How is it possible? In the first 30 episodes of our Future of the Business World podcast, we have yet to dedicate an entire discussion to investing. As the creators of the Wharton Global High School Investment Competition (one of our favorite innovations), Wharton Global Youth knows better than anyone how passionate Gen Z is about investing. That’s why this month (No. 31), we’re excited to meet Arjun Setty and Raaga Kodali, two high school juniors from Virginia who are creating an app and online platform to simplify the investing-research process for their generation. They recently released their beta version, taking an iterative approach of time-releasing new features in order to gather valuable feedback from their market and make critical changes along the way. We discuss many aspects of their start-up story as they work toward making investing research quick, easy and accessible for young investors.
Be sure to click on the arrow above to listen to the podcast. An edited transcript of our conversation appears below.
Wharton Global Youth Program: Hello and welcome to Future of the Business World, the podcast featuring teen innovators from across the globe. I’m Diana Drake with the Wharton Global Youth Program at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. Wharton Global Youth introduces high school students to business and finance education, through on campus and online summer programs, as well as competitions and content. Part of our regularly published content is this podcast, where we get to learn from some fascinating young innovators.
Today, we welcome Arjun Setty and Raaga Kodali, high school students from Virginia who have been building a new finance platform for aspiring Gen Z investors. Arjun and Raaga, it’s great to have you on Future of the Business World. Why don’t you both tell us a little bit about yourselves?
Arjun Setty: Of course. I’m Arjun Setty. I’m a high school junior at Potomac Falls High School and the Academies of Loudoun. The Academies of Loudoun is a Magnet school in Loudoun County, Virginia. So right near the [Washington] D.C. metropolitan area. And I am the CEO of Minvest.
Raaga Kodali: Hi everyone. My name is Raaga Kodali. I am also a junior. I attend the Academies of Loudoun and Briar Woods High School, again in that D.C. metropolitan area. And I’m currently the Chief Operating Officer of Minvest. It is an honor to be here today.
Wharton Global Youth: We’re very happy to have you both. As I was preparing for our discussion, I realized that in the 30 published episodes of Future of the Business World, we have yet to dedicate an entire conversation to investing. As you may know, Wharton Global Youth Program runs a successful investment competition each year that engages thousands of high school students around the world. So, we have an immediate audience for today’s conversation — and then some. And we have seen the faces and heard the voices; lots of students have investing on their minds. So, I’m excited to get started. Arjun, at least part of your interest in the financial markets began while you studied with us in the Wharton Pre-baccalaureate Program. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Arjun: Last fall, I enrolled in Finance 0001, with Professor [Gizem] Saka. And really this provided me with a deeper level of insight into finance and economics. Now, this course didn’t really focus too much on investing per se, it really focused a lot more on macroeconomic movements. And while I didn’t really realize it as I started this course, it helped me understand how these large macroeconomic movements that we see right now, like inflation, or maybe the housing market taking off, how they all derived from the collective choices that we make as individuals. And that made me understand the importance of understanding not only these large macroeconomic trends, but also microeconomics and the financial choices that we make as consumers at the smaller scale.
Wharton Global Youth: So, let’s connect the dots then. The name of your startup is Minvest, which you describe as a digital platform that simplifies, personalizes and accelerates the investing-research process for young investors. Tell us more.
Arjun: Minvest is an investing-research platform, made by Gen Z for Gen Z. And what we aim to do is make investing research quick, easy and accessible for young individuals. This derives from the problems that we faced. In the beginning of my sophomore year, for instance, I had just started investing, and I was totally lost. When I went out there, I realized that a lot of finance and investing platforms really haven’t been built with Gen Z in mind, even though there’s so many people out there that are very interested in actually investing. I discussed this with Raaga, and Bi [Nguyen], my other two cofounders. And we realized that we shared this same problem with each other. We went out there and we actually interviewed over 57 people. And this confirmed our findings. People want to invest, but they simply can’t, because of three main barriers that we found: the lack of time, a fear of risk, and limited education.
Minvest addresses all three of these problems individually. For instance, we took care of the lack of time by creating something called the One Minute Market, where users can learn about and decide on the stock in under one minute. We also focused on addressing the fear of risk by offering a fully personalized interface where users can make their investments based on their financial goals, needs and preferences. And finally, we tried to address this limited education and fill that gap by offering real-time investor education in the form of bite-sized content, so that it’s easy and fun to learn about investing.
What really drove us to pursue this idea was something that I learned in Professor Saka’s course. In a time with rampant income inequality, I think the number is around 64% of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, all three of us wanted to ensure that our generation is well equipped to take control of their financial future. That kind of mission and seeing these problems that our generation faced, really inspired us to go ahead and create Minvest to solve these problems.
Wharton Global Youth: Raaga, are you also an investor?
Raaga: I’ve been investing since sophomore year, when me, Arjun and Bi talked about our problems. I went out and started experimenting on my own. And I’m actually a part of the Briar Woods High School Wharton Investing Club. And so, we participated in the [Wharton Global High School Investment Competition] this past year. it was an incredible experience, and really helped me understand investing and the strategies and all the analysis that go into it from a deeper level.
Wharton Global Youth: Excellent. Well, it’s nice to hear that we’re also contributing to that piece of education that you both feel is missing for Gen Z to be prepared in the investing market. Raaja, let’s stay with you for a minute. There’s a company or a group called Modak. And it’s been fundamental to the development of your startup from simply an idea to an actual venture. Can you tell me what Modak is and how it has inspired you through mentoring and ultimately grant money?
Raaga. For context, Modak Makers is a company that supports teenage entrepreneurs. They help budding entrepreneurs develop their ideas and make them into realities. And they host a yearly pitch competition where a lot of these teenage entrepreneurs from across the world come together for the chance to compete to potentially win some grant money, and earn a mentorship from the Silicon Valley experts that run Modak. And so, with Minvest we actually [advanced through] two rounds of competition to ultimately win the Modak Makers pitch competition. Along with this, we had worked with the Silicon Valley mentors, especially the CEO of Modak. His name is Madhu Yalamarthi. He was an incredible mentor, friend and just provided super important guidance for us throughout the process. And with his help, we turned our idea into a reality. We were also awarded a $6,000 grant to kickstart our MVP [Minimum Viable Product], and to make all of our ideas come into something tangible.
“The very risky and short-term investing mindset is actually the exact reason why so many people don’t invest.” – Arjun Setty, Co-founder, Minvest
Wharton Global Youth: That CEO mentorship sounds great. Can you tell us a little bit more about it? What about it was particularly impactful?
Raaga: One particular story comes to mind when I think about the relationship we were able to develop with the CEO. For one of the first meetings that we were talking to him, we were sharing some of the problems that Arjun had mentioned earlier. We were sharing those problems we had found, and how we felt they impacted Gen Z. He directly told us that they were not specific enough and that we didn’t dig deep enough. He advised us to start using something called the “Five Why’s” approach, where you start off with a high-level problem and you ask why five different times until you’re really whittled down to the core issues causing those problems for whoever’s facing them. With that, we went out, we conducted a lot more interviews, and we were able to come back to him with a lot more research and with a much deeper analysis of all the problems we were trying to solve. A really crucial part of any startup is your problem development and we were able to really enhance and dig deeper into it with his guidance and with all the support he provided. [It has] definitely been a crucial relationship that has helped Minvest kickstart as a startup, and we are very grateful for him and his help.
Wharton Global Youth: As a startup you are a team of 15, but I noticed that actually includes more than 10 interns. Can you talk about how this internship model has helped to propel your startup and deepen the knowledge and skills needed to grow?
Raaga: After we developed our solution, and we were getting ready to kickstart our MVP, the team took a step back and [said]: Okay, we don’t have the best graphic design, we don’t have the best development skills in the world. We realized that these were some areas that we really needed help with in order to make all the ideas with Minvest come into reality — something we could actually test and share with others. One thing about the Academies of Loudoun, which is the school where we all attend, is that they have specialty career pathway programs for students. There are career pathways in computer science, career pathways in graphic design, all these areas that we needed some assistance with. And so, we leveraged the resources around us and started an internship program through the Academies of Loudoun, where we worked with other high school interns that we found within the school. And that team has today grown to over 10 interns for development, graphic design and marketing. With all their help, our ultimate goal was to create our beta version and launch it. And so, our beta version, as we’ll talk about later on today, was launched on February 18, . We couldn’t have gotten there without the support and help of our interns.
Wharton Global Youth: Yeah, I’m excited to talk about the beta version. First, though, I want to clarify that MVP is minimum viable product, correct? We like to throw a lot of acronyms out there sometimes in business. And I just wanted to mention what that was all about. So, you are currently beta testing the initial version of your platform and you want to improve your product-market fit. I want to know why is this step so critical, this beta testing step? And what have you learned so far about your market?
Arjun: I think with beta testing, the importance of it not only stems from how important it is for startups to iterate when developing their products, but also from one of our core beliefs. From the onset, we really wanted to have a customer-oriented approach to developing our product, Minvest. And what this beta testing and this rapid iteration allows us to do is to put a version out there, see what the market likes, see what they dislike, and see what they want to add. And then for our development team to go ahead and add those features to the platform. We use something called the Agile process. Every version that we put out is super lean, super minimal. And what we focus on doing is rapidly changing and adapting to the wants and needs of our market.
Right now, with this first beta version, we haven’t necessarily released every feature that we want to have out there, we’ve put forward almost like a blank canvas with the most basic features. We’re trying to experiment with this. It’s almost like the scientific method, if you will, to see what sticks, what doesn’t, and what we can add. This rapid iteration is what we’re trying to focus on right now. And one thing that this beta testing process has allowed us to see is how high the demand for investor education really is. Everyone we’ve talked to, and the people that we’ve sent out our beta version to, have really liked the approach that we’re taking to this investor education. How we’re promoting it in more bite-sized content that is quick and easy to understand. And I think that really stems from the fact that people talk about investing like it’s a very obscure topic. People are really curious about it and want to see it conveyed and explained in a no-frills sort of way.
Wharton Global Youth: I want to drill down for a minute on one aspect of what you’re offering on your platform. You say that you can learn about and decide on a stock in less than one minute. And when I think about that, it really flies in the face of our [Wharton Global High School] investment competition mission, which is to steer students away from risky short-term investing decisions, and help them see the value of analysis and long-term investing. I’m wondering, what are your thoughts on the rise of apps like Robin Hood and the get -rich-quick mindset, especially in Gen Z? How do you address this through Minvest?
Arjun: I think it’s really interesting that you mentioned this, since the very risky and short-term investing mindset is actually the exact reason why so many people don’t invest. In fact, it makes me think of one of the interviews [I had with a student] earlier. I said, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word investing. They said, numbers flying all over the screen, and people making trades super quickly and lines flying everywhere. Obviously, there are a lot of things wrong with that answer. But one thing that it really highlights is how the short-term investing mindset has almost been a poison that’s preventing so many people from investing. So, what we do is address this problem through the One Minute Market and personalization. The One Minute Market actually does foster long-term investing. It simply just allows the users to learn about and decide on a stock in under one minute. And this stock can be held for as long as possible. In fact, it is enhanced by the personalization that we offer. It takes the user’s preferences into account and provides them with investing options that match their financial goals and their preferences. For instance, if you’re someone who’s very low risk, then [it would] recommend stocks with something called a lower beta to you, which are just lower risk stocks. So we do foster this long-term-investing outlook. We just make sure that doing long-term investing and making investing decisions is as easy as possible for our users.
Wharton Global Youth: I’m curious. You’ve been getting to know your market a little bit better. And what have you learned about Gen Z-inspired trends in investing? We hear so much about ESG and socially responsible investing. I’m wondering how will today’s youth influence the market?
Arjun: So again, Minvest is by Gen Z for Gen Z. So, a lot of the features that we have are taking advantage of some of these Gen Z-driven investing trends. And I think ESG is a big one. In fact, in our interviews, one person mentioned how the lack of corporate social responsibility was one of the reasons why they don’t invest. [They] don’t want to support a company that’s destroying the environment. We got a similar notion from other people that we interviewed. In our demo, we introduced a feature that gave the ESG score and indicated whether the company had a high ESG rating, or a low one.
Wharton Global Youth: Arjun, I’m going to stop you and just say, we have one of these lovely acronyms that is finding its way into our conversation, I just want to explain that ESG [stands for] environmental, social and governance factors. And it really is looking at [making investment decisions] through that lens. And how socially responsible companies are. So, you continue with your answer.
Arjun: I think it’s great that you define ESG, because it encapsulates not only the environment aspect, but also the social and the governance aspect. I know a lot of people are looking at diversity, equity and inclusion in companies. And ESG really encapsulates that. Another huge [trend] that we’re looking to capitalize on is AI and natural-language processing, especially with the more qualitative analysis of stocks. To be fair, finance is not just about the numbers, there’s so many other personal dynamics that play into finance. So, really looking at the qualitative analysis and 10-K statements, for example, or the company’s press releases. In the future, we’re actually dedicating a lot more resources to see how we can incorporate some of this emerging technology into our product; to see how we can make investing more personal and really incorporate these other aspects.
Wharton Global Youth: Raaga will know from having competed in the Wharton Global High School investment Competition, that we really do stress that balance of qualitative and quantitative research. So, that’s very good to hear. What is the future of Minvest? Are you all dedicated to this? Or is it merely a passion project? Where do you see it going in the future?
Raaga: One thing I will say is that when we first created Minvest, never in our wildest dreams would we have guessed that it would have taken off the way that it has and that we would genuinely be able to turn this product from an idea to reality and learn all the crucial lessons we have. Although it did start off as a passion project, at this point, we have acquired just so much validation from those in our market that they want to see a product like this come to the market. They want a tool that can help them get into investing to take control of their financial future. And so today, with our beta testing, we are working to keep receiving more and more validation, to ultimately find an investor someday that is willing to fund the development of Minvest. The overall goal with this is to find that investor, make it professionally developed, and hopefully release on the App Store and make this available to the public. One really important thing we’ve realized is that our mission truly has the potential to impact the lives of millions of young individuals across the country. And so, we’re determined to keep building Minvest and to keep tailoring it to the needs of this generation.
Wharton Global Youth: Wonderful. So let’s wrap up with our lightning round. Why don’t you both answer these questions? The first one is: [What is] the next thing you hope to learn that you don’t yet know?
Arjun: The intersection between entrepreneurship and finance, especially with regards to venture capital. Seeing how finance can be used as a tool to in a sense help entrepreneurs and help the development of new ideas, and allow us to solve problems using business.
Raaga: For me, something I’m really passionate about learning now is how the world of business and law intersect. Legal studies is the career path that I plan on pursuing that I’m really passionate about. And so, with this sort of background, and entrepreneurship and finance, it would be interesting to see how all three of those worlds collide in the professional world.
Wharton Global Youth: All right, next lightning round question. Raaga, why don’t you go first. Something about you that would surprise us?
Raaga: Well, I am really tall. I’m six feet tall. And I’m an athlete. I play soccer and basketball. So, I think a lot of people wouldn’t necessarily expect that. But that’s always a fun surprise when I meet new people.
Arjun: kind of sticking with the whole tall athlete theme: I’m a member of my high school’s varsity ice hockey team. So again, a lot of people get surprised when I say that.
Wharton Global Youth: I’m not surprised. It sounds great. All right. Last question. You’re starting a business-themed talk show? Who is your first guest and why?
Arjun: I’m to keep the focus here on finance, because I know that’s what I’m really interested in. [My choice would be] Burton Malkiel. I really love reading his book (A Random Walk Down Wall Street). And it was really one of the first thing that taught me about the actual nitty gritty of investing and what it means to be a good and practical investor in the long run. So such a big inspiration for me, and he would definitely be the first person I put on the podcast.
Raaga: And for me, someone that I have just looked up to these past few years is Adam Grant. I know he does work with the Wharton School, and I would have him on the podcast because I read his book Think Again and it completely changed my perspective on the approach to life, work and how all of that intersects. I think it would be amazing to potentially meet him someday. I mean, if that somehow happened, that’d be incredible. That would be my first guest on a potential talk show.
Wharton Global Youth: Thank you both for joining us on Future of the Business World.
Arjun Setty and Raaga Kodali learn from Madhu Yalamarthi about the “Five Why’s” approach. What is this and why is it essential to product and startup development?
List three examples from this article that illustrate how these young entrepreneurs have problem solved to create a better Minvest platform. How have they been strategic in their approach?
Are you a Gen Z investor? What are your thoughts about Minvest? Would you use it? What are your personal barriers to investing that you would hope to address? Share your ideas in the comment section of this article.