Startup Corner: Alpha Vantage

Steve Zheng, Contributor
Olivier Porte, Contributor

What is the problem you’re trying to solve?

Institutional-quality, real-time financial market data is not affordable or accessible to individual end-users unless they (or the organization they are affiliated with) can afford to shell out tens of thousands of dollars for data charged by legacy providers. Olivier Porte and Steve Zheng (both MBA ‘18) are trying to disrupt these legacy providers and level the playing field for trading and investing by addressing the scarcity of high-quality, affordable financial market data for the underserved population of individuals at the intersection of investing and software.

What is your solution?

Alpha Vantage offers cloud-based stock market APIs where users can access historical and real-time financial data, stock quotes, quantitative/technical indicators, and other types of data through APIs. We offer data that professionals and semi-professionals need at a fraction of the cost of legacy providers to

1) develop and test investment strategies and 2) build compelling financial data-enabled software (e.g. fintech) applications.

We are live and processing well over 200 million API requests per day. Relying purely on word-of-mouth, we have grown to over 65,000 users – doubling our user base every two months since our March 2017 launch. The cool thing about our business is that users can build directly on top of our APIs. Software developers surprisingly can be a vocal bunch, and those who have a positive experience using our APIs will spread the word about our service, raising awareness and attracting new users.

What was the inspiration behind Alpha Vantage?

We decided to work on Alpha Vantage due to shared frustrations we both had in our previous professional lives. Olivier worked with financial market data from legacy data providers at his previous job on Wall Street and found the experience cumbersome, inefficient and unsatisfying, . Steve worked at Microsoft but outside of work he would often be formulating trading strategies for his personal portfolio. It was during this time that he often ran into difficulties sourcing affordable and reliable financial market data for quantitative analysis. We know people need Alpha Vantage because Yahoo Finance discontinued their free web-based financial data APIs. Yahoo’s financial data APIs were used by millions of users, ranging from individual traders/hobbyists to startups and even Fortune 500 companies. When they were discontinued in May 2017, millions of users were left in a bind and had no other alternatives until they discovered our offering.

Who is the team behind Alpha Vantage?

Olivier and Steve are second-year MBA students at Harvard Business School. Olivier has held a number of roles in financial services in New York and Tokyo. Steve worked at Microsoft’s Silicon Valley office in engineering and product management functions.

How did you get started?

We have been working on this full-time since March 2017 (our RC year) while also managing our commitments as full-time MBA students. Alpha Vantage experienced a huge surge in traffic in May 2017 when Yahoo Finance unceremoniously changed the protocol on its APIs, prompting an exodus of users to look for alternatives. In the Fall semester of our EC year, we enrolled in FIELD X taught by Professor Cohen. This was an amazing class that allowed us to work on our startup while receiving valuable advice and feedback throughout the semester from faculty, entrepreneurs, investors and other members of the entrepreneurial community at HBS and the Greater Boston area. The course culminated with a final pitch to a huge crowd of guests and potential investors.

What’s next?

Speaking of pitches, we recently pitched in the first round of HBS’s New Venture Competition (2018 Student Business Track) and were fortunate enough to advance to the next round as semi-finalists. In the immediate term, we plan to take the feedback we received from judges in the first round to heart to refine our pitch deck and see if we can make a deep run in the competition (the second round of competition does not have a live pitch and instead is based solely on the startup’s pitch deck). We are also currently doing an Independent Project with Dr. Jeffrey Rayport of the Entrepreneurial Management department. Dr. Rayport is the father of “viral marketing” (a term he originally coined in the 1990s) and because Alpha Vantage, in many respects, represents a nice viral growth story, he has been a great fit, providing us with invaluable guidance and mentorship. Going forward, we would like to continue to capitalize on our venture’s organic/viral growth dynamic while also exploring other previously untapped avenues to increase user growth and engagement. Moreover, we would like to ride the momentum of our venture’s one-year anniversary to continue growing and scaling our venture to the next level.

Olivier Porte (MBA ’18) was born in London and spent the majority of his formative years in Tokyo. He graduated from Harvard University in 2012 where he was a resident of Cabot House. Prior to HBS, he worked in financial services in New York and Tokyo.

Steve Zheng (MBA ’18) was a program manager at Microsoft Silicon Valley Office, driving product development in AI and Search. Born and raised in Shanghai, he studied computer science at the Institute down the Charles River.