Too Good for Good Enough – Neel Popat

27 February, 2019

EF is proud to announce the $115 Million first close of its new Global Fund. This will allow us to continue funding even more incredible individuals from all over the world to build game changing companies. Neel Popat is the CEO and co-founder of Donut which helps you build a digital asset investment portfolio in under 5 minutes.

Settling is anathema to ambitious people. You know you’ve got more in the tank and you’re not using it. You’re selling yourself short. At Entrepreneur First, we know that settling for a well paid job in a traditional career path just won’t cut it for the smartest, most ambitious people – for the outliers. And that’s why our mission is to liberate those outliers, by showing them that there is an alternative – one where they can take their ambition and skills and channel them into building a world changing company. Neel Popat is one of those outliers and we’re excited to see what he’ll do now that he’s been let loose on the world.

By all accounts, Neel was doing well. After graduating with First Class Honours from LSE in Maths, he’d worked his way up the finance industry, starting off as an analyst at Rothschild, before working as an investment professional at two top London funds.  He’d now transitioned to a career in Venture Capital, helping entrepreneurs realise their often absurd visions in New York. On the surface, things were great – Neel was living in an exciting new city and making more money than he knew what to do with. But if you dug a little deeper, something wasn’t quite right.

As it happened, that something manifested itself in a meeting with an unlikely entrepreneur at the end of 2017. In his role at Studio VC, Neel invested in startups and he found himself in a meeting with a certain Travis, who was raising $10 million for an emoji sticker business. The reason Travis was an unlikely entrepreneur, as he revealed to Neel himself, was that just a few years ago he’d started off his career working in a fried chicken shop, before rising up the ranks to manage a chain of them – and now here he was pitching for millions of dollars. Recalling his memory of that meeting, Neel remembers the thoughts running through his mind “Has this guy over-performed, or have I underperformed? Has he done really well, or have I done really badly?” Neel was selling himself short and he knew it.

In a sense, this realisation was a return to his childhood ambition. A top academic performer, Neel had thrived at school without putting in too much effort and had plenty of time for other, more interesting projects – one of which was building his very first business. As a kid coder, Neel knew his way around a computer – and at the age of 13 he built a message board out of his bedroom called What You Sayin which went viral, even getting coverage in The Guardian.

With countless teenagers spending hours and hours on the platform, there were inevitable misuses – so schools began sending letters home to parents telling them to stop their children logging on. The heat was on and Neel was forced to take it down – but he’d had his first taste of what it was like to build something from scratch that people used and loved. That memory would come back to inspire him while he was sitting in his flat in New York after the meeting with Travis, meditating on what he was doing with his life.

Inevitably, Neel started asking himself some tough questions – “What am I doing? What is my ten-year, my fifteen year ambition? Do I really want to keep doing this investing stuff for a fund? Or do I want to create something that has an impact and changes the world around me?” His expertise meant that many of his friends often consulted him for investment advice and that combined with his knowledge of the crypto space meant the requests started to roll in thick and fast towards the end of 2017 with the boom in digital asset classes like Bitcoin. The lack of investment knowledge and prevalence of wild speculation convinced him there was a problem to be solved here – knew that he wanted to get involved in the crypto space in some capacity and now felt like the best time to do it.

So he set out on the co-founder trail to find someone he could build a company with – but quickly ran into problems and struggled to find any suitable candidates. As he says himself, “When you’re looking for a co-founder, there are so many variables you need to fall into place that to actually get all of those right, at the same time, you have to get really lucky.” And as with so many of our cohort members, those co-founder struggles are what led him to EF. He’d heard about the platform from two of his friends who’d been through the EF experience and done well, leaving with seed funded companies. So he took the plunge and applied to our first Berlin cohort, eager to join the emerging blockchain and crypto ecosystem in Germany’s tech capital.

When he was offered a place on the platform, the decision was a tough one, but a simple one – he knew what he wanted and he wasn’t going to sell himself short anymore. So he left his life in New York behind and joined our first Berlin cohort in March 2018. Six months later he’d met his co-founder Jordan Abderrachid and was pitching his company, Donut, at our EUR10 Demo Day –  and shortly afterwards he closed a seed funding round to grow the team and build out the combined vision.

Solving a key problem in the crypto space, Donut helps you build a digital asset investment portfolio in under 5 minutes, removing the complexity of purchasing, storing and managing a portfolio with a gamified approach. And now, instead of investing money in others and wasting time in the past of the financial industry, Neel is using everything he’s got to invest in himself and spending most of his waking hours building the industry’s future.

The terrifying thing about settling is that it’s far too easy to slip into it without even realising that you’re doing it. You can know that something’s wrong and still take no action – and that’s even easier if things look great on the surface. At EF we believe the world’s best and brightest minds are too valuable to be wasted on traditional career paths. We believe they’re too good for “good enough” – and after realising this, we’re excited to see what Neel and the team at Donut do with their ambitious mission to build the future of digital asset investing.

At EF, we want our founders to build world changing companies because the opportunity cost of not doing so is too great. If you want to scale your ambition like Neel and build a world changing company, apply now for one of our next cohorts in London, Berlin, Paris, Singapore, Bangalore or Toronto.

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