1997 Wharton graduate Mike Vaughan, the former chief operating officer of Venmo, spoke to Penn students about his path pursuing a nontraditional career on Tuesday night.
Vaughan spoke at Wharton Council's annual Business of Life lecture, which features members of the Wharton community with unique life stories and unconventional journeys to success. He shared his experiences as one of the first employees at Venmo, a mobile payment service owned by PayPal. Throughout his lecture, Vaughan stressed the importance of life purpose and long-term goals.
Currently, Vaughan is an executive in residence for Oak HC/FT, a venture growth equity fund investing in financial technology and health care information and services.
Vaughan said he spent the majority of his senior year at Wharton developing a company rather than finding a job in consulting or investment banking — he believed developing a company was more valuable than taking classes that encourage entrepreneurship. After moving from one job to another in San Francisco, he became one of the first employees at Venmo and helped to build the company from the ground up.
“I was the 13th user on Venmo,” Vaughan said. “If I stopped to think about Venmo, I probably wouldn't have done it.”
Vaughan said Venmo faced difficulties in its initial startup phase and made decisions that were "very reactive." He shared a personal anecdote about a time when Venmo was four weeks away from having to provide payroll without sufficient funds to do so.
“I walked into the office, and it was literally like a funeral,” he said, adding that this experience taught him to persist in spite of difficulties and to not be too preoccupied with what other companies might be doing.
Following the lecture, audience members participated in a Q&A session.
“It was really cool how the event was pretty informal," Wharton freshman Doan Nguyen said. "There was a lot of Q&A which doesn’t usually happen in lectures. We really got to learn and take away what we wanted.”
One attendee asked about Venmo's social impact. Vaughan acknowledged that while Venmo's mission of sending money easily may not be altruistic, the company has tremendous potential to raise funds for charities and present social change.
“I’m glad someone in the audience asked about Venmo’s capacity for social impact," College freshman Jerry Cai said. "Venmo’s highly user-friendly and convenient model allowed for an unexpecting college student to contribute more than $3 million to the [children's hospital at the University of Iowa].”
College and Wharton junior Robert Sim, who led the Wharton Council subcommittee for the Business of Life Lecture, said the event was designed to showcase nontraditional career opportunities for Wharton graduates.
“Events like these are what’s going to allow students to know that education is important, but there are opportunities beyond finance and consulting and that they can do big things as long as they are willing to take the risk,” Sim said.
Wharton senior Jacob Port, a member of Wharton Council, said past Business of Life speakers have included 2018 MBA graduate and NFL lineman Justin Tuck, 1990 Wharton and Engineering graduate and astronaut Garrett Reisman, 2010 Wharton graduate and rapper Hoodie Allen, and Legal Studies & Business Ethics professor G. Richard Shell.
“I think that seeing someone that has found success, not feeling funneled into the places that Wharton classically funnels people into, is an important message,” Port said.
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