Amrit Rupasinghe built Wall St. Rank six months after a malicious investor poached nearly all of his previous startup’s developers, forcing him to scrap it.
A year later, the Sri Lankan tennis star-turned-founder started a new project that gave retail investors the three major market signals professional traders use.
Influencers began using Amrit’s app to earn bigger returns, and after seven months of Amrit asking, they agreed to partner with him on six TikTok videos. The result? Amrit made $50,000 on subscriptions and is on track to over $100,000 ARR this year.
Read on to hear Amrit’s journey from Sri Lanka to the US, back to Sri Lanka, and onto Australia as he chased a product to call his own.
A Tennis Star Goes Corporate
Tennis was Amrit’s ticket to America and all of its opportunities. Growing up in his native Sri Lanka, he’d rise early when it was cool and practice by the hour every day. By the time he finished high school, he was the top-ranked junior player in the country. With every volley, he was one step closer to his dream: a tennis scholarship to America.
In 2006, Amrit’s prowess on the court won him a coveted scholarship to play division three tennis for Bates College (he describes it as a baby Ivy League). Amrit won the NCAA singles title for Bates in 2009. Although he loved tennis dearly, Amrit never intended to go pro. He viewed tennis merely as his stepping stone into America and greater possibilities.
“There were so many opportunities on the table once I got into the US,” he says. “After I graduated I went to live in New York until 2012. That NCAA tournament title helped me land my first job. I didn’t realize that tennis goes such a long way here because Sri Lankans don’t follow it.”
Amrit’s first job in New York City was as an analyst at a commercial real estate company. “I took the classic international student route of getting into finance and then banking,” he says.
After just one year of working in New York, entrepreneurship drew Amrit’s attention. It was the tail end of the Global Financial Crisis and the dawning of the sharing economy. Everyone was talking about the new startups changing the world like Uber and Airbnb. Amrit was riveted.
“I was interviewing for these finance positions and learning all these great but non-technical skills. However, all the headlines were about tech companies. I read that this was the first time in history you could hit a button and distribute a product to millions for ninety-nine dollars each – and how many people in these companies weren’t even technical founders.”
Amrit loved New York but realized a career in finance could wait. At that time, he sensed a startup opportunity few others could pull off.
His native Sri Lanka was a known hub for outsourcing talented software engineers. With a foothold in both countries, he could build one of the first Sri Lankan recruitment services for American tech companies.
In 2012, Amrit returned to Sri Lanka and continued to work in finance at Citi Bank’s local operation while starting his first company (it wasn’t a recruitment network). Called Buzzbird, it was a location-based social network that he describes as Twitter meets Tinder. “It was like Twitter, but you only saw posts from people within a five-kilometer radius.”
After three years of developing Buzzbird on the side, Amrit launched it over a weekend. Two thousand people downloaded his app, and Amrit was interviewed by the local press. Encouraged, he quit his finance job in 2015 but realized he had been overconfident.
“I didn’t know how to build products at the time,” he says. “We grew to about 5,000 users, but the infrastructure was so brittle that the app started crashing and we had no idea what was going on. The app was free and I’d misjudged ad revenue so I needed to find a way to bring in more income. I called my friends in the US about what to do and they mentioned that everyone and their mother wanted a mobile app, so that’s what I did next.”
An Entire Dev Team, Poached
As it turned out, everyone did want a mobile app in 2015. That year, Amrit started his mobile app consulting and recruitment business, Populo, and grew it to $300,000 ARR. The business advised fledgling app development companies and sourced them engineers in Sri Lanka.
The money was good, but Amrit wanted to build his own product. Around 2019, he realized that no one had pitched a Slack app for college students despite terrible email engagement rates at universities. He and his devs created a beta “Slack for students” but made a fatal mistake by asking for investment too quickly. It would prove to be the downfall of his business.
“We did some contracting work for this guy making legacy software and approached him about investing in my product. He agreed to become a minority investor, partly because he fell in love with my team. As we were renewing a contract with him I told him, ‘Hey, I’m going on a holiday. I need you to sign this.’ He said, ‘Yeah, I’ll get to it.’ But he didn’t sign it and instead poached sixty percent of my developers.”
Amrit landed in Mexico (his first trip in a year of working twelve-hour days) with an inbox full of resignation letters from his best developers. “This guy could afford to pay them much more, so for them, it was nothing personal. He was just about to sell his company. So I think he was beefing up the team. I got a lawyer but in the end, it was just too expensive. My wife was pregnant and I had a mortgage to pay off.”
Dejected and in need of money, Amrit wound down Populo and picked up a product management role at a company in Australia.
Capitalizing on the Retail Investment Boom
One year after moving and switching to product management, the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic hit. Suddenly, Amrit’s particular skill sets – startups and finance – were in high demand.
New investment platforms like Robinhood and stimulus checks from the US government fueled a massive retail investment boom. Sources say as much as fifteen percent¹ of today’s retail investors started during various stages of lockdown in 2020.
“Everyone was at home getting stimulus checks and investing in the markets back then,” says Amrit.
As a former financial analyst and portfolio manager at a boutique investment fund, Amrit knew every trick in the trade for assessing which stocks would rise or fall, but the average retail investor didn’t. Worse, he noticed pseudo-financial experts giving bad advice online.
“A lot of people, including my friends, were badly burned by the markets and I thought I could help,” he says. “If 100 million people go to Yahoo! Finance every month for stock picks, I thought, ‘Why can’t I find the 700 best stocks on the markets for people too?’ Seeing the consensus from 46 analysts on a single stock is a much stronger signal.”
Amrit also noticed that few resources described the three signals that analysts like himself would evaluate before buying.
“I call these smart money signals,” he says. “These are either sell-side ratings from an analyst, any record of an institutional buy from a hedge fund or ETF, or when insiders – people who own five percent or more of a stock – buy more.”
Analyst ratings were the easiest to compile, so Amrit launched a beta product for his friends and family. He then published it for free in investing community hubs like Reddit and Facebook groups. The communities loved it, returning to the site repeatedly and sharing it with their friends. He realized he had enough traction for a business.
Around this time, a semi-famous influencer shared Amrit’s app with his followers on Patreon. Amrit asked him for a shoutout and the resulting video alone brought in 150,000 potential customers to his website.
Encouraged, Amrit launched an affiliate program and partnered with a handful of influencers for Wall St. Rank’s paid version launch in July 2021. On the first day, he earned a few thousand dollars in subscriptions – and in the roughly twelve months since launch, he earned about $50,000 from six TikTok videos.
We’re fighting all the bad advice out there. We want to give retail investors the real consensus on Wall Street.
“People just didn’t know this stuff existed,” he says. “They want signals from experts. We’re fighting all the bad advice out there. We want to give retail investors the real consensus on Wall Street. Not just tell them what to buy.”
In the future, Amrit wants Wall St. Rank to become the retail investment world’s number one top-of-the-funnel source for data. He’d like to license data to financial publications, funds, family offices, and neo brokers like Robinhood too.
Until then, Amrit’s is expanding Wall St. Rank’s licensed data sources and preparing content for marketing. He’s taking care of all the other little things too: He’s trademarked the term “Wall St. Rank”, started two blogs, and is working on a video show called Street Signs.
Amrit is hopeful for what’s to come in 2022. Already, Business Insider has cold-called him for press, VC and angel investment firms are reaching out, and within this past week, Bloomberg News terminals syndicated Wall St. Rank’s blog.
“I Just Don’t Sleep”
Since being burned in 2020, Amrit makes doubly sure that no one runs off with his developers today.
When I asked how, he said he’s created a much more distributed business supervised by a trusted CTO. As well as running Wall St. Rank, he still contracts as a product manager to help with family expenses.
“I just don’t sleep,” he laughs. “My life is scheduled down to the minute. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now, but I’m not quite there yet.”
His advice to other founders is to just “do”. The results happen with consistency.
Discount the nos because they teach you how to get the yesses better.
“You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take. I got to where I am by writing a constant stream of cold LinkedIn comments asking for partnerships and collaboration. You must be willing to get so many nos because that one yes will change everything for you. Discount the nos because they teach you how to get the yesses better.”
¹Many retail investors started during Covid pandemic: Schwab survey (cnbc.com)
Want to share your bootstrapping story with the world? Enter your details in this form and we’ll be in touch.