Kirat Singh’s startup is empowering the future of financial markets. They just put tens of millions of additional capital in the bank to fuel their growth too. His venture, Beacon has attracted funding from top-tier investors like Pimco and Blackstone.
In this episode, you will learn:
- Company culture across continents
- What’s ahead for Beacon and its customers
- Kirat Singh’s top advice before starting a business
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About Kirat Singh:
At Goldman, Kirat wrote and maintained the core SecDb framework which was used by the entire investment bank for pricing and risk managing derivatives. At JP Morgan, Kirat and his team built and designed the new generation risk and trading system for FX & Commodities. They successfully replaced existing third-party systems.
At Bank of America, Kirat Singh built Quartz which now runs a large part of the entire derivatives business. At Beacon, he built a cloud-native quant and analytics platform used by asset managers, banks, insurance companies, and hedge funds.
Kirat’s interests are in writing software for sophisticated users. He has designed and built distributed computing frameworks, databases, compilers, risk and trading systems, and cloud infrastructure. He is a fan of flat agile organizations and loves working with people smarter than him.
Specialties: Distributed OO Databases, Dependency Graphs, Language Design, Cloud Computing, Frameworks for quantitative finance.
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Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
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Alejandro: Alrighty hello everyone and welcome to the dealmakerr show. So today. We’re gonna be talking quite a bit about the financial service space. You know our founder today left a financial service space to really start I mean the corporate side of it to really start his own company. And we’re gonna be talking about building scaling financing every single aspect of being in the hypergrowth environment. So I guess without farther do I like to work ah to welcome argu guests today. Karat Singh welcome to the show. Thanks.
Kirat Singh: Thank you very much Aleandra Really appreciate you having having me on the show.
Alejandro: So originally born and raised in India so tell us about your upbringings give us that walkthrough memory lane. So.
Kirat Singh: Thank you? Yeah, that’s right? So I grew up in India actually I grew up in a farm in the Punjab um, and I still remember when I was a little kid. We had no electricity most of the time and then we moved to Delhi and I came to the us.
Alejandro: So so at what point do you come here to the us at what point does it make you know complete sense that that it was an option and that you could do it because I mean it’s quite a long trip coming all the way from India here.
Kirat Singh: To go to college.
Kirat Singh: Yeah that’s right? and so you know so when I was a little kid actually my dad loved tinkering with stuff so he got a computer so I started writing code on on like a Zx head 1 that had two kilobytes of Ram. Um. So you wrote everything in assembly because nothing else actually did anything useful and I just loved math and computers. Um, and then I remember it was 91 or something when one of my friends had gone to the us to go to college and no internet in those days and he’s like oh you know you should apply it to the us for colleges. So I went to the american embassy in Delhi and I picked up a stack of applications. Um, and the top top. They all happened to be ivy e colleges I had no idea what they all meant and I applied to them all and I got into 2 was mit and Harvard. So I just got super lucky. So
Alejandro: Wow and I know that in India there’s a lot of pressure for education. So I’m sure that you know when your when you told your parents that you were to you were going or that you were accepted to 1 of the most regarded universities in the world that were probably thrilled.
Kirat Singh: Well, you know my dad was like you should go to Iot I think it’s a better university so it was pretty funny.
Alejandro: Ah, very cool. So then so let’s talk about that because you came here and you went to harvard to do mathematics. So so how was that the a change of environment for you I mean coming here I’m sure it was like a culture shock.
Kirat Singh: Yeah, you know it I thought it was amazing going to harvard and to me it was just meeting so many smart people and just like it was you know, actually 1 of my math classmates won the fields medal. His name is manjoul pargo and he’s just incredibly smart. So. I just felt like I learned so much from just being around smart people and smart professors at Harvard so is is an amazing experience.
Alejandro: So Goldman Sachs was definitely the first stop and you were there for quite a bit and so so tell us how was that experience being a Goldman Sachs
Kirat Singh: Um, so yeah, after I was graduating from college you know I actually knew nothing about finance math and computers like our up writinging software and Goldman had this like small group sitting on the trading desk that was called strats at the time and you know one of the guys who hired me there called me up. And he says you know love your resume. You don’t know anything about finance but you know your math and computer science is pretty good. We are a bunch of rocket scientists. You should come here. So it’s like okay, great. Um, you know? Finally someone? um, ah like just like Harvard like I love being around smart people and I think that was the most amazing thing about going to goman. Everyone that was super smart. They were all like literally rocket scientists. There was you know a guy who had a ph d in a aeronautics and you know there’s like actually my partner Mark Higgins who co-founded beacon with me. He has a ph d in astrophysics. So. Were sitting on the desk and actually I used to sit in the office where fischer black used to sit before that and you know as you can imagine. So this is sort of late 90 s you know everyone is just writing all these like cool derivatives models still used like lotus 1 2 3 to price things. So. For some reason they let me be 1 of the lead developers on this like platform called selecttb and I was 22 years old um so we wrote everything ourselves at those times like we wrote our own interpreter for programming languages. We wrote our own databases. We wrote our own distributed computing infrastructure. And was super fun because you sit on the desk and you’d hear the salespeople shouting to the traders for prices and then figure out you know how do you optimize this? How do you make sure that you know what they can price for their clients is the same thing that their book and the same thing that they can manage risk on and you know these are complex. Fun math problems. So like. It is super super fun.
Alejandro: Now in this case I mean you you you not only went to Goldman Sachs but then you went to Jpmorgan and then you went to bank of America I mean you’ve been in some of the biggest banking institutions out there. So one of the things that that I 3 was really interesting is that. Within each one of those institutions you were kind of like an entrepreneur I mean you were building. You know your own thing and and and the teams around the 2 so. Why? Why do you think it took you so long to to say hey you know what? I’m I’m already building companies within companies to a certain degree. Why not starting my own.
Kirat Singh: Um, you know I honestly I came here as an immigrant and I think it’s much It felt a lot safer to be at a big company to be honest. And but also we were doing really really interesting things so you know at Goldman for example, I don’t think I could have learned what I learned without being at Goldman at the time and so you know being at a bank where you’re like in sort of the cutting edge of like derivative trading so we did fx we did rates. We did equities. We did credit. That was a really unique experience I think I was very fortunate to be able to be there while building this derivative system called Sextb which still runs all of Coleman’s rivers front to back and then you know when we went to jp literally as you said it was like a startup in the bank. We said let’s build a new trading system from scratch. You know so that. The technology can move at the same speed as the market. Um, and it was super fun. You know did that for 4 years like literally these businesses grew to a billion dollar business and I remember when Jp bought bare like literally in one weekend we could take the entire fx options portfolio and import it into Athena and so. Like there was always just these really fun problems to solve and computational like lot of scale same thing at bank of America and then eventually I think I realized that I was doing the same thing everywhere and the reason we were doing it is because there wasn’t a platform out there and that’s what I’m passionate about is like building platforms to enable people. So. Think at that point decided to do that and actually also I quit I think the same week. My daughter was born from from Bank Of America and it was just a very nice time I spent you know three months with her when she was really little and and we started beacon so I always joke beacon. She’s six months older than beacon.
Alejandro: Wow Now now in that in that sense you you mentioned earlier that it was always nice and safe to be under corporation. You know and have that that level of Safety. So I Guess it’s interesting because here you go, You know you start your own Family. You have your daughter or you or you were about to have your daughter. And you give your notice. So what? What? What? What do you think gave you that sense of peace to know that everything was gonna be a ride.
Kirat Singh: You know I think actually 1 nice thing about having worked for banks for 17 years is that I felt like I could take a little bit of time to say like even if I wanted to go back I could um and I also just wanted you know actually I really write even now I work. All the time because it’s really fun because I write code in my free time but every day at five o’clock I stop and I have dinner with my kids and that’s very nice.
Alejandro: I Hear you now let’s talk about beacon then like like how did how did it come in the picture and what was that process for you to say you know what? I think this thing has legs I’m gonna go for it
Kirat Singh: So I think what like it was maybe like whatever in somewhere in 2010 and all what we found was that if you’re a top-t tier market maker capital markets. Whatever you know like it’s very hard to find a vendor system that does what you want. And to me derivatives in 2 in the 90 s were really interesting because if you could trade a new derivative that nobody else could that was your edge and you were coming up with all these brilliant models and all these things to to create these derivatives markets but to but in 2010 and now 20 those are all multilateral trades. If I am trading it. Someone else is trading it There’s a market price that we must agree on and there’s a lot of shared pain there and banks have spent like literally 20 years building this tech and their counterparts in a sense. Don’t have access to that same level of technology and you know having been part of building this. It felt like. We should build an open platform like this where people can add their own models. They can take they can take our reference models and extend them and also be cloud native you know I’ve been through this journey of like setting up data centers and running compute at scale and like literally you know running 40000 cores for like risk calculations overnight. Um, and for the with the cloud I feel like I’m a kid in a candy store. You know these are all like softwarefined Apis and we want to make it easy for people to access them for infrastructure to be as elastic as the market and have an open transparent platform and that’s actually something I care a lot about transparency and openness. Like we are the only vendor who gives all our clients our source code because I think they’re not our competitors. You want them to see how we do things we learn stuff from that so you know a really big believer in this transparency and sort of open source community.
Alejandro: For so here we say becon a essentially for the people that are listening to get it I mean what? what ended up being the business model. How do you guys make money. So.
Kirat Singh: So we sell a platform that allows you to risk manage price and create derivatives primarily um and so our clients are banks asset managers head funds hedge funds insurance companies. So it’s basically software as a service or platform as a service. It’s cloud agnostic and so we have very global business. You know since we started we had like a Tokyo London New York office we have so we have a presence in aacc emia and the us sorry North America
Alejandro: And in your case I mean you, you’ve been always on the technical side. You know up until becon How how has it been for you as a journey to kind of like go from the technical side more to the business side I know that that transition is not an easy one.
Kirat Singh: Yeah, you know that’s a great question actually and you know I never really thought of myself as as like being a Ceo right? and I’m not sure I still do. But what I did realize is that to be a good developer. You have to be a salesperson because you’re selling your ideas you’re telling somebody else. You know. I understand your problem I can make it easier for you to solve if only you use this like little widget I built for you and the thing that I find the most fun about beacon as being a technology business is we’re in the business of solving problems for people that we are really good at. And I learned so much from talking to my clients. You know we were super lucky. We had our first enterprise client like nine months after we started, there were 4 of us literally and we sold beacon to like a $50000000000 insurance company. Um, and I think so much respect for those folks they put so much trust in us. And then pinco was one of our first early investors and like I don’t know I count myself very fortunate every day because I get to talk to the smartest people in the industry and I learn a lot from them. So I know it’s been super fun.
Alejandro: Now on the investment side. How much capital have you guys raised today.
Kirat Singh: Um, so we just finished our series c where we raised a total of 56000000 from warburg and Blackstone. Um and some of our other investors also participated and then centana was our series. B. Yeah I’m funny I I’m trying to calculate. It’s I should know this off the top of my head but I’m not a finance person. So I think that is correct. Yeah that’s yeah that’s right yeah
Alejandro: Probably close to I think it’s close to a 0 right and and and in this journey I mean you were talking about series c series b you have the series a how has it been the process of going from 1 financing cycle to another. How is that for you guys.
Kirat Singh: You know, actually it’s it was amazing. Learning experience so you know we bootstrapped the business originally um so I think what is really interesting about all our financing grounds. Well we never expected to raise money when we raise money so we always sort of. Very careful on how we grew the business organically um and then our first financing round was pinco actually and it all started because the Ceo of pinmcore reached out to us like literally on email. Um, and he’s amazing I think he just felt like beacon was the right technology. Um, and you know as he said that you know our core businesses technology be pinco’s core business is finance. So so he would love to invest in us. Um, and I think there was a sea change for us like you know, actually they set up a board. Um, we actually had a first cfo actually at the time. Before that we had no cfo. Um, you know thinking about budgets and investments and what business lines we are in and how to you know, figure out, go-tomarket strategies. So I think and that was that was that was amazing. Um. And then ah series b again was to say okay, we are very much finance. Focusedcued. Let’s try to look for um, ah Vc investor who can help us on the growth side and all that and again sort of the stars aligned and San Hanna came came actually to invest in us almost before we started our seriesb round and I think they just brought a lot of this like you know. Silicon Valley Growth equity technology in like discipline to us and like finally in last year we were pretty conservative through covid and you know since we started taking investment like we’ve had almost 2 x revenue growth every year so it’s it’s been quite a while right? you know and like we were conservative and hiring through covid just because of the situation but like over the last year we’ve doubled in headcount as well. So I think it’s just been interesting like I knew everybody at beacon I could talk to everybody like I you know I knew their names I knew their family and now it’s harder right? Like there’s so many more people who I know less and. That’s I find that hard by the way.
Alejandro: Because because how many people do you guys have now at the company a hundred and seventy eight now talking about people in this case I mean going back to the investment side I mean when you have people like warber pincus you have a you know folks like pimco.
Kirat Singh: We are about a hundred and seventy eight now
Alejandro: I mean I’m sure that they now I mean the the board is it must be like a running super smoothly. So so I guess an effective board. What does it look like so.
Kirat Singh: Um, yeah, That’s a great question. Um I you know our board members are great and I think since the beginning too since Bimco invested I think they’ve been very supportive I think their view has been that we are good at technology and how do they help us. Fill in the gaps in the things that you know we can do better like finance marketing. Go-to-market. Um, and just scale you know, actually keeping the culture that you have as you grow you know the things that are good about beacons sort of the transparency the flat Hierarchy. Um. But you know just being able to scale our operations. Our Go-to-market. So I think to me, it’s really just adding more and more experience as we need it and that’s why it’s been amazing to have Santana Join Blackstone Warburg They bring unique perspectives to it.
Alejandro: Now indeed in this case, you know as as you guys are thinking about people and and hiring and and so forth I Mean how do you? How do you manage to really grow so fast the headcount but then also make sure that perhaps the culture and the.
Kirat Singh: Um.
Alejandro: Values of the business are not getting lost.
Kirat Singh: Yeah I know that’s a great question. We. It’s it’s very hard. Um, but and I think what’s been good for us in a way is that we’ve been very diverse and you know also just geographically distributed since the beginning. Um, you know we we like I said in the beginning we had. Tokyo office as well. We had a japanese company that called simplex which has been one of our earliest partners that sold beacon to Japanese Banks so from the beginning we had Japan. We had emia we had New York and so I think. Just a diversity of people at beacon geographically and just like just sort of you know other ways do makes it easier for us to attract people. So. In fact, if if you look at our management team. There’s 7 people on it and there’s 5 women and and 2 guys. So I think you know we’ve been. Like I think really good at continuing to care about diversity and maintain it and that also makes it easier for us to hire and keep that culture.
Alejandro: So now in in in in that sense Too. You know when when when you’re like in the Hypergrowth mode as Well. I mean how how do you think about like building relationships ahead of time so that because as they say as the saying goes when when you need to hire people. And you go out on recruiting and all that stuff it’ probably too late and it’s all about like building. Perhaps those relationships ahead of time. So How do you go about doing that so that whenever you know you need to make that placement. You already have the person and you’re already made ready to make that phone call stuff.
Kirat Singh: You know I think it’s It’s interesting because it’s a very small world in a sense and I think everyone who does stuff in this finance derivatives technology Cloud like a lot of people just know each other and I Think. To me a lot of my job too. And other folks is like talking to folks and you know like I feel like exchanging ideas with people and being open makes people kind of like that’s how you keep yourself relevant and also then know who you should talk to when you’re trying to grow a business. Um. It also makes it fun.
Alejandro: And now in terms of like the the for example, the market. You know that you guys are playing in I mean what? what do you see? What do you see things heading as a whole and.
Kirat Singh: Yeah, you know that’s a great question like I think it’s been really interesting. There’s have been a lot of consolidation in in sort of financial services right? like FIS and and and other folks and I you know i.
Kirat Singh: Think again, if you look at derivatives. It’s it’s you know, sort of like the web 1.0 versus web 2.02 right? like everyone is opening up. They’re trying to create apis they’re kind of trying to create trading platforms. But I still think what’s missing is this common platform which says you know you can actually extend models on whatever your edge is. And you know so for example, like just pricing a swap is not your edge anymore. Your edge is some unique bit of data that you can put in decide how you build the curve or like how you look at risk or at benchmarks and so I think again the. Where this thing should go to say is that you want to be able to customize the things that are unique to your business but have everything else essentially out of the box and.
Alejandro: now now now how would you say that covid you know perhaps I say push things in which direction would you say I mean I’m sure that it probably has changed a bit the way that you guys interacting internally as a team because you know this is not the probably the the company that you were running. Ah now I mean. Now post covid obviously it’s completely different than before covid right? I mean you’ve been at it now for about 8 years so I’m sure that the way that you guys have thought about you know, ah interacting with one another and and also um. Meeting and and all of that has probably changed a bit so so how would you say that is to change things for you.
Kirat Singh: Yeah, it’s been a big change when we first started like literally you know, worked at banks all the time so like being in the office. All the time was super important right? and it was pretty interesting when covid first happened. Actually we were like. I think first week of marsh we decided we’ will be fully remote. You’re a tech company we can afford to do that. We’re very lucky to be able to do that actually because our business technology. It’s just as easy to do it from home as from work and so much respect for all the folks who actually have made the economy run for us like you know people in front lines. Healthcare grocery stores and all these central services and but for us. Um I think the big change then was that you have to be very intentional about time and meetings and um and as you hire people as well. How do you onboard them. Because there’s not that you know onboarding through osmosis just because you’re sitting in the office you hear what people are doing. Um, so I think that’s been a big change but we’ve you know more than doubled a headcount since covid and so I think there’s probably more people here at beacon than there were before covid so I think it’s just. You know, continuing to keep that culture. Make sure people interact make sure that you know you connect the right people which you can do through Zoom and now start having some meetings in person. Um I don’t think we’ll ever go back to full work in the office but we will end up. Being much more intentional about getting together. Um, you know, get together for a purpose whether it’s like social interaction whether it’s like solving a problem. Um, so that’s definitely changed a lot but I think 1 thing that helped us with all this was. We were always very global like I you know talked to our Tokyo team. I work very closely with them so we were already used to working over Zoom and having this sort of you know virtual thing but I haven’t been to tokio for 2 years which is a shame and we so would like to start doing that again. So we have ah 5 offices now.
Alejandro: How how many Officerss do you guys have.
Kirat Singh: New York London Tokyo Warsaw and India which is.
Alejandro: So and how do you go about culture because obviously the culture on every office is different. So how do you make sure that the culture from one office to another is is not so different from the actual headquarters here in New York
Kirat Singh: Um, you know, actually by the way I don’t think karat needs to be all the same I think everyone is different. So I think to me, it’s mostly just about recognizing cultural differences and and you know respecting them and and working together. Um, but I think 1 thing again important things are you know. Integrity respect transparency those are super important to me. Um and making sure that you know we we put our clients first and I think that’s sort of the the minimum.
Alejandro: Now Now your background in mathematics I mean you, you are all about resolving problems. So I’m I’m sure that there’s gonna be a very interesting one for for the entrepreneurs that are listening right now and as you’re thinking about problems And. You’re dealing with problems every single day all day. What is that thought process that goes into it in order to really get to a potential solution especially when you have like a massive breakdown like what is your process in order to really you know come up with with the answer or perhaps with a path to follow.
Kirat Singh: Um, yeah, you know I so I’m very much a detailed person. So like personally I try first you know if I have a problem like I like having time to think about it first. So I’ll go read up a bunch of stuff make sure I can educate myself. On the problem and then when it actually comes time to discuss it. Um and or try to at least get a high level view of the problem we are trying to solve because if you can’t articulate. It. You can’t solve it and then just get into the details and like I think if you can’t. Go all the way down and if it’s not consistent then you’re like treading on unstable ground right? and you can’t go forward anymore. So but I think it’s actually that problem framing. That’s almost the hardest thing to do once you can frame a problem you can solve it and then once you framed it then. Being able to understand the details all the way down and you know whether so I knew nothing about finance or fundraising or like legal docs and had to learn that. But it’s all kind of fun like I remember our first bank contract was like a 250 page legal doc and you know we didn’t really have any lawyers.
Alejandro: Ah, wow I’m sure you probably need a nap or 2 after all that Lia language ah like can you ah and I can’t imagine now.
Kirat Singh: So I read the whole damn thing and.
Kirat Singh: Or there was a lot of coffee involved. Um and music. So actually I love to listen to music so I put on Opera drink coffee and and and read legal contracts.
Alejandro: I I love it I Love it now now in terms of we’re talking about it before or where things are heading. You know, obviously as a whole from a market perspective I Guess you know that that reminds me more of of your like imagine you know you go to sleep tonight and you wake up in a world. Let’s say.
Kirat Singh: I.
Alejandro: Five years later where the vision of beacon is fully realized what does that world look like.
Kirat Singh: You know I so right now if I if if I look at a bunch of our clients in capital markets and derivatives. Yeah insurance hedge funds asset managers banks each of them has their own siloed infrastructure to. Ingest market data to ingest trades in positions, value derivatives and then come up with a trading strategy. Um, and if I think about like to me what you want is a common platform that says I know how market data works. If you have new market data you can plug that in and do what if scenarios or change your models without having to build the whole stack from scratch and again I think some of these things are super interesting because they’re bilateral trades. So. There’s really no value to. Every company building that themselves so what we really want is the platform. That’s flexible enough for folks to say here’s how if I’m trading with alicandro I can trade you know an equity structure note and on my side I know how to risk manage it. But I can also agree with him on what the price is and what the. Risk is and what this settlement is um and I think the other thing I find super interesting is all these things are very compute intensive and rather than data centers and managing machines and infrastructure. That’s always on we have this cloud agnostic model that says spin up compute on demand. Doesn’t matter which cloud provider it is even right? whether it’s Aws or is your or Gcp that gives you disaster recovery gives you more resilience. Um, and also lets you take advantage of all the features that you have like you know there’s some cool machine learning things in Google you want to run just that on Google and bring it back on. So I think it’s just a very connected world now and there’s all these apis and software defined infrastructure and so being able to take advantage of that to solve problems commercial problems for the market to give people value I think is is really what what you know? we think we can really enable that
Alejandro: Now imagine if I put you into a time machine and I bring you back in time perhaps to that moment where you were giving your notice and you were thinking about what was going to be next and and and and perhaps even about building a business imagine you had the opportunity. Having a chat with that younger Kiat and and and and perhaps giving that younger Karrat a piece of advice before launching a business. What would that be and why given what you know now.
Kirat Singh: Oh launching when I was launching a business.
Alejandro: Before launching a business. So let’s say you were able to go back to that moment that moment where right before you launch the company. You know what would be based on what you know now because obviously now it’s been eight years full of experiences full of ah highs full of lows. Ah, full of successes full of failures. Whatever that is you have all that knowledge right now and imagine you have that younger krat right now in front of you. What would that? Why would you tell that younger Krat that one piece of advice that you think that younger Kurrat should absolutely know before going into the journey. And launching a business. So.
Kirat Singh: I Think the most important thing I learned was um.
Kirat Singh: Just don’t be afraid of trying new things and you know just like they actually I think I’ve been very fortunate to work with great people and like we can like if you think this is the right thing to do. We should just do it. And not get sidetracked or you know, um, take shortcuts sometimes but it’s like stay the course and like you know like I think just just trust yourself right? and I think that just removes a bunch of angst I Trust the team.
Alejandro: I love it very profound Sora for the people that are listening. What is the best way for them to reach out and say hi.
Kirat Singh: Yes.
Kirat Singh: Oh um, probably easiest to find me on Linkedin Kira saying on Linkedin.
Alejandro: Amazing! Well hey Carat thank you so much for being on the dealmakerr show today.
Kirat Singh: Thank you Alecando Really appreciate the time as well and a pleasure speaking to you.
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