Sean Adler 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, which led to GZI becoming a top-ranked Founder Institute portfolio company with a multimillion-dollar valuation.
He sporadically participated in startup mentorship programs with the NASDAQ Entrepreneurial Center and Founder Institute, in addition to expert consulting work at Top 4 vetted expert networks like GLG, Guidepoint, and AlphaSights.
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; nevertheless, feel free to hit him up if you think you’d get along or if something about his profile speaks to you. Sean is still amazed things got to this point and says it is in his best interest to stay both open-minded and humble.
GZI is registered on SEC EDGAR and has finalized our initial exit agreement in addition to crowdfunding listings.
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Table of Contents
Thank you for accepting my interview invitation! I’d love to know how you ended up becoming an entrepreneur? Tell me your story.
Sean Adler: My first interview with Valiant CEO in December of 2021 illustrates this better than I can here. It can be found here.
In essence, it was a mixture of a twist of fate between the global pandemic and my professional background. Everything played out from there, and since 2019 GZI has gone from a small trading company to a multimillion-dollar company. We finalized the initial agreements for selling GZI in late July and are negotiating the finishing touches.
Tell our readers what your company does differently than your peers and why that difference is so important to your audience?
Sean Adler: People often compliment my management skills, but I think a lot of that is luck. Honestly, GZI is listed on so many vetted expert networks that I’ve lost the ability to speak with them all. GZI is now being sold by the Vice President of Transworld New York for $8.51M.
Many of the clients I deal with are institutional firms, so differentiation barely gets discussed. We sign an NDA, they review a bunch of financial and legal documents, and then whoever is reviewing them gets to decide if GZI is different enough for them to partner with us.
Somewhere in between, they look at our app and do background checks. At this stage, I don’t engage with people who aren’t reviewing internal documents because they will ask about what makes us different without doing the work to understand why.
Before I was exposed to this process, I would’ve talked about our corporate partners and how competitive our trading numbers were in 2020 and 2021 in addition to readers’ being inspired by our story.
The truth is that every large corporation under the sun in a given industry has various partnerships and agreements with everyone else, so it’s the terms of your agreements that make it special. I also don’t feel as special now that I’m interacting with private investment banks that are clearing companies worth 9-11 figures.
Running a business, your’s or on behalf of someone requires great leadership skills. What are some of the biggest challenges you faced as you took on a leader’s role and what did you learn?
Sean Adler: Learning to step back and delegate was the biggest challenge. As a company grows, the initial executives have less time to be involved with operations and their focus shifts to oversight.
I had to learn to find people to do what I did so my time could be spent managing at a larger scale. Finding partners who could take my place has been the most rewarding and enlightening part. Those individuals and companies are what define your corporation.
Success is not an accident. What are some routines and habits you learned to master that contributed to your current success?
Sean Adler: Routines and habits are developed and perfected as they change. Becoming the change is more important than maintaining fixed habits that will be forced to evolve as the company does. If routines and habits remain static, can you honestly claim to be growing? The key is to space out your routines so they can change if necessary and to only make habits out of what benefits your company. Bad habits die hard and so do startups.
I used to run my interviews past the Hemmingway app to ensure they were easy to read, but now I question if people were fond of the first interview because it was one of the few not watered down by ingenuity. The rawness of my initial interviews seems to have been appreciated, but I’ve been forced to adapt since you never know which words are diced and served in favor of competitors who are following your company.
Can you share with us defining moments in your journey, please give us details and stories to illustrate?
Sean Adler: I try to forget the most defining moments of starting GZI between 2020 and early 2021. My stress levels were so high in late 2020 during the height of the pandemic in DC that I was holding back tears during the first meeting with our Founder Institute cohort. The feeling of coming home at 3 am and having blood pour out of my nose in the shower while the national guard patrolled DC probably defined my distaste for business politics to this day.
My first 1-3 interviews have more graphic details that are less relevant at this point in time, but readers identify with the story, so I encourage them to read those interviews for more of a background. Only now do I realize how burned out I really was. Having a good idea in terrible circumstances makes for difficult business decisions because of the interplay with competitors.
I’d say mid-2021 is when GZI really became an actual corporation and not just a company. That’s when we got our first valuation and began filing with the SEC. It’s also when politics became more complex and what the company needed for growth changed. People used to tell me they were honored to meet, and I thought they were nuts.
In retrospect, it’s a result of the difference between living the experience and viewing it from the sidelines. I started GZI slightly before turning 26. At 29, my hope is that I can look back at all of these interviews after my company sells.
What are the five things you wish someone had told you before you became an entrepreneur?
Sean Adler: I’d say:
Understand what you are getting into at every stage:
The risks at a pre-valuation stage are higher, but much simpler than a growing company. Lifestyles change dramatically in the process.
It’s the company’s valuation and your ownership percentage that matters, not how much money you’ve raised:
Don’t get lost in the media hype surrounding fundraises; the reporters probably haven’t signed term sheets. They might not understand the implications of lockups, preferences, and board control—they just see raw numbers.
There are entrepreneurs who bootstrap to a 9-figure valuation, you’re probably better off as one of those than an entrepreneur 5 option pools deep with 15% ownership before investment terms convert. Accepting investor capital means balancing control of the company and misalignment can force it to go horribly wrong regardless of the funds you accept.
Institutional investors need to make a much larger percentage than the founders do for their companies to operate, and it needs to be understood on both sides or it can poison the executive management.
The cliché is not to do it for the money, but most are in it for that reason:
Keep that in mind as you grow since larger sums bring more complex politics that appear benign on the surface but are actually quite sophisticated and vicious underneath. When vision is consumed entirely by greed, operations go wrong and people turn for the worse.
In 2019, I desperately wanted to become a multimillionaire. Most entrepreneurs living on the edge in their 20s would. Now I understand the transactions that need to happen for the equity to become cash at this scale. So much can be perverted in negotiations that I hardly believe anything before it leaves an escrow account.
Important people can be quite humble:
Many leaders in the field are quite ethical behind closed doors but are forced into political battles that boil to the surface. It’s easy to believe in your own importance before you understand what goes on. Try to stay humble, and people won’t turn against you. If you can’t remain humble, consider finding new people. Arrogance breeds contempt, contempt breeds problems. More money, more problems.
Set boundaries between your personal and professional life as your company matures:
Many people fail to set those boundaries in the beginning and it’s understandable due to the rigors of early-stage entrepreneurship. When your company has grown to the point that major choices are no longer ratified by your executives alone, it becomes crucial that you maintain a personal life because said personal life may be held hostage during internal negotiations where groups involved with your company try to leverage you to do what’s best for them.
Compromise is a necessity, but personal martyrdom will spell the death of your company if corporate affairs derail your entire life.
Oftentimes we hear: “Your network is your net worth”, please share your thoughts on that adage and illustrate your experience.
Sean Adler: Your network is your net worth, and there are caveats to each. At the early stages, it’s easy to believe your immediate network is valuable. Executives realize over time that interactions on the surface often exist to gauge alignment, and that the people in your network are only truly part of them once legal agreements have been signed.
People higher up on the food chain know that and you need to be careful early on because they know it even if you don’t. Knowing someone doesn’t represent the degree to which you are involved with them. Highly sophisticated people may help you get on the map, but they also may cause you to shoot yourself in the foot if you don’t know better.
A network is valuable when CEOs are doing their own sales. At the later stages, everything is pre-vetted and the people that will truly influence your net worth are hidden in plain sight. Eventually, executives join a network that reaches out to other networks for them after an initial review. That waterfall effect is more effective.
The higher you climb, the more your relationships begin to form in stages. You can generally gauge them by the number of legal agreements and what they say. If this doesn’t make sense, it’s probably too early for it to matter. The partnerships that follow are what really matters, virtually everything else is surface level.
What are some professional or even personal goals you plan on tackling during the 2022 year? Share the battles you expect to face.
Sean Adler: Most of my corporate battles will have been fought or will be fought through corporate partners with my oversight for the remainder of 2022. The battles I fight usually don’t begin until an NDA is in place and management at one of our partners has spoken to them.
The people who pick corporate battles without lawyers are usually naive enough not to need or understand them and engagement is a waste of time unless it’s at a certain stage because of how many steps are in the process. They reach out to their networks and don’t need my involvement until we finalize. My job now is to win the war, not fight battles.
My goal is to refocus on my personal life while our partners deal with surface level interactions that are largely immaterial. I don’t go out or get involved since GZI has partnered with 3 intermediaries on both the buy and sell side. If our partners aren’t capable of the initial vetting, my job is to create new partnerships. Happiness for myself lies within finding work-life balance, that balance was lost getting to this point and I deeply regret it.
With all the social media platforms available, it’s increasingly difficult to be present everywhere. Which ones do you favor for your company and why?
Sean Adler: LinkedIn. We work extensively with a variety of brokers and investment banks, in addition to various expert networks for sales outreach. A lot can be accomplished more quickly on LinkedIn by interacting with the people who have the capability to call the shots. I regularly add media outlets and partners on LinkedIn.
It’s more efficient than contacting them directly because the initial outreach will be fed to an employee and not the CEO or Managing Partner. A lot of investment banks will help coordinate on LinkedIn before switching to email because of how crucial executives are in the M&A process.
The click-through rate on our ads is also quite good on LinkedIn and the analytics may not transfer to B2C platforms the same way. Less is more and sometimes it’s better to optimize what works than to chase more options.
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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