Recently, we had the chance to speak with Barry Silbert, CEO of SecondMarket. Like Knewton, SecondMarket was recently selected as a World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer. Barry’s also one of our neighbors in the NYC tech scene, so we were excited to hear a bit more about his company’s mission, office culture, and plans for the upcoming year.
How would you explain your company to someone who’s never heard of it before?
Most investors are familiar with investments that trade on exchanges like equities, bonds and options. At SecondMarket, we are focused on the ‘everything else’ that exists. The amazing thing is that ‘everything else’ – assets like auction-rate securities, bankruptcy claims, and private company stock (shares of hot private companies like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.) – completely dwarfs what trades on exchanges. There are trillions of dollars of these assets and holders have never had a venue where they can trade these assets in a centralized, transparent marketplace. We bring them all together to our platform – we have nearly 25,000 participants registered on SecondMarket – so the buyers and sellers on the platform can complete transactions in a variety of alternative assets.
What got you started on the idea? What need were you trying to address?
As an investment banker in the early 2000’s at Houlihan Lokey, I had the opportunity to work on the big restructuring cases of that time like Enron, WorldCom and US Airways. While working on one of these cases, I received a list of incredibly opaque and illiquid financial instruments. I was struck by the fact that there was no centralized place to buy these assets; there was no eBay for alternative financial assets. I realized there was a dire need for transparency and centralization within the process, so I decided to start the first platform that would enable buyers and sellers to come together in one centralized online location, and be able to gain all the information necessary to make intelligent investment decisions.
What’s your office environment like?
SecondMarket is located in the heart of the Financial District in Manhattan, but within our office, we bridge the two worlds of finance and technology seamlessly. We have plasmas playing CNBC, Bloomberg terminals, and market specialists on the phones, but we also have a technology area with bean bags, developers on Macs and Nerf guns. We just created a new rec room for all of our employees to have internal meetings, and it comes complete with Ping-Pong, shuffleboard and foosball tables. In fact, we just held a Halloween party for our employees in the rec room last week, and invited our employees’ children to don their costumes and trick-or-treat around the office.
Tech companies change fast. What’s the biggest difference between where you were a year ago and where you are now?
One of the biggest differences from a year ago at SecondMarket is that our team has significantly expanded. We have had many new additions to the SecondMarket family over the past year, including the company’s first CFO, HR Director, a General Counsel, a Head of Product, Director of Corporate Development, and many more valuable members of our team.
We also opened an office in Hong Kong earlier this year and recently expanded into Israel, so we are growing on a global scale as well.
What’s the #1 trait you look for in a new hire?
Passion. No matter what the position or title may be, I always look for unbridled passion in a future SecondMarket team member. I look for potential hires who are passionate about something, whether their career, an unrelated hobby, or their family.
2010, Tech Pioneer… What’s on deck for 2011?
In 2011, SecondMarket hopes to flourish as the global leader for alternative investments and as a solution provider for investors seeking liquidity. We are on a mission to create a better market for private companies and their employees, and we want to be the place all investors around the world come to for anything related to alternative assets.
What would you tell yourself 5 years ago about the tech landscape today?
It is exciting to see how many innovative companies have emerged in the last five years and have risen to really change and revolutionize their respective industries. Five years ago, I would not have thought that New York could produce such innovative technology startups, but I am thrilled to be able to say that this city has been the birthplace for a new generation of disruptors and innovators. After all, three New York-based companies – SecondMarket, Knewton and
foursquare – were selected to be Tech Pioneers by the World Economic Forum this year, and I am confident that this is just the beginning for New York’s flourishing tech community.