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The Next Step: Rob Murray & Stripe

‘The Next Step,’ is a monthly series that features recent graduates who’ve made exciting moves after Stern. We hope that their stories will inspire and excite you about what’s next.  

This month, we are featuring Rob Murray (‘20), a former Stern Venture Fellow who found his post-graduation bliss driving growth at Stripe, a technology company that builds payments infrastructure for the internet. I sat down with Rob (virtually, of course) on a sunny September afternoon to talk about his passion for Fintech, his relentless curiosity and his advice for finding the ‘next big thing.’

Ok, we’ll start off with an easy question. You recently graduated, why did you choose to attend Stern and what were you looking to get out of it?

I was living in Soho at the time, around the corner from NYU. I always wanted to go back and get my MBA, so NYU was a no brainer. I said I was a neighborhood kid on my application because I was living and working in the area. 

Jokes aside, the real answer is that, from talking to friends and colleagues who had also been through Stern’s MBA program, I got incredible insights into the quality of the professors and the curriculum. They aligned well with my interests. I was looking to take a big jump in my career in new areas, like Fintech.

Speaking of Fintech, you landed at Stripe, which is one of the more well-known companies in the industry. I’d love to understand more about your journey from NYU to Stripe.

The story starts with the company I worked for before Stripe. I had recently been promoted and shortly after, at the start of Covid, management reacted strongly and eliminated the entire management layer I was promoted into. There was nothing I could do. By taking that promotion, I put myself right in the line of fire. 

Like Mike Tyson once said, “Everybody has a plan until they get hit. Then, like a rat, they stop in fear and freeze.” I knew I had to keep up my momentum and turn that setback into an opportunity. I was wrapping up at NYU at the time, so I enrolled in additional courses that interested me and applied for and was accepted into the Stern Venture Fellows program. I have always tinkered on the side with various business ideas and have launched a few startups. The Venture Fellows program gave me a lot of flexibility to go all in and immerse myself in working on some of my ideas. 

Throughout the course of the program, I did quite well. I confirmed the hypothesis, ‘Can I make money from strangers on the internet?’. However, there wasn’t anything I was building that drew me to wanting to go raise money or go full time with my ideas. 

I knew a few former colleagues at Stripe and had some conversations about where I was and they encouraged me to apply. They told me that it was the most exciting time to join. Fast forward through one of the most difficult hiring processes I’ve ever been through. I quickly immersed myself in the crazy world of payments and global Fintech and now I am working on some of Stripe’s most interesting projects with some of our largest customers. It’s been a hockey stick trajectory since joining the company.

What would make a candidate successful at Stripe?

It’s an extremely unique culture of people that are curious and intelligent. Candidates that have a very long term view of the work that has yet to be done in the space are the best suited people for a company like Stripe.

How do you think your experiences at Stern helped you get to where you are now?

I found that, throughout the entire program, with each passing quarter, my business IQ rose exponentially. By the time I was halfway through, I had such a better grasp on concepts that I really didn’t know anything about or knew superficially. For example, I took several strategy classes with Sonia Marciano that helped me understand frameworks for business strategy.

One of the most influential courses that totally changed the trajectory of my career was The Foundations of Fintech with Kathleen DeRose.  It provided all of the prep work to jump into a company like Stripe. I’ve since joined the advisory board at the Fubon Center for Technology, Business and Innovation at NYU (Fubon Center). So I’m all in on Fintech, in my career and also in outside stuff like investments and advisory work. 

Since you are immersed in the space, do you have any tips for students who are interested in Fintech?

I think the interdisciplinary work being done at Stern right now has grown a lot and it’s definitely better than when I was a student. The Fubon Center and The Berkeley Center for Entrepreneurship (Berkley Center) can provide a wealth of resources, whether you’re interested in working at a Fintech company, interested in starting one, or simply interested in learning more about the curriculum that is developing so fast at NYU.

Let’s go back to the Stern Venture Fellow program. To start off, do you mind giving a quick elevator pitch for it?

Sure. Both Stern and the Berkeley Center offer a ton of different programs, like over 20 different tracks for new emerging entrepreneurs that are coming out of NYU. The Stern Venture Fellows program is one of the most involved and demanding of those because it’s a huge time investment. The purpose of it is to take someone who’s at the idea stage or just ready to start building a company to accelerate, whether it’s an MVP, or acquiring your first customers or users.

How was your experience as a Venture Fellow?

When you’re starting a company and going from zero to one, and on to validation, there is so much that can go wrong or totally derail you. The benefits of the program are that you have access to amazing advisors, guidance and resources, which abstracted away a lot of the minutia and the tedious things you have to do when you’re starting a company. For example, how to incorporate or – ‘oh my God, I now have to worry about a privacy policy and legal terms?!’. Things like that were so foreign to me. The help from advisors makes it so much easier for you to get your ideas off the ground and to the point where you’re actually bringing dollars in the door.

You’ve fluctuated between entrepreneurship and working for companies during your career, and you make it look very easy! How do you do it?

It’s a never ending curiosity on what’s the next big thing and positioning yourself to be valuable and in that space – whether it’s starting a company or going to work for a desirable company. From there, you continue to learn and expand into new spaces as they develop. Fintech, for example, means a lot of things and there’s so much going on. Just look at DeFi (decentralized finance) and crypto. Are they going to rival the banking system? How will money transfer and ecommerce work with these new elements in the mix? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but you can bet a lot of my free time is spent learning, playing and figuring out ways I can deliver value in these areas.

How do you keep your eye on ‘the next big thing?’

There are certain people out there that always seem to be on top of it. I’ve collected friends and colleagues over the years that are always ahead of what the next hot thing will be. They’ll tell you something and three months, or six months later, it’s mainstream. 

And for those of us who aren’t fortunate enough to have friends like this (…yet)?

Twitter is number one. But be careful that you don’t fall into echo chambers there. Find a  diverse group of people to follow that are always talking about new and interesting things. 

And the latest world of Substacks and newsletters, you can check it out and continuously subscribe to and unsubscribe from the things that you discover.

Now It’s time for our rapid fire questions:

What’s one word that describes you? Tenacious

Favorite professor at Stern? Anjolein Schmeits

What are you reading right now?  I’m always reading at least two books at the same time (one fun and one serious), right now they are The Unreasonable Virtue of Fly Fishing by Mark Kurlansky  and Taliban by Ahmed Rashid

Finish the sentence. At seven am you can find me…  just wrapping up a kettlebell workout and sitting down to my computer to get my day started.

What’s a cause you’re passionate about? Helping empower young people in financial literacy. 

Favorite movie, TV show or podcast?  

Movie – There Will Be Blood

Show – Arrested Development

Podcast – The All-In Podcast

What’s one thing you can’t do that you want to learn? Smart contract engineering

If you could meet anyone living or dead who would it be? Winston Churchill 

Last question, what advice do you have for soon-to-be graduating MBAs reentering the workforce or looking to pivot into something new?

If you’re just wrapping up your time at Stern, having a wider view on what your possibilities are is extremely important. Be very open minded and flexible; the world is changing and workplaces are evolving so rapidly. If you fall into the trap of defining yourself based on your career up to now, you could be shutting yourself off from really interesting and beneficial future opportunities.

The other thing I’ll say is that you can get so much out of Stern by getting involved in events, lunch and learns, talks, and club events. Take advantage of everything because it’s truly enriching. You never know what doors will open up just by getting more involved.

That’s great advice, thanks so much for sharing your story with us, Rob! Sternies, you can find Rob on LinkedIn or on Twitter @rbmrry, and learn more about Stripe at stripe.com.

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