Sam Abbas is the founder of SimplyWise. Prior to SimplyWise, Sam founded Symmetric.io a software platform to help pension, endowment, foundation & sovereign wealth fund clients get transparency into their hedge funds allocations and better quantify if these investments are providing value. Symmetric is used by many of the largest institutional allocators in the world including 4 of the top 5 fund of funds. Prior to Symmetric, Sam was Director of Research and Trading at Privero Capital, a NYC based technology firm specializing in high frequency statistical arbitrage. Over Sam’s tenure Privero vastly outperformed the broader market and all alternative indices. He began his career as a strategy consultant at Oliver Wyman & Company. Sam graduated from Princeton University with a degree from the Woodrow Wilson School, where he wrote his thesis under Daniel Kahneman, the 2002 Nobel Laureate in Economics.
Where did the idea for SimplyWise come from?
I had spent the better part of my career in finance, trying to help institutional investors better serve their pensioners. In my work, I saw how the industry was changing; fewer and fewer workers were being given access to a retirement plan that would provide stability in the next chapter of their lives. A large and growing portion of our population had no real options for retirement.
Around that time, my parents stopped working—and I saw firsthand how challenging the retirement process could be. While we may equate retirement with laying around on a beach, the reality is that the end of work doesn’t just mean your income stops. It comes with a loss of identity, and in some cases self-confidence. There are so many decisions to make, from healthcare plans to Social Security to when to withdraw, and there’s so much complexity… and it’s terrifying to think you might get something wrong.
And as I watched my parents have to make these hard decisions about the finances that would last them the rest of their lives, and as I saw them go through what felt like this almost traumatic identity shift, I knew something needed to change.
And I wanted to be a part of creating that change. What has always motivated me is reimagining what a better future could look like for people—and building for that. We started Simplywise because I wanted to be a part of making those complicated financial decisions simpler, so that folks like my parents could navigate the next phase of their life with confidence.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
In this quarantined, virtual work environment, a lot of the day is centered around ensuring communication remains seamless. That’s what keeps us productive. I work to create space for our team to have dialogue, ask questions, and ensure we are all on the same page and strategically headed in the right direction. Beyond that, I am constantly zooming in and out; I can go from coding one minute to having a broad product conversation with investors the next, to designing ad visuals and copy.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Bringing any idea to life – particularly in a crisis – takes a bias for listening and a willingness to execute (even when things aren’t perfect) in order to quickly test what best works to help the most people.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I wouldn’t’ say that it “excites” me, because I wish it hadn’t happened this way… but one fallout I see from the horrible current pandemic is that it is causing tech adoption to happen faster. If there is one positive to come out of all of this, I think it could be the ability for us all to more easily connect and to come together around technology.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Running a business means a million moving parts. But being productive requires knowing the one to two things that are most critical to the business at any given point, and ensuring those get your attention above all.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Be more patient. I now realize that doing anything meaningful takes time. I used to think “I’ll try this for 6 months and then I can move on to something else.” But the fact is that it’s hard to build something that matters if that’s your mentality. Making a real impact takes commitment and a willingness to see a project to fruition.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
No product is too embarrassing to get in front of users. Many people prefer to have perfect marketing and design, and to ensure there are no bugs with their website – but every hour that you wait for a product to achieve perfection is an hour you have wasted testing whether someone even finds it useful to begin with. Even if all of the t’s aren’t crossed and i’s aren’t dotted, I believe in getting things in front of users as quickly as possible to ensure they actually find it valuable. If they do, then we invest the time to make it the perfect user experience for them.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I tend to think of things from “first principle”. Every day I naturally ask myself and my team questions like: “how did we get here”; “does this journey make sense”; “is this still consistent with what we were thinking? – if not, what has changed?” It may seem somewhat existential, but applied to the business, I find that it helps keep us on track and building in the right direction.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Growth is all about having “promoters”– users who love what you’re doing so much that they are willing to be ambassadors for your service within their own network. It’s a simple equation of what matters. If your users are so thrilled by your service that they are shouting your name from the rooftops (or at least referring their friends or family) you’re quite literally in business.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Just one?! Most of my learnings have been around building something that no one wants. Product/market fit really can be the deadliest killer for startups. You overcome it by not investing a lot of money into an unproven idea, but instead building lean and testing as soon as possible – even before you have a product.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
OK this is a bit… niche. If you look at chemistry labs in academic institutions, people wind up spending a lot of time reading a paper someone else wrote and trying to replicate the results – but the results don’t replicate. They then throw away that information… but in fact, it’s actually very valuable information (understanding what did not replicate) that other people could learn from and so avoid spending their own time on. So the idea would be to collect those results of failed experimental replication, and sell access to that data to labs.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
LogRocket, which allows us to replay site sessions so that we can more easily fix issues that come up, but even more importantly, see where we can clarify or improve upon the user experience.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Ha! As of today, I’d have to say Zoom. (And the virtual backgrounds, of course – those are critical to keeping things interesting. Or at least avoiding cleaning your office…) Zoom is the beginning, middle and end of keeping our communication seamless throughout the quarantine.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Delivering Happiness” by Tony Hsieh, the Zappos CEO. He articulates how the success of a company is correlated to the people who make it up and the culture they create every day – and how when the culture is right, great customer service naturally follows.
What is your favorite quote?
“Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” Albert Einstein.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.