Alumnus and entrepreneur encourages computer science students to pursue greatness
Harjas Singh '15, featured on the Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe in Technology list, traveled from England earlier this month to share insights about taking risks with the Virginia Tech community.
Harjas Singh '15 measures his time at Virginia Tech as the best four years of his life. It’s why Singh — the co-founder of a financial technology company backed by tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams and computer science alumnus — took a 10-hour flight from London earlier this month to meet with students, reconnect with faculty members, and engage with the community.
“I wanted to go back in time and experience a weekend in Blacksburg to ground myself. I’ve come so far from it and I needed that experience,” Singh said.
Singh, who was featured on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Europe in Technology list for 2023, is chief product officer and co-founder of Shares.io, an investment platform that allows friends and communities to share their investing knowledge. Since its launch in April 2021, Shares has raised $90 million in total funding and serves 170,000 customers in the United Kingdom. The Williams sisters became the first ambassadors of Shares shortly after the company closed on its $40 million Series B funding round. It was the company’s vision of making investing more inclusive that sparked their interest.
Singh’s visit to the Blacksburg campus was hosted by the Department of Computer Science, in collaboration with the student organization Computer Science Careers at Virginia Tech. On Sept. 7, nearly 100 computer science students gathered in Hahn Hall-North to hear about Singh's journey and ask questions while alumni watched the presentation live online.
The eager crowd asked questions ranging from Singh’s most challenging class at Virginia Tech to his advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. Anton Bilonog, CS Careers Club president and a junior in computer science, helped field questions from the in-person and webinar audiences during the event.
“It’s truly inspiring to hear from a Hokie like Harjas. He is proof that with enough drive and determination, you can accomplish your dreams,” said Bilonog.
Push outside your comfort zone
As Singh said goodbye to his dad underneath Torgersen Bridge after orientation, he knew he’d have to push himself outside his comfort zone to make the best of the four years ahead.
From a young age in his home of New Delhi, India, Singh knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur. However, because of the red tape involved with his visa, that dream would have to wait until after college. With this in mind, Singh utilized his additional free time to explore the hundreds of student groups available. As his interests changed, the one group he stuck with was Bhangra at Virginia Tech, a competitive cultural dance team that competes throughout the country.
Despite growing up in India, he had never learned the Northern Indian dance Bhangra. Singh didn’t make the team the first time he tried out, but he asked one of the participants to train him until he did. The relationships he built on the team while traveling around the country for competitions have lasted beyond graduation.
“Be part of something that’s outside of your degree because it cements those bonds that last the rest of your life,” Singh said.
Take that risk
Halfway through his studies, a scholarship from the Computer Science Resource Consortium, now called CS|Source, helped Singh land an internship with Deutsche Bank and a co-op with NetApp. He completed his internship the summer going into his junior year, then directly followed it up with the five-month co-op in Raleigh, North Carolina.
“My internship and co-op made me enjoy the rest of my college life even more. After I worked for six months, it made me relish every class, tackle each project with a better mindset, and realize the utopia of college,” Singh said.
Although he didn’t fall in love with industry that year, Singh identified his ideal company culture and the passions he wanted to pursue after graduation. He went on to work at Deutsche Bank for four years, then cultivated his entrepreneurial drive working for Revolut, a global neobank and financial technology company that aims to simplify all things money.
A year after moving to London, Singh joined Revolut as product owner for wealth and trading. The energy in the office and the quicker ship times drove him to work harder and accomplish more. This environment gave him the push to finally develop his own company.
“Each one of us has something cool to offer. Until you take that risk, you never know what could happen. Just do it,” Singh said.
Without taking risks and trying new things, Singh would have never seen his app make it to second place in the finance category of the UK app store — with Revolut in third.
Think about the why
Singh’s motivation for attending college in the United States was the opportunity to explore more.
“I knew I made the right decision choosing Virginia Tech once I started taking computer science classes and saw how much you could collaborate,” Singh said.
His undergraduate research with Professor Cliff Shaffer brought computer science concepts to life while teaching Singh the industry way of working on a project — thinking about the value of the project from another person’s perspective.
“Cliff was instrumental in creating a more entrepreneurial way of thinking. He gave us time to explore and be creative throughout the research process,” Singh said.
During his presentation earlier this month, Singh advised the students to think about why they're writing code and focus on the problem they’re trying to solve — to think about why people are using what they’re building.
Build community through Ut Prosim (That I May Serve)
Although he had never stepped foot in the United States until undergraduate student orientation, Singh quickly found his home away from home in Blacksburg.
He credits the diversepeople he met at Virginia Tech through events like the VT Hackathon and their varied ways of thinking for making him a better entrepreneur. Working with students from around the globe on projects they’re passionate about for 36 hours not only built community but entrepreneurial spirit.
He took this sense of community into his business plan when starting Shares. Unlike most financial apps, Singh didn’t want the social component to be an afterthought. With the mission of making investing accessible for a more diverse population, Shares brings connecting with friends and investing together in one app.
“Ut Prosim has been my North Star, both in my career and personal life. The way I interpret it, it’s all about community,” Singh said.