Mula: Innovating Financial Management
Mula, the brainchild of two YU sophomores, Eli Kraiem and Daniel Schwartz, is an app that seeks to revolutionize the way people manage, invest, and interact with their money. A graduate of Flatbush Yeshiva High School, Kraiem met the LA native Schwartz at Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi last year. It wasn’t until Schwartz was at an event for TAMID Israel Investment Group at YU, listening to a speaker talk about his website that provides news for the investment world that he thought of the idea for this app. It occurred to Schwartz that the speaker was operating with the assumption that the people in the room would use his site for investment news since most of the students in the room actively invested their money.
Schwartz thought that besides for fooling around investing bar mitzvah money, most people in the room didn’t actually invest. He posited that while myriad investment platforms and companies served the wealthy one percent of the population, the other 99% had no appropriate platform. By providing this large segment of the population with a tool to invest, Kraiem and Schwartz could provide a service that is severely lacking, and take advantage of a largely untapped market.
In the few months that Kraiem and Schwartz have been working on this project and have brought on two significant co-workers to help bring their concept to fruition. Their Chief Financial Officer is a man who has worked at Morgan Stanley in wealth management and an industry veteran of 25 years is functioning as their Chief Technological Officer (CTO). When asked how two young entrepreneurs found such seasoned veterans, Kraiem responded that he and Schwartz got very lucky: They met the CTO through a family connection and met the CFO on a vacation in LA.
Kraiem explained the Mula has four main features. First, users upload all their financial information and then Mula analyzes which accounts and investments you have and which are missing. It then creates different investment accounts and suggests ways for you to invest your money.
Mula’s second feature is a budgeting platform that analyzes the user’s purchases and suggests practical solutions to save money. When speaking with Schwartz, I asked him what Mula would say about my habit of making biweekly visits to Dunkin Donuts. He responded that I could save over $450 per year by cutting out these visits and purchasing a coffee machine instead.
The third feature is something Kraiem and Schwartz call “Mula-ing.” This feature encompasses the functionality of the popular app Venmo, namely sending money to your friends, while also adding in the concept of lending money to someone else. As part of this function, you can specify how much interest to charge for the privilege of borrowing your money.
Lastly, Mula includes a feature to borrow money. Portfolio lending is usually available only for people who have wealth managers. But with Mula, if you have money in your retirement fund and need an iPhone, you can either take money from your retirement fund or use the retirement fund to leverage a loan that you can use for your phone.
In describing how Mula evolved from an idea into a platform with four significant financial features, Kraiem explained, “...[I]t branches out into a whole financial system. It allows for the user to have access to every single area of his financial life through one application.”
Moving forward, the next step for Kraiem and Schwartz is to start fundraising (which they plan to do over the next six weeks), develop the prototype for their app, and form relationships in the industry. Most importantly, they need determine the provider of the trading platform for the investment feature of the app; without this, the money-manager loses much of its functionality. Looking into the future, Schwartz commented that if the market for Mula explodes, it’s certainly something that they would capitalize on. That being said, Schwartz remarked that he and Kraiem are well aware that their product has potential to become the next Facebook, or one of many startups that doesn’t take off at all.
When asked how they balance their full day of YU classes with trying to get a business venture off the ground, Kraiem and Schwartz answered, “it’s not balance - it’s torture.” They explained that they frequently work 15-18 hours per day, and often have to miss class. In terms of the biggest challenge they’ve faced up to this point, Kraiem and Schwartz immediately pointed to the fact that they’re trying to establish a financial institution at age 19. Schwartz added that because they’re trying to aggregate the world of finance, there are so many different hills to climb in order to create everything.
Kraiem disputed the notion that building one’s social and professional network is of utmost importance, instead commenting that “more important than building the network is deciding whether you’re going to follow the traditional path, or go a different route. If you go your own route, things are radically different. Almost everyone has the capability to create their own institutions.” Schwartz added, “If you’re going to start your own institution, you have to start young.”
Referring back to the question about networking, Kraiem and Schwartz observed that if you don’t have a good business plan, networking is useless. The critical element for young entrepreneurs is to find problems within reality, brainstorm solutions to those problems, and develop a viable plan to solve those problems. The final execution of the plan is the hardest part.