Rising Star 🚀: “Harder to get into than Harvard” – Ulrik from Denmark has just been accepted into the worlds most prestigious startup accelerator

20/01/2021 Graduateships Min.

Education

2011-2014: Copenhagen Business School, BSc Economics and Business Administration
2014-2015: UCL, MSc Management and Finance
2018-2019: Imperial College London, MSc Computer Science

Experience

2015-2018: Associate Sales & Trading, J.P. Morgan
2019: Entrepreneur First
2020-Now: Co Founder, Cord

Similar to many other famous tech founders it all started with a passion for computers when Ulrik started coding in his early teenage years. 

 

– I was probably around 14 when I started coding at home. I have always been fascinated by the power of computer science and the power that lies in technology. This was also the primary reason why I started on HTX (higher technical examination programme) – to pursue my technical passion.

 

After high-school Ulrik was questioning whether or not to continue down the path of Computer Science at DTU or move in another direction.

 

– On one hand I really enjoyed the technical aspects of coding and could easily see myself continue this at DTU, but I didn’t see a lot of exciting career opportunities after graduating. Most graduates would join large corporations in their tech teams or join relatively unknown tech startups. Back then Denmark didn’t have a lot of exciting new startups, so neither of the options excited me.

 

Ulrik ended up applying to Economics and Business Administration (IB) at Copenhagen Business School. He thought the analytical aspects of the degree would favour him and then he also liked the fact that the degree required the highest GPA in Denmark at the time. 

 

– The best part about Economics and Business Administration (IB) at CBS were the people that I studied with. They were all equally as ambitious and it was definitely a high performing environment. Many of my fellow students were aiming to go into the world of Finance and I also felt like that was an industry that would suit me well.

 

International ambitions 

 

Prior to enrolling at CBS Ulrik had had a dream of studying abroad, back then it had not materialised, but he managed to secure a spot at UCL which offers one of the best MSc degrees within Management and Finance. He graduated with distinction and made the Dean’s list for academic achievement.

 

– One of the things that really appealed to me was the reputation the degree at UCL had. It was quite common for graduates to join the best Investment Banks after graduating. In addition then the MSc was only a year instead of the two year programme offered at CBS. In the UK the MSc degrees are a bit more intense and it’s difficult to have a part time job while studying, but I preferred to have full focus on school and then be done a year faster.

Investment Banking at J.P. Morgan

 

During his studies Ulrik managed to land a full time analyst role with the prestigious American bank J.P. Morgan. Ulrik was 24 when he started in 2015. 

 

– It was baptism by fire when I started. President Zuma of South Africa was indicted and Greece had the referendum regarding their debt to the EU which impacted the markets quite hard, so it was a very intense period in the beginning. The learning curve was ridiculously steep and I had to learn a ton about the markets in a short period of time. I was also managing ridiculously large sums of money when making big trades, which made the job quite stressful at times. 

 

On top of the fast learning curve Ulrik also learned a lot about working on a trading floor at an Investment Bank and the sometimes macho culture that exists there. 

 

– It’s definitely a different working culture from what you would find in a Danish bank. It’s a very “play hard work hard” kind of culture. It took me a while to get used to it, but it definitely also helped me manage stressful situations in the future and be able to stay level headed despite a lot of pressure. 

The J.P. Morgan trading floor in London is known to be one of the very biggest in the world, with 900 people sitting on a floor the size of 3 football fields
Ulrik Hansen, Co founder Cord

Back to the school desk 

 

After Ulrik had been with the bank for around 3.5 years when he decided to go back to university and pursue a Master’s in Computer Science degree from Imperial College London.

 

– I knew quite early on that I wouldn’t want to stay at the bank forever. When I looked at the life my manager and my manager’s manager were living I knew that that would not lead to a meaningful life for me. Everything is about money and I don’t think I could have looked back at my life and said I had created something meaningful or valuable to the world had I stayed in the bank for the duration of my career.  

 

– Studying Computer Science was probably one of the mentally most challenging things I have done. It’s a super tough programme particularly as I came from Sales & Trading and haven’t done an undergrad in CS, and had mostly been using basic stuff like VBA and R in my job. There is also a big difference between having a working mindset to a student mindset where you are trying to get the best possible grades. 

 

Below you can see Ulrik’s coding setup and his Co Founder Eric

1,2,3 Startup life begin!

 

During his study at Imperial College Ulrik knew he wouldn’t go back into the world of Finance and was playing around with different businesses to incubate. None of the ideas really stuck and he applied to the famous startup accelerator EF (Entrepreneur First). He was accepted and met his Co Founder Eric at the programme.  

 

– Overall EF was a great experience. I think it’s a really good starting point for anyone who is new to the startup business and might not have it all figured out yet. I met my Co Founder Eric there and we were able to come up with the idea that ultimately ended up leading to our startup Cord. It’s a great place to find a Co Founder as the people there would already have quit their jobs and be committed to the journey.

 

After EF Eric and Ulrik officially created Cord and started laying the groundwork for the startup. The problem they are trying to solve is the labelling of training data. It’s is the biggest bottleneck in building modern AI applications – replacing thousands of hours of human labelling. Companies and research institutions of all sizes are using Cord’s software to automate the creation and management of their computer vision training data to build cutting-edge AI applications.

 

Ulrik and Eric have worked tirelessly to get Cord off the ground and have held many hats in this process. 

 

– We don’t have a super formal split yet between us. We are basically just working on what’s most important. Eric is one of the smartest guys I have ever met and I’m very fortunate to have him as my Co Founder. He is the primary person behind our models and algorithms, and with his background as a Senior Quantitative Researcher we are in pretty good hands there. I have been focusing a lot on coding as well, but I’m also now working on the commercial side and bringing the product to market, getting our first customers, etc. 

 

Below you can see the founders of AirBnB which were some of the earliest participants in Y Combinator

The only thing I regret is not leaving earlier.
Ulrik Hansen, Co founder Cord

Accepted into Y Combinator

 

It was just announced that Cord has also been accepted into Y Combinator (YC), which is the most successful startup accelerator in the world. The acceptance rate is below 1% making it harder to get into than Harvard. Other successful companies such as AirBnB, Dropbox, Coinbase, and Doordash all came through YC. 

 

– As both Eric and myself are first time founders it will be a great experience for us. We have the opportunity to spar with some of the best people in the field and build up a network. In addition then you get a lot of exposure to potential investors and VCs who might be interested in investing.  Getting funding is normally one of the most difficult processes, but here you have the advantage that investors in some ways are coming to you. 

 

Ulrik and Eric are also hoping to get funded during their time with YC and get around 18 – 24 months of run rate. Ultimately the goal with Cord is to create a large sustainable business, not a fast exit. 

 

– Many founders build a business with the aim to exit it. That is not our dream. We are both interested in building a big business that will thrive for many years. I think if you build a business just for the money then it makes more sense to just have a job in finance or consulting. Myself and Eric haven’t received a salary for 2 years and you need to be okay with that. The only way to get through that is because you have a burning desire to solve a problem and build a company that can help people and companies. 

 

So far Ulrik is enjoying the journey and does not regret his decision to leave his well paid job at JP Morgan. 

 

– When making big decisions I like to use Jeff Bezos framework: “When you think about the things that you will regret when you’re 80, they’re almost always the things that you did not do. They’re acts of omission. Very rarely are you going to regret something that you did that failed and didn’t work or whatever”. So far we are having fun every day and enjoying the process. 

9 rapid-fire questions

 

1. How much do you sleep?

8 Hours. It’s very important that i feel energised and well rested when I code.

2. Favourite Book?

The Dice Man’ by George Cockroft

3. Do you believe in god?

No

4. Do you feel lucky?

Yes. I think if you are born Danish you are quite fortunate

5. Best piece of advice for talents?

Follow your passion and don’t be afraid of going against the norm

6. Do you meditate?

No

7. Who are people you admire?

My Co Founder Eric. His brain functions at another level than mine

8. What is your super power?

My stamina – I can grind all day

9. What is your best and worst habit

Best habit: I exercise frequently

Worst habit: I have a severe coffee addiction