Sageworks Co-Founder and Chairman Brian Hamilton Speaks to WCOB Students
Brian Hamilton, alumnus of Sacred Heart University and co-founder and chairman of Sageworks, was on campus to speak to students from the John F. Welch College of Business on March 20. Sageworks is a company that provides risk-management solutions to financial institutions and financial analysis as well as benchmarking applications to accounting firms and private companies. Students, faculty and members of the local community filled the University’s Schine Auditorium to hear from the leader of the company that has been named to the Inc. 500 list of the fastest -growing privately held companies in the U.S. and recognized by the Deloitte Technology Fast 500.
Hamilton is an original architect of the company’s artificial intelligence (AI) technology, FIND, which takes financial numbers and converts them into a readable, understandable text. Thousands of accounting firms and financial institutions use this technology.
Captivating the audience with his straightforward approach, he delved into the reason for creating FIND. “In finance, you’re looking at these statements, but really, what do they mean? Our goal at Sageworks is to take an income statement, run it through an AI engine and convert it into plain language. If customers can understand the numbers, they will be able to make better decisions,” he said.
In 1998, before beginning Sageworks, Hamilton remembered working with a highly intelligent scientist who looked at his balance sheets and said, “What do all these numbers mean, Brian?” Hamilton says that was the moment when he thought, “Wow, there might be a business there.”
Hamilton’s company gathers data on thousands of private companies per day. He pointed out that although much of what is covered in the media is about publicly traded companies, “the engine of the economy is generated by private companies. When you look closely, you will see that the state of the union for private companies is positive. They are growing.” Hamilton’s analysis of private companies is featured regularly on CNBC, Fox Business and other news outlets.
Noting his humble roots, Hamilton recalled coming from “a family of scarcity. We weren’t always able to pay our bills, and sometimes the lights would get turned off. My first entrepreneurial venture was when I was seven, and I sold soap or Christmas paper door to door.” Like many young people in Connecticut, as he got older, he shoveled driveways when it snowed.
During college, Hamilton created a landscaping business. He would go to the registrar and pay his tuition in cash. After going on to business school, he began creating other businesses. “In the beginning, my focus was on making money. But as time went on, I learned it was important to create a value that the customer could appreciate.”
SHU accounting and finance major Luke Wischnowski ‘13 was surprised by this outlook. The senior from Havertown, Penn., said, “I thought coming into it, he’d just be somebody who made a lot of money, but he was more into creating value for people and helping people out.”
In summation, Hamilton noted that regardless of successes, the aggregate experience gained is what matters. “The media sometimes does a disservice to us, and we do a disservice to ourselves in thinking that you start and then you become Google. In my experience, it’s not really like that. There are ups and downs, and I believe that all those experiences helped me learn how to do this the right way.”
During the Q&A, Conor Cassidy ‘14 asked how Hamilton was able to generate income while developing the software before the product really took off. Hamilton replied that he simply saved money and that “really the only way to start a business is by boot-strapping.” Cassidy, a finance and business economics double major, found the lecture to be of particular interest in light of his career goals. The Bernardsville, NJ, native said, “I’m actually starting my own business right now. You think you have a good idea of how everything is going to go, but it was interesting to hear that businesses can start slow and will have their ups and downs.”
In some final words of wisdom, Hamilton encouraged the students to find something that they love to do and do it. “Redefine what you view as failure. Failure is giving up and stopping, and success is simply continuing to try,” he said. “Try to remember who you are and, specifically, what your long-run journey is going to look like, including your family and your faith.”
Hamilton met his wife while at Sacred Heart University. “I’m very grateful for the experience here at this school. I got two great kids from this experience. Life has not always been easy, but my journey started here,” he said.
“Coming from such a successful person, it’s interesting to hear him say that after all of it, the most important thing to him is his family. Those are things that money can’t buy,” Wischnowski said.