Alex Daley / GBI

Start Here Podcast | Episode #69 | 08/26/2022

Today we sit down with Alex Daley, serial entrepreneur, investor, fintech enthusiast, and self-proclaimed nerd.

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#StartHere PODCAST: Episode 69 with Alex Daley of GBI

Transcript (courtesy of ReadBack): 

Alex Daley:    Engage feedback early, often, consistently, even when you don’t run into problems. Even I’m bad at that, right? So I think what you have to understand is, when you’re being brought in as a mentor, you’re probably somebody facing the most difficult challenges of their life. The stress is high, the existential dread of failure, paying other people’s paychecks, and spending other people’s money to try to bring something to life. You really have to – if you’re going to mentor, you just have to be able to be consistent and be patient, that the change takes time.


Sam Roach-Gerber:          From the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies, it’s Start Here, a podcast sharing the stories of active, aspiring, and accidental entrepreneurs. Today we sit down with Alex Daley, serial entrepreneur, investor, fintech enthusiast, and self-proclaimed nerd. Welcome. This is Sam Roach-Gerber –


David Bradbury:     And Dave Bradbury.


Sam Roach-Gerber:          Recording from the Consulted Communications Technology Hub in downtown Burlington, Vermont. Hi, Alex.


Alex Daley:    Hi, thanks for having me.


SRG:  I’m so happy you’re here, and after my intro, you actually told us you don’t consider yourself an entrepreneur? Tell us a little bit about that.


AD:     So it’s funny, I’ve always considered myself an operator. You know, I’ve never actually started my own company – with one very small exception, that I ended up putting on the shelf after a few months for another opportunity. I have worked with entrepreneurs my entire career, though. I started in my early career at Microsoft working in innovation groups, helping create startups, fund externally, internally, etc.


SRG:  So more of an “intra-preneur?”


AD:     Yeah, I think that’s a good word.


SRG:  Hell yeah, I love that.


DB:     Wow, my questions just changed. Who is this Alex? Yeah, I mean, tell us about young Alex. Did you always geek with technology, or was it companies and creators that sort of attracted you as a young child?


AD:     Yeah, you know, I really started out in tech. I was a computer science major in college. I started in technology as an IT manager at a major university, and it was it was a lot of fun. It ends up I’m a really bad software developer. You just find these things out when you work with really great people, right?


And I got really attracted to the business side. I started moving into management very, very young. At the age of 19 I had a staff of dozens, and by 21 it was a couple of hundred people. And so I just found I really loved the business side. I thought a lot more about my budgets than I did about my architecture. And that really led me towards the sort of innovation side. There’s always somebody who liked to break things as a technologist, but I was also just far more interested in the business side, and that really led me down my career path.


I moved from working in the university world to working at Microsoft, first in an academic role, and then eventually in the innovations team. I ended up at Microsoft working on the Gates team, where that sounds great and everything, but you’re on the fringe.


DB:     A little name drop, too. Just watch it!


SRG:  Alex, do you like managing?


AD:     I do, actually. I enjoy running companies. I enjoy managing people, building teams, and building a product, but also the company that can deliver that and deliver on – that sort of thing. I enjoy that a lot.


DB:     That must be terrifying, because if you’ve got like a bunch of technologists and scientists working for you, they might give you an answer. “Well, we can’t do that because of physics and XYZ.” And you can call bullshit, because you’ve got the sort of technology underpinning, but yet with the business lens. So I’d be terrified to work for Alex. Can’t fake it!


SRG:  That’s awesome. So Alex, I want to talk a little bit about your day job here. Tell us about GBI, and how did you get into precious metals?


AD:     I know, of all things, I sell shiny yellow metals. I never thought I’d get there starting in technology. But essentially we’re a fintech company. GBI was founded – Gold Bullion International, is what it stood for – it was founded by a couple of folks who left Goldman Sachs and the more traditional world of investment banking. Trying to take what was an old-fashioned asset – really the world’s oldest asset, right? – and turn it into something modern. Make it tradable and make it available in the modern digital world of investing.


And they’ve been very successful at that. I mean, our systems connect into two out of three of the world’s largest wealth managers. We have business across the US, across Europe, across Asia. GBI is a fintech company that makes something that’s very manual available in a digital system. Wealth managers anywhere in the world can queue a [00:04:47 Q-sip] into a system, hit a button, and a bar gold is bought on an agency model exchange, it’s shipped to a vault in Zurich, or New York, or Singapore, or wherever, and sat on the shelf. It’s available for the customer to take delivery. It’s liquid.


That is an interesting technological problem, because there’s a lot of things in the world that are actually what we would call “bearer instruments.” Gold. Cryptocurrencies, which we’ve expanded into over the last couple of years. Other alternatives. There’s a real opportunity to, if you will, digitize financial assets that got left behind when stocks and bonds sort of took everything over.


And that’s what we do. We focus on making alternatives available in the financial system from edge to edge. So whether you run a hedge fund, an ETF, or a wealth manager, or just a retailer who wants to sell gold or crypto, we provide the technological glue to make that easy to happen in your legacy systems.


SRG:  And when did GBI start?


AD:     GBI was founded about 13 years ago. I actually joined the company about five-and-a-half years ago through an acquisition.


SRG:  Very cool. You said you’re “getting into crypto.” I’m curious on how that has impacted the rest of the businesses. Is that becoming a much larger sort of piece as we kind of move towards that?


AD:     It’s certainly been faster growing than precious metals. It’s been a couple of years now. We’ve been in the crypto business for, I think, about three-and-a-half years now. It’s a pretty substantive part of what we do. It’s not a rounding error, but gold still is the center of our business. We see that just continuing to shift over time.


Crypto has been a fast-growing market. Understand that we’re building the rails but we don’t have a position. That’s the whole part of GBI. We don’t like own cryptocurrency.


DB:     You’re not speculating, per se?


AD:     Right. Similarly to gold, we don’t hold inventory. We run agency model exchanges and enable other people to sort of access that liquidity.


DB:     Do you own any NFTs?


AD:     Personally, no.


DB:     Do you have any art collection wallet out there?


AD:     I haven’t dipped my toe into the NFTs, and if my balance of Solano and Cardona is any indication, I probably won’t have the capital right now to do that.


DB:     All right, I’m going long ALGO, just because of ZestBloom, our company. I’ve always respected your lens for evaluating investment opportunities, either for the businesses you’re involved in, or in your capacity as a mentor and as a colleague around some of the VCET companies and others in our community. What do you look for? When you sort of see this angel investment situation, are there things that keep popping up that get you excited?


AD:     It’s interesting. As an operator, I find myself spending a lot of time talking to entrepreneurs about sort of how to understand their P&L. That’s always the angle I come at it. A lot of people come with this great idea for a product, but they don’t necessarily know whether it’s a great idea for a business. And so I’m constantly focused on creating new businesses. At GBI that’s a big part of what I do, finding new areas to break into. What we’re selling to wealth management, can we do it in retail? Can we take what we’re doing in gold and do it with cryptocurrency? Can we take cryptocurrency and bring it to real estate?


And so you constantly have to ask that question. How much is it going to cost? What’s our fixed cost, what’s our variable cost, and what does SG&A look like? What is it going to cost to sort of staff this business, and what’s the recurring revenue going to look like short-term, mid-term, and long-term? And I’m always sort of emphasizing the same thing to entrepreneurs I work with and I advise, which is, you have to understand the business model in a pro forma, as much as you have to understand and be sort of your product, or you have to be an evangelist for your whole revenue model to really get it and understand. That’s always the thing I’ve focused on.


And so what I get excited about is when I meet an entrepreneur who doesn’t just have a great idea for a product, but who really gets the market fit and the economics of that. IIs that going to be recurring revenue? How are you going to structure the business? Those are the entrepreneurs I most like to work, with because you can get really interesting ideas when you start to ask hard questions about those numbers.


DB:     We’ve always remarked that you want to like the team and like the shiny object they’ve invented, but you want to love the business model, right? Because it’s got recurring revenue, or subscriptions, or there’s three ways to get paid – subscriptions, transactions, sponsorships, and whatnot. And gosh, if you can use your customers’ money to do all that stuff, that’s even better. But you’re right, it is a challenge to sort of pair those things and try to find the sweet spot.


SRG:  Any advice for entrepreneurs who maybe have a great product idea or have their expertise in that side of things, and don’t know much about business, and how to make sure that they’re walking down a path that’s going to be profitable?


AD:     Yeah, I mean, the simplest advice is the one that I run into that is ignored most often, which is do the modeling. Sit down with Excel. The number of times people don’t even try to model the business, for lack of it. There’s a million books and a million PowerPoint presentations. You can go on Udemy, Coursera, or whatever and find something that can show you how to do it. But if you’re good enough to do that kind of technological product development – if you’re a pharma scientist, or a doctor, or whatever – you can sit down with Excel, build out a pro forma, and ask yourself really simple questions.


Which is, how many customers can I sell this to? People don’t ask questions like that. They say, “Oh, I could sell this for $100, I’ll do two million customers.” It’s like, oh wait, how many salespeople is that going to take? What is the infrastructure? Just sort of asking that question and going through that exercise. Then find somebody who’s been good at business, sit down with them, and sanity check yourself. But if you don’t make that first stab at the straw man, it’s really hard to have a productive conversation with anybody about how the business works.


SRG:  I mean, I always say to our students, every number you put down in a pitch presentation or that you share with someone, can you stomach it? Can you back it up? Can you give us a reason why you put that number down? And that’s kind of the simplest form, right? And if you can’t, then you have some more work to do.


DB:     Right, or don’t use a lazy number, like 1% of China or 2% of the EU. Okay, that’s super simple.


AD:     Yeah, “Look, it’s a trillion-dollar market? What if we got 4% of that? Then we’d be billionaires.” Sure, but what’s that really going to take?


DB:     Sam, I did want to point out, too, that he dropped both Excel and Power Point, so he’s still a Microsoft guy. Let’s not talk about Google or some of the other products out there.


SRG:  No, it’s pretty clear who we’ve got here.


AD:     Hey, I’m a marketing guy too, so I’ve got my Google Workspace or whatever they’re calling it this month.


DB:     So you touched on crypto and fintech. I’d really like to have you sort of tell us what this thing called “defi” is, and where you see it sort of heading? Are we the banks in jeopardy? Like, not in jeopardy from a run, but are they antiquated? Are they the buggy whips?


AD:     It’s interesting. I think the most interesting thing about cryptocurrencies in general is just, it’s the only asset class where 95% of all the volumes are traded outside the US. The US has had sort of an oligopoly or monopoly on international banking and finance for a very long time, with some of Western Europe involved there, and while there are other big banking centers, it’s still predominantly US assets.


That’s changing. The market cap of every major stock exchange in the world is growing, whether it’s Africa, China, etc. There are huge new markets developing. And cryptocurrencies is the first thing that really sort of goes across those boundaries, and it’s been really hard for centralized financial institutions to adopt it. If you really look at cryptocurrency, you can’t walk into your bank and add Bitcoin, or you can’t really even call up Fidelity and add Bitcoin, or the traditional places that you would use your money. So I think what it’s created is a phenomenal amount of wealth that’s sitting inside of these nontraditional institutions.


“Defi” is another level on top of that? I asked the question, do we even need an institution? Do we need a company like Coinbase at the center of this, or is that just risk? Can we create some institution that is in some respects self-governing or governed by a group of people?


It’s interesting. It’s different. I don’t know what the risks are. I look at a model like that and I ask myself the question, okay, but where do the voting rights lie? Is it actually more opaque? Does a decentralized financial institution really answer to no regulator? Who can hold them accountable? I think it’s going to be a really interesting run on whether users are actually going to trust that kind of institution, and how we create something that is both decentralized and transparent enough that it can be held accountable? Because defi is is all about sort of getting rid of the central financial institution, and you know that that has its pluses, for sure, and its minuses.


DB:     It does. I mean, one thing that I think came out this week was sort of, we trade one set of knowns, control, and institutional powers for this other, not so transparent – but they were like, hey 5% of the people owned 95% of the tokens. So are you swapping for a different group of robber barons, and are they good?


AD:     Do you know who they are? I can tell you who the CEO of JP Morgan Chase is. I may not agree with everything he does or whether or not he’s held accountable, but I can tell you who he is. But I can’t tell you who’s at the head of most of these defi institutions.


SRG:  That’s an interesting point, a little dehumanizing, perhaps. So while we’re sort of on that topic, I’d love to know what excites you most in fintech right now? What are you keeping your eye on that you’re really psyched about?


AD:     That’s a good question. I would say the thing that excites me most is the consolidation. Right now fintech is a sort of, you go one place for each thing that you want to do. If you want to invest in – if want a checking account, you go to a bank. If you want to invest in stocks, you get an account with a discount brokerage – Fidelity, Robin Hood, the whole thing, right? It’s been a world that’s sort of been very separate from each other. And if you want to buy crypto, what do you do? You go to Coinbase, you go to Equity Trust, or you go to a company that sells these things separately.


I think it’s really interesting to watch the “super apps.” I think these financial sorts of super apps that have been coming around and consolidating, where in one interface you can presumably shop for insurance, buy stocks, get a loan, do all of that sort of together, I think it’s a really interesting trend. I don’t know, not every consolidation play in the world has worked, but I think it opens up a lot of new opportunities for financial technology companies to sort of providing a more human – you used the word “dehumanizing” – a little more human experience. I don’t think anybody I know likes going to the bank to send a wire or do whatever. Everyone I know just wants to open an experience, be able to control their own life, and then have somebody available to help them who doesn’t say, “Oh, that part’s not my job.”


SRG:  Right, and I feel like it makes it more approachable, too. I mean, suddenly you have someone who maybe just has a checking and savings account, trusting a bank or an institution they’ve used forever, offering these new services or products that they’re kind of interested in. And I think that trust goes a long way, especially in finance.


AD:     It does, and banks to some extent have sort of fallen behind there. You can see, if you really look at credit unions and regional banks, they’ve been losing business for years to the combination of, I can go get checking account features with my broker and zero interest rate policies. Which I think they all sort of assumed would go away after two years, and now we’re in 15 or 20 years of this kind of world, where honestly what purpose does sort of a regional bank serve for its customers?


And so we work with a lot of those companies, and we see them soul searching on how they become “more” to their customers: more like an advisor, more like a central hub. So just as the super apps are coming around in fintech, I don’t think that these regional banks – even a small regional bank has hundreds of millions to billions of dollars of capital under management – I don’t think that those companies aren’t sort of sitting on the side and waiting. There are really interesting companies out there like FusionIQ and stuff who are adding all new capabilities on top of those platforms, that I think give these super apps a run for their money.


DB:     Yeah, I mean, the banks still have their distribution and their retail presence. Their relationships are in the communities. It’s a lot of change, for sure. What was your stint in academia all about? Do we call you “professor” or “doctor?” Forgive us, please, because I just want to call you “Alex.”


AD:     Not at all. I was on the administrative side. I never even finished my master’s degree. No, I worked in academia on the technology side. When I was young, I worked as manager of IT services at Rutgers University, which I didn’t appreciate at that time is a multibillion dollar a year institution. This was a pretty huge college, one of the largest and most diverse in the country. I worked implementing some of the first campus-wide VoIP telephony systems, the first campus-wide WIFI. It was in the very early days of technology becoming center to the university.


I worked with a lot of interesting researchers. I worked with the business department on their first business plan competition. I worked on the startup of the tech transfer office. It was really at that exciting time where academia and technology were sort of just one, and it was all starting to spin out. I mean, this is pre-dot com bubble, just to time it for you?


DB:     Well, yeah, they’re going through their own transition now, with COVID, hybrid learning, synchronous, and asynchronous.


SRG:  Do you think that background in academia has helped you where you are now?


AD:     Yeah, I think it has, actually. It taught me the power of specialists. Academia is like this one place where we really truly value people who become incredibly specialized, and spend some time and effort trying to sort of guarantee those people a place. I love still “blue sky” research. I got to work a lot on that in academia. I got to work a lot on it in Microsoft, where I spend a lot of time with the research group. And the value that that brings to society in terms of everything, from just scientific advancement and how it helps our lives, to the creation of new businesses. I really have a big appreciation for academia, but also the struggle of taking something from a concept to a product.


Working in tech transfer, both in Microsoft from R&D out, and in academia, from you know the professor who has a great idea for a product, and having to explain, all right, that’s a billion dollars in capital and 15 years to take that pharmaceutical concept to market. That that can be an amazing challenge and an amazing opportunity, and it’s interesting to watch that process. It’s informed my career a lot.


SRG:  Yeah, I love that idea of specialists. It is amazing. Dave and I work with a lot of UVM professors, and one of the coolest things is, you’ll meet someone then you realize, you’re the leading expert in the world and this very specific thing. Coming from me, who’s very much a soft skills kind of a gal, that’s something that I have a deep appreciation for as well. It’s always great to have those people as mentors. Dave and I keep those people around because we are not experts, surprisingly.


DB:     It’s shocking what we don’t know.


AD:     And society, we love books like Rich Dad, Poor Dad that are all sort of – remember, Poor Dad was a specialist, and it was all about how his job’s in jeopardy and how the business community doesn’t appreciate that. And so the role that academia, government research, and stuff plays in allowing people to get that much expert knowledge is just so important.


DB:     So you moved and lived in Puerto Rico for a number of years, and then you came back to Vermont. Why did you go to Puerto Rico, and then why did you leave?


AD:     Well, my first reason was the beach.


DB:     Okay, that’s fine.


SRG:  A good answer.


DB:     A good answer on the shortest day of the year.


SRG:  I wouldn’t have accepted anything else.


AD:     It didn’t hurt that they had a tax program down there that was very advantageous for someone like me, who at that time was really a consultant. I was working with small companies and providing consulting services, and Puerto Rico provided a very – and still do – a very interesting tax incentive for people who live and work in Puerto Rico but export services to elsewhere. They have other taxpayers – it’s always been a big thing – how do you as an island with limited natural resources and large population, how do you create an industrial base or a commercial base that is more than something like just tourism.


And so for years, Puerto Rico has used tax incentives as a way to attract things like pharmaceutical manufacturing. You guys probably don’t know, but it’s actually a huge business there. Software. Microsoft has a large presence all in Puerto Rico. That’s sort of how I got to know about the tax programs originally. And so I took the opportunity to move down in the early days of one of the new tax programs, the one that focused on services export, and be sort of one of the first people to take advantage of those programs, live there, and worked there. I’ve since moved back. I’ve lived in Vermont for the last five years, but it was a great adventure. I loved it.


DB:     And how does that compare with your observation on Vermont’s tax climate, as it either appeals to, prevents, or discourages folks like yourself? Is there any contrast that, when you look in the mirror in the morning you’re like, oh my gosh, if only we could do this.


AD:     Yeah, sure. I think I summed it up really well. Somebody asked me a couple of years ago, how was it? And I just said, one thing I learned is you get what you pay for. If you go somewhere that has really, really low taxes, those taxes can only buy so much in terms of social services, education, mental health, police, etc. Now, sure, there’s that soft impact. Down in Puerto Rico we were employing a lot of people. As part of those grants, you have to have employees and those people are paying payroll taxes, etc. And then to live in Vermont – which is, frankly, one of the highest tax states in the union – it’s quite a difference.


But I’m here today because I love Vermont. I mean, I love the environment. I love the services that are provided. I love the education. I have three kids in Vermont public schools and I couldn’t be happier with it, to be frank. You do, you get what you invest back into your community. I’m reasonably substantial taxpayer in Vermont, but I wouldn’t say I’m an unhappy one.


Somebody said to me once about the Puerto Rico tax – a gentleman named [00:24:30 Nick Proudy], he’s very good financial manager, and excellent hedge fund manager, and very wealthy guy – and he said, “Taxes are an expense, not a cost. You only them because you made money, so relax.”


SRG:  Yeah, it’s a good way to look at it and a lot easier to stomach, especially if your kids are getting a good education. And what brought you to Vermont? I mean, you’re not from Vermont, are you?


AD:     No, I grew up in New Jersey. I lived in Seattle, brief stints in L.A., Puerto Rico. I’m an accidental Vermont resident. I met a guy on a plane. I was working in Microsoft and became fast friends with a gentleman who had a business in Stowe, Vermont. He wanted to sort of retire and take the leisurely life – actually in Argentina, where he remains today – so I came in and sort of took over for him in the business. I worked as a protege for him for years and became business partners. We actually started a few ventures together.


And he’s living the good life in Argentina, and I ended up staying in Vermont because I loved the lifestyle here. Growing up in hectic and busy New Jersey, and sitting in Seattle traffic for many, many years, this was appealing. The first time I came, I remember getting off the plane, driving out to Stowe, and being like, this is different.


DB:     Yeah, totally.


AD:     It just stuck.


SRG:  I love that it was a serendipitous plane, moment that’s so great.


DB:     I’m trying to think if Dave could talk me into that sort of change, right? Maybe, he’s convincing. So mentoring. You meet and you have coffee with more people than I could ever dream to. You’re eager, you’re curious. If there are others like you that wanted to get involved in helping – other companies, I guess I presume they’re helping – what advice would you give sort of that first time mentor-like, coach-like person in terms of expectations, or how to approach a sit down with an aspiring entrepreneur?


AD:     That’s a great question. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that. Patience is probably the number one. You’re trying to coach somebody who is passionate about something through oftentimes doing it differently than they were trying to. I don’t find that a lot of people seek mentorship until they’ve run into a roadblock. It would probably be smart for people to seek it a little more actively. I myself am actually getting executive coaching right now. My next meeting after this is interviewing another potential executive coach candidate. I’m a big fan of sort of engage feedback early, often, consistently, even when you don’t run into problems. Even I’m bad at that, right?

So I think what you have to understand is, when you’re being brought in as a mentor, you’re probably somebody facing the most difficult challenges of their life. The stress is high, the existential dread of failure, paying other people’s paychecks, and spending other people’s money to try to bring something to life. You sit up at night with imposter syndrome, etc.


You really have to – if you’re going to mentor, you just have to be able to be consistent and be patient, that the change takes time. I think it’s pretty easy to walk in there and sort of think of yourself as a consultant, that here, this is what you should do, and that they’re just going to adopt your plan. It doesn’t work like that.


DB:     A different purpose and relationship, right?


AD:     Very much so.


SRG:  I have a question for you, Alex, that just popped in my head. Looking back on your career thus far, not a super traditional path. I feel like we don’t hear from a lot of folks that kind of start in academia, then kind of go into Microsoft, and then precious metals, right? So it’s a pretty unique –


DB:     Moving bars of gold around.


SRG:  Yeah, a unique path. I’m just curious, is there anything you would do differently if you were to kind of start over? Let’s say, 18-year-old Alex, you wake up as 18-year-old Alex. Is there any career move that you would do differently?


AD:     Not flunk out of college, No, actually, probably best thing I ever did was flunk out of college. To be honest, no. I’ve been very privileged, a very lucky guy. I don’t want to over credit my skill, right? But I have also been a tenacious guy. Going to Microsoft was something – the first time I ever applied at Microsoft, they turned me down. And so I picked up the phone and I called the guy who turned me down, and I told him was the biggest mistake he was ever going to make his entire life, so he changed his mind.


And then they turned me down again, because I failed a background check. Ends up there’s a person with my name in Texas who really doesn’t like paying parking tickets. They were like, “No, we’re not going to hire you because you didn’t pass.” And I’m like, you’ve got to give me the name of that company. And they’re like, “We’re not going to tell you who did the background check. We don’t do that.” I had to argue, fight, and claw my way into the opportunities like that. In the end I figured it out, I got the job offer reinstated, and it turned out really well.


And so what I’d say is like, no, I wouldn’t do anything different. But I think the thing I’m most proud of is that I just never backed off a fight. Like, whenever something was challenging and stuff, I’m sort of a person who gets up in the morning and think to myself, all right, this is going to be hard. I like that.


SRG:  Yeah, tenacity.


AD:     I think grit is the word a lot of people use nowadays. There’s a great book by that name. Yeah, I mean, you’ve just got to stick with it, and you’ve got to kick butt and claw, but honestly I’m really happy with where I am.


SRG:  Do you still believe in those serendipitous moments? Like, looking back on the plane ride that got you to move to Stowe, do you think that “trust-your-gut” kind of moment is still worth – you know, I mean, I think there’s a balance. Like, if you had just said, okay, well, Microsoft doesn’t want me, then you would have gone a different way. I’m just curious how you balance those two things?


AD:     There’s this old adage I’m going to butcher, but something about when opportunity knocks, you sort of have to be ready to open the door. I think that’s it, just always be thinking creatively of what could be better, what could be different? That’s what entrepreneurship is, right? It’s sort of envisioning how the world could be better by the fit of this product, or this business, or this service, and you’ve got to do the same thing with your life.


Like, you can’t be afraid to take a big risk because there’s a change. Yeah, I walked away from not an inconsiderable amount of stock and other comforts of life at Microsoft to join what was a six-person company, in Stowe, Vermont, in an attic above an eye doctor’s office.


DB:     It was a nice attic.


AD:     No, it wasn’t.


DB:     It was heated. Well, you’re a tall guy, you probably had to bend down.


AD:     Sometimes you just have to see an opportunity and just ask yourself the question, could I make something of this? And take it and don’t be so afraid. I’ve never been a particularly risk-averse person, though. My wife would look at this conversation right now and just be like, “You’re not the kind of guy who worries.”


DB:     Well, we have her coming in later this afternoon to sort of background check here a little bit, find out all about your parking tickets, no doubt. Sam, do you have another question before we do “magic wand” time here?


SRG:  I do have another question. I just am curious, you’re a remote worker technically, right? You’re deeply rooted in this community, but you’re working for an out-of-state company. From your perspective, is there anything that the Vermont business community could do better to improve, to make it sort of friendlier, or a better environment for young companies to start and scale in the state?


AD:     That’s an interesting question, because I don’t work for a company that’s started here or is really scaling here though, though we have hired a considerable number of people in Vermont because it’s very highly educated population. It’s got a lot of things that work great for businesses, especially tech businesses, that want to grow.


I think, what could the state do differently, I’d probably leave to policy experts like you guys, to be frank. What I can tell you is it’s a great place to live, to work, and to live this kind of lifestyle. I have been remote entirely for quite a few years, because even when I worked for a company in Stowe, we had to hire remote. Just to be able to survive, you had to be able to live as a decentralized company. You couldn’t just have one office, bring everybody, and think to compete when you live in an environment like this.


And so you know whether it was, a large amount of my time at Microsoft was remote. My time in Stowe was building a remote company. I work remote nowadays. I think there’s a new era on us with COVID here, where people can choose places where they want to live for their lifestyle, for affordability, for those kinds of things, and still be just as effective. Short of maybe some improvements in cell phone coverage and broadband, I think Vermont is actually a fantastic place to be a remote worker, a lot better than a lot of other places, because of the balance of quality of life, cost of living, and community is just really spectacular. I’ve met so many entrepreneurs and so many remote workers here, compared to other places where I’ve lived that were really company towns. Vermont isn’t a company town, and that’s fantastic.


SRG:  How do you meet entrepreneurs?


AD:     Lunch. I used to pre-pandemic host a lunch meet up. I’m a sort of “middle of the day” meal guy, and I used to hold a meet up where I just said, come. I’m going to have lunch at this date and time, and 16 or 20 people who are going to show up, show up. I find the kind of people who come to that are often extroverted, entrepreneurial, and sort of self-selecting. And to be frank, just talk to people right. You never know, you’re going to run into entrepreneurs everywhere. And then I meet a lot here at VCET, obviously.


SRG:  I think I need to be a little bit more like Alex. I’m getting pretty inspired over here.


DB:     Go for it, you should. You’ve got game, too.


SRG:  Thanks, Dave.


DB:     You’ve been doing this for a while.


SRG:  This is turning into a Sam therapy session really quickly, so we should probably –


DB:     Yeah, we don’t need that. Alex, this has been great. One, just thank you for being a member here and being an employer in Vermont. You do add something to this Petri dish of community that I think is part of the magic, that that people time and time again try to explain. Whether it’s starting businesses, or just in between, investors or students, it’s really important, and I think that’s how Vermont competes in the world and thrives.


AD:     Thanks, and thanks for helping me be a part of it. VCET has been very instrumental in sort of connecting with this community. It’s been a big part of why I’m really happy here.


SRG:  That’s awesome.


DB:     Well, we gave him our desk.


SRG:  We did give him the best desk in the house.


DB:     We were like, he needs some sunlight. We’re going to give him the desk. All right, “magic wand time.” We ask everybody this magic wand question. You have superpowers – well, beyond what you showed us today – if you could change one thing in Vermont, what would you change?


AD:     Oh man. All the roads would be sort of self-heating and ice themselves, maybe, like, de-ice themselves? That’d be it.


DB:     I like that.


SRG:  Sign me up.


DB:     We did have someone want a traffic light on Spear Street, was it? That was their big wish.


AD:     Yeah, I just don’t want to ever have to shovel snow again, but I still want the snow to be around.


SRG:  You want Puerto Rico pavement in Vermont, is what you’re telling me.


AD:     There you go.


SRG:  Exactly. Well, Alex Daley, thanks for sharing part of your background, your perspective, and your experiences. We really appreciate it.


DB:     Thanks, Alex.


AD:     Thanks for having me.


DB:     This has been Start Here, a podcast sharing the stories of active, aspiring, and accidental entrepreneurs. The series is supported by the Vermont Technology Council and Consolidated Communications. Thank you for listening. Let’s get back to work.


End of recording