Meet Sean Adler, a scholar turned entrepreneur. While pursuing a clinical program in China during 2018, he began to sense a significant divide between academic and functional knowledge. This influenced the decision to give up his scholarship from the Chinese government in spite of their generosity, so he could pursue an entrepreneurial career. Sean started GZI during his time as a graduate student in biotechnology at Johns Hopkins while he gained experience with the investing side of entrepreneurship by screening ventures for a number of groups across the United States.
Sean outperformed some of the largest hedge funds in the world during the coronavirus crash of 2020 after the initial development of quantitative trading strategies for international biotechnology companies during the coronavirus crash of 2020, which led to GZI becoming a top-ranked Founder Institute portfolio company with a multimillion-dollar valuation. In addition to his tenure as CEO of GZI, he sporadically participates in startup mentorship programs with the NASDAQ Entrepreneurial Center and Founder Institute.
Sean’s professional background is versatile across domains in startups and investments but is most concentrated in international tech startups, biotech, and fintech. This includes skills like data science, statistical programming, managerial business, genomic data science, and Mandarin Chinese. He is generally very busy, though, nevertheless, feel free to hit him up if you think you’d get along or if something about his profile speaks to you.
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Table of Contents
Thank you for joining us today. Please introduce yourself to our readers. They want to know you, some of the background story to bring some context to your interview.
Sean Adler: I turned down an offer to pursue a PHD from Johns Hopkins to launch GZI at the height of COVID in 2020. This resulted in my nomination as one of the Top 10 Most Influential Leaders in Biotechnology 2021 and pushed GZI to a multimillion dollar valuation by the time I was 28 years old. I mentor at Founder Institute and participate in the NASDAQ Entrepreneurial Center in addition to my work advising Fortune 500 companies at GLG.
We’re set to release the app in April of 2022 in conjunction with our WeFunder campaign.
You are a successful entrepreneur, so we’d like your viewpoint, do you believe entrepreneurs are born or made? Explain.
Sean Adler: Both. There are a number of cultural factors that define people as the grow older in addition to the hard skills needed to start a company. Entrepreneurs are forged in the process, not stamped out on an assembly line. What happens is that an entrepreneur begins with the cards they are delt. The process teaches you to read the others at the table and to count cards as they are delt to everyone, so how you begin might not be how the company ends.
Within the varying degrees of entrepreneurial success, I’d say I was more successful in the field before we started looking good on paper. The day GZI landed on an SEC database changed how I viewed everything because there was an understanding of what was underneath it all.
If you were asked to describe yourself as an entrepreneur in a few words, what would you say?
Sean Adler: There is research that shows an entrepreneur’s brain reacts the same way to pictures of their company in the same manner as others do their children. GZI is my child and I love it to death.
Tell us about what your company does and how did it change over the years?
Sean Adler: GZI has called numerous verticals on biotech companies, the most recent of which is Ascletis Bio. Ascletis is a Hong Kongese biotechnology company that I traded back in December of 2019 and 2021 that released a media article about their cure for the Omnicron variant on February 7th, 2022. What allows us to do this is something we’ve dubbed ‘Alternative Data’ since it’s our own twist on quant finance. We resell alternative data under a subscription model.
GZI has changed every year since inception, and that’s very much in line with a high-growth startup. It was a small algo trading operation from 2019-2020, then became a corporation in 2020-2021. The goal changed from sustainability to global distribution in 2022.
Thank you for all that. Now for the main focus of this interview. With close to 11.000 new businesses registered daily in the US, what must an entrepreneur assume when starting a business?
Sean Adler: Understand what starting a company will cost you physically, financially, and emotionally. Know where you want the company to go and what you are willing to risk. Running a small business is far different than a startup and they attract different kinds of people. You can operate a small business so long as you stay profitable.
Life changes when you become a full corporation with a valuation and shareholders because it’s no longer as simple as staying profitable. The goal changes from maintaining to hitting targets. The way your company operates will have a dramatic impact on your personal and professional life so it’s important to know where you want it to go.
Did you make any wrong assumptions before starting a business that you ended up paying dearly for?
Sean Adler: That one source of revenue will carry into another. Our trading numbers didn’t translate into sales, but crowdfunding sites loved us for it because the process is similar. I figured that our initial numbers were competitive enough to get us where we needed to go, but they pertained to something under a different revenue model so they were merely proof of concept and not deterministic.
If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what advice would you give yourself and why? Explain.
Sean Adler: There is a scene in the movie Lord of War where Nicholas Cage is making his first arms sale in a New York hotel room. In the scene he says, “Your first sale is a lot like the first time you have sex. You’re scared, you don’t know what you are doing, and it’s over way to quickly.”
At the end of the sale, his client turns the gun on him and asks him why he shouldn’t shoot him. He simply responds that it would hurt the opportunity to repurchase, which saves his life. Starting a company feels a lot like that.
What is the worst advice you received regarding running a business and what lesson would you like others to learn from your experience?
Sean Adler: That you need a cofounder to start. The truth is you need cofounders as the company grows but a company can be launched solo. There is a stigma against solo founders but the statistics show companies with solo founders are more successful in some regards and it allows the company more flexibility in the beginning.
In your opinion, how has COVID-19 changed what entrepreneurs should assume before starting a business? What hasn’t changed?
Sean Adler: It hasn’t changed anything regarding assumptions. I know this sounds counterintuitive given my background. The truth of the matter is that COVID makes running a company more complex and it does change the playing field, but entrepreneurs will be forced to question their assumptions either way and they will change as the business grows.
The costs of starting a tech company at a small scale are low. You can start an LLC with a few hundred dollars from your house or apartment. That becomes a few thousand for a C-Corp with shares. Start making assumptions when you are forced to operate under a certain legal structure. It won’t make sense before starting a company but it will as you begin to run it.
What is a common myth about entrepreneurship that aspiring entrepreneurs and would-be business owners believe in? What advice would you give them?
Sean Adler: That raising money means success. Most companies will never get a valuation done, and the equity in your company can be worth a small fortune, but it is not liquid. People who know the field can explain the perils of raising money from the wrong people on the right terms and the right people on the wrong terms. A lot of people who have raised money understand its nuances, and the hundreds of pages of paperwork that comes with it.
Find your people and work with them, because it will define your company.
What traits, qualities, and assumptions do you believe are most important to have before starting a business?
Sean Adler: Flexibility and risk tolerance. Burn all of your assumptions about starting a business because they matter less than the ones you develop. Your assumptions about entrepreneurship matter when you’ve been operating long enough to quantify them. Unlike most other fields, entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes. There is no right way to go and it’s nearly impossible to predict how it will play out until you’ve been down that road.
Traits and qualities matter, assumptions not so much.
How can aspiring leaders prepare themselves for the future challenges of entrepreneurship? Are there any books, websites, or even movies to learn from?
Sean Adler: Books, websites, and movies can help with the hard skills required. You cannot prepare yourself for starting a company.
The only way to do so is to start a company and learn along the way. Joining a startup can provide a feel for the work environment, but working at a startup is much different than being the person responsible for founding it. It’s impossible to understand the complexity and burden without going through the process of going from nothing to something. As Yoda once said, “Do or do not, there is no try.
You have shared quite a bit of your wisdom and our readers thank you for your generosity but would also love to know: If you could choose any job other than being an entrepreneur, what would it be?
Sean Adler: Please consider this folk wisdom and paying it forward to the next entrepreneur brave enough to try. I’d choose to be a venture capitalist or hedge fund manager. These are my people and it would hurt to leave them.
Thank you so much for your time, I believe I speak for all of our readers when I say that this has been incredibly insightful. We do have one more question: If you could add anyone to Mount Rushmore, but not a politician, who would it be; why?
Sean Adler: I’d go with Martin Luther King Jr. Presidents get too much credit while revolutionaries seldom see the limelight.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Sean Adler for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Sean Adler or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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