Saleem Khatri - Co-Founder and CEO of Instavest

Joe Kraus once said: Merely measuring something has an uncanny tendency to improve it.

Saleem S. Khatri is a Co-Founder and CEO of Instavest, Inc, a collaborative investing network. He was previously a member of the Office of Financial Stability at the United States Department of the Treasury. His primary leadership and investment responsibilities for the $79 billion Automotive Industry Financing Program include Ally Financial, Citigroup, General Motors, and a host of regional banks. Prior to joining the Treasury, Mr. Khatri co-founded and subsequently sold his first start-up, His Black Box, a men’s subscription sampling service and customer analytics platform for premium brands. Mr. Khatri also worked at Goldman Sachs and Oaktree Capital Management, both in principal investment capacities. Mr. Khatri also served as a Board Observer for CommunityOne Bank and Community First Bank & Trust on behalf of the Treasury.

Mr. Khatri earned an M.B.A. from the Harvard Business School and a B.B.A. from the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor with Distinction.

Where did the idea for Instavest come from?

Instavest was born out of need by former US Treasury official, Saleem S. Khatri. The mission of Instavest is to democratize investing by making investing accessible to the masses. Instavest does this by allowing its users to view a Twitter-style feed of active stock investments from investors. Once a stock is selected, an investment is automatically tracked and sold by the lead investor at the appropriate time.

The beauty of Instavest is that it is not someone only tinkering with your money while you pay them a management fee – the lead investor has money at stake too. It is a genuine piggyback approach to investing with people who have outperformed the market while giving the end user the option to invest at any given time.

Instavest started as an e-mail thread between friends sharing stock market tips. This turned into at-home conversations, then presentations. Saleem learned through all these interactions that people just wanted someone else to invest their money for them. While there are people that can do that, there was not a communal or transparent approach to solve this problem so Saleem and Zain Allarakhia, an Instavest co-founder, created one. An interview with Y Combinator led to the company being funded and took Saleem and his family to San Francisco. Now, Saleem and Zain are signing up investors to democratize investing and bring investing to the masses. It is a fun new way to earn money from money while allowing new and experienced investors the opportunity to discover profitable investment opportunities. It’s also a bonus that Instavest has beat what the S&P returned through the end of March by 5x.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

While there is no typical day, Saleem and Zain outline and execute on delivering a great product experience and executing on their growth strategies. We want to make Instavest so great that investing is enjoyable, easy and rewarding.

How do you bring ideas to life?

We love talking to our customers and believe that there is a difference between structural feedback and shadowing a customer’s user experience. We make sure we do the latter as much as possible. Then we collect and analyze the data to reiterate and deliver an even better product.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Our team is manically focused on democratizing investing. This means two things: First, investing should be easier – you don’t need 500 buttons, 10 drop downs, 25 different colors and a bunch of weird acronyms to invest. Things should be clear and easy to understand. Second, investment knowledge / ideas should be accessible to everyone – not just people who sit on trading floors in New York City. A pizza maker who is great stock picker should be able to share his investment thesis, and be rewarded for his thoughts just as a hedge fund manager should charge 2% / 20% (management fees / carried interest)

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Be organized. As an entrepreneur you must be able to handle 100 things at once and then be able to prioritize and work on what matters the most. You can’t do this unless you are organized.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

The worst job I had was because I took it only for the money. I didn’t think about all the other things that would come with it – the people, expectations and culture. Look at your job as a portfolio of things – not through a single lens.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I have no regrets, but it would been great to earn a computer science degree in college.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Joe Kraus once said: Merely measuring something has an uncanny tendency to improve it. Highly recommended.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

I look for repositories of users – mostly online communities and contact them individually. I do this one-by-one to grow our user base. Asking for referrals helps significantly. Most people don’t want to do the grunt work but that’s where you get he most leverage – initially. Then you figure out different ways to scale.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I have started businesses that necessarily solve a burning problem for end users. When that happens you have to push super hard to sell your product. It’s difficult. That’s why I think Y Combinator’s mantra of “Make something people want” is so important. In fact, it’s the only thing that matters in the beginning because it serves as the foundation for your entire company. “You can’t put lipstick on a pig” – my old boss would say. He was right.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Figure out away to do away with 3-day ACH holds that banks will implement. We need to move money much faster. It’s good for the global markets.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

My beautiful wife recently got me a pair of Nike Free 4.0 Flyknit shoes. The shoes are pretty much weightless and look amazing! (PS: Nike, when are you sending my sponsor contract?)

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

Mailbox App – Easy to use email and muting
Sunrise Calendar – Please don’t ruin this for us, MSFT
Twitter – I love the news
Flipboard – Gimme some more news – I go 0 to 100, real quick

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I loved Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston, Founding Partner of Y Combinator.

The book is amazing because it’s a collection of short stories ranging from Paypal to Hotmail and talks about each company’s challenges and triumphs.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Paul Graham – @paulg,
The Detroit News:

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