10 Questions for Tom Tobin, CEO of West Caldwell-based Startup Modelshop

Photo: Tom Tobin demonstrates Modelshop at his West Caldwell office. Photo Credit: Esther Surden
Tom Tobin demonstrates Modelshop at his West Caldwell office. | Esther Surden

What if financial analysts could create analytic applications in a fraction of the time they can now? What if they could then implement these applications so their customers or decision makers in their companies could use them in real-time?

Financial services could provide real-time credit pricing decisions while a customer is on a website, recommend a rebalanced investment portfolio in real-time as a customer adjusts their profile online or flag possible compliance violations in online trading and stop the transactions before they present a risk to the company.

This is the essential benefit of the analytic application platform offered by Modelshop. According to Tom Tobin, CEO, Modelshop makes financial services organizations more competitive by enabling rapid turnaround of predictive models and decision logic as custom applications without a time-consuming coding cycle.

“I created Modelshop because there is a pressing need to transform business models from back-office, manual decision cycles into real-time, on-demand customer facing applications,” Tobin told NJTechWeekly.

“The easiest way to describe how Modelshop works is to imagine being able to create a new analytic model just like you’d create a spreadsheet, pulling in data, creating calculations and seeing immediate results. We add to that the ability for financial analysts to make decisions on production level data, for example full credit report detail, scale to Big Data size, leverage a more powerful and easier to understand language and apply advanced analytics such as neural networks or Monte Carlo simulation,” he said.

The models can then be published on a private cloud for collaboration, as well as be available via REST APIs to power the back office, enterprise applications and customer experience in a consistent and audible way.

Tobin says that with Modelshop, financial services leaders who “own business performance” will be able to implement new applications for lower cost without major development projects. Business analysts will be able to connect their analysis directly to business performance and the customer. Quantitative analysts will be able to gather relevant data and deploy advanced analytics faster. And customers of these institutions will benefit from a more personal and frictionless experience.

Basic info:

Company name: Modelshop.

When did you launch the company? January 2015.

Product name (s): Modelshop.

CEO: Tom Tobin, founder and CEO.

New Jersey location:West Caldwell.

Any employees yet? If so, how many and how many in New Jersey? Five employees, three in New Jersey.

Funding: $600,000 seed round.

Market you are serving: Analytic applications for financial services.

Entrepreneurial questions:

1.     What is your New Jersey connection? What brought you to New Jersey, and do you plan to stay here?

My family relocated from San Diego, California, in 2010 because I was managing software teams on the East Coast and Europe. My wife and I grew up in New Jersey and New York, and coming back East was also an opportunity to be closer with our extended families. Since North Jersey is close to the heart of the financial services world, it’s a great location to create a FinTech business and I see us being here for some time.

2.     What problem are you solving?

We empower both FinTech and established financial services companies to create analytic applications an order of magnitude faster than traditional software development. Financial services are currently being reinvented with technology as consumers demand the same level of service from their banks that they currently get from online retail and ride share services. Modelshop provides a platform that accelerates the creation of analytic applications that can interact with consumers, analyze risk and make data driven decisions in real-time.

3.     Why can you address this problem better than anyone else?

We have created an analytic platform that is unique because it can handle sophisticated data relationships and logic more intuitively than existing solutions on the market. We have combined the usability of a spreadsheet with the power of a full programming language to allow business analysts to create and maintain the variables, rules and analytics that drive mission critical financial applications. Modelshop is the culmination of my 27 years of experience delivering analytic software for companies like FICO, Oracle and Fiserv. Based on that experience, I believe we have created a technology that can help transform the way financial services serves their customers.

4.     How did you come up with your startup name?

The term ‘model’ in Modelshop refers to modeling financial risk and performance so that you can confidently make decisions and automate outcomes. The ‘shop’ part implies a workbench where you can roll up your sleeves and create what you want—drawing analogies to the popular photo editing suite.

5.     What was the biggest mistake you’ve made so far in your entrepreneurial journey and what did you learn from it?

Like many technologists, I spent too much of my time focused on the solution instead of my ability to bring the solution to market. I knew instinctively that the market was there, and I also knew that the tech we created filled an unmet need, but what I underestimated is how hard it is to help potential customers see what I thought was obvious. When you’re out in the market you have an incredibly short time to grab a potential customer’s attention and your message has to be crisp and focused on the value you deliver. It has to be about the ‘why’ and not the ‘what’. All the great capabilities of our technology will come out after we’ve gotten a potential customer’s attention and they agree they have a need.

6.     When was the last time you thought about quitting your startup and going back to corporate life, or doing something else? What got you to stay?

It would be naive to not have any doubts, but I’m doing what I love and wouldn’t change it. I became an entrepreneur fairly late in my career, which is good and bad. I’ve had enough success behind me to feel confident in both my experience and my financial situation is such that I don’t fear failure. My doubts tend to be more about ‘at what cost?’ Starting a company is incredibly hard. You’ve heard it a thousand times, but until you do it, it’s hard to appreciate the depth of the effort required. Ultimately, what keeps me going is a strong belief that we’re doing something that can impact the industry, and delivering that level of game-changing value will change how I will ultimately view my career.

7.     If you could go back in time, what would you do differently?

I’m a solo founder. If I could change an early decision it would be to find a strong partner with go-to-market experience to be my co-founder. Having someone with a business counterpoint and to share the work with not only accelerates the company, but it would make the whole entrepreneurial experience less daunting. Co-founders can also have a negative impact on a company. I’ve seen entrepreneurial teams where members of the founding team become a drag on the organization’s success, but in balance I would have welcomed the right partner.

8.     What’s the best place to find founders to network with?

Meetups are great. I belong to Morris Tech and NJ Tech meetups, and both have great programs and speakers. For my industry of FinTech, Empire Startups has been incredible. Every time I’m at one of their events, I can walk up to just about any random person and they’re likely to be a potential customer, employee or investor.

9.     What does your family think about you being an entrepreneur?

Honestly, I think they humor me, but are very supportive. Since I’m over 50, my wife thinks it would be easier to have stayed on my executive career path, but she also knows I need to be passionate about my work. Giving up income for a few years, especially as my first son is heading off to college, can also be a challenge, but we are lucky to be able to swing it. I believe my boys are proud of their tech startup dad. Career day was fun.

10.  What has helped you the most to achieve your current success?

Attention to detail. It can be a double-edged sword of course, but true innovation requires unwavering focus on doing things well. In the end, the product has to work and exceed expectations—that is table stakes for success. At the same time, I need to fight a ‘build it and they will come’ mentality and I work every day to talk to as many customers or potential customers as I can. When the customers do come, however, the details must be covered. You don’t get a second chance.

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