Ray Sturm’s life and business lessons
“In the early days of a company, nothing happens unless you make it happen.”
Ray Sturm learned this pillar of entrepreneurship quickly in his career. It was 2009,—years before he co-founded AlphaFlow, one of the private lending industry’s leading tech-driven investment managers.
Sturm and a friend had just ventured into the wine industry, providing the Bay Area with their own style of pinot noir under a label called Maristany. Meanwhile, Sturm worked his day job in investment banking.
“Coming from i-banking, which is full of rules and formats, starting the label was a great release and chance to be creative, while learning more about the wine world and business,” Sturm said. “It’s hard to see in a huge company, but in a small business, there are a lot of little things that you have to know how to do. The infrastructure behind everything, from finding an office space and hiring people, to having an HR group—it all starts from scratch, and it was a tremendous way to learn.”
Six years later, Sturm took those lessons and put them to work.
A Sparkling Startup
In 2015, Sturm co-founded AlphaFlow with his friend and business partner, Bogdan Cirlig.
Sturm says that with AlphaFlow, he has found his niche in the private lending industry.
“We partner with private real estate lenders around the country to buy their loans and help them grow their businesses,” Sturm said. “As CEO, I take primary responsibility for establishing partnerships with institutional investors. It’s incredibly fun and fulfilling to one day work on setting a product vision with our technology leadership team, and spend the next day pitching to one of the world’s largest asset managers and teaching them about the private lending industry. I can’t imagine a job I’d rather be doing.”
And it doesn’t hurt that at a Bay Area tech-based and forward-focused private lending startup, no two days are ever the same.
“Every day in a tech startup is unique. Whether we’re working on technology or underwriting for partnerships and institutional investors, there’s always a lot going on, and it makes AlphaFlow a fun place to work,” he said.
Sturm is a natural in a role that relies so heavily on making new connections around the market. He’s developed remarkable interpersonal skills through years of pushing his own limitations and expanding his comfort zone. A few years ago, for example, he spent a month traveling solo—something he believes everyone should try at least once—around Argentina.
“I wanted to clear my head and get a fresh perspective,” he said, “and to be gone long enough to finally stop feeling that phantom smartphone buzz in my pocket. It was a great chance to take a break, and I now have friends from around the world who I talk to all the time.”
The thought of traversing a foreign country alone may be daunting, Sturm admitted, but he has a tip for those who might be willing to try it. “It can be scary the first day, but if you walk into a hostel with a big bottle of beer and sit down, people will join you.”
The Well-Balanced Life
When he’s not spending time building new relationships, Sturm relaxes.
“When I’m not working, I’m usually hiking or cooking,” he said. “On weekends, there’s nothing like barbequing with a cold beer after a nice, long hike and, fortunately, where I live in the Bay Area, I have lots of amazing trails close by. On workdays, I try to leave the office early enough to get home and cook dinner, which is an incredible destressor for me.”
Sturm doesn’t like to understate the importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance. He believes that a clear and focused vision is crucial for long-term professional success. That’s why he’s become proficient at separating the bad from the good, taking things in stride and not allowing negative experiences to affect the bottom line.
“Running and building a business can be stressful and sometimes overwhelming. It’s helped me to realize that there may be bad conversations or bad hours, but rarely is there a truly bad day. There are gut-wrenching moments, but they’re just that—moments.”
Sturm’s signature blend of realism and optimism is more than a simple sun-soaked view of the lending industry. It’s an equation—a tried-and-true formula—that he chose, consciously and without regret. His professional outlook matured in the enlightened, but all-too-rare, act of letting go of what he thought he wanted and replacing it with what gave him personal satisfaction.
“What I learned early in my career helps me today, but in those days, I was too focused on achievement instead of fulfillment,” he explained. “Once I let go of the need to work somewhere with name recognition, or make a big salary, and took ownership of my own path, I felt much more fulfilled, which has been a huge motivator for me.”
Sturm’s motivation shines through his accomplishments, which allow him time to explore more aspects of his life, discovering the things that make him the best version of himself. In addition to traveling the world and spending free time outdoors, Ray finds peace and clarity through his morning gym routine.
“The gym is a great place for me to clear my head, focus and get my thoughts aligned,” he said. “I start most days listening to a podcast. Right now it’s either ‘The Twenty Minute VC,’ by Harry Stebbings, or ‘Invest Like the Best,’ with Patrick O’Shaughnessy. Then I hit the gym and come into work with energy, feeling refueled and reloaded.”
Sturm uses the podcasts to absorb as much information as possible. And, like his desire to build new relationships with people from around the globe, he’s constantly on the lookout for new and unique practices he can bring to the workplace.
“Something I’m working on right now is making room for leadership styles that diverge from mine,” Sturm said. “A great part of my job is getting to meet successful business owners around the country with their own approaches and philosophies. I learn lessons from each one of these entrepreneurs, and I’m opening myself up to seeing the benefits in every style, and how I can put a piece of that into my own toolbox.”
The Sommelier’s Secret
What words of wisdom does Sturm have for the next generation of inspired entrepreneurs?
“Done is better than perfect,” he said. “When starting a new business, you do a lot of guessing: Does the product work? Is the marketing channel correct? Is it formatted the right way? You can get caught in paralysis by analysis. You can’t get to perfect without being done first, because your customers are going to give you more insight than you could ever produce on your own. The real accuracy is getting it out there and getting customer feedback—that’s the most accurate thing in the world.”