Standing in front of one of Tally’s first big potential investors, Brown flashed back to a course he had with James E. Schrager, clinical professor of entrepreneurship and strategic management.
Schrager told the class about a manufacturing company, the Marmon Group, he studied as a PhD student, and how he took on the work of turning around a small factory. Schrager noticed there that brief, unplanned encounters—whether with factory employees or the CEO of the conglomerate—could be pivotal to how people saw him moving forward. The moments usually weren’t the planned presentations he had worked so hard on. The tough questions asked afterward, or even the casual encounters and spontaneous conversations on the factory floor—those had outsized impact on whether people were ready to sign on to his plan or not.
“Careers and deals are often made in brief moments of intense leverage,” Schrager summarized to his students, including Brown. “Will you be ready when your moment comes? Or will you watch it pass by?”
This, Brown realized, was one of those moments. He had one hour to get his investor to understand a concept that had never existed before—and to get her to write a $2 million check for a 10-slide deck.
“My entire life—who I was, how I grew up, going to Booth, all of it funneled into this one hour of being able to communicate both the emotion behind Tally and the raw math and finance concepts behind it,” Brown says. “I think about that Schrager quote often. When people think about their career, those moments are the ones that matter, and you have to be ready for them.”
Tally, in some ways, was a tough sell. But venture capital firms including Kleiner Perkins and Andreessen Horowitz could see the potential. “They saw that we weren’t trying to build a tool,” says Brown, that “we were trying to build an A.I. that would be able to, by itself, save people money. They were forward leaning enough to see that this new experience that hadn’t existed before—a new interaction model between humans and finance—was something worth putting money behind.”