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News

FSB instructor, former students join to build online business


June 2018

Jay Murdock

Since he graduated from Miami with finance and accounting degrees in 1985, Pat O’Brien (upper right) has been a busy man. He’s worked with P&G brands, marketed a private island, managed a golf community, created a college success program, written a book, taught a popular class in the Farmer School for more than a decade, and mentored former students.

But when his parents died ten years ago, O’Brien found that his wealth of experiences didn’t prepare him to handle their estate.

“I was the executor. It’s a very difficult role. It’s incredibly complicated when you’re already frustrated and stressed from grieving,” he said. “I went online to look for a resource to help me, and didn’t find anything.”

As he continued his career as an entrepreneur, that experience stayed in a corner of O’Brien’s mind. “Every few years, I would come back to see that there still wasn’t an online resource for executors,” he explained. “A friend who stepped into the role asked me, ‘How is there not something online to help me do this?’ So in early 2015, I said, ‘I’m going to go build this thing.’”

O’Brien said he needed a good person to handle the technology side of his idea, so he turned to Allen Burt (middle right), CEO of a digital agency, Blue Stout. “I called him and said, ‘Hey, would you like to build this for me?’ and Allen said, ‘No, I don’t want to build it for you. I want to be your partner,’” O’Brien recalled.

Burt knew O’Brien well. He took O’Brien’s “Real Strategies For Real Business” class when he was a senior at the Farmer School.

“The entire concept was that he wanted to take the things that he learned in the business world and apply them in a structure that taught business students real business,” Burt remarked. “It was probably the most impactful class I took at the Farmer School.”

“(O’Brien) had this idea that had been nagging him for years, so he pitched me on it. I saw the potential, so we partnered up and started the business,” Burt said.

“It’s an incredibly difficult, emotional time anyway, and the process you have to walk through is very cumbersome. There’s a lot of very complex elements that go into this that nobody understands because they’ve never done it before,” Burt pointed out. “What we saw out there was a massive need to leverage a digital technology solution to make this easier for people to do.”

The website, Executor.org, is designed to help a user build a customized executor checklist. Users answer a series of questions and are delivered a comprehensive plan -- an executor “to do” list, with articles, videos, and spreadsheets helping users navigate each part of their plan.

After a couple of years as a paid site, O’Brien pivoted to a free model, leveraging what he had learned so far.

“We decided that we really wanted to ‘own’ this space online,” he explained. “Our belief was, and still is, that there will be plenty of ways to monetize the business as we firmly establish leadership in this space online so we made the leap to the free model.”

“We’re growing at 20 percent a month, we’ll have more than 15,000 executors coming to the site this month, annually settling $100 billion in estates,” he said.

He’s also picked up another Farmer School graduate, Alex Kendall (lower right), a 2017 information systems and entrepreneurship major, meaning half of the site’s staff have a Miami connection. “It’s a lot of fun to work with both of these guys, particularly given that they were my students,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien’s on sabbatical this year, but he’s hoping to teach his class at the Farmer School again.

“I could not be a bigger fan of the Farmer School. I think the school is exceptional, the quality of the education is nothing short of fantastic, and I think the students, if they made the right choices in their four years, can go anywhere and do anything.”

Pat O'Brien Allen Burt Alex Kendall