Caryn Siedman, Clearme, Woman Entrepreneur

LIV_09.27_Power_Mom_CLEAR_Main_636x424_0Caryn should have been on my radar way before I talked to her.  Someone who works for Caryn contacted me.  She said that Caryn was an amazing woman entrepreneur and I should speak with her.  I love the whole concept of Clearme and said yes.  Clearme is transforming the transportation industry by pre-screening people that become members to get the Clearme card so one can bypass long security lines and take the angst out of travel.  Caryn and I begin to talk and then I put 2 + 2 together.  Her business partner happens to be one of my best friends brother.  But there is more.

Caryn grew up in Potomac, MD.  So did I.  We are a decade apart so we did not know each other.  Her father was an economist for the Department of Transportation and her mother was a real estate agent before becoming a budget analyst for the Government.  Caryn graduated from the same high school as I did.  She also went to the same camp as I did growing up, Camp Ramblewood.  She also had a variety of jobs in high school and in essence always felt like a tough chick.  It was hilarious talking to Caryn because she had lived some of the same experiences as I did but only 10 years later. 

Caryn went to University of Michigan for college.  She wanted to go to a school that was heavy into sports because she wanted to be a sports journalist.  Caryn spent her second semester junior year abroad in Madrid where had to take all the classes in Spanish.  Needless to say she spoke fluent Spanish very quickly.  Her summer jobs were back at home working for the Don and Mike early morning drive show on 105.1 fm radio and an internship at NBC working and writing for a few major talk shows including Jim Vance.  Her last summer before graduating she worked for a CBS affiliate in Toledo Ohio covering the Mud Hens reporting from behind and in front of the camera.  She realized that the job was not as glamorous as you think.  She made a conscious decision to not go into the world of sports journalist.  That is the best thing about doing internships and jobs in college.  It teaches you what you want to do and what you don't want to do. What she did love was doing research.  She would read about proxies about companies like they were magazines which is why she decided finance was the way to go.

Caryn graduated from college with a job at Deloitte and Touche in Chicago paying her $29K a year.  She turned it down because she wanted to be in NYC.  Her mother thought she was crazy.  She came to NYC as many do without a job and began to pound the pavement.  She knocked on the door of every finance company she could find.  Eventually she landed a job in risk arbitrage at Arnhold and Bleichroder.  She was a slave to running numbers on spread sheets.  She had graduated in May and was there by June.  She was the lowest paid person in the company and her desk sat looking at a brick wall.  It was an incredible opportunity.  If you were there early enough and stayed late enough they would pay for breakfast, lunch and dinner so even though she was only making $24k a year with a rent of $1200 a month she could survive because she had no expenses. 

It was 1994 and there was a lot going on in mergers and acquisitions.  She learned a ton.  She worked for one guy for about a year and a half who mentored her to become an analyst.  The company bought a hedge fund and she became an analyst in that department.  She got to meet management teams and act like she knew what she was talking about.  Her strategy was fake it until you make it.  She had nothing to lose so why not.  That strategy paid off.

She stayed at that company for about 3 years until a few of the higher-up people left to start Iridian Asset Management and asked Caryn to come with them.  They became an 8 billion dollar asset management company.  She stayed four years rising among the ranks.  Their strategy would be to take a 5% ownership in companies and help them grow.  She began to build great relationships and learn how to invest. 

In 2001 Caryn left because she wanted to own her own company and culture.  MSB Capital gave her the opportunity to do that with them but after a short 8 weeks she knew it was not the right fit.  She left on good terms to join Glenview, a hedge fund, to be their number two.  Ultimately the number one told her that he would back her in her own hedge fund business. 

At 29, pregnant with her first child, she started her own hedge fund and called it Ariance, part art part science.  She had $50 million under management and began to raise more funds.  She went to raise money from one guy and he actually said to her "how do you know if you will come back after having the baby"?  Her response was "are you crazy".  Between 2002-2008 she grew the business from $50M to $1.5 billion.  It was stressful, daunting, frustrating, exciting, horrible and awesome.  Through all that she had 3 kids.

In 2008 the financial world imploded.  Caryn began to think "is this what I want to do with the rest of my life"?  She felt like she wanted more control of her destiny.  So both her and her partner decided to give all the money they had under management back.  It was unheard of but she felt it was the right thing to do while they thought about what is next.  If we can not invest with confidence then we should walk away.  They made sure everyone who worked for them got a job and they closed shop.

She went to Paris for four days with her daughter, Mom and niece.  It was literally the first time she had taken off with any responsibilities to work.  She spent the next two months doing the Mom thing and quickly realized that it was not for her.  She loves working.  She loves using her brain in a business environment.  So her partner from before started a company called All Good Holdings to invest in good stuff.  First they took $1m and gave it away through their foundation.  They wanted to invest in homeland security, defense and aerospace.  It was through this desire to invest in these verticals that they stumbled upon Clear.  They took their own capital and some mentors and investors that they had met along the way and bought the company.

Over the past two years they have rebuilt the company and changed the name to Clearme.  Clearme is a fast pass through the airport that you can acquire by enrolling and having your biometrics taken for clearance.  It is the ATM of identity by matching your fingers prints and iris.  They are hoping that the data analytic will also change the physical screening of people so you don't have to deal with shoes, coats and liquids in your bag.  It will be a data base of millions of identities and that pass can be used at airports that have integrated Clearme into their system and that could include buildings, hospitals etc.  It is only $179 year to joint and you can add your partner/spouse for $50 and kids under 18 go free.  They are currently in SFO, Orlando, Denver, Dallas and Westchester airports.  They are hoping to get into more soon.

Caryn believes that transportation is one of the few places that has not moved forward with technology.  They are leveraging technology as this is a huge opportunity with high barriers to entry. It has been a tough road dealing with bureaucratic challenges but they are getting there.  After talking with Caryn there is absolutely no doubt she will get there.  She is sharp as a whip and is driven to success.  We sent each other are Camp Ramblewood photographs of each other and got a good chuckle.  I can hardly wait to see Clearme get into the airports that I frequent most often.  For the consumer, Clearme is a no-brainer.