The idea started in the sanctity of a dorm. Sam Yaffa, an undergraduate at California State University, Northridge, came up with the idea while with friends Nathan Yee and Yash Thukral. What started as a brainstorming session grew into a bold plan to make their mark on the finance industry. Yaffa, the only Matador from the three, and his friends decided to launch their enterprise in San Diego in April of 2018.
Their organization, Triton Funds, took off, and in less than a year raised more than $25 million.
Triton Funds is a student-run venture capital fund that provides investment strategies and techniques to public and private companies who seek expansion. Triton will help any business invest and grow, but specialize in life science and millennial-based companies. Many of Triton’s investors are alumni from UC San Diego, where Yaffa’s business partners go to school.
Yaffa, a senior double major in business honors and financial analysis at CSUN, is only 21 years old; however, he already has amassed an impressive amount of experience in the business world. He has interned as a marketing assistant at Prudential Financial, a Fortune 500 company, and as a private wealth management intern at UBS, a Swiss multinational investment bank and financial services company.
“I would love to say that this is my first time trying to create a startup company, however, it’s not,” Yaffa said. “This is my third attempt at my own company.”
After one failed attempt, many would have been discouraged. After two, most would have quit. However, even on his third attempt, Yaffa’s ambition never wavered.
“My past startups, unfortunately, didn’t have the capability to pick [themselves] up,” Yaffa said. “They were high-finance companies as well, but at the time I didn’t have the knowledge that I have today. Being able to study at CSUN has made all the difference to Triton.”
What brought the three business partners together is a mixture of history and chemistry. Yaffa and Thukral have known each other since grade school, as both went to Granada Hills Charter High School, but went to different colleges. Yee, a student at UC San Diego, came onboard through fellow Triton student Thukral. What sprouted from friendship turned into hard work and dedication to the young investment company.
“The learning curve in pursuing an endeavor like this is immense, and I strongly believe that the best education for students is a mixture between what is learned in a classroom and what is learned through real-life experiences,” said Thukral. “At Triton Funds, we want to foster those real-world experiences and open up the inner entrepreneur in everyone who wants to take that leap. It’s scary to take the jump, but we like to say, ‘You either succeed, or you learn.'”
A San Fernando Valley native, Yaffa has spent countless hours trying to grow his business to what it is now. When he came to CSUN, he decided he wanted to do more to tout California State Universities and their alumni in the business world.
“There is a certain way that high-finance companies look at young entrepreneurs from CSUs versus UCs or Ivy Leagues. Often, there is no way to even get our feet in the door,” said Yaffa. “I saw that, and I knew that I wanted to change that bias.”
Triton Funds did not take off overnight. Yaffa and his colleagues spent two months trying to find its first supporters. This often included long nights and busy mornings, constantly cold-calling to try and fish-in investors. To balance their school schedule, Yaffa and his colleagues had to sacrifice much of their social time.
Yaffa said that he has to constantly be diligent of his words or actions as one mishap might be the end of his brand, company and employees.
“The hardest part of starting this was job security,” Yee said. “We had to decide to leave the internships and jobs we were at to take a chance on this. It was a proud moment when it finally pulled off.”
The following months have since been a blur. Since its humble beginnings, the capital fund has been recognized by Forbes in a recent article. The company has more than 40 academic mentors, many from CSUN, and a life science advisory board, that help create a industry ecosystem for various industries. The group also draws from a network of professional and college mentors that offer business advice and techniques.
A regular day in the Triton office is often casual. Yaffa likens their office culture to Silicon Valley. Music is often heard in the background, while “work attire” means sweats and T-shirts. Their headquarters is located in San Diego, with 15 student employees, who can get internship credit for the respective school, in the company.
“I wanted to create an office space that increased productivity for our team. When we have to worry about what [you] look like, I feel that it’s a distraction,” Yaffa said. “Our No. 1 priority is to our work, and superficial things like business attire, I think, [are] outdated.”
It was from a cold call that inspired Yaffa to create the company’s slogan, #MillennialTouch.
“It was during a phone call with a client that it just came out,” said Yaffa. “We cracked a joke, and I said, ‘Well, that’s just our millennial touch.’ Ever since that moment, it just stuck.”
Of Yaffa’s many goals, changing the public’s perception of Wall Street is paramount, he said.
“Wall Street has this perception of being a real nasty place. For people wanting to go into high finance, it creates a barrier,” said Yaffa. “If I get to play any part in changing the face of Wall Street, I would love to change that culture.”
Yaffa and Thukral plan to attend law school after their graduation in 2020, while expanding Triton Funds and creating an environment that continues to change the finance industry. Yaffa and Thukral have their sites on many prestigious law schools such as USC, Pepperdine and Harvard.
“When you have an idea, you have to go for it and give it your all. It’s never going to happen if you do not put in the hours and the hard work,” Yaffa said. “You have to be willing to make sacrifices, which might include your social time. If you really want it, you have to reach out and make those connections and fight for it.”