After graduating from Brandeis University in 2002, Klein worked as a mediator in the Harvard Mediation Program for five years. He spent nearly three years at McKinsey & Co. as a senior analyst and then more than five years at American Express before going off to Wharton in 2011.
Though he dropped out of Wharton after the first year to pursue CommonBond, Klein believes his shortened MBA experience to be central to his new entrepreneurial life. “My year at Wharton was one of the most transformative years of my life,” says Klein, who was 31 when he went to business school with the intention of starting a business. “That is one of the unsung benefits of business school–personal transformation. It helped me understand who I was and what I wanted out of life. What drives me, what irks me, what motivates me, and what I should be spending my life on.”
And, of course, what partners to have and what business to start. “The idea was hatched in my brain as I started thinking about paying for the degree,” adds Klein. He wrote the first business plan in his introductory entrepreneurship class. He met Taormina, CommonBond’s chief financial officer, through an entrepreneurship club event, and Shean, former chief operating officer and now a board member, through a friend. Klein and his partners then leveraged the Wharton network to raise the company’s first $3.5 million, including $1 million from an angel investor and Wharton alum.
Each of the three partners brought unique, yet essential skills to the business. Klein’s background in consumer finance was buttressed by Taormina’s six years at J.P. Morgan, where he was an advisor to high-net worth clients, and by Shean’s experience in law. She was a joint MBA/JD graduate in 2012 who now works full-time as an associate at Greenhill & Co.
“Having three co-founders was optimal,” insists Klein. “Academic research shows that three founders are ideal to build a successful company. Two is too little. Four is a crowd. Three is the perfect stool or pyramid.”
The three also felt strongly that they wanted their business directly connected to a meaningful social mission. For every degree fully funded on CommonBond’s platform, the company funds the education of a student for a full year at the African School of Excellence. For every new city CommonBond takes its loan program, the startup also funds financial literacy programming in a local underserved community.
“Entrepreneurship is the hardest job I’ve ever had,” says Klein, whose grandfather came to the U.S. in 1949 and opened a shoe store in Bakersfield, CA. “We are living and breathing this all the time. People want to get into the startup world because they want more freedom, and they want to be rich. But it’s the hardest thing. You have no time for friends. Every waking hour I’m working. I haven’t had a day off in a year and one-half. I wake up every morning wanting to do nothing else with my life. It’s that fulfilling.”