I vividly remember the final battlefield demos at TC disrupt. The strange thing is, it’s not the demos that stick out in my mind, but rather a small fraction of one charismatic founder’s time on stage. When the cohort of decorated judges asked him about his background, he jokinginly admitted he spent three years in the gallows of Wall Street. The disenchanting tone of his answer provoked a supportive response from the audience. Yeah down with Wall Street!
For the last year I’ve spent in the tech ecosystem, I feel like I see people cheering on Wall Street drop-outs as well as overtly hating on the industry wherever I go. I definitely drank this Kool-Aid when I first touched down in the scene. I’d convince myself that the root of my feelings stemmed from the notion that “building something” was much more worthy than simply moving money.
Without a doubt my outlook was primarily a product of my own insecurities. It was easy to call them “sell outs” in order to make myself feel better about my situation. When you’re the guy sleeping on your finance friends’ couches each night there is no shortage of justifications I’d create as to why the shoe is not on the other foot.
Fast forward to a few months ago. I was catching up with a talented trader who I greatly respect and lined up with on the gridiron. Now that I had a roof over my head and was building my own product, I couldn’t wait to tell him about my world. Given the disenchant I’d came across amongst ex-finance guys in tech, I expected him to react with unbridled envy. This is how he responded:
“Wow man sounds look you’re doing some cool things. Good for you. I have to be honest with you though. What you’re doing has absolutely no appeal to me. I want structure. I want a clear road-map of how I can climb to the top within a consistent hierarchy…I’m glad that you like it though.”
I was blind-sided. How could he like the running on the hamster wheel each day more than what I was doing? What I now understand is that the entrepreneurial path is not for everyone. It’s only for a small fraction of people who possess a high risk tolerance, proclivity towards affecting change, and the life circumstances that make this trek an option.
This insight not only changed my personal outlook, but also inspires me to question the root/validity of many of the outcries against the industry. Amidst the sea of finance haters in tech, I wonder how many of them have ever worked in the industry. I wonder how many of them are truly devoting their time and energy to something far more noble than the movement of money. Is their location based deal app or the new Facebook game that results in hours of mindless entertainment really making the world that much better? To take it a step further, are their ultimate motivations for building these products any different from those who roll the dice at the trade desk each? Or is the difference just a reflection of an increased risk tolerance and technical skillset? It seems to me that in some cases each party is driven by the same motivation: achieving an existence where our time is not dictated by our obligation to make money. They’re just taking different routes to get there. Also, do the finance haters have student loans or family members to support? Some of my finance friends don’t have the luxury of choice for precisely this reason.
I don’t hate on Wall Street anymore. My personal preferences and ensuing decisions are my own. For me to outwardly act like I perfectly understand others’ is just ignorant.
I love the idea of building something that will fix a broken system in this world. I think doing this and enabling others to is the best use of my time. But I don’t believe this affords me the permission to castigate people who choose to make a living another way. Their world is not for me. But neither is mine for them in most cases.
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