Why I Went Back

Michael Taormina WG’15, Co-founder of CommonBond

Last Sunday, I graduated as a member of the MBA Class of 2015. Sure, it took me four years to graduate from the two-year program…but it was for good reason and certainly worth the wait. Originally a member of the Class of 2013, I took a leave of absence in 2012 to focus full-time on CommonBond, a marketplace lending platform for student loans that I co-founded in fall 2011 during my first semester at Wharton.

Mike Taormina WG'15 with his fiancee Sarah at Commencement.
Michael Taormina WG’15 with his fiancee Sarah at Commencement.

Five months ago, I decided to transition off from the company. I had served as CFO for over three years, during which time we secured over $300M in debt commitments for lending and roughly $10M in equity capital. CommonBond itself went from a MGMT 801 project to a national lending platform, serving over 700 graduate degree programs, offering the broadest product suite in the industry, and saving thousands of borrowers—my fellow graduates included—a lot of money.

I came to Wharton to start a fintech company, and learned a tremendous amount from successfully doing so: raising both equity & debt capital, hiring a team, developing company culture, creating financial analytics & reporting, securing NYC office space, building a real corporate infrastructure, and much more. I’d argue there is no better way to build upon the MBA coursework than starting a company from scratch. However, I had gained what I wanted to gain from the experience, and it was time to move on.

So, now what?

Having made the decision, I had some appealing potential next steps ahead of me. I could have taken a vacation, jumped immediately into another fintech opportunity in NYC, or just taken some much-needed time off. I ultimately chose none of the above, deciding instead to return to Wharton to finish what I had started four years prior. I always saw tremendous value in being a full-fledged graduate; it was very important to me to finally cross the finish line.

Returning was in line with long-standing advice I hold dearly: never stop learning. All the education I’ve gained has ironically only made clearer just how much more I need to learn. Continuing education is critical for sharpening skills and for adding new ones to remain competitive. Following that reasoning, I took courses in personally uncharted territory: retail strategy and retail supply chain management. I worked on the roll-out & marketing strategy for a startup’s product launch. I also took Wharton Lecturer Bob Chalfin’s “Entrepreneurship through Acquisition” course, as acquisition is how I’d likely pursue a future entrepreneurial opportunity.

In addition to classes, I worked with Professor Ethan Mollick, which was fitting given CommonBond was conceived in his class in 2011. At Wharton, we learn from both professors and each other by drawing from personal work experience. I converted my CFO experience into a white paper—a framework to help early-stage founders think through their own forecasting issues.

Finally, I had the pleasure of meeting lots of talented new people along the way from the classes of 2015 and 2016—including even on graduation day. It’s been an amazing ride, and I leave Wharton ready for the next challenge and excited about what the future will bring.

Mike - pic smBio: Michael Taormina is a fintech entrepreneur based in New York City. He is co-founder of CommonBond, a venture-backed marketplace lending platform for student loans. Prior to CommonBond, Mike was a Vice President at J.P. Morgan Asset Management, where he specialized in opportunistic trading and investment strategy. Mike graduated summa cum laude from Georgetown University with a B.S/B.A. in Finance & International Business and from the General Course at the London School of Economics. He graduated with honors with an MBA from the Wharton School and is a CFA Charterholder.