June 14, 2019
Swartz Spotlight: Tepper MBA Graduate Builds Information Sharing Platform
Nathan Pitzer (MBA 2018) noticed a frequent issue come up in conversations: Someone would say they could not remember where they had read something they wanted to cite or share. He knew that people were spending hours researching information, but once they learned what they needed, all of that work would be lost.
This sense of wasted labor inspired Pitzer to develop a system where users could store their information gathering efforts and share the results, a platform that would eventually become known as find. “What we’re building is an information marketplace,” he said. “It’s kind of like Pinterest, except for information. Instead of gathering images and creating boards, what you’re doing is going out on the web and gathering information from different websites, pulling it all together, and making sense of it afterward.”
The strength of find’s service is the ability to share those searches. “Those collections of information are sharable with people that you know, but also are able to be searched by other folks so that they can benefit from your research,” Pitzer said. “That much information can create a system that is going to be completely different from how anything else works today.”
Pitzer started working on find while he was a student at the Tepper School of Business. “I really got engaged in the entrepreneurial ecosystem,” he said. He found the opportunity to work with students across campus a key benefit of his MBA education at Carnegie Mellon University.
“Taking classes and working with other groups was something that I wanted to take advantage of, and I am happy that I did,” he said. “I was deciding between schools with great business programs, but it was very important to me that they have excellent programs in engineering fields, and specifically computer science.”
He was impressed at the caliber of individuals he interacted with during his first visit to campus as a prospective student. “The first three hours I was on campus, I knew I was going to end up here.”
One of the early connections he made was with Florin Manolache, Director of Scientific Computing at the Mellon College of Science. Manolache was taking an entrepreneurship class with Craig Markovitz, Entrepreneur in Residence at the Swartz Center and Assistant Teaching Professor of Entrepreneurship at the Tepper School, where Pitzer pitched his idea for an early iteration of find. Manolache had been interested in developing a similar system. “No one understood what I said except for Florin,” Pitzer said.
Another significant partner for Pitzer was Nathan Hahn, a Ph.D. student in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute of CMU’s School of Computer Science. Hahn was working on related projects focused on helping academic researchers to collaborate on projects, which would eventually take shape as Bento. Pizter saw the shared interest in these kinds of services as validation for his idea, and carries with him a lot of the lessons he gained from working on early versions of find with Manolache and Hahn.
After earning his Tepper MBA, Pitzer moved away from the academic space and focused more on the consumer uses of find’s information sharing functions. He built a team with graduates of Columbia University and Stanford University, employees from Facebook and other tech companies, and successful entrepreneurs.
Pitzer has maintained contact with Markovitz, who helped advise Pitzer both as an MBA student and following his graduation. “He put in so much effort trying to help me avoid making mistakes he’s seen other entrepreneurs make,” Pitzer said. “That has not stopped just because school has ended.” Though Markovitz was not familiar with the information space, Pitzer said his advice was vital in helping him to refine his message and keep on top of the entrepreneurial process.
“Nathan had such a passion for what he could do with find that I found his energy infectious,” Markovitz said. “He’s an excellent example of someone who has identified a compelling opportunity and is committed to creating a meaningful solution for his customers.”
By the end of April of this year, find had grown to more than 150,000 users. “It’s been growing pretty quickly, at the tune of about 200 percent month over month,” Pitzer said. “It’s constantly still pushing at that rate.” He is working with business owners in search, media, and advertising to refine the product and learn how they can monetize the service.
As find grows, Pitzer remains focused on his original goals for the network: “The ecosystem that we’re creating is a place where everyone works together to solve problems.”
Recently, Pitzer has been working with One America Works, a nonprofit organization committed to helping high-growth companies in the San Francisco Bay Area to expand their operations across the United States. Pitzer helped the organization with its recent launch in Pittsburgh, inviting dozens of investors to visit the city and its business community.