35 Under 35: Natalie Kaminski, Chief Executive Officer of FinCode Solutions

kaminskiNBy Pamela Weinsaft (New York City)

Russian-born, Israeli-bred Natalie Kaminski has moxie. The chief executive and founder of FinCode Solutions came by herself to the United States at the tender age of eighteen, with only a high school diploma under her belt and a desire to build a career; in what, though, she wasn’t sure.

As a kid, Kaminski had her sights set on a variety of professions. “My preferences went from wanting to be a lawyer (because it was cool) to wanting to be a model to wanting to be a psychiatrist. I had no interest in either technology or finance. To be honest, I don’t know how I ended up in those. I didn’t even have a computer. I heard about the internet but didn’t even use it.”

Yet, she said, “when [the internship at a technology school in Minneapolis] came along, I just took it.”

After a few months the technology school hosted a job fair to introduce the interns to local businesses. “I came very prepared and handed out my resume to everyone. But, when two weeks later, I still hadn’t heard from anyone, I just picked up the phone and starting calling all of the people I’d met.” One of those conversations was with Steve Timmerman, the founder and CTO of SWAT Solutions. Kaminski recounted, “I said to him, ‘hire me for free, give me experience that I can put on my résumé so I can go on to find a paying job.’ And he said, ‘Just because you are being so bold, I’m going to hire you AND pay you.’”

Acquiring New Skills and Experience

She quickly developed the skills and language to navigate the tech sector. “It was the beginning of 1998. Y2K issues made it rather simple for anyone who claimed to know technology. I was able to get by by reading a few technology books and learning a few key words as I went.” She added, “I was surprised because it turned out to be a lot simpler than I thought it would be. Before I knew tech, it always fascinated me how people could write programs and things. I assumed that to do that you had to be a genius. But it turns out that it is an acquired skill that is not very difficult to learn.”

Kaminski then worked as a quality assurance manager with another Minneapolis firm. But, after falling in love with the city of Boston while visiting family there, she picked up and moved to the East Coast, where she landed a job as the head of Quality Assurance department with NorthPoint Domain.

In the wake of 9-11, her professional life, like that of many others, turned upside down. Many of NorthPoint’s investors had been tenants of the World Trade Center; the resulting losses from that day meant that NorthPoint had to lay off a large portion of its staff, including Kaminski.

At first, she was not worried. But, when she was still unemployed six months later, she “felt so worthless.” Several months later, just the employment benefits were running out, she found a job with a company called the Risk Management Foundation of Harvard Medical. “It was a great job. I played various roles—from QA specialist to business analyst to project manger—in the four years I spent working for them.”

Four years later Kaminski decided a change of scene was in order. “I felt it would be a shame to be so close and not try to live in New York. And,” she said, “It turned out that it was a smart move because this is where I met my husband.”

Once in New York, she joined Data Rite Systems, a small firm which builds software applications for hedge funds, asset managers, and fund of funds. “That’s how I got exposed to the whole financial world and where I got my industry knowledge, my contacts…everything I needed.” Over her four years there, the company grew exponentially, and she again flew up the corporate ladder, arriving at the top in the COO position.

“The best things in life come out of laziness.”

In spite of her success, Kaminski said, “at some point, the stress levels became unbearable and started to take toll on my relationship with my then 2-year-old daughter and my husband. It made me question whether it was worth it; I went from loving it to hating it in a very short time.”

Kaminski decided to move on, and in March 2009, she founded FinCode Solutions, a boutique software and web application development firm. The company focuses on financial services firms who want to automate their workflow, enhance collaboration, and increase data accuracy, but who cannot afford the off-the-shelf products, or have a unique strategy that does not fit pre-packaged solutions.

“Looking back it is the best decision I ever made for several reasons. I was able to suddenly find other things in life besides making money and working. I was finally the owner of my own time. And I found the spiritual side of myself.”

Kaminski says she’s found a greater sense of peace as well. “I am a great believer in the idea that what’s yours will be yours. If something doesn’t work out, you should not try to force it. I know that if it is meant to be, if I need it, I will get it. Even now, if I go and pitch to clients, I really don’t have anxiety.” She concluded, “If for some reason I don’t get it, I don’t need it because the client will be pain in the neck or some other reason.”

For all her moxie and ambition, Kaminski has an unusually relaxed perspective on life. “What I believe in is that the best things in life come out of laziness. People are looking for ways to make their life easier. It is very difficult to find the perfect niche that will make you happy and inspired and rich. So just find something comfortable and give it a shot to see if it will make you happy. Everyone has to find what makes them comfortable. What makes you comfortable will make you happy.”