By David Duran
Originally published on Advocate.com September 18 2012 2:00 AM ET
When Michael Carvin decided he wanted to buy his first home back in 2010, he wanted to ensure his decision was a sound one, especially in the wake of the financial crisis two years earlier. After finding lots of information online, he realized that online mortgage calculators were unhelpful and often inaccurate. And so Carvin built a financial model in Excel.
About that time Carvin met Philip Camilleri, an out software developer who was ready for a change of jobs. Together they developed the self-service platform that is now SmartAsset, an online platform that aims to radically transform the way people make financial decisions by bringing full transparency to the process. It’s so successful that SmartAsset is gearing up to present to top inventors from around the country via Y-Combinator. For anyone in the startup world, Y-Combinator is a household name.
The start-up incubator has spawned such companies as AirBnB, Dropbox and Reddit. The main objective behind YC is to focus on the product, the customer and just build what best suits a company’s target audience.
A user of SmartAsset enters basic financial information and then interacts with different calculators and charts that help them understand how their home buying will affect their finances. The site recommends a home price that the user can afford and provides graphs to back up its suggestion.
“We are transparent by combining our financial modeling technology with specific market-based information, live data and tax intelligence,” said Camilleri, the 33-year-old CTO of SmartAsset. He said the site delivers “simple, personalized, actionable answers to complex questions.” The real key is that it provides personalized, quantified answers to specific financial questions, as opposed to anecdotal generalized content.
Camilleri had been working for a software development company and constantly traveling. After seven years, he was accustomed to the comfort and security of the job. “For me, it was mostly about making a conscious decision on what I wanted in the future, and then planning accordingly,” said Camilleri about why he waited so long to make a change. “I saw several hundred people, in suits, getting on and off the subway, looking grim and monotonous on their way to work,” he said, “and I never wanted to be like that.” He knew the first few years of a start-up were “going to be rough.” Fortunately for SmartAsset, with YC, the future is looking bright.
Being gay didn’t have much to do with Camilleri wanting to be an entrepreneur, but he said his sexuality made him want to prove himself further than others, especially having been brought up in the conservative country of Malta.
“I also have this innate obsession with wanting to create things,” he said. At age 15, he started and his two best friends founded a theatre production that ran for four years. Camilleri also founded his university newspaper and a mobile software company. “I seem to get a kick out of getting things done. On the other hand, some might also consider it a crazy obsession.”
Camilleri first heard about StartOut in 2009. “I clearly remember attending their launch event at Vlada Bar in NYC,” he said. “I thought I was going to be at a small event with a handful of people. Instead, the place was packed, and I met a couple of really interesting individuals, including some who have been great friends and inspirations ever since.”
Beyond inspiration, on a more practical level, he met people at StartOut who have played a direct role in getting SmartAsset going, including one person who later joined their advisory board. “StartOut is a great resource, and I hope one day to be able to contribute as much (and more) back to the group.”
Camilleri said being LGBT has nothing to do with a person’s ability to start and build a company. He doesn’t think anyone really cares about sexual orientation. “A successful entrepreneur is simply a successful entrepreneur: male, female, gay, straight, whatever.” Camilleri then quickly added that being LGBT can be turned to one’s advantage. “There are several LGBT individuals out there — successful entrepreneurs, investors, potential employees,” he said, “and a lot of them are very willing to help out, introduce you to their own friends, colleagues, network.” He added that it’s important to build a strong network while also being forthcoming and willing to help out.
SmartAsset is currently comprised of a team of five. It launched last month and boasts more than 14,000 people having used the site. The company is generating revenue from advertising and lead generation. It has so far raised $900,000 in seed funding from YC, Quotidian Ventures as well as New York and Silicon Valley based angel investors.
Learn more about SmartAsset at www.SmartAsset.com. For more information on StartOut, sign up for the monthly newsletter.