Lab80 started as a question on a bus ride in Peru: “What if we can invest in the companies we want and avoid those we don’t want?”

The very bus ride.

Who Started Lab80?

Lab80 was started in 2012 by a designer and a computer scientist.

  • Keywon @keywonc of IDEO, MIT Media Lab, and Microsoft
  • Michael @shilman of Wize, Microsoft Research, and UC Berkeley
The Designer and The Scientist.

Why Investing?

We are not from the finance industry. We’re frustrated individuals and users of existing solutions who want to scratch our own itch. Check out these articles for why it’s important to build software for your own problem.

And let’s face it: Investing is broken. 94M Americans invest in funds and stocks. We have all the accountability for our financial future without proper awareness of investing as an essential life skill.

And while Americans have become used to user-friendly services that empower users, the investing industry has lagged far behind.

Popular travel vs. investing services today

Filled with shame and anxiety, American investors stay quiet, unable to answer simple questions like these:

  • How does my portfolio compare with others?
  • How risky is my 401(k) portfolio?
  • How much fee am I paying across my accounts?
  • Does adding an international fund help in downturns?
  • What good and bad companies am I invested in?

That 94M includes people like you and us—working hard, good at our jobs, but not confident when it comes to the matters of investing and managing our own money.

As It Was

Like many people in their 30s, we did mostly the right things: Maxing out 401(k), building an index fund portfolio, starting an IRA, trying a few stocks.

Keywon delivered novel design approaches at IDEO and MIT Media Lab based on the idea of bottom-up approaches and user-driven innovation.

Demoing wearables to Laura Linney

Michael started and sold a topic-based shopping service called Wize, based on the idea of collective intelligence and machine learning. We were doing quite well.

Demoing to BillG / Wize team

Then we tried a wealth manager, wanting to be free from figuring out our own investing so that we can focus on our work and life.

An image of success from the old school industry.

Little did we know: Thinking about investing is our full-time job now.

After outsourcing it to a wealth manager, we realized we had no mental model about investing any more: How to set investing goals and how to map them to specific portfolio designs.

The little, faint understanding we had during our Vanguard years was all gone now that our money was in the hands of a professional wealth manager.

We were too embarrassed to admit it, but we had no idea what was going on any more, while paying nearly 2%(!) fee every year. In fact, it felt like the money didn’t belong to us any more.

"The Money Belongs to Me—the Expert."

The Moment

This lack of visibility really hit us when Keywon wanted to boycott Monsanto from her portfolio. The same day she donated to a campaign against the corporation, she discovered that she had been investing in their stocks via her hold 401(k) for seven years.

“Same day I donated to a campaign against Monsanto, I discovered that I’d been investing in their stock for 7 years via my 401(k).” Click to tweet

Keywon told Michael about this problem in Peru, the first country in their world-tour itinerary — on a long bus ride between Cuzco and Puno. And well, the vacation was effectively over.

It’s time that the relationship between your intent and your choice of a fund or a stock is made clear. It’s time investing is made personal and meaningful.

Lab80 Is Born

We named our company Lab80 after the Interstate Highway 80 that runs along SF Bay Area’s East Bay, home of UC Berkeley and Michael’s.

As we are building a team that travels between San Francisco and Seoul, we launched our beta service, Hello Money, in summer 2014.

It’s a humble beginning to our vision, to enable everyone to design your own portfolio that you feel confident about, specifically:

  • Understand how the input (funds and stocks) affects the output (the characteristics of resulting portfolio), and vice versa.
  • Invest in the companies you want and avoid the companies you don’t want.
  • See the collective impact of truly personalized portfolios.

Join the Movement

Do you feel the same way? Join our movement for transparent, self-driven investing:

  • Sign up for Hello Money today, and send us your feedback.
  • Are you an engineer, designer, marketer, or a investing enthusiast interested in solving a big problem from bottom-up? Join our team. Contact us at [email protected]
  • Hear our latest news via Facebook page, or by subscribing to this blog.