My App Puts Money in Your Pocket

In 2018, I quit my job as a successful volatility trader to build an app that helps people earn as much money as possible from credit card rewards.

Fast forward to 2021 and my app, Card Curator, is available in the App Store and Play Store.  It’s been downloaded more than 1,000 times, and we’ve yet to start our marketing campaign.

So, what happened between 2018 and 2021? Why did I quit my job to build an app? And how can my app put money in your pocket?

I’m glad you asked.

As a volatility trader for Merrill Lynch, I made plenty of money, but I was miserable. Travel has always been my passion, but vacation days were hard to come by, especially as a junior at the company. In 2013, I discovered how to use credit card spending and rewards to fund luxury travel. I spent hours researching credit cards and earned enough rewards to take some awesome trips, but I could only go so far with five days off per year. 

Everything changed in 2017.

By then I was no longer a junior, and I convinced three of my best friends to take a two-week trip to Japan and Korea — funded entirely by credit card rewards. The planning was intense. I spent months on it, and each of us opened 4-5 new credit cards to earn sign-up bonuses and take advantage of rewards deals, but my strategy paid off.  

We cashed in our rewards for first-class flights and five-star hotels in Tokyo and Seoul and had the time of our lives exploring East Asia for two weeks.  

Once I got back to NYC, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much fun the trip was and how amazing it was to pay for it all not with cash, but with credit card rewards.  Why doesn’t everyone do this, I wondered?

Eventually, I figured it out. Two things are holding most people back from playing and winning the credit card points and miles game.

First, most people have no idea how much is possible to earn from credit card rewards. They don’t know their credit card benefits or how to maximize them, so they leave thousands of dollars on the table every year.

Second, finding the best credit card deals takes a lot of time and effort. The fastest way to earn rewards is to research the best sign-up bonuses and open a series of new cards to capture the rewards. Most people don’t have the time to scour the internet for information, or the energy to manage multiple credit cards.

I was undeterred by these realizations. What if there was a way to automate all the hard work and help more people earn maximum rewards?

There wasn’t a way at the time, so I decided to make one. I started working on building an algorithm to automatically find the best credit card deals and offer tailored recommendations to earn the most possible rewards. My team and I named the concept “Card Curator,” because its goal is to act as a caretaker of our customers’ credit cards.

By October 2018, I had quit my job to work on building an app full-time. I made a lot of progress with the help of my dad and a few advisors, but I realized I needed more support.

In August 2020, I started the Wharton MBA program. I chose Wharton because of its excellent entrepreneurship program, reputation for incubating student-founded startups, and strong fintech offerings.

I haven’t been disappointed. As a member of the Wharton VIP X Accelerator program, I’ve had access to the mentorship and resources I needed to take Card Curator to the next level. 

Our successes over the last few months have been exciting. Card Curator won the Wharton Summer Venture Award, received a WeissFund Tech House Grant, and made it to the semifinals of MIT’s FinTech competition. We also built out our website, completed our soft launch, and made some significant app upgrades. 

Today, Card Curator is a fully functioning app putting money in people’s pockets by optimizing credit card rewards. By following our personalized recommendations, you can automatically earn 5-10% or more on all your credit card spending, compared to the average of 1-2% that most people earn from their cards. All credit card rewards are tax-free and can be used however you choose.

The algorithm’s recommendations are based on your goals. You can choose to maximize cashback, charitable contributions, or points and miles. With Card Curator’s premium plan, you can even set a specific travel goal complete with flight and hotel details.

Once you enter your goals, Card Curator’s proprietary algorithm determines the best set of cards for you and recommends a set of cards to help reach your goals as quickly as possible.  

If your goal is to maximize cashback, the recommendations will represent the set of cards that will help you maximize cashback rewards from your everyday spending.

If your goal is to take a first-class flight to Zagreb with your best friend and spend two weeks staying in 5-star hotels and exploring Croatia, your card recommendations will include the cards with the best travel rewards for your specific trip.

But Card Curator does more than recommend cards you should sign up for. The app also helps you manage the cards you already have and track all your rewards. When you add your existing cards to your Card Curator Wallet, you get automatic geolocation-based recommendations to help you choose the right card for every purchase, so you earn maximum rewards every time you spend money.

I’m proud of how far Card Curator has shaped up and am excited about the future. There are no other apps like Card Curator available, and the possibilities for growth are enticing. We’re starting our first major marketing campaign to build up to a hard launch this summer.  We’ve launched a new referral program, and we’re continuing to refine the app and develop new features.   

At the same time, Wharton is teaching me about what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. I know there will be challenges as Card Curator grows, but I’m ready for whatever comes. If you’d like to follow Card Curator’s journey, visit www.cardcurator.com to sign up for our newsletter or check us out on Instagram @card_curator.

Brendan Aronson: Marine to Co-Founder of Paintru

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Brendan Aronson (WG20)

Brendan, can you talk a little bit about transitioning from the military to Wharton?

Sure thing! Transitioning out of the military is a tough time for anyone, you’re switching jobs, moving, trying to understand how civilian careers are structured, learn the basics of business, understand different industries, types of roles, how to interview, and how to deal with the VA so there are a lot of moving pieces to keep your eyes on. Coming to Wharton was the best transition I could have asked for – the veterans club on campus is a tremendous resource for military applicants who are looking for application help but more importantly for connecting with other transitioning veterans who are trying to figure out if an MBA makes sense for them or if they can go directly into industry without it. I took full advantage of the veterans at Wharton who offered to help and now I pay it forward by having calls with other veterans who were in my shoes a few short years ago.

The military veteran community at Wharton is incredible and has been instrumental in making the transition to the business world. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the other incredible resources that Wharton offers – I feel like I gained a tremendous amount from Wharton’s academically rigorous environment over these two years. I commonly joke that I couldn’t spell ‘revenue’ before coming to Wharton, and the academic curriculum has given me the foundational business knowledge I need to add value to any organization after graduation.

Finally, my classmates have been a tremendous resource for understanding what different career paths look like, how different industries function, and for personal advice as well. They’re truly a cut above and are always willing to spend time chatting with me about how I can build a career that aligns with my personal values and priorities.

How have you grown while attending Wharton?

Coming from the military where your career is so clearly structured and you know exactly what it takes to succeed, I hadn’t previously paid enough attention to selecting a career that aligns with my personal goals. Many MBA students struggle to find their purpose or which career makes the most sense for them, and veterans are no different. I do think we are different in that we are typically so focused on ensuring mission success that we don’t leave time to consider our own wants, desires, and need! Wharton has given me time and space to consider those existential questions and have greater clarity about how I want to spend my time.

I’d strongly recommend the book Reboot by Jerry Colonna – I thought it was a great starting point for thinking through a lot of these questions and for introspection more generally.

What will you be pursuing full-time after graduation?

I recently joined Paintru, which is a direct-to-consumer custom art company that turns your favorite photo into a professionally painted work of art as a co-founder! I love that we create a product that people love – the incredible details that our artists are able to capture combined with the smell of the oils and feel of the brushstrokes create a memorable gift that people really connect with.

As a co-founder of Paintru, I’m thrilled that we are able to serve as a source of income for artists whose income has been adversely affected by Coronavirus. I’m also ecstatic about the opportunity to work on different types of business problems everyday – as an entrepreneur, you work on different problem sets everyday, whether finance, marketing, operational, data analytics, you’re expected to do it all.

We’re all spending so much time at home during the quarantine, and I think many of us are getting a little stir-crazy. It has been wonderful reading emails from customers raving about how their Paintru art dramatically improved their home or office to keep them feeling great during the quarantine. Additionally, we’ve completed artwork for small businesses who are looking to refresh their office design. We work directly with interior designers and can match pantone colors to create the perfect environment for your business and I hope that people will check us out when they think about the space that they spend time in.

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What advice do you have for students or applicants who may be interested in pursuing entrepreneurship?

I think veterans err on the side of caution when selecting their careers, which results in a lot of us pursuing banking or consulting. This is a great route for many, but if you think you have an entrepreneurial drive, I’d challenge veterans to take a shot! Do a summer internship at an early stage startup. Launch a business doing something extremely simple (sell t-shirts if you need a place to start!) during pre-term. Having a business to think about while you’re tackling the Wharton curriculum helps reinforce the classroom learning and has enriched my second year beyond belief.

Overall, this is very cliché but I would recommend that people believe in themselves and be willing to take a shot. Ask yourself what the worst possible outcome is – if you’re a Wharton graduate who has a failed startup, do you think a future hiring manager would view that negatively or understand that you likely bring a unique perspective to a future role? Would you hire someone who started a business after Wharton and learned a ton of tangible skills along the way?

All of the professors here recommend that students with an interest in entrepreneurship pursue it immediately post-graduation. I know it’s intimidating, but I think more veterans should take their advice and take the plunge!

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