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Venture Out: SmartAsset


Philip Camilleri's startup hopes to make financial planning tools more effective for everyone

A SmartAsset user can enter their basic financial information and then interact with different calculators and charts to help them understand how their home buying will affect their finances. The site recommends a home price that the user can afford and provides graphs to back up its suggestion.

An online platform that aims to radically transform the way people make financial decisions by bringing full transparency to the process, SmartAsset is currently gearing up to present to top inventors from around the country via Y-Combinator. Y-Combinator is a household name for anyone in the startup world; the start-up incubator has already spawned such companies as AirBnB, Dropbox, and Reddit. The main objectives behind YC is to focus on the product, the customer and just build out the product that best suits the companies' target audience.

"We are transparent by combining our financial modeling technology with specific market-based information, live data and tax intelligence to provide simple, personalized, actionable answers to complex questions," explained Philip Camilleri, the 33-year-old co-founder and CTO of the company. SmartAsset uses real data to provide personalized, quantified answers to specific financial questions, as opposed to anecdotal generalized content.

The idea came from "brainchild" co-founder Michael Carvin. In 2010 Carvin decided he wanted to buy his first home, wanting to ensure his decision was a sound one, especially in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008. After finding lots of information online, he realized that online mortgage calculators were unhelpful and often inaccurate. In the end, Carvin built a financial model in Excel. Camilleri, was previously working for a software development company, and Carvin met around this time and developed the self-service platform that is now SmartAsset.

After seven years with his previous company, Camilleri says he had become accustomed to the comfort and security of the job. "For me, it was mostly about making a conscious decision on what I wanted in the future, and then planning accordingly," said Camilleri about why he waited so long to make a change. "I saw several hundred people, in suits, getting on and off the subway, looking grim and monotonous on their way to work, and I never wanted to be like that."

He knew the first few years of a startup were "going to be rough." Fortunately for SmartAsset, with YC, the future is looking bright. SmartAsset launched last month, is currently comprised of a team of five, and claims to have had more than 14,000 people using the site. The company is generating revenue from advertising and lead generation. Currently, it's have raised $900,000 in seed funding from YC, Quotidian Ventures as well as New York and Silicon Valley based angel investors.

Camilleri admits that being gay most likely didn't have much to do with him wanting to be an entrepreneur, but feels that his sexuality did make him want to prove himself in relation than others, especially having been brought up in the conservative country of Malta. "I also have this innate obsession with wanting to create things," he said, "at age 15, I started a theater production company with my two best friends that ran for four years." Camilleri also founded his university newspaper as well as a mobile software company. "I seem to get a kick out of getting things done. On the other hand, some might also consider it a crazy obsession!"

Camilleri first heard about StartOut in 2009. "I clearly remember attending their launch event at Vlada Bar in New York City," he said, "I thought I was going to be at a small event with a handful of people -- instead the place was packed, and I met a couple of really interesting individuals, including some who have been great friends and inspirations ever since."

Beyond inspiration, Camilleri says that, on a more practical level, he met people at StartOut who have played a very direct role in getting SmartAsset going, including one person who later joined their Advisory Board. "StartOut is a great resource, and I hope one day to be able to contribute as much (and more) back to the group."

Camilleri feels that being gay has nothing to do with one's ability to start and build a company, and he doesn't think anyone really cares. "A successful entrepreneur is simply a successful entrepreneur: male, female, gay, straight, whatever."

Camilleri then quickly added that being gay can be turned to one's advantage. "There are several LGBT individuals out there -- successful entrepreneurs, investors, potential employees," he said, "and a lot of them are very willing to help out, introduce you to their own friends, colleagues, network." He added that it's important to build a strong network while also being forthcoming and willing to help out.

This is a monthly series highlighting a successful business within the LGBT community that has had some involvement with the StartOut organization. StartOut strives to educate, inspire and support entrepreneurs. It fosters LGBT leadership in the business community through various methods including social programming opportunities, providing role models, connecting mentors, and promoting equality.

More information about StartOut is available here.

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