysts to collaborate and share their financial models outside working in an excel spreadsheet and emailing large files back and forth. We needed a platform to make our lives easier and that is how we came up with Thinknum.
Eyitemi: How did you take Thinknum from concept to reality? Can you walk us through the process?
Firstly, we had to make sure that there was a demand for it. Once we realized that there indeed was a demand, the next step was to better understand the space we were about to enter and see if there was competition.
I think the most important step came when we decided to do it fulltime. I believe in going all in, and once we began doing Thinknum fulltime, the momentum picked up and it all started coming together. Our next step was looking for funding. We got into 500 startups and began raising our seed round.
Eyitemi: You managed to raise $1M in your seed round. What were your takeaways from that experience?
It was interesting. When we were pitching to people with finance backgrounds, they immediately understood what we were doing and saw the need for our platform, but people in tech didn’t really get it at first. However, once those in tech and finance communicated, it was relatively straightforward from there.
I think it all goes back to making sure that there is a need for your product because once there is, you are sure to gain traction and find investors.
Eyitemi: What has been the greatest challenge in making Thinknum a reality?
Talent. What we are trying to build is relatively difficult to execute, so we need to recruit the right caliber of talent. The people we need are the same people that Goldman Sachs and top hedge funds are looking to recruit, so the challenge for us has been in being competitive and finding ways to incentivize people to join our team.
Eyitemi: What is your advice to young entrepreneurs, specifically Africans in tech?
Focus on something that people need and want. Solve a problem. Be passionate about what you are doing.
Eyitemi: Where do you see yourself in the next few years?
The cool thing about being an Internet company is that you can go global. There is a generic problem that every society has. How do we figure out how we want to invest resources? Solving this problem on a global scale is what Thinknum is about. In the next few years, the company will definitely be expanding beyond the U.S.
Eyitemi: Do you think your greatest challenges are behind you? Where do you go from here with Thinknum?
No, at this point, it is an execution challenge. At the moment there is no competition in the space, but it is coming and we are prepared for it. We have to build our software at the highest level, because the clients we serve require very high standard software.