Ups and downs, successes and failures, experiments and pivots – the stuff that make up a serial entrepreneur’s journey.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
David Stubenvoll: I was born and raised in Levittown, New York. Levittown has the great distinction of being one of the first mass-produced communities. I’m the youngest of four. My brothers and sisters were quite a bit older than I was. My dad was a World War 2 veteran and bought his four-room house on the GI Bill. Since then, they’ve expanded that. I’ve lived there with my family and my grandmother until I went to college. I was the only one in my family to go to college.
Sramana Mitra: Where did you go to college?
David Stubenvoll: My dad was a draftsman and I was good at math, physics, and science. I went to a Catholic high school. I was planning on being an engineer. We didn’t have a lot of money. There was this one school that kept bugging me to apply, but they didn’t have a real engineering program. It was an engineering technology program. We didn’t know anything about it at that time. We didn’t even bother to apply.
That school was actually Dartmouth, believe it or not. Given finances and all that, I spent my first year at the State University of New York at Buffalo. I learned a lot about schools. I transferred, in my sophomore year, and went to Clarkson University with a Mechanical Engineering degree back in 1986.
Sramana Mitra: What did you do after coming out?
David Stubenvoll: I always wanted to build things. First, I was going to get engineering undergrad, a Physics masters, and then a Math PhD. I figured that with that, you can build an interstellar spaceship. As I got into school, I started learning about business. I heard about this stuff called venture capital. This was the mid-80s. Certainly, a lot was happening on Wall Street.
I managed to talk my way into the financial management program (FMP) at General Electric. I joined GE and the FMP at General Electric Credit at that time. My first job, with a Mechanical Engineering degree, was doing international tax for General Electric technical services company in Bridgeport, Connecticut. I was the Tax Accountant, and I didn’t have my Tax or Accounting course yet.
I taught myself Accounting, pretty much, by reverse engineering the DOS accounting program that I was supposed to be using. This was a rotational program so you had a different job every six months. From there, I talked my way into doing private placement accounting for pension funds. Then my next position was a bond trader.
Sramana Mitra: This is all GE?
David Stubenvoll: Yes.
Sramana Mitra: You were being moved around all over different parts of GE at this point?
David Stubenvoll: Yes, every six months or so. I did corporate bonds, government bonds, fixed income, municipals, and currency trading. I was trading during the 1987 crash. One of the private placement accountants came to me at one point and said, “There’s no wisdom in public capital markets. You should go back to private equity. I know this guy in Boston who’s a got a new firm and is looking for an associate.”
I called this guy the next day. This guy is Stan Pratt who started Abbott Capital Management. I began working for him in January of 1988. Abbott Capital Management was a specialized investment manger who ran venture capital, private placements, and special situations for pension funds. Abbott Capital was a startup at that time. I was the sixth employee. We started to grow and get more business.
Throughout my time at GE and Abbott Capital, I realized that having a law degree was an important thing, and I also wanted an MBA. I next got a concurrent JD and MBA. My JD is out of Boston College and my MBA out of Carnegie Mellon. I continued to work for Abbott Capital. I went over to Carnegie Mellon and started working for a small venture capital firm called Point Venture Partners. I ended up joining them after I graduated.
I got into some heated discussions with some of my partners around investing in the Internet. I wanted to focus on Internet investing. We had a disagreement and I ended up leaving the firm to join an Internet startup call GALT Technologies initially as their CFO. I became CEO later on. Point invested in us and ended up getting bought by Intuit.