Michelle Morgan joked with her Advanced Alternative Investment Systems co-founder that they should start their own company. 15 years later, it’s anything but a joke.
Morgan details the origins of her company, how its tech is conducive to crypto, and her recent gauntlet of accelerators.
They say you can never have too much of a good thing. Michelle Morgan tested that theory recently. To start 2022, she enrolled in back-to-back-to-back accelerator programs. Morgan quipped that she’s now an Olympic level napper as a result, a timely observation. While Olympians were flipping through the air in the foreground of a Beijing power plant, Morgan was participating in a fintech specific accelerator run by Accenture in Hong Kong; or flying back to Vancouver for the FoundersBoost accelerator; or attending virtual programming for the Women in Tech California Program.
Of all the things accelerators can do for a company and an entrepreneur, perhaps key for Morgan is increasing brand awareness. “We're kind of quiet, probably quieter than we should be. That’s one of our New Year's resolutions. One of the things that I say about the company is if you take a look at our history, and the goals and objectives that we've set for ourselves, you can tell that the company is run by programmers and accountants. We have this amazing program and all the boxes are checked. But then, every once in a while I go, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to market this thing,’” she told me over Zoom in early January.
That thing is Titan, a platform developed by Advanced Alternative Investment Systems where Morgan is director. AdvancedAIS is a fintech company that provides hedge funds, fund administrators, private equity, and other investment firms with an all-in-one software platform. It was founded in Vancouver in 2006 and now has a second office in the Cayman Islands, Morgan’s current home base. Similar to AdvancedAIS, Morgan has Vancouver-based roots.
She was born and raised in B.C. and stayed local for school. She completed a bachelor of commerce with a major in accounting at UBC before becoming a CPA. Her next few roles are consistent with a young, B.C.-based accountant. Positions at Arthur Andersen and KPMG predate a stint as controller of United Furniture Warehouse in Coquitlam. When, shortly after, she moved to offshore finance and the shores of Bermuda, entrepreneurship came with Morgan by way of her current co-founder, Peter McKiernan.
The pair were using a few different programs to manage fund administration. It was totally inefficient, completely clunky. It also wasn’t particularly secure as the programs ran the risk of data transfer when they overlapped. Morgan was looking for a replacement system for what they were using. She said, as a joke, “We should just make one ourselves. How hard could it be?” Morgan had forgotten all about what she thought was a throwaway comment until her co-founder responded as if he had found that throwaway comment in a wastepaper basket, smoothed it out, and liked what he read.
“Just out of the blue he goes, ‘We should totally do that.’ I'm like, ‘I have no idea what you're talking about.’ He goes, ‘Your idea about starting that business!’ she recalled.
That was the beginning of what is now Titan and AdvancedAIS back in 2006. Fast forward to today and Morgan is busier than ever. On the AdvancedAIS side, the company has a few things going for it that lend to a busy calendar for its director. The first is, despite over a decade of planning, the modernity of the Titan platform. Morgan shared that her competitors are generally 25 or 30 years old so youth is on AdvancedAIS’ side. With that, according to her, comes flexibility, a key aspect of the company’s software that allows it to tap into a huge market.
“We programmed it in a way that no matter what the industry throws at us, no matter what changes come up, we're ready for them. The financial world keeps changing, it's actually really good for us, because it gives us the opportunity to say, ‘Hey, we can actually handle that. We can pivot very easily.’ A really good example of that is cryptocurrency. We're getting a lot of attention because we can offer the back office solution for crypto funds. Of course, the 30-year-old programs can't do that,” she pointed out. Her platform has the ability to manage millions of transactions daily and treat crypto funds as currencies or securities, for example, which her geriatric competitors’ platforms can’t.
In addition to crypto firms, AdvancedAIS’s rise is also landing Morgan on the radar of those aforementioned accelerators. The Women In Tech California Program was the most recent and it’s also where she connected with fellow B.C. founders Cassandra Hui of Heal Mary and Brianna Blaney of Pocketed.
“The instant bond among the group was unbelievable. From day one, each of these women were trying to help each other out in any way they could. Sharing stories, good and bad experiences, sympathy, referrals and resources. Before the program ended, we had all set up dates to meet for coffee in our respective locations,” Morgan told me.
Further testing Morgan’s Olympic napping pedigree amongst community efforts (Morgan routinely volunteers her time locally), raising funding and participating in accelerators, is a passion for storytelling. During a business development trip to New York, Morgan will be moderating a fireside chat with retired FBI agent Gregory Coleman, responsible for the investigation into Jordan Belfort.
Once that interview is wrapped, Morgan will refocus once more on AdvancedAIS. She told me that her company, though bootstrapped, is currently seeking funding. All those accelerators got her brain churning that, perhaps, investment should be sought. The experiences allowed her “to take a step back and go, ‘I think we actually do need funding.’ We've had offers before but nothing that really fit,” she shared.
Time will tell exactly what a funding round will look like for AdvancedAIS. One thing’s for certain, though: Shares in the company won’t be brokered through Stratton Oakmont.
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