ND Founders Profile #135: Born with an Entrepreneurial Bug, this Financier Turned FouNDer Is Now Uplifting Startups with OpStart

Author: Melanie Lux

Paul Anthony May 3 Fb Web


Company Founded: OpStart Year Graduated: 2015
Title: Co-Founder & CEO Degree: BBA, Finance
Location: South Bend, IN Residence Hall: Keough

As a kid growing up in South Bend, Indiana, Paul Anthony idolized two things: his parents and the University of Notre Dame. His parents were “cool” because they were the founders of Anthony Travel, the nation's leading provider of university and sports travel management services. And Notre Dame? What’s not to like?

“I’ve always viewed entrepreneurship as the epitome of the American Dream,” Anthony says. “I was lucky enough to watch my parents build a great company over several decades, and always wanted to be like them. My Notre Dame fanhood came naturally as my parents and grandparents are alumni.”

So it was no surprise that Anthony chose Notre Dame for college and interned with the family business, focusing on business development. Among his assignments was researching potential collegiate matchups that could be played overseas. “That was a dream assignment,” he smiles.

Enamored with entrepreneurship, Anthony accepted a tech investment banking role in Chicago with William Blair, a premier boutique investment bank. “I didn’t know a lot about technology when I started so it was a lot like drinking from a fire hose. I was lucky to be in the software group where I worked with really good people, took on a lot of responsibility, and worked on a lot of high-quality mergers and acquisition engagements, including the firm’s first billion-dollar software deal.”

He adds, “I also learned why investors love software companies.”

After two years with William Blair, Anthony joined Adam Street Partners, a Chicago-based private equity firm investing in later stage venture capital rounds. His focus was again on software companies looking for growth capital, and he learned how to use metrics and key performance indicatorsKPIs to make investment decisions. At times, it was challenging to reliably calculate these metrics.

“The most difficult parts of my job in venture capital involved collecting and analyzing financial data from companies in our portfolio or investment pipeline. We needed this data to get through diligence, and then to update metrics quarterly after we completed an investment. It always took far too long for companies to send me data that was surprisingly messy. It was obvious that even later-stage startups were not putting much care into their finance and accounting functions,” he says.

What Anthony did like about life as a venture capitalist were the entrepreneurs. He found that he hated saying no, preferring to be helpful to founders rather than casting judgment. “I had to be discerning as we weren’t going to fund every deal. But I felt like an imposter telling founders their business wasn’t good enough when I had never built anything myself.”

Feeling a bit conflicted, Anthony reflected back on his time in college. “Notre Dame embraces the idea that you are able to change the world for the better regardless of your choice of major or profession. It’s not a case of either making money or doing good, both are possible. The bottom line is living your principles, treating people the right way and being conscious of the impact you’re creating.”

After a year with Adams Street, Anthony began to yearn for something where he could see the impact of his efforts. His former roommate at Notre Dame, Scott Coppa, presented him with a unique proposition. After graduation, he had joined the Peace Corps and was working in the Dominican Republic. He loved his work and the impact on local communities. As his stint with the Peace Corps ended, Coppa had an idea that involved building software to improve outcomes in international humanitarian efforts.

“Scott’s idea appealed to my entrepreneurship, software and social impact interests,” Anthony explains. “The idea was to build an app that locals could use to submit data on living conditions and preferences in their home communities. We could use that data to pair nonprofits with communities that actually wanted and needed their help, creating more alignment and better long-term outcomes.”

In life, timing is everything and the time was right for Anthony to pivot his career. He joined Coppa’s team in the Dominican Republic in 2018 as a co-founder of Puente Desarrollo Internacional. For two years, he lived in the Dominican Republic and worked as Puente’s chief financial officer. Though he fell in love with the country and the work, he determined the nonprofit world was the right choice for his long-time career goals.

Rolling around in the back of Anthony’s mind was an idea for a startup that would solve a major pain point for startup founders: a finance function as a service company that would handle all the back-office accounting and finance work required of early-stage companies. From his experience, founders typically tried to handle this work themselves, or lean on a rotating cast of contractors until their companies grew large enough to hire full-time accountants. It seemed like a poor use of founder time, and a significant driver of stress and complexity.

"Startups need different types of support to maintain a clean finance function. There are relatively simple tasks, like categorizing transactions and paying vendors, that must be done regularly but do not require much expertise. There are other subjects, like taxes and payroll compliance, that require lots of niche expertise but only recur a few times a year. I realized the pain point for founders is not any one of these tasks in particular; it’s juggling all of them in your spare time when you’re not an expert and don’t have a dedicated accounting and finance team,” Anthony explains.

“There was an opportunity to make life easier for founders by taking all of this work off their plates rather than just assisting with a specific portion of it,” he adds.

Soon after returning to South Bend, Anthony connected with Scott Jessup, who had served as a director of regional development and other roles at Notre Dame for nearly 14 years. Jessup has strong ties on the West Coast and a passion for connecting Notre Dame startups with Silicon Valley investors. He liked Anthony’s idea and suggested an introduction to Tim Connors, a Notre Dame alumnus and former partner with Sequoia Capital. Connors is the founder and general partner at Pivot North Capital, asole GP at Pivot North Capital, a capital investment and coaching firm with six unicorns to its credit.

After meeting with Anthony and Jessup, Connors suggested they should launch a company with his coaching and financial backing. In August 2020, OpStart was born with Anthony as chief executive officer and a value proposition of doing the work no founders want to do but stress about daily.

“Our goal was to make life easier for founders, starting with the specific pain point I experienced, accounting and finance. We want to effectively eliminate these subjects from a founder’s to-do list,” he says.

OpStart’s initial customer acquisitions were driven by Connors, who referred Pivot North Capital’s portfolio companies in need of bookkeeping and fractional CFO support. The first five or so clients allowed Anthony to test and fine tune OpStart’s business model. Based on the success of these initial clients, he turned his attention to scaling OpStart’s client base.

A key part of the initial and ongoing strategy was establishing relationships with potential referral partners—other venture firms, angel groups and accelerators—that have stables of portfolio companies and other startups that need experienced back-office support and financial guidance. OpStart’s direct experience with the financial reporting and cadence required by investors along with its track record with Pivot North Capital helped Anthony connect with some powerful partnersfirms in the venture world across the country. , including. Other, including the Notre Dame IDEA Center and Indiana’s Elevate Ventures, soon followed.

He also tapped into the Notre Dame IDEA Center’s portfolio of student, faculty and alumni startups. OpStart’s client roster now reads like a Fighting Irish who’s who. Clients with Notre Dame in their pedigree include MOGL, Protégé, Ritual, SageSpot, Sleep Easy, Stremium, and Tesselate. OpStart’s 100 percent focus on startups and ability to scale services as a company grows have made it a very attractive partner in entrepreneurial circles from South Bend to Silicon Valley.

“We quickly found that clients don’t care where you’re located as long as they get the service and attention they need,” Anthony says.

OpStart now carries a roster of nearly 100 clients and recently raised a second funding round. In addition to Connors, its investors include leading midwestMidwest firms like Elevate Ventures and Connetic Ventures and Notre Dame alumni Gary Gigot, Pat Eilers and Jackson Jhin.

Anthony says his biggest challenge to date with OpStart has been building a team. Specifically, finding the right people and keeping them invested in the company. “When you’re a startup, you can’t pay big salaries. It’s a rollercoaster ride for everyone. While we have an incredible team—one that includes Notre Dame alumni like Maggie Frantz, Adele Barte and Nick Nielson—it wasn’t easy. Finding great people is still really hard.”

One thing that has helped employee recruitment is the fact that OpStart’s workforce is fully remote, and people have the ability to choose their homebase. While Anthony remains in South Bend, much of his team is scattered across the country. Frantz, an early OpStart board member who became chief operating officer last year, is based in Dallas. Barte, a certified public accountant, lives in Los Angeles. Nielson, who leads business development, is mostly nomadic but calls Las Vegas home.

“COVID accelerated the trend of remote workforces. It’s helped us attract talent and clients,” Anthony says.

OpStart’s biggest win if client response to the services they receive. “Our net promoter score is a 92.31, which is very high. Our clients are also very sticky. This reflects the passion we have for startups, and I am exceptionally proud of the service we provide to founders. I guess I still like to say yes to startup CEOs,” he says.

Asked that advice he’d share with others with a dream of starting a company, Anthony offered this:

“When I was younger, I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I thought all of the stars needed to align before I could start a company. Not the case! It’s really about taking the leap and putting one foot in front of the other. You have to have persistence, be able to problem solve, iterate on what’s working, and pound the pavement. Finally, realize you have something pretty cool and keep on going.”