“I’m not into fashion,” says the person the New York Post labeled the most stylish man in hi-tech. With a beard that would make any man jealous, plus one of the most gorgeous collective working spaces in the country, that statement is difficult to believe. Still, Rameet Chawla, founder and CEO of design and development company Fueled (www.fueled.com), claims that it’s all simply an outlet for his expression.
That expression is inclined toward risk, he admits, but it’s paying off. Located inside the famous Prince Building “at the center of the universe”—NYC’s SoHo district, that is—the Fueled space is home to around 30 startups at any given time. And Chawla wants to make one thing clear: Fueled is a collective working space, not an office. It’s a place where people can form invaluable relationships, share and develop big ideas, and learn from one another’s experiences. Besides, what office do you know that has a fresh popcorn machine, ice cream cart, ping pong table, snack bar, no-decaf-allowed coffee bar, and signature “dope chillout couch?” Probably none.
The company itself has grown some notable brands, and some name-recognition of its own. Along with developing apps for Apple, Google, Warby Parker, Harvard Business School, Barney's, and Summit, just to name a few, Fueled recently launched Fueled Ventures to fund additional startups. Some of these startups include, but are definitely not limited to, Makespace, Coinbase, Artsy, Grimlet Media, Jackpocket and Blue Bottle Coffee.
Maybe this comes at no surprise for a man who triple majored in Information Systems, Finance, and International Business at NYU’s Stern School of Business. Chawla actually worked in the finance industry for three years before discovering that it wasn’t what he wanted to do with his life. The clarity that come's with knowing what he doesn’t want to do is what has made that degree the most valuable, he said. That experience actually embodies Fueled’s design philosophy: remove the features you don’t need and make a clear path to the heart of the product.
Fueled certainly makes it look like Chawla has now found success, but he insists that he’s still just in the building stage of his career. He cites Aaron Shapiro (HUGE) and Barry Sternlicht (Starwood Capital Group) as two of his biggest influences; he’s looking to join the ranks with some of the best businessmen in history. With aspirations like that, it’s easy to understand why Chawla thinks he hasn’t reached success just yet. “Yet” is always the key word when he describes his dreams, and no one doubts that he’s just begun to express himself.
We sat down with Rameet for a quick Q&A:
Investing in startups is a risky proposition for a lot of people. How have you been able to thrive unlike so many others in this area?
Our investment arm, Fueled Ventures, came into existence about two years ago. A widely held belief is that it takes about 10 years to determine success as an angel. Seeing as I’ve only been in the game two years, I wouldn’t say I’m thriving in this area. It takes a few years to build your investment portfolio, plus a few more for you to tell if the companies are going to succeed. The failures reveal themselves in three years or so. The good ones can take a decade to go public. A lot can happen between now and then. Shall we check back in with me in eight years?!
Have there been any downsides to such success at such an early age?
Success is subjective. I don’t actually feel like I’ve become successful, yet. I’m still inside what I’d consider the “build” phase of my career. Someone else might easily label me as successful because of what I’ve accomplished thus far, but it’s all about perspective. From where I’m standing, I’m looking to people like Aaron Shapiro or Barry Sternlicht. They’re prime examples of American businessmen who have changed the face of their industries. I look to be in their league and I still have a long way to go to get there. From my perspective, success for me has not been captured…yet.
You have degrees in Information Systems, Finance, and International Business. Which of these has benefitted you the most in your professional life?
Definitely finance, but for a reason that might surprise you. Without getting that degree I would have never spent three years working in that field, and subsequently wouldn’t have figured out that it was exactly what I didn’t want to do with my life. It’s a mainstream and highly respected industry; it just wasn’t for me. That sort of clarity at a young age is crucial. That said, it did take three years to arrive at that revelation, but better late than never!
NY Post named you the “most stylish man in hi-tech.” How important is fashion in your life? When did fashion start playing a major role in your life?
It’s funny, I truly wouldn’t classify fashion as something that’s important in my life. I don’t mimic any behaviors I associate with people who are “into fashion.” To be specific, those people know what’s happening in the industry: they follow trends, they know hot designers, they read the magazines, they hit fashion week events. They’re completely keyed into the scene. I don’t do any of that. I get invited to plenty of fashion events, but never make them. I don’t read magazines, blogs or follow any designers on Instagram. So, by all behavioral accounts I’m not into fashion. Instead I consider it simply as an outlet for expression. I’m naturally inclined toward risk, and I take those risks in many areas of my life, including what I wear.
I started really expressing myself and taking those risks in 9th grade. And like all things, my sense of style has evolved over time.
People are fascinated with your beard. You’ve been growing and caring for it for so long that it must seem difficult to imagine your life without it. How long did it take to grow it? How do you maintain it? Do you see yourself shaving it anytime in the future?
It took me about a year and eight months to grow out. I actually do nothing to maintain it, which is funny because people are always sending me beard grooming gifts. I’ll shave it whenever people least expect it, or if I commit a crime that requires I go into hiding, which I could do by simply revealing my face. :)
How do you select the right people for your team? What goes into your hiring process?
It’s about being patient. Sometimes you’ll identify the talent you want, but they’re not ready to make a move. Don't waver. If you know someone is the ideal person for the job, wait. We've held out for over a year for the best employees, and it's always been worth it. If you have the flexibility, continue to pursue them.
When it comes to sourcing talent, we are lucky. Over time, Fueled has become an established brand with name recognition. Consequently, most of our best talent ends up finding us, as opposed to the other way around. We also have refined our vetting process over the years. Each candidate meets several members of our team, which always yields a very comprehensive picture of their strengths, weaknesses and how they’d fit into our company.
In one of your earlier interviews, you mentioned that you say “yes” to pretty much every request and offer, because you never know what may come of it. Does this still apply today? With you being so busy and all, it must be difficult for you to take on so many requests.
I do my best to make it work! This interview would be the prime example of something that is not directly correlated to any line of work I’m doing professionally, but I still agreed to do it. It’s always good to pay it forward.
You were an early investor in Coinbase. Bitcoin looks like it’s here to stay. What do you see for the future of Bitcoins?
Here’s the deal: without a digital currency, computers don't have a pure way of conducting monetary transactions. There are programmatic ways you could build a system that would remove the any user involvement, but it’s not as clean. With a crypto currency you give computers the ability to receive and trigger transactions instantly without human interference, or better yet, following a desired and monitored human interaction.
Ethereum’s use of smart contracts is a great example of this. Smart contracts can interact with each other, and make decisions, including sending Ether to another recipient. In this case, once a contract is created, a computer can execute the steps outlined in the contract independently as long as the network continues to exist. It’s a clean and efficient system. As this becomes the way of the future, every system will end up holding some coin, even if it’s just for the float, in order to participate.
As far as I’m concerned, digital currency is here to stay. Whether that will be Bitcoin, Ether, or something else that remains to be seen, though Bitcoin certainly has a strong foothold in people's minds when thinking about cryptocurrencies.
Most important rule in business?
Start off by doing things that don’t scale.
What’s the next big thing that will shake up the tech industry?
Chat bots + AI!