As part of my series about the “How to Navigate and Succeed in the Modern World of Finance,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Mook.
A 30-year Wall Street professional, the edge Michael Mook possesses is a unique combination of experience, talent, and superior client relations. He is a proven technology, sales, and marketing entrepreneur with demonstrated expertise in running and developing businesses. Combining sophisticated trading and market knowledge with advanced technological skills, Michael successfully created, implemented, and promoted entrepreneurial ventures, thereby producing new revenue centers for financial services firms while simultaneously reducing costs.
Michael currently serves as Chief Executive Officer of Fundopolis LLC, a Boston-based crowdfunding platform that matches companies seeking investments with investors. He also is an ongoing senior consultant with Weeden Prime Services (purchased by Seibert Financial in January 2020). Michael was Senior Managing Director and Partner at Weeden Prime Services, the purchase of which he was instrumental in facilitating for Weeden investors in 2013. Prior to these roles, Michael spent 20+ years at Weeden &Co. LP where he was a Senior Managing Director and Partner in the Program and Electronic Trading Group and a long-standing member of the Senior Management Committee and the Trading Technology Committee. During his 20+ years’ tenure at Weeden, Michael was the architect and primary point person for all sales and technical aspects of Program and Electronic trading, while serving as the chairperson of the Trading and Market Structure Committee.
In addition, Michael established the Program and Electronic Trading Group (PTG) and was responsible for revenue generation, technology design and marketing. While much of his focus was on creating new revenue sources via technology, he cultivated and covered one of Weeden’s top revenue-producing accounts. Michael implemented all FIX connectivity and order routing for the firm. In 2007, he was instrumental in Weeden’s investment and partnership with Pragma Financial.
Michael joined Weeden after 5 years at Jefferies and Co., where he directed and managed the Equity department’s use of technology. He created the electronic trading department along with the first broker-neutral routing system. He also handled all sales and marketing.
Before Jefferies, Michael started his career at Bear Stearns in the Proprietary Index Arbitrage department and directed all sales and operations for the Clearance Department’s Electronic Trading System.
Michael graduated with a BA in Economics and Philosophy from Emory University.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Igrew up as a Wall Street child. My father was a member of the New York Stock Exchange, so I had been exposed to Wall Street since I was about three years old. After graduating from Emory University with a degree in economics and philosophy, I went to work at Bear Stearns. While I was at Bear, I was fortunate to find a very special mentor who continues to help me in my career.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
There are no funny mistakes I can think of offhand, but I have certainly made plenty of mistakes! What I have learned is to be humble enough to admit the mistakes and most importantly, to learn from them.
Is there a particular book that you read or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Memos from the Chairman by Alan “Ace” Greenberg had a real impact on me, especially early in my career. He was the Chairman of Bear Stearns and was legendary on Wall Street. While the book had a satirical tone, the messages in it were powerful and stuck with me. One thing that I particularly took from the book was the importance of returning phone calls. Ace believed that no one was too important that they couldn’t take the time to return a phone call.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now at (Fundopolis) ? How do you think that will help people?
Wall Street is all about making money but is not focused on actually helping people. Fundopolis is the complete opposite — it is going to change the way businesses raise money by focusing on both the companies who seek to raise money and the investors.
Thank you for that. Let’s now shift to the central focus of our discussion. Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Fundopolis was built on the belief that everyone should be able to connect, raise and manage money and invest according to the values he/she believes in. Investing should be something everyone can personally be involved in. We envision a future where wealth is not defined by profit but by the community. A future where people can support each other financially in more meaningful, personal ways. We’ve introduced a new approach to funding and investing that is focused on making the whole experience easier, more engaging and accessible for all.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Breakdown all the normal rules and bottlenecks that cause many companies to fail and don’t be myopic. Trust the people you hire, listen to their ideas and learn from everyone.
Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
Like most businesses that truly invest in marketing, we focus on a variety of strategies including email, search, social, content and events. We’ve found that live events and webinars work most to our advantage because we can connect and engage with those who may not know about equity crowdfunding on a more personal level. When we have the opportunity to share our story through spoken word, we truly shine.
If a fellow CEO would ask you for advice about whether to bootstrap or to look for VC capital, how would you help them weigh the pros and cons of that decision?
I believe too many startups try to bootstrap and, as a result, suffocate under the financial pressure. Longevity and the ability to access capital are the most critical aspects of success.
What measure do you use to determine the value of a company? What advice would you give to other leaders about how to get an optimal evaluation of their business?
There are multiple ways to value a company. You can use discount cash flow or multiple of revenue. But the first key element is do you trust the management and their ability to execute on the vision. Do they have a well thought out timeline that can be executed? It is most important not to over promise.
What would you advise to a founder who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
Founders have great visions but sometimes do not make good managers. Founders need to know when to hand their business and vision off to the next leader and when to listen to those around them.
What are the most common finance mistakes you have seen other businesses make? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
Don’t follow the herd just because it seems to be the “flavor of the moment.” Bear Stearns would be the best example. For most of the company’s history it followed a specific formula. It worked and they made lots of money. But when hubris, greed and lack of good judgement took over, they went out of business. It was a very sad day on Wall Street.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to succeed in the modern finance industry? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Relentless perseverance: I got my first job at Bear Stearns by relentlessly pursuing them and never giving up. I called my contacts repeatedly until they finally gave me a job. It set the wheels of my career in motion and led me to where I am today.
- Hire people smarter than you: Many CEO’s feel the need to be the smartest person in the room which tends to feed their egos but does not lead to success. With every hire, my goal is to find the best people who may be smarter than me.
- Laugh: Working 50+ hours a week is hard. Finding humor is one of the best ways to make work bearable and, by extension, successful. While working at Bear Stearns I had the opportunity to go to Houston with a few colleagues for three weeks. These were three of the funniest weeks of my life. We worked incredibly hard during these weeks but we also laughed a lot. Looking back on this time I am proud of all we accomplished while making me smile!
- Listen: While working at Weeden my team made a serious clerical mistake that cost the firm considerable money. The head of the firm yelled at us all day which clearly made me feel horrible. I never wanted to be responsible for any type of error. While this happened 21 years ago it has stuck with me to this day. I listened to the criticism and learned some very valuable lessons that I have used throughout my career.
- Be nice/empathetic: It is impossible to come up with one story because it is just my philosophy of life. While this is not a work related story, it is something that embodies my approach to life. One day as I was driving to work, I was stopped on the road by a wayward turtle. The turtle seemed to have lost its way and needed some help. While I was running late for work I stopped, got out of my car and moved the turtle to the other side of the street. My belief is that we need to be a community and be concerned for one another.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
You must make time for yourself. Time to think. Time to relax. Time to have fun. Time to spend with family and your furry friends. It is not the number of hours you work, but the quality of the hours you put in.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
The movement would be focused on solving the hunger issue in our country. Food insecurity is a genuine crisis. There is no reason ANYONE should go hungry in our country. We are a country with a massive amount of resources but also an incredible amount of waste. It needs to start at the local level.
How can our readers follow you online?