Durham's history and future are based, in part, on the entrepreneurial spirit of its diverse community. This Black History Month, we celebrate the legacy of Durham's Black Wall Street and tip our hat to the innovators who are making Durham one the best places in America to start a business.
We teamed up with American Underground to bring you a series of profiles of African-American entrepreneurs in Durham who are changing the business landscape. Meet Jonathan Hayes, a 2-year Durham resident and founder of RewardStock.
1. You're the founder of RewardStock. Tell me about your venture.
RewardStock is a free website that shows you how to travel with [credit card] points instead of cash. If you've got a lot of points, that's great, we'll show you how to get the most value out of them. If you don't have any points, we'll show you how to get them quickly and efficiently so you can achieve your travel goals. All you do is come to the site, tell us what points you have, and tell us where you want to go.
People pay a lot of attention to their budget and investments. But when people use their points, which are assets just like stocks and bonds, they make decisions in a vacuum of knowledge. There's no feedback loop to know whether that was a good decision or not and there's no prior guidance. We're a personal rewards advisor, and [RewardStock's] algorithms can make a solution that's right for you.
2. You have a background in investment banking, having worked at Citigroup for seven years. How did you learn about the value of credit card reward points?
In 2011 I was working on Wall Street and I got a call from my older brother. He said, "Hey Jon, I want to go to South America. Will you go with me?"
He just started listing a bunch of cities. "We'll go to Machu Picchu, Santiago, Buenos Aires. We'll fly business class the whole way and we're going to stay in really nice hotels." At the end of that I was like, that sounds like an incredible trip, but how do you plan to pay for that? He said, "I think I found a strategy where we could pay for the trip with points."
That's what got me started in points. It was a real thing -- you save thousands of dollars. The following year I was getting married. For our honeymoon [my wife and I] went to the Maldives, flew first class, and stayed eights nights at a luxury resort, all paid for with points.
3. Why did you decide to leave your job and pursue RewardStock in Durham?
We did our honeymoon in October of 2013, that's when I was like, I want to make this a business. My wife and I had just gotten married I knew we wanted to live somewhere else outside of Manhattan, settle down and have a family. I decided to leave Wall Street, move to North Carolina, and start this company all at the same time.
My family lives in the Triangle and North Carolina has always been home to me, even though I've bounced around a lot. For my wife, it was the bigger decision. She was born and raised in New York, so we thought we'd try [Durham] out for a year. She was nervous about moving to the South and feeling isolated and like nothing was going on. That's nothing like what she's experienced. She loves it here. John Hope Franklin is the legendary scholar, activist, and historian who called Durham home until his death in 2009. Learn about Dr. Franklin's legacy in the community and beyond. read more
4. Where do you see yourself and RewardStock in five years?
Physically here, in the Triangle. In five years' time we'll have a platform that's been up and running for a while, helping people plan reward travel and get more value out of their rewards. Hopefully we'll have built a reputation for being the go-to place for figuring how to do anything you want to do with points. We're a team of three full-time people and there's room to grow that in the next couple of years. I'd like to be one of the startups in this area that people can look to as an example of something that worked.
5. Where will people find you on the weekends?
If I'm not out of the country traveling, which I like to do frequently - there's a lot of good restaurants here. That's the one thing we thought we would miss from New York, and we found a lot of places we really like. A lot of them are right here in the Downtown Durham area.
We really love Mateo. We also do Pompieri Pizza from time to time. Those are probably the two we've gone to most recently. Rue Cler is also really nice. There's a bunch on the list, too. We have a spreadsheet somewhere of places to try.
The entrepreneurs featured in this series are members of American Underground, a Google for Entrepreneurs Tech Hub and startup community based in Durham.
A Gentleman and a Scholar
John Hope Franklin is the legendary scholar, activist, and historian who called Durham home until his death in 2009. Learn about Dr. Franklin's legacy in the community and beyond. read more