Tag: Alumni

JD Ross

An online real estate marketplace cofounded by WashU Olin alum JD Ross will gain a $1 billion infusion in an acquisition that values the company at nearly $5 billion.

Ross, BSBA ’12, cofounded Opendoor in 2014. He was responsible for building the prototype of its online platform and worked until 2018 as the company’s head of product development, where he built out the product development team.

Opendoor is an online home marketplace that offers homeowners a means to sell their houses instantly, without the heartache of weeks or months on the real estate market. Today, Ross is a partner with San Francisco-based venture capital/private equity firm Atomic.

“I want to take a quick moment to share deep appreciation for everyone who put their heart into getting Opendoor to where it is,” Ross said in a tweet posted on Wednesday, noting that his appreciation extended to “teammates and investors who took a leap of faith with your careers, and the customers who took a bet on a new concept and guided us along the way.”

CNBC reported the acquisition of Opendoor on Tuesday, interviewing Chamath Palihapitiya, founder and CEO of Social Capital Hedosophia II. The deal essentially rolls Opendoor into Social Capital, his publicly traded “special purpose acquisition company.” Proceeds from that firm’s April IPO, along with a $600 million infusion from a group of investors that includes Palihapitiya and funds managed by BlackRock, will total just over $1 billion for Opendoor in the acquisition.

“The company is transforming the $1.6 trillion residential real estate market by combining superior user experience, streamlined operations and machine learning to create a seamless digital experience,” Palihapitiya told CNBC.

CNBC reported that the $4.8 billion valuation for Opendoor is nearly equal to the company’s 2019 revenue. Opendoor operates in 21 markets and says it sold more than 18,000 homes last year. “Homeowners get a quote, through an algorithm, and can sell their houses directly to the company,” CNBC reported. “Opendoor may make some fixes and then put the house on the market to sell. The spread between what the home is bought for and sold is a part of how Opendoor generates revenue.”

Ross, named an Olin “emerging leader” in 2017, shared the story of his many forays into entrepreneurship—starting as a 13-year-old—in an Olin Business magazine story from 2015.

“If you tell me there’s a problem to solve, I love that,” Ross told Olin Business five years ago.

See the 2017 Olin Emerging Leaders video

Brian Estes and Bill Purcell, EMBA

Two WashU Olin alums have distinguished themselves among their peers as experts in cryptocurrency investing just three years after pairing up on an industry-changing investment fund.

Brian Estes and Bill Purcell, both EMBA ’17, have been cited by two separate industry groups as the No. 1 performing fund for both a one- and three-year period. Estes founded the company, Off the Chain Capital, in 2016. After meeting at Olin, the two paired up to launch a new fund focused on cryptocurrency investing with $30 million under management and capacity for $100 million.

The pair was also featured August 11 in online trade publication Bitcoin Magazine under the headline, “With value approach, Off The Chain Capital is changing the bitcoin investment narrative.”

The pair targets high network individuals, endowments and institutions, that want exposure to digital assets—cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin—which make up a substantial portion of the fund’s investment strategy.

“Very few fund managers are able to outperform bitcoin,” Purcell said. “We’re figuring that out through a unique value style. The strategy is to implement the Graham/Dodd, Warren Buffett-style of investing. We’re using that style in the digital asset space. That’s what’s unique about what we’re doing.”

Indices operated by Vision Hill Group in New York City and Hedge Fund Research Inc. have ranked Off the Chain as leaders in their space over one- and three-year investment horizons. “One of our goals is to be the best performing fund—not just in crypto but in investments in general,” Purcell said. “What we’re finding is that people aren’t copying our style because it’s been overlooked.”

Meanwhile, Fidelity recently tapped into the pair’s cryptocurrency investing expertise for a recently published bitcoin research brief. “Because bitcoin is a liquid market open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, when people need liquidity, bitcoin is there to clear those trades,” Estes said for the paper. “It clears properly and offers a pure market all the time but is also accompanied by higher volatility. You have to be willing to pay that price to own such an asset.”

In the Bitcoin Magazine story, the writer notes that Purcell’s and Estes’ investment style could mitigate bitcoin’s reputation as a volatile investment asset, quoting Estes, who say, “The fund captures all of the upside and provides a cushion when the markets decline. This value style of investing gives investors a margin of safety in the portfolio.”

The story goes on to say, “As one of the best-performing funds in the space, it has shown that reliable performance and (bitcoin) can go hand in hand.”

Pictured above: Brian Estes, left, and Bill Purcell, EMBA ’17.

Rachel Lopez, PMBA

Rachel Lopez, PMBA ’19, heard WashU didn’t have enough personal protective equipment or masks for staff and students, so she donated 600 disposable masks to Olin. She is a global manager, strategy and business development, for Build-A-Bear Workshop. She responded to a few questions for the Olin Blog.

What compelled you to make this contribution?

This year has been a challenging year for a lot of people. I think love, understanding each other and supporting the needed ones during the global pandemic takes people a long way.

When COVID-19 had its initial breakout in China, Build-A-Bear Workshop and I sent a couple of hundred N97 masks in February with encouraging notes to our China franchisees, partners and vendors. They were very happy and touched to receive the needed supplies during their most difficult time.  

A month later, COVID-19 began affecting the whole world, including the US. Global news reported the increasing coronavirus cases in the US and the shortage of PPE supplies. After our China partners saw the news from local media, they immediately reached out to me and offered to send masks to us to return the favor. It touches my heart to see that our help when our Build-A-Bear partners were in need was reciprocated in ours.

In April, thousands of different types of masks (N95, disposable, KN95) arrived at my house from China. At that time, St. Louis hospitals started to ask for public PPE donations and homemade masks because of the shortage of supplies. My colleague and I soon reached out to St. Luke’s Hospital in Chesterfield, Missouri, and a couple of other hospitals to donate our PPE from China partners.

We donated more than 2,000 disposable masks and non-touch thermometers to St. Luke’s and a couple hundred masks to other hospitals. The doctors, nurses, policy officers and janitors were happy to receive our donations. They even sent thank you pictures with “heart” hand gestures to us.

Our hearts melted when we saw the lovely pictures from St. Luke’s and thank-you notes from other hospitals. We are grateful for being able to support our medical workers during the pandemic. Having said that, we want to take the PPE donation a step further. Build-A-Bear Foundation approved the purchase of more than 100,000 masks to help more hospitals and communities in needs.

After I finished supporting Build-A-Bear Foundation with that purchase, I heard schools were also in need of PPE. Both my husband and I attended WashU, and I had my best time, best professors and mentors there. So, I reached out to my mentor and asked if I could make a mask donation to Olin.

How has this crisis affected you personally over the past few months?

My heart breaks for the people around the world who suffered from the pandemic. My family is in China, so I was worried to death when COVID-19 happened. I have partners and friends in over 12 different countries since I work for Build-A-Bear as the global manager. It was sad when I heard our partners in Australia, Gulf States, India, Chile, South Africa, etc. were negatively impacted by coronavirus. Some lost their jobs; some got quarantined.

Also, my mom came to the US to visit my husband and me in December. She was supposed to go back to China in March. Because of the pandemic, American Airlines rescheduled her four times—and then canceled the flight. I rebooked her, but those flights were canceled because of restrictions. My mom has been with us for more than six months with no certainty when she can return to China. I know she worries about my grandparents there.

How are you persevering through all of this?

Some people joked about whether we could “restart 2020 or just get it over with.” Again, it is an unprecedented time as more than 100,000 have died in the US from this virus, and many more people have lost their jobs.

However, I must look at the bright side. My families and friends are fine, which is the most important thing. My husband and I were able to keep our jobs. Working from home from March until now is hard without collaboration with my colleagues, but I was able to spend more time with my mom and puppy.

It is hard to adjust, but things do get better. For example, most of our franchise countries like China, Australia and Denmark have completely reopened and life is back to normal. My PMBA classmates have been in close contact with each other. We are hoping to regroup again when the pandemic is over.

Jeffrey Whitford, MBA ’12, was named one of the most creative people in business for 2020 by Fast Company, an article published by the magazine on August 4 announced.

Among five innovators lauded for “raising the standard,” Whitford was highlighted for his work with MilliporeSigma to create a green alternative to solvents.

Whitford is the head of sustainability, social business innovation and life science branding at MilliporeSigma, owned by Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany.

“Sustainability in science is one of the final frontiers,” Whitford told Fast Company. That was his team’s inspiration to create Cyrene, a product made from cellulose that can replace two solvents common in plastics, fibers and adhesives.

In addition to his work on Cyrene, the article highlights DOZN, an “evaluation system that compares the sustainability of chemicals, including environmental hazards they pose.” Whitford and his team have also created a free, web-based version of the tool, allowing scientists across the world to use it without cost.

Whitford will be featured in the September edition of the magazine, alongside creators and entrepreneurs like Ryan Reynolds, Monica Lewinsky and Nneka Ogwumike. Get the full list here.

WashU Olin alumni have continued to benefit from their membership in the community many years after leaving campus. This is part of an occasional series of vignettes about the alumni experience. Today, we hear from Jane (Donghui) Zhao, MSF ’15, green package analytics and support associate, BlackRock

Weekly meetings with Mark Schlafly, an adviser at Olin’s Weston Career Center, helped Jane Zhao navigate career issues and adapt to American culture in ways that have led to professional success.

“I’m personally very grateful for him because I feel he changed my personality while I was in school, so that definitely was the biggest win in addition to my degree,” she said. “It changed how I carry myself and everything else.”

Tapping all the resources the WCC provides helped Zhao land her current job with BlackRock in Wilmington, Delaware. Zhao continues to draw on Olin resources by returning twice a year to recruit for BlackRock. “We’re recruiting some really great students right now.”

She lauded Olin for providing students with soft skills such as communication, resume writing and language training. “The WCC has workshops that help you network and help navigate American culture,” Zhao said. “WCC is doing a really good job.”

Stay in touch.

Center for Experiential Learning

Business Development

  • Dorothy Kittner, MBA ’94, associate dean and director of business development and corporate relations 314-935-6365 | kittner@wustl.edu

Alumni & Development

Weston Career Center

Executive Education

  • Kelly Bean, senior associate dean and professor of practice in leadership 202-797-6000 | beank@wustl.edu