Armed with a single-minded vision of disruption, Rachel Carpenter boldly takes on Big Data with her St. Pete startup, Intrinio.
Intrinio co-founder and CEO Rachel Carpenter didn’t set out to disrupt the financial data industry — the Wisconsin native envisioned a career in the performing arts and initially studied musical theater in college.
But on a whim she took a finance course and fell in love with it.
Soon enough, she’d charted a new career path, double-majoring in finance and entrepreneurship at the University of Wisconsin.
Why the sudden shift? “I was really good at math, and I always liked math,” she says, “and I never liked being micromanaged — I didn’t want to work for anyone else.”
Acknowledging her entrepreneurial spirit and changing majors facilitated a run-in with fellow finance student Joey French, who would go on to befriend Carpenter and co-found Intrinio with her. French, she recalls, already had a big head start in the world of entrepreneurship. “This kid started his first business when he was 16, buying and reselling electronics, and had his whole college paid for that way,” she says.
After graduation in 2012, Carpenter and French moved to Chicago to chase their dream of starting a firm that would perform company and stock valuations. It was there that they hit a roadblock that would result in a serendipitous detour.
“I had turned down all the job offers that I had been offered,” she recalls. “We had no money and we were fresh out of college, but Joey had this Excel model that would pull in data, crunch the numbers and basically get you to the point where you could type in a ticker symbol and it would tell you within a certain degree of certainty how strong a buy or sell a stock was.”
To work effectively, however, French’s program, which Carpenter characterizes as “a comprehensive valuation engine,” required financial data — massive amounts of the kind that’s obtainable via only a handful of vendors, like Bloomberg, Morningstar and Thomson Reuters.
“It’s basically an oligopoly of financial data vendors,” Carpenter says. “The lowest quote that we got was $55,000 per month. It was at that moment in time that we became furious. We had a really innovative idea, but everything in finance runs off of data — it’s the new oil. Anything you want to build to disrupt banking or finance, you’re going to have to have data feeds, really good ones, running underneath everything. But when that data is restricted to this elite minority of people that can afford $55,000 a month, how is anyone innovating?”
"There’s no doubt in Rachel’s mind where this is going to go. She completely believes in it. The way she’s executing the disruption … is remarkable.” John Morrow, Intrinio investor and board member
Carpenter and French decided they could help themselves but also investors, other up-and-coming fintech entrepreneurs, students and software developers by providing a low-cost alternative to the services offered by Bloomberg, et al. After a year in Chicago, they pulled up stakes for St. Petersburg and launched Intrinio, which offers dozens of domestic and foreign financial data feeds starting at as little as $40 per month.
Wanna know which companies are lighting up the stock market in Zimbabwe? Yep, there’s an Intrinio feed for that. The company's customers now include Harvard University's School of Business, Blueshift Capital Management and USF St. Petersburg.
Carpenter says the Tampa Bay region’s excellent weather, low cost of living and rapidly growing tech sector made St. Pete a leading candidate, as did the fact that her family owns and operates a wine bar in the Sunshine City.
“I would be programming all day long and serving wine all night long,” she recalls. “It all came together … I’m really falling in love with St. Pete, and it’s a great place to recruit to. You just throw up an ad in New York in the middle of winter and watch the resumes roll in.”
Intrinio has 15 employees at present but Carpenter hopes that number reaches 20 by the end of the year. Carpenter declines to disclose the firm’s revenue but says the company has worked with some of the biggest names in finance and investment, such as Goldman Sachs, Raymond James and Invesco.
Carpenter has made some big fans during her relatively brief time in St. Pete; one of her staunchest supporters is John Morrow, CEO of Morrow Consultants LLC, a tech consulting firm — and an early investor in Intrinio. Morrow says he met Carpenter a few years ago at 1 Million Cups, a weekly St. Pete networking event for entrepreneurs and investors, and came away highly impressed.
“I meet a lot of startup founders, probably around 50 or 60 every year,” Morrow says. “Rachel is just different. A lot of times people have a great idea but there’s a long way to go between having a great idea and launching a company and then going through the various stages to grow.”
Morrow says he was wowed by Carpenter’s knowledge of the financial data market and how she intended to disrupt it. “I could see an immediate fit,” he recalls. But it was her more intangible entrepreneurial qualities that moved him to invest.
“The passion she has for it, the vision she has for where the company could go … a lot of people have that but where it gets interesting is how fearless they are. That’s rare. I saw that in her, as well as the perseverance to stick with it.”
In 2017, Morrow was invited to join the board of Intrinio, an offer he accepted “without hesitation,” he says. “There’s no doubt in Rachel’s mind where this is going to go. She completely believes in it. The way she’s executing the disruption … is remarkable.”
But at the same, he adds, Carpenter “listens and is very coachable … she also thinks through everything and asks whether it makes sense — that’s a very healthy way to do things.”
Carpenter acknowledges that, at age 28, she still has a lot to learn about being a CEO, and she doesn’t possess the gifts of a natural leader. “I’m figuring it out as I go and learning and developing my style over time,” she says. “We’re working crazy hours; we’re in here all the time, so there are small ways in which I’ve learned how to lead better, and one of those is by setting an example. I’ll take a nap on the couch and people see me doing it, so I’m setting the example that it’s OK to take a nap on the couch.”
Like many an entrepreneur before her, Carpenter thinks of failure as more friend than foe. To foster an organizational culture where it’s OK to fail, she created a page on the Intrinio company intranet called “the firing squad” where mistakes are posted and joked about.
“Anytime you screw up, we say something really funny about it,” she says. “I was the first one to put something up for the firing squad. I totally screwed up a sales deal — like, I accidentally quoted somebody two extra zeros at the end of a price and just destroyed the entire deal. Putting that out there, leading with failure, showing people that we’re OK with it is a huge part of our culture and it’s become almost a rite of passage.”
She adds, “To be competitive, you have to innovate, and to innovate, you have to fail over and over and over again. And to do that, you have to make people not afraid of failure.”