NEW YORK – In 2015, President Barack Obama appointed Andrew Yang as Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship as part of a White House program to promote economic activity around the world.
The award is a keystone in Yang’s story as a serial entrepreneur with deep experience in the startup world – a story he builds on as a senior candidate for mayor of New York. Yang presented himself as someone with new ideas and an aversion to political ideology. But a look at his CV shows that the reality is less clear.
At the time of Obama’s recognition, Yang was the head of Venture for America, a nonprofit he created to match recent college graduates with startups in small and medium-sized cities.
“I started Venture for America because I remember what it’s like to be a struggling entrepreneur myself,” Yang wrote on the organization’s blog shortly after visiting the White House. “My first business failed in 2001.”
However, the first company Yang referred to, Stargiving.com, was the idea of a colleague during his brief stint at white shoe law firm David Polk & Wardwell. After a 25-year-old Yang expressed his enthusiasm for the idea, the duo quit and turned Stargiving.com into a full-fledged startup that connected donors with charitable causes.
The company was one of several start-ups Yang worked in the decade before Venture for America launched. And while this period is crucial to his self-proclaimed identity as a serial entrepreneur, these companies were often started by someone else – a distinction that complicates a key part of his campaign persona.
“At a time when the New York economy is still in shock and questions remain about the return of workers to offices, the fact that Yang can say he understands and has been involved in one of the sectors of The city’s most important economic growth is undoubtedly part of its appeal to voters, ”said Seth Pinsky, head of 92nd Street Y and former head of the Economic Development Corp.
After Stargiving.com disappeared, Yang joined a healthcare company called MMF Systems. The practice treats the confidential medical information of patients about to undergo surgery. During his tenure with the young organization, Yang was in charge of a customer relations team that sought to strengthen ties with the hospitals that used the company’s services. Company CEO Manu Capoor fondly recalled Yang’s tenure and said that because the company was so small everyone was acting as an entrepreneur.
“In my opinion, entrepreneurs were born and Andrew Yang was born an entrepreneur,” he said in an email.
In 2006, Yang left MMF to join Manhattan Prep, a company started by a friend named by Zeke Vanderhoek, who eventually asked Yang to take over as CEO. Yang spent four years at Manhattan Prep before the company was sold for millions. And then he decided to create Venture for America, which his campaign says is one of the main sources of his knowledge about startups and the world of entrepreneurs.
“Andrew co-founded an internet startup in his mid-twenties, then worked at two software companies as an executive, ran an education company that leveraged technology to grow and was acquired by a public company in 2009, and founded and built a multi-million dollar nonprofit from scratch that worked with dozens of tech companies across the country to create thousands of jobs, ” spokeswoman Alyssa Cass said in a statement touting Yang’s business experience.
However, Yang’s characteristic entrepreneurial achievement falls far short of the job creation goals he set for himself. The organization initially committed to creating 100,000 by 2025, which it is not close to achieving. The organization’s struggles were part of the reason Yang resigned and continued his presidential race based on the concept of a universal basic income.
The campaign did not answer questions about Yang’s role in two other businesses, a wireless internet business and an event business. Neither has featured prominently in Yang’s description of his professional experience.
Despite a relatively short track record of building businesses himself, Yang’s campaign said he was still in touch with voters as he continued to lead the polls.
“It’s clear that Andrew’s story – and his passion for helping people – resonates with New Yorkers,” Cass said in a statement. “As any small business owner in town will tell you, starting and growing a business isn’t for the faint of heart.”