A number of skills that Wall Street beats into its financial analysts might actually hold them back in future careers.We spoke yesterday with Vinicius Vacanti, who worked for 4 years on Wall Street before he left to fulfil longtime ambitions of being an entrepreneur and found he’d have to spend close to three “naive” years learning before bringing his companies close to profitability.
During 2-year careers at both Blackstone and the private equity fund Quadrangle, Vinicius picked up habits that were encouraged by finance culture and flaunted by his superiors, but were skills that would wing up screwing him over for a few years while he un-learned them.
“A lot of the skills that I had acquired over the four years in finance weren’t applicable to the start-up world and in some cases were actually limitations for us,” Vacanti told us.
First of all the finance world is very secretive. You’re not allowed to talk about what you’re working on with your friends, or anyone. You don’t want to because it’s competitive. In the start up world, it’s the exact opposite. You should go out and meet everyone else in your community, talk to them about what you’re working on and get feedback from them on your ideas.
“I remember when we first left, we were talking to a guy and we made him sign an NDA which is just, unbelievably ridiculous,” Vacanti says.
“It was a habit we’d picked up in the finance world, that you had to be secretive. Everyone we asked to sign NDAs were just taken away, like ‘What are you doing?'”
“In the start-up world you can’t go around asking people to sign NDAs,” he explains. “It makes it look like you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Yipit, a discount deal-sharing website, is the company Vinicius and his partner, Jim, had always been working towards. But it’s taken them three years and they still aren’t profitable yet. Before yipit, they started a failed company that allowed people to share what they were reading with their friends (before Twitter).
A few of the reasons they failed can be traced back to practicing bad habits they picked up while working in finance.
“When we first
, we were very secretive about what we were working on and we were afraid to talk to people about our ideas because we thought of it as one big competition.”
Then he grabbed a lunch with a friend who had a great idea and completely changed his mind.
“It was one of the few lunches we ever did at that point, and I realised that during that conversation he completely changed how we were thinking about what we were working on at the time,” he said.
If a lunch like that can be so valuable, he figured, you need to get out there and meet everyone you can because a lot of people have these great ideas and they’re willing to offer them.
Another nasty habit the pair picked up in the finance world is being perfect. When you’re making presentations and when you’re producing analysis, he says, you’re supposed to aim for 100% accuracy. In the start-up world it’s the opposite.
“If you’re trying to be perfect, you’re going to spend five months putting together something that people don’t even want,” he says. “You have guesses about what you think people want but you’re usually wrong. You have to learn that as quickly as possible, so you should leave the last 20%, he says.
After Vinicius and Jim spent time and money (they out-sourced the site’s programming) and saw their twitter-ish site fail, Vacanti decided he had to learn how to program and build a website on his own, and fast.
So he and Jim founded 140it.com (a book-marklet made for twitter that helps you shrink your posts to 140 characters automatically if you go over) in one weekend and unhub.com in another weekend just to test the waters and learn from. Both were successful (and still are) but not really modelled for making money
Their main site, yipit, is now built to make money and they’re looking to profit soon. In March launched its most recent version which recommends discount deals to subscribers (~16,000 right now and growing) on a daily basis based on their preferences (shopping, classes, restaurants).
So, the story might yet have a happy ending, but if they’d never been on Wall Street, they might have created the next Twitter. Maybe.
There a bunch of other entrepreneurs who quit Wall Street for their dream jobs. Meet them now –>
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