Here’s How I Found the Community I Didn’t Know I Was Looking For

A pool is a ready-made support network — not just of thoughtful, intelligent, ambitious people, but of real leaders who are financially incentivized to see you succeed.
Eric Chapman

I grew up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, in a neighborhood that shaped my childhood. From a young age, I felt very tied to the community. I volunteered regularly with local charities, which had a huge impact on my values and worldview.

Community, and Chicagoland in particular, was so much a part of my life that I stayed in Illinois for college; I even stayed an extra year to get my masters in Accounting. When I graduated, I took a job as an auditor with Ernst & Young. In Chicago.

As an auditor, I worked long hours. I spent most of my week in Excel spreadsheets, ensuring my clients’ numbers were in order.

I lived at work, arriving early and leaving late. This isn’t unique by any stretch of the imagination, but for someone who really valued community, it was hard. I felt disconnected from my environment, adrift even though I was in a city I knew and loved. I had to make a change.

I started volunteering through Chicago Cares, an organization dedicated to building and strengthening Chicago’s neighborhoods. Every weekend, I helped tend Ginkgo Organic Gardens. When the vegetables were ripe, my fellow volunteers and I would pick and deliver them to a food pantry serving the community’s low-income, HIV positive population. Seeing how much even this small gesture meant to people made me appreciate how little it takes to have a big impact on the lives of others. I really value this time in my life.

It was this volunteer work, in fact, that led me to question whether or not I wanted to spend the rest of my career on the audit grind. (Spoiler: I didn’t.) After much deliberation, I decided to join the Peace Corps, and accepted a post in a village of 1,500 people just outside the city of Techiman in Ghana.

In my Peace Corps village, I again felt my connection to others strengthen. I undertook a suite of projects to benefit my community. I established a savings and loan association for residents and managed the construction of a mechanized well that provided (and still provides) over 500 community members with access to clean water every day. Perhaps most memorably, I participated in the Peace Corps Cashew Hackathon — an event designed to leverage technology to help local farmers improve their cashew farming practices. Farmers and software developers came together for a single weekend; my team delivered a product that would help farmers leverage data to better monitor which agricultural practices had the greatest impact. By the time we were finished, I knew I wanted to work in tech entrepreneurship. It was time for me to return to the U.S., this time to study business and computer science in — you guessed it — Chicago. In September 2019, I enrolled in the joint MBA / CS program at Chicago Booth.

A year into my program at Booth, I received an inbound message on LinkedIn from the co-founder and CEO of Pando, Charlie Olson. I’d never heard of Pando, but was exploring the idea of starting a company, so I decided to take the opportunity to chat with a founder. Charlie connected me with his co-founder Eric Lax, and we hopped on a call.

Right off the bat, I shared my skepticism about Pando.

When it comes to new FinTech products, I’m always wary that user and company incentives are misaligned. Eric graciously and patiently walked me through the details. Pando enables individuals to pool a portion of their future earnings together, and those earnings are distributed equally among the pool members at a later date. Members only contribute once they cross an annual income hurdle, and Pando gets nothing up front — only a percentage of distributions later on.

The conversation alleviated my initial skepticism, and opened me up to the idea of joining a pool. What finally hooked me was the community aspect of Pando’s value proposition.

A pool is a ready-made support network — not just of thoughtful, intelligent, ambitious people, but of real leaders who are financially incentivized to see you succeed.

That simply seemed like something too good to pass up. And as someone who places such high value on community, Pando just made sense.

Soon after joining the Pando platform, I found a pool of entrepreneurs with companies at various stages. I wanted to link up with others who know what it takes to start a company, fundraise, hire people, hit road bumps, and grow as a leader. I wanted in on that energy.

I ended up pooling at the end of last year and have thus only met my fellow poolers once — virtually (thanks, COVID) — but I’m already blown away by my poolmates’ expertise, diversity, and depth of experience. I’ve never been part of such a rich community, and that’s saying something.

This June, I’ll graduate from Booth. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m confident that my Pando pool will be a critical part of the journey.