Robinhood Keynote: Vladimir Tenev

Our fifth and final keynote for the 2015 Start @ a Startup conference was given by Vladimir Tenev, Co-Founder of Robinhood. Vlad cofounded Robinhood with Baiju Bhatt, his friend and roommate from Stanford, where he received his B.S. in Mathematics and Physics in 2008. He then started the Ph.D. program in Mathematics at UCLA before leaving to build a business licensing technology to hedge funds and banks. Extensive experience with a large breadth of financial technologies provided Vlad the domain expertise he needed to start Robinhood. Robinhood, which operates with the stated mission of democratizing access to finance and to inspire a new generation of investors, provides users with a platform upon which they can trade stocks and invest without any cost. Unlike many other financial investment platforms, Robinhood simplifies the process from registration to investment, and does so at no cost to investors. Robinhood, currently employs a team of roughly 40 “digital natives with deep financial expertise backed by some of the world’s most notable investors.” Vladimir joined us as a concluding speaker, and a living testament to the far reaching and socially positive impact startups can have on our world.

Much like many of the other keynote speakers at our conference, Tenev’s original life plan didn’t include founding one of the most successful financial platforms today. The son of two immigrants—his primary role models—he was risk averse like them for much of his young life. Though he started at Stanford with a career in academics in mind, he and his cofounder soon realized the need for a new investment platform to provide easier access to investment for all people, all over the country. When examining the traditional model of investment, Tenev saw many problems which restricted a majority of people from having fulfilling and financially sound investment experiences. The current model facilitates easy access for those who are more wealthy, and often have established financial accounts, but not for the beginning investor or those with less significant means. From this problem, Tenev began to envision an investment platform that would fill the gaps in investment structure. Eventually, he created Robinhood, which saw the launch of its iPhone application in 2014, and Android and Apple Watch applications in 2015.

Tenev noted that in some sense, modern investing had lost the core tenets upon which financial investment had been founded. Though modern investment focuses almost entirely on profit, Tenev’s perspective on investing comes from his belief and support of the companies he chooses for his investments. His first investment, which he placed at the age of 12, gave him personal and emotional investment in the company he chose. For him, investment has always been about understanding and supporting the companies you invest in, and he thinks that much of modern investing has lost this perspective. He noted that “people have forgotten that the original purpose of investing is to invest in companies that they believe in.” This outlook, which might get lost in the depths of a larger company, instead remains foundational to Robinhood.

So what’s next for this revolutionary company? According to Tenev, the future lies overseas. Robinhood has largely been combating the problems that plague the American financial system, but Tenev sees even bigger problems overseas. Despite this, he remains positive that with the assistance of socially conscious and successful startups like Robinhood, these problems can be fixed.

As the concluding keynote speaker for our conference, Vladimir Tenev emphasized all the lessons that have been imparted over this incredible conference. Startups give their employees the chance to fill their dreams, and in turn they have given the world some of the most culturally and socially significant changes of the past few decades. Startups give every founder, engineer, coder, and business developer the chance to fundamentally determine the path and the mission of their companies.

Just as Robinhood connects those with limited access to investment a financial platform to create good in their lives, the 2015 Start @ a Startup conference gave all attendees the chance to connect themselves with some of the world’s most incredible startups.