How a Flute, Bullies, and a Few Angels led to Silicon Valley, Google, and AngelScholars
In Silicon Valley, Peter Hazlehurst is a well-known FinTech nerd. He has built some of the most innovative teams and technologies around and launched some amazing products. Now on his 9th company (seven startups and two big ones: Google and Nokia) his talents earned him senior leadership positions at Google (where he was the CEO of Google Payments Corporation and Senior Director of Product for Google Wallet), Nokia, Postmates, and Yodlee.
He’s an advisor to numerous startups, has transformed companies, been part of two successful IPOs and an acquisition. He has his name on a fistful of patents relating to financial technology tools. Yet if it weren’t for the combination of a flute, bullies, and a few angels, Peter may have never left his home in Australia to join his first startup at the age of 20.
Australia and School
Growing up in Australia, Peter attended a traditional, English-style private school—Canberra Grammar. Peter’s parents, who were academics, knew that education was the best gift they could give, so they did everything they could to pay for school. In seventh grade, Peter, eager to remove himself from the turmoil caused by a difficult divorce, left home to go to boarding school aided by an academic scholarship that paid 50% of his expenses. It was a big burden on his family, but they sacrificed to help make it work.
At boarding school, Peter was singled out by bullies who picked on him for being nerdy and out of place. A bright academic student, the better he performed, the more viciously and persistently he was attacked by older kids eager to impress girls and vent their own frustrations. While seeking refuge in the only room with a door that locked, the computer room, Peter discovered programming. A long, serendipitous fascination and love of technology began.
A year into boarding, Peter knew that he couldn’t stay. He was thriving, and winning lots of academic prizes, but the bullying was too much. Unfortunately, Peter was placed in a dilemma – he knew he needed funding support to return to his old school, but the only academic scholarship having already been awarded, Peter had no way of securing tuition.
Knowing Peter’s blossoming ability as a flute player, and at the request of Peter’s father, the outgoing headmaster (Peter’s first Angel) was convinced to create a new music scholarship that paid the same as the existing academic scholarship. Peter could return to Canberra Grammar and his friends. His music and education flourished and he graduated in 1990, ready to study Law and Accounting at university.
Uncertain of the right path to take after high school, and completely burnt out from a tough final year, Peter took a gap year. He knew he’d have to get a job to pay rent and knew he couldn’t stay at home for long, so Peter went to work as a data entry specialist (aka, typist) for the Australian government, working for the Quarantine Service. It certainly wasn’t glamorous. Each day, Peter would type up quarantine inspection reports for produce being brought into the country. “If I typed Vitis Vinifera once (the most common grape type to be imported to Australia), I typed it a hundred thousand times,” Peter recalls.
Making the already arduous work even more challenging, a single mistake of missing a tab key would render all the data input into the IBM mainframe incorrect, making for a long night of retyping the day’s work. Putting his technology skills to work, Peter learned programming from a book, and wrote the code to ensure data was clean and correct. He was hooked.
At Quarantine, Peter’s manager Robin Salvage turned out to be his second Angel. Even though Peter had no formal education in coding, Robin surprisingly decided to invest in Peter, sending him to a week-long programming course in Melbourne for a new language — SQLWindows— that had just been released for Microsoft’s new OS Windows 3.0. At the age of 19, Peter was building apps that helped run Australia’s Quarantine Service and ushered in a new era of technology.
In 1992, as Peter began law school, his family moved to Brisbane. Peter needed a place to live, so he moved in with his best friend’s parents who gave him the support he needed during his first year. Working full time and going to school full time doing a double degree was pretty demanding, but his passion for coding and the fact that it was paying the bills, encouraged him to keep at it.
Moving to America
Peter came to the United States in the summers of 1991 and 1992 to attend Gupta developer conferences in San Francisco, where he met his long-time mentor, and third Angel, Earl Stahl — one of the early engineers of Visicalc. It was at this second conference that Peter received three job offers and realized that something unexpected was happening. He quit law school after completing his first year, and came to the United States to become part of a startup in 1993 called Phoenix International.
At Phoenix, he built a core banking system on Windows in less than 18 months. He was part of the group that took the company public in 1996, installing its solution into hundreds of banks around the world. Banks are still running it today — 20 years later.
A string of startups in Orlando, FL; Washington, DC; and Pittsburgh, PA, eventually led to Yodlee (Earl was part of the team recruiting their new SVP of Engineering and helped Peter escape the East) in Silicon Valley, where Peter was part of an amazing transformation of the company from “software for high net worth individuals” to “tools for everyone to understand their finances and spending every day.” Yodlee went on to go public and was subsequently sold to Envestnet.
It was then on to Google, where among other things, Peter helped to build and launch a revamped Google Wallet. He also served as the CEO of Google Payments Corporation, the independent financial entity through which all Google’s consumer payments are processed.
Peter left Google in 2014 and took six months off to re-energize and spend time with his family after 23 years of intense work. He then joined Postmates as COO. His stay there was relatively brief, as he admitted to himself that he really wanted to finally create and run a company, not help with yet another.
Role Reversal and the Creation of AngelScholars
After years of success in technology, Peter wanted to create the same sort of opportunity that was afforded to him all those years ago. He was determined to encourage his school to much more formally adopt Computer Science and Engineering as a subject, since it wasn’t even in the curriculum. He created a scholarship at Canberra Grammar, to be awarded each year to a student that showed great aptitude for computers and technology. “Nerd smart, not necessarily academic smart,” he called it.
Using the scholarship as a platform, Peter began to support and assist in annual trips for students to Silicon Valley. Kids who had barely left their hometowns were now getting an insider’s view into the likes of Google, Apple, and Facebook. Over the years, an interesting thing happened. More than simply providing access and opportunity to the scholars, Peter began to build relationships. This endeavor proved as rewarding to Peter as it was to the students.
The macro payoff of his scholarship can be measured in part, by the fact that last year Apple awarded six scholarships to high schoolers in Australia. Three of them came from Canberra Grammar!
A recent student in particular showed amazing promise. Brendan was a terrific student, who had excelled in technology. Peter knew that Brendan would be a great scholar and someone who would really value the opportunity afforded by the Hazlehurst Scholarship. In his final year at high school, Brendan became school captain, and even won a prestigious Tuckwell Scholarship that would pay for everything in Australia. His natural talent for technology and engineering blossomed, and on the annual trip to California, he fell in love with Stanford and the Valley. For a kid with natural abilities with technology, Silicon Valley was heaven.
In mid July 2015, Peter received an email from Brendan with the best and worst news: he had done really well on his SATs and believed he was into Stanford, but he couldn’t afford to go. Success was just out of his reach for lack of money and opportunity.
Through his work in banking and finance technology, Peter was keenly aware of the power of micro financing—how small payments, almost worthless alone, can build a corporate empire when joined together. It was in this moment, two weeks later, that AngelScholars was born, a new platform that builds on the power of crowdfunding, and allows individuals to connect great kids with great opportunities.
As founder and CEO, Peter’s vision is to bring thousands of people into the scholarship world by allowing them to invest in students in a way that is personal and passionate for them. From tuition to books to sending a kid to camp, AngelScholars is designed to positively disrupt a scholarship model that has changed little in hundreds of years.
Today, Peter lives in San Carlos, CA, with his wife Yuriko and twins Luke and Leah. He uses the basement of his house as AngelScholars HQ until the real estate boom of Silicon Valley abates, or until the team mutinies.
(and if you made it all the way to here, and are curious: Brendan starts in the fall at Harvard!… mission accomplished).