My Soapbox: Jay Finch, Socstock

Let’s get this out of the way early: Jay Finch is not easily defined. He likes it that way.

At 26, Finch has a resume many Wall Street wannabes aspire to. A Villanova University honors graduate, he earned a full scholarship to study economics at Cambridge University and was a visiting undergraduate at Harvard University in economics.  

While still in college, he worked at the World Bank and in the United States Congress. Goldman Sachs hired him out of college, where he worked as an investment banker helping to grow two new businesses, each with an average of $2.5 billion under management.

Then he quit to start his own business.

The Cleveland native moved to Cincinnati earlier this year as a member of The Brandery’s 2012 class.

The Founder and CEO of Socstock, a business  that helps small businesses raise capital from supporters who are paid back in goods and services from the companies they help fund, sat down with Soapbox recently to discuss the startup, Cincinnati and his hopes for the future.

Q: That’s a heck of a trajectory.
A: I had a fantastic time. I was very fortunate to have these experiences and now I think that I feel uniquely positioned to change the world because it’s more than education. It’s the 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell talks about; you need to do something for 10,000 hours to become extraordinary. I remain committed to being an extraordinary social financier.

Q: Explain Socstock.
A: Socstock is a way for locally-owned small businesses to harness the power of their communities to get zero interest cash. It is also a way for individuals to not only fund and support their favorite local businesses, but also in return they get $2 for in goods and services for every $1 invested.

Socstock is way for small business to get capital for a project that doesn’t cost them interest, and it doesn’t require them to give up a part of their business. For consumers, it is a way to make an investment in community and have that investment pay a meaningful return. For people in the community there is currently no way for you to say: “Hey I love this place and I really want to be a part of its growth story.” In this case, you can make investment in a place that you love and it returns that love in goods and services.

Q: When did you launch?
A: We launched in Beta in Jersey City in January. We are preparing to re-launch our site in October.

Q: Who does Socstock currently have relationships with?
A: In Beta we had about 300 people who signed up for Socstock who want to invest into their community. We have a relationship with Springboard, which we are super excited about. It's official. 

We also have a handful of clients thinking about how Socstock can be deployed in their communities as well or with their agenda.
Q: You graduated without a major. Why?
A: I am an entrepreneur by heart, even before I become an entrepreneur, so I figured out what I needed to learn and (was) pragmatic about creating my own curriculum and pedagogy.  

A: Where does your fortitude come from?
Q:  When I was a kid, I was doing my own thing. I had a lot of confidence and, frankly sometimes arrogance, and just fortitude to get things done.

I was living in a tough part of Cleveland. Instead of getting a job at McDonalds, I got an unpaid internship with my Congresswoman. That was a big deal. In college, people were like, “Why are you not studying business?” I wanted to read, write, learn how to do math really, really well and learn how power systems and distributions systems work, and no one could get that at the time.

I was a first-generation college student. I believed it was the right thing to do, so I did it.  

Look, when everyone else was doing what they were doing, I was in the back doing something else. When everyone else was messing around with college, I was learning finance and doing deals with people who had done them. I’ve always been the kind of guy who was doing my own thing. I think you have to have a view, own your decisions and just go.

Q: What would you recommend for other entrepreneurs?
A: At a minimum, make sure that you own the outcomes by creating the processes for yourself. I’m not suggesting you just do random things like not have a major. I’m suggesting that you deliberately choose to do things that better your chances of uniquely changing this world.

If that means you drop out of Harvard to start a business or you need to spend time to learn programming, as is the case of some folks at The Brandery, then go do that. Or if you need to go to law school, then go do that.

Q: Doing that takes great courage and risk.
A: Well, we are entrepreneurs: It is full-combat, gloves off. You have to be courageous, you have to be willing to take risks, and you have to have confidence in yourself. You have to be willing to embrace progress, even if that progress means a failure or a victory.

For those not interested in taking that risk, I would recommend getting a job. For those of us who want to create the change we want to see in the world, for those who get passionate in building a project, I would suggest you be an entrepreneur.

A: Much is made of passion.
Q:  It starts with passion. My business is not about building wealth or about wanting to be an entrepreneur. I have a view of the world that I would like to see. This business is what I think is my market ministry.

At the heart of what we are doing is helping extraordinary people do extraordinary things by being that catalyst to give them the resources they need in a smarter, more effective way. So for us, we get really excited about the capacity to serve. We are very service, client-focused.  

Q: What would your dream be?
A: My dream would be to build this institution that fundamentally empowers people and communities to make investments in themselves.

Q: What is life like 10 years from now?
A: I am committed to service indefinitely. It’s all about public service, living life consistent with my beliefs and continuing to develop the skill set that will allow me to do that. I will continue to take inventory of the challenges in the world, I’ll continue to take inventory of things I’m really good at, I’ll continue to be committed to learning, and I’ll continue  to do all those things in a way that is consistent with being a public servant in a private enterprise.

Chris Graves is the assistant vice president of social and digital media at the Powers Agency.