My Life Story, Part 1: How I Started This Site (2007 – 2008)
When I sent out an email last year asking if you wanted to hear the story of how I started this site, I got a lot of “interesting” responses:
“I like some blogs about blogging. Back in the day, I liked a particular one by a guy named Steve Pavlina who wrote a rather excellent series on how he ended up coming to his senses while spending 24 hours in jail, finishing 3 years of college in 3 semesters, running a minor software company, and eventually earning a good living from his blog. So, don’t spare us any juicy stuff.
For instance, if one day you woke up with 2 hookers sleeping on the floor of your hotel room and leftovers of cocaine on the coffee table, 30 text messages and 9 voice mails on your phone, all the while realizing that the model you were working on before the party started has to be done in 2 hours, and saw that as a day of reckoning for your IB lifestyle, we’d love to know.”
So I’m not going to spare any of the juicy stuff.
And you can take a shot every time I mention 2 hookers and leftovers of cocaine – the 30 text messages and 9 voicemails are optional.
Today, I’m going to tell you the story of my own life – from elementary school to university and beyond – and how I started this site on a whim and turned it into a business that now employs dozens of people.
Pay close attention, because you’re about to learn more about starting a real business – one that serves customers and creates valuable products and services – than you ever would from business school, “start-up weekends” or anything else that doesn’t relate to solving a real problem.
WARNING: Read This First
This is an “off topic” post, and if you’re looking to read more about interviews, what it’s like on the job, hedge fund case studies, or financial modeling, well, you’ll have to wait until next week for more of that.
Also, if you’re easily offended or you want sugar-coated nonsense rather than my “no B.S.” extremely blunt approach, don’t read this.
Still on board?
In the Beginning…
The most common comment I got when growing up in New Jersey was, “you seem a lot different from the rest of your family.”
That was mostly true: many of my immediate family members worked for the government, were not particularly ambitious, and, despite solid educational backgrounds, had very little commercial sense.
Don’t get me wrong: they raised me well, always emphasized education, and allowed me to perform well in school, and you can’t dismiss any of that.
When it came to business skills and “real world success,” though, they came up short.
So I came from a very middle-class background – I don’t think my family ever earned more than $60-70K per year, combined – and I had a fairly unremarkable youth, where I never traveled far outside of my home state for 15-16 years.
In contrast to my immediate family members was my Grandfather, who had run his own small business – a chain of auto repair stores – for over 30 years.
While he wasn’t “wealthy,” he did quite well for himself, raised a large family on his income, and always found a way to improve his own situation.
This created a sharp distinction for me at a young age: I could become well-educated, but never understand much about business and blame others for my problems – or I could work non-stop, take responsibility for my own actions, and succeed in spite of external circumstances.
I resolved to be part of the second group, which explains why many classmates and friends thought I was actually adopted.
Your Hobbies and Interests?
When I was younger, computers and the Internet were just getting started (the 80s / 90s), and I dove in headfirst.
I was creating websites back when most people were using 28.8K modems on AOL, and I even started a web design and development business back then. It turns out that getting your local mayor and other small businesses and organizations as clients is easy when you radically undercharge for your services (not recommended).
That venture never went anywhere, though, and I took the “safer choice” by continuing with school and assumed I would go to a top university, go to law school, and then go into a mind-numbingly boring profession like corporate law where I’d be tempted to poke my eyes out every day.
My other “passion” growing up was writing, and my proudest accomplishment was pulling one of my first all-nighters to write a version of The Pearl (John Steinbeck) set in the Middle Ages.
Looking back on it now, it seems blindingly obvious that someone passionate about writing, creating content, and maintaining a presence on the Internet would end up creating this type of business.
But you can only connect the dots looking backward.
From middle school through university and beyond, I was set on following the usual “path” toward some elusive but vaguely defined “greatness.”
Following that logic, I ended up at Stanford and bounced around between different possibilities both while I was there and after graduating: engineering, consulting, project management, and yes, ultimately finance.
The only correct decision I made at this point was crossing “law school” off the list fairly early on (phew).
It was an accident.
I had nothing even remotely finance-related in my background: I had completed a technical degree (Computer Science), I saw myself as an artist / creative type rather than a businessperson, and I wasn’t even a drug addict or serial killer.
Plus, I knew almost nothing about accounting or finance back then.
I was vaguely interested because I wanted to work in technology banking, which I planned to leverage to get into venture capital – this was back when it was more expensive to start a company, and VCs therefore had more cachet.
But I thought about lots of other possibilities, like prop trading (they love CS majors): the finance industry was recovering from the dot-com crash and hiring was on the upswing, so “career transitions” were much easier.
You can throw a rock and hit several tech investment banking groups and/or tech boutiques in California, so it wasn’t too hard to move into the finance industry.
I joked around about “selling out,” but I didn’t actually see it like that because I never planned to stay in banking for the long-term.
Many people go into banking and immediately hate it.
But since I am obsessive-compulsive, a perfectionist, an extreme workaholic, and a generally unbalanced person, I actually enjoyed it for the first 5-10 deals I worked on (it helped that my team was dysfunctional and they gave me far more work than anyone else).
Over time, though, the work started to pile on and on and on, and deals started to look the same after a while (Jonathan Knee shares a similar story in The Accidental Investment Banker, though he was at a senior level when this happened to him).
And it got harder to justify working that much as the learning curve flattened out and I grew bored of doing the same thing over and over.
Most people reach this point and come up with a standard solution: go into private equity, join a hedge fund, join a venture capital firm (my original plan), or go into corporate development.
I thought about all of those, and I interviewed extensively with tech PE and VC firms.
By the middle of 2007, I had progressed far into interviews with several of these firms.
One Night at 4 AM…
Meanwhile, work continued to be crazy. This was before the credit crunch, so at one point I was actually working on multiple leveraged buyout deals at once.
On May 17th, 2007, I was certain I was going to pull an all-nighter and I gave a status update to that effect to an MD as he was leaving the office that day.
He said, “Don’t get hit by a bus,” jokingly, as he left.
I finished work around 4 AM and started driving home (yes, driving – one of the many drawbacks to working in California rather than New York or London).
Thirty minutes later, I woke up stuck in a tree on the side of the road, inside my wrecked car.
It wasn’t a life-threatening accident, but the car was totaled and I was quite panicked.
Three thoughts immediately came to mind:
- Well, this gives me a good excuse to miss work tomorrow…
- I need to watch tonight’s episode of Lost to take my mind off this.
- Damn, MDs are good at predicting the future.
To be clear: I got in this accident mostly because I was inefficient and didn’t prioritize well; I was also doing way too much unnecessary work to “stand out.”
So I blame no one but myself for this one.
I crawled home, woke up the next day, and sent out an email to everyone with a subject line “At the ER” (I did go there, just to get myself checked out).
In response, they gave me the day off!
I used the time to start thinking more seriously about “strategic alternatives” and what I actually wanted to do in life.
The 400-Hour Workweek
A few days after this, I was meeting up with a few friends as part of my “break,” and one of them mentioned she had started checking email only twice per day as a result of reading a book called The 4-Hour Workweek.
Side Note: Yes, we’ll get to how I eventually appeared in the 2nd edition of this book and what I really think of it later in this series. To summarize: it’s a lot easier to buy into this philosophy after you’ve been working 90-100 hours per week, but I don’t necessarily agree with it 5-6 years afterward. And let’s just say that you don’t create hundreds of hours of video and millions of words of content by working 4 hours per week…
Side Note 2: This friend who introduced me to the book was actually Goldie, who later became our producer on Cost of Capital. Yes, sometimes life works like that.
I immediately thought, “Wow, that sounds like a scam. Who could be so stupid as to believe that?!!”
But my life couldn’t get much worse at this point, so I got curious and started reading reviews from respectable sources, and they all seemed positive.
Most people read this book and immediately assume that it’s impossible.
I read it and was blown away because it didn’t seem far-fetched at all:
- I had already made money from my own business in the past – I knew it was more than do-able.
- I had years of experience writing and creating websites, so “creating a product” and marketing it online did not intimidate me. I knew that getting traffic would be the toughest part, so that’s what I focused on learning.
- I knew that an online business matched my personality because I’m good at hustling and getting things done but horrible at playing politics and climbing the corporate ladder.
Since it made perfect sense, I decided to do the logical thing and procrastinate for over 6 months and make up all sorts of excuses for why it wouldn’t work.
Interviews continued throughout 2007, but I had to make a decision soon: the longer I stayed in banking, the harder it would be to move into PE or VC.
At the same time, I had started helping university friends, co-workers, and contacts at other firms land buy-side roles and move to other banks. I had even been training interns and new hires when they started.
My strength was explaining technical concepts simply and getting directly to the point without adding fluff.
I didn’t think much of this at the time, but it turned out to be mildly “important” later on.
As interviews progressed, I realized that I wasn’t meant to be in a traditional career:
- I missed one flight to a later round interview by a few minutes…
- …I woke up late and missed a final round presentation at another firm…
- …And my gut feeling said, “This is not the right move for you at this time.”
My favorite moment came when I was interviewing at a mid-size private equity firm and one of the Principals told me:
“Brian, I’m sure you could work here and do a great job. But if you’re at all thinking about doing something different, do it now. It gets harder and harder to go out and do something on your own and accept no pay or low pay once you reach a certain compensation level.”
He later told me that he actually wanted to leave his own firm – yes, in the middle of an interview – and work at a normal company instead.
By this stage, I had received 2 “soft offers” from PE firms where they said, “If you tell us in advance that you’ll accept the offer, we’ll give it to you.”
But my gut feeling told me it wasn’t the right move, so I effectively turned them down by not responding.
Interviews stopped toward the end of the 2007, and I took a break to figure out my “Plan B.”
A “Too Weak” Vacation
Right around this time, many of the deals I was working on had just closed and I hadn’t used any official vacation days yet.
So I negotiated a 2-week vacation (I called it “10 days” to make it sound more palatable) to Japan and went on a cross-country trip there with a friend, visiting other friends throughout the country.
But I wanted to get started with my “Plan B” before I left, so I began brainstorming domain names with a friend… here’s what we came up with (yes, I actually went back to my obsessive compulsively-saved chat logs to find this list):
After a few more minutes of brainstorming, we finally settled on mergersandinquisitions.com, figuring that we could easily change the domain if we thought of something better (it didn’t happen).
I hired a designer on elance.com to create the logo, set up WordPress on the domain, and started “warming up” by writing short blog posts about banking.
I never published these posts because they were all terrible, but occasionally I look at them for a laugh.
I didn’t exactly attain enlightenment on this trip, but it was a lot of fun. Well, minus the part where we got stuck in a capsule hotel and realized that everyone else was watching porn in their capsules, but that’s a different story for a different day.
When I got back, my mindset had shifted dramatically. I was now 100% focused on the site and minimized the amount of time I spent on “real” work using some of the tricks described here.
Officially, it launched in November 2007 with some of the earliest posts written on this site (which have since been revamped several times):
I was far from convinced that it would ever turn into anything substantial back then.
In fact, I hedged myself by starting other sites on other topics that I knew nothing about, but which might have been profitable… none of those ended up gaining traction, so I shut them down the next year.
I knew almost nothing about the other players in the market or even if there would be enough interest to support a business.
I remember telling one co-worker that I would be happy to make $1,000 per month from it. He laughed at me and told me to stop wasting my life.
Oh yeah, and I had no idea how I would make money because I had no product, no time to create a product, and I did not want to offer consulting services.
I had faith only because it was an under-served market with tons of people looking for advice and almost no legitimate sources of information.
That made sense intuitively: students everywhere wanted to break in, but many finance professionals were too busy working or too angry to actually help them.
Vault was irrelevant, WallStreetOasis was just getting started and was much smaller back then, and no financial modeling training companies had an audience online.
I knew that if I acted quickly and decisively, I could create the first site with a distinct voice to offer high-quality tips and content to this market.
The Marketing Strategy…
I was so slow and so bad at writing in these days that it was almost laughable.
Still, I persisted and kept posting twice per week, constantly answered questions on message boards, and repeatedly emailed sites like Dealbreaker and the NY Times Deal Book with news of my new articles.
And when Bear Stearns was acquired in March 2008, I got a front page mention and link on Dealbreaker and received thousands of visitors to the site for the first time ever.
Andrew Ross Sorkin from the NY Times later contacted me and wanted to feature my writing (I didn’t have time to contribute, though that would have been interesting).
I spent 90% of my time on marketing, promotion, and contacting other sites back then and only around 10% of my time on creating content here – which was a very wise decision in retrospect.
This rapid growth happened because there was such a big gap in the market. In 2008, there were literally no good sources online for learning about careers in finance… and even 5 years later, there still aren’t as many sources as you might expect.
Yes, new sites start up all the time, but then they shut down just as rapidly: I’ve seen very few even make it to the 2 or 3-year mark.
I knew it had taken off when I started getting comments and emails from readers saying that they were “offended” over something I wrote (one of the first cases happened when I advised readers to start at a bulge bracket bank, if possible – yes, somehow this was “offensive”).
When people react emotionally – whether positively or negatively – you know you’re doing something right.
In January 2008, I made the mistake of offering to review readers’ resumes for free and got inundated with resume submissions.
So in February, a few weeks later, I changed this policy and launched a paid service, mostly to reduce the flood of submissions… and to see if I could actually make money with this.
It was $100 for a line-by-line resume edit and $50 for a simple resume review – looking at those numbers now, I can’t believe that I was willing to work for those rates (pretty much all resume editing services are significantly more expensive than this).
On February 10, 2008, I got my first sale as someone signed up for the $100 service.
It was almost nothing, but it validated my idea and showed that people were willing to pay for advice and tips on getting into the industry.
In the 6 months between January and June 2008, I made very little money from the site, but traffic and sales numbers kept improving each month – so I kept plugging away.
I still did not want to rely on services in the long-term, but at least this way I could earn something and, more importantly, learn the market very well.
I gained insight from these resume reviews that paid for itself hundreds of times over.
And I used all of it as I started to launch products toward the end of the year and into 2009.
The Most Critical 6 Months
While I made almost no money during this time, I achieved something that was even more important: a dramatic shift in mindset.
- I realized that you had to stick with a business venture for a very long time before seeing any results; I stopped hoping for short-term results and no longer paid attention to the day-to-day minutiae. If it took 6 months to build traction, it might take years to turn into a viable business.
- I dropped the “I went to a top school, so I deserve high pay!” attitude that so many of my peers had. The truth is that no one gives a crap about you and you don’t “deserve” anything. This goes back to my “origin story” with my Grandfather vs. other family members: I was simply going back to the side I originally wanted to be on.
- I learned to focus relentlessly on what was most important – creating and marketing products and services – and blocked out everything else. No business cards, no office space, no social media, poor to non-existent bookkeeping…
- At the same time, I also started working out and getting into much better shape physically (yes, 100-hour weeks do a number on your body), which helped with everything else above. My story getting in shape later inspired this article on fitness.
But it wasn’t all positive.
A good portion of my “friends” thought I was crazy and actively wanted me to fail and lose everything – maybe not what you’d expect from ambitious and driven people, but trust me, real life is not too far apart from Game of Thrones-style backstabbing sometimes.
To be fair, though, I also had the wrong attitude: I hyped up what I was doing far too much, and tended to “look down” on anyone who was skeptical.
I should have stayed low key and kept details to a minimum until I had something more tangible to show them.
Note: These days, I’ve gone to the opposite extreme and I rarely even tell people what “I do.” I’m as vague as possible if they ask, and people tend to think I’m either a billionaire or incredibly poor, but nothing in between (logical, right?).
Burn All Bridges?
I knew that I had to get out of banking before the end of 2008, partly because I sensed the end was near.
The mood in the industry had changed so dramatically between 2005 and the end of 2007 that I didn’t foresee anything good happening in the next year.
I could have gone back to PE recruiters and some of the firms I had spoken with, or even contacted friends in the tech start-up community and started asking for jobs.
But a month before I left in the summer of 2008, I made a critical decision: I burned all bridges.
If you’ve read Think and Grow Rich, you know that burning all bridges is one of Napoleon Hill’s key principles: if you do not have a Plan B, you must force yourself to succeed with your Plan A.
So I didn’t want to stop at merely quitting my old job – here’s what else I did:
- I turned down all inquiries from PE firms, recruiters, former co-workers, and anyone else who was trying to set me up with another job.
- One of my good friends had just quit his job and was moving to Argentina. I had given him the idea to move there, but then I backed out because I needed to double-down, improve and grow the site, and launch products.
- I also resisted the temptation to freelance on the side, take a part-time job, or do anything to otherwise distract me.
- Several senior bankers I had worked with offered to “invest” in any idea I had – I turned down all these offers, even though my net worth was negative (see below).
My odds at this point were… poor, to say the least:
- I had a tiny, though growing, website that made barely enough money to cover my very cheap rent each month.
- I didn’t have a product and all revenue at the time came from resume editing – if I stopped working, it disappeared.
- The site design was horrible and it didn’t look even halfway professional.
- I also knew comparatively little about finance, modeling, and the industry in general back then.
- Oh yeah, and I had over $100K USD in student loans. While I had saved up some cash from banking, my net worth was still negative.
I stuck with it because I was willing to kill myself if it meant that I never had to work for anyone else again.
Words cannot describe how determined I was back then (and still am today, in some ways).
But let me put it this way: The Dark Knight had just been released in the summer of 2008, and a few friends and acquaintances started comparing me to The Joker after they heard about my grandiose plans and then my actual situation above.
On the Product Front…
I had also decided that I needed to move beyond resume editing – I needed a product.
My “brilliant” idea at the time was to create something that taught you how to break into banking from A to Z: a combined interview, networking, and recruiting guide, with lots of multimedia and interactivity.
My positioning would be: “Don’t learn financial modeling – it’s a waste of time and all such courses are overpriced and useless! Here’s how you really break in. You don’t even know how to use Excel!”
I didn’t know what it would be called yet, but I started working on it furiously in the summer of 2008.
Take note, imitators (since I know you’re reading this): this was a horrible idea, and if you’re doing something like this right now, you’re wasting your time.
Side Note: Why was this product a bad idea? The top 3 reasons:
1. In this market, everyone values technical and financial modeling skills over everything else.
2. By making your product narrowly focused on those breaking into the industry, you limit your potential to sell outside of that audience, e.g. to firms and universities and to professionals already in the industry.
3. Over time, interviews have become significantly more technical and you need to know something about modeling to succeed these days. So this positioning is not even accurate.
I ended up wasting 9 months on this idea before scrapping everything (you’ll see what I did instead in Part 2 of this series).
After a quick trip to Hawaii, I went back into this site and this unnamed side project.
I was about to launch a redesigned site that highlighted resume editing and mock interviews, did a better job selling the services, and explained why they were useful.
And resume editing business had really picked up; by August 2008 I was downright busy every day simply from the $50 and $100 resume reviews.
Then, I came up with the name for my new, snazzy (horribly flawed) product: “Breaking Into Wall Street.”
I registered the domain and then launched the new version of M&I in early September, attracting dozens of sign-ups for the new resume editing and mock interview services in a few days.
A few readers emailed me and asked if they could just buy interview questions and answers in a PDF, but I brushed it off and thought it wouldn’t be worthwhile – it would have been a distraction from everything else I had going on.
In August into September 2008, I was working almost non-stop; I took breaks maybe once or twice per week, but otherwise I spent about 12-14 hours per day working with clients, creating content, and continuing to market the site.
Unlike investment banking hours, which offer plenty of downtime despite their length, these 12-14 hours per day consisted entirely of real work.
It was exhausting, but effective: September was on track to be the best month yet, and I could see the light at the end of the tunnel with all the progress I was making on BIWS.
Things were going well, and in less than a year I had gone from no presence online to making a full-time income from the site.
Wake Me Up When September Ends
And then on September 15, 2008, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy.
Merrill Lynch was acquired the day before.
I mentioned that 3 weeks before all this, I had just registered the domain name “breakingintowallstreet.com,” right?
My remaining contacts in finance started calling me and wondering what the hell was going to happen, speculating on end-of-world scenarios, and generally expressing bewilderment.
All sales also stopped for a few days right around this time, and I made exactly $0.
I was very close to quitting altogether.
I figured that no one would ever want to get into finance in the future anyway – but hey, at least I hadn’t spent years and years on this idea yet.
On a more practical level, I couldn’t survive if no one was buying anything, and I was 98% convinced that this entire market would dry up and die.
The Audacity of Nope?
I met up with a former co-worker who had left the industry earlier than me – he got out right after the peak in mid-2007.
I told him that I was seriously thinking of quitting, and he looked at me and said:
“I think you’re making a big mistake. People will always want to get in, even if it’s not as popular as it once was. There will always be business and finance majors that can’t imagine doing anything else. And you haven’t been working on this long enough to draw any conclusions yet.”
I thought about that advice and then considered my other options: getting a real job once again, doing something part-time on the side, or doing freelance work… and nothing else appealed to me.
This was my greatest motivation: all my “Plan B” alternatives were horrible, and I really didn’t want to go through with any of them… so I kept working on my “Plan A.”
Sales eventually recovered and interest in the industry continued, but I got countless comments and emails from readers wondering what would happen next – as if I had any idea (I made a few guesses, though).
Problems, Problems, Problems…
As we moved into the fall of 2008, the site survived, but more problems emerged:
- This “Breaking Into Wall Street” program was taking me forever to create because it was so comprehensive – finishing it in 12 months would have been optimistic.
- Sales continued their downward trend since recruiting season reached a lull in October and November, in between the busy periods of August – September and December – January.
- Social isolation was starting to get to me, and I began having visions of The Shining and going around with an axe killing people.
I can’t overstate how much the last point affected me. No, not the axe or killing people – being isolated.
I had gone from working with co-workers, clients, and classmates all the time to… working by myself on my laptop, at home or in coffee shops.
This is one of the biggest downsides to starting an online business, and one of the reasons why all the books / training programs / seminars on those topics are over-hyped.
Yes, it’s great to start a successful business, but you also need relationships to be fulfilled in life. And starting anything – especially an online venture – is inherently isolating.
It got so bad around this time that I thought about selling everything and getting a real job.
To give you a flavor for this, here’s a journal entry from this time period (in another one of my OCD habits, I keep a detailed journal going back almost 10 years detailing all conversations with everyone and tiny day-to-day details):
November 8, 2008: Shot in Mexico
“Quiet day. Mostly resting, but still get some work done later in day with recording and think I continued work on BIWS sections. [Friend]’s father wants him to get him US citizenship… fearing for life in Mexico now and worried about getting shot. Tell [Friend] that I’d easily sell site at this point, and later realize at gym how screwed I am. You know things are bad if not even intense exercise can take your mind off failure.”
Don’t ask about the stuff in Mexico – that would require a much longer explanation. Let’s just say that everyone made it out of there alive…
No Options Left?
My back was to the wall, I had burned all my bridges, the site was going downhill, and I could barely motivate myself to work.
I started thinking about what to do, frantically searching online and going through emails… and then I came across that comment from the reader from a few months ago…
“Can I just buy your interview questions and answers? I don’t want to do a mock interview with you or get resume editing, I just want the full question and answer list.”
I had said “no” because I thought releasing an e-book of questions and answers would de-value the other product I was creating – plus, I knew no one would pay much for it.
But I took a long, hard look at my progress so far and realized that I needed some kind of product out there.
It didn’t have to be expensive or revolutionary – just something to sell while this mammoth other product continued sucking up resources.
I also realized that I could travel a lot more now and planned a 3-week trip to Asia (China, Thailand, and Singapore), which later turned into a 6-week trip and expanded to include Korea, and eventually resulted in me living in Korea, but we’ll get to all of that in Part 2.
I didn’t think this would solve anything in the long-term, but I knew that travel would mix it up and make me less bored and isolated overall.
Dig Deep Down…
I spent 3 weeks of hardcore effort writing this interview guide, mostly re-purposing material from the massive product that I had been working on.
Version 1.0 came out to around 23,000 words.
Today, I could write that amount in 2 days.
Back then, it took 3 weeks (although I wasn’t focused on it 100% of the time).
This guide was not spectacular by any means.
The initial version was almost a joke: the “fit” questions had no suggested structure or answers, the technical questions were too basic, and there were no Excel models, no charts / diagrams, and there was no coverage of important topics such as how to tell your story in interviews.
This guide had one big advantage: it was a finished product that you could actually buy.
Many people spend months and years on products that never go anywhere and never get released… and I had been making that same mistake for the past 6 months with my own mammoth unfinished product.
Products that are not for sale do not generate revenue. Get your stupid product out and stop being a perfectionist.
You can and should refine it later (version 3.0 of the guide today is longer than the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy), but initially you must release a minimum viable product – anything more than that and you will waste a ton of time and effort.
I also forced myself to release the guide because I set a self-imposed deadline: I was about to leave on my 3-week trip to Asia, and I had to finish the guide before I set foot on the plane.
The Following Takes Place on December 9, 2008, at 2:48 AM
I put the finishing touches on the interview guide on December 9, 2008, at 2:48 AM and posted the announcement on the site, and then started watching the made-for-TV 24 movie to celebrate.
Almost immediately, sales started coming in. My audience was tiny, but it didn’t matter – in the first 24 hours alone, this simple guide completely turned around the fortunes of the site and turned a failing business into a viable one.
Since that day, the interview guide (in various updated and revamped versions) has gone on to sell 6,000+ copies. And I’ve done promotions far bigger than this small launch.
But in the first year of starting the site, that day was the time I felt most successful.
And I realized that products were going to be the future of the site, even though I didn’t know what form they would take yet.
Less than 24 hours after launching my interview guide on December 9, 2008, I got on the plane that took me to Asia.
Life was about to get even more interesting… in ways I couldn’t have even imagined at the time.
Now we get to the part where I attempt to make this entire story more broadly applicable to careers and business…
So, what should you take from this?
The Market Matters Most
“Market matters most; neither a stellar team nor fantastic product will redeem a bad market. Markets that don’t exist don’t care how smart you are.”
-Marc Andreessen, venture capitalist and founder of Netscape and Ning.com
Many people attribute their success to what they did personally, and their failures to external circumstances.
Usually, though, the opposite is true.
Yes, I worked crazy hours and practically killed myself in these early days… but you know what? A lot of people do that in other ventures, too, and never get anywhere.
The difference here was the market: it was an under-served market in need of solutions, and I took a different angle on it than everyone else.
It wasn’t just me and it wasn’t just this market… consider the start dates of popular blogs in other niches:
- Personal Development: StevePavlina.com (2004); Zen Habits (2007)
- Internet Marketing: Copyblogger (2006); ProBlogger (2004); Entrepreneur’s Journey (2005)
- Personal Finance: Get Rich Slowly (2006); I Will Teach You To Be Rich (2004)
They all started in 2004 – 2007, when blogging was not yet developed and when there was still unmet demand for these topics.
Today, it would be much harder to get noticed, even in this market, because there are already several major sites that have been established and growing for years.
By contrast, there were several distinct gaps when I started in 2007:
- No existing financial modeling training companies had online presences or audiences, or understood how to create compelling content – a big missed opportunity for them.
- Students and professionals alike were looking for career advice and recruiting tips, but no one actually produced interesting and relevant content for them.
- And as we’ll see in Part 2, financial modeling programs on the market at the time were not effective, affordable, or easy to use… because most companies focused on in-person, classroom training instead (yeah, like that’s going to exist in 100 years).
So don’t try to “copy” this site: unless you’re doing something different or you’re in a different market that still has those gaps, it won’t work.
Malcolm Gladwell is Right About Outliers
A few months ago, I was in LA visiting friends before the premiere of Cost of Capital.
The conversation started with the usual chit-chat, but by the end they were asking me for a “blueprint” for how to start this type of business, and they were convinced that they could just “hire someone” to write all their content.
You miss the point, guys (and hey, if one of you happens to be reading this, now you know the truth).
You can’t just “write content” or “pay someone to write content” – you must create content that grabs readers’ attention and remains relevant for years or decades.
The web is getting more and more crowded, so you must produce exceptional content to stand out.
And you must be a real person and display authenticity in everything you do.
This is not something that you can just “pick up” – it takes years / decades of practice.
I didn’t know this when I started out. But I had been writing for years, creating websites for years, and I even had experience with “email marketing” and writing catchy subject lines going back to university.
So if you haven’t spent a good chunk of your life on these tasks, you need to start quickly – or you’ll never get anywhere.
The bottom-line: you are not going to jump into any field and instantly find success.
Just because I was successful with a business that required intensive content creation doesn’t mean that you will be… everyone has different skills, and you might be better off doing something entirely different.
Delete All Your “Plan B” Options In Order to Succeed
I’ve seen this one come up time and time again…
“Hey Brian, I’m going to start a business just like you did. But I’m working full-time, how can I get the time to do it? By the way, I kind of like my job and want to impress my boss, too…”
If this is you, give up right now.
The only way you’ll be successful starting a business is if you have a burning desire so great that it overwhelms everything else in your life.
You have to be somewhat insane / mentally unstable to start and run a business, which is why few people do it: normal people just fall back into the 9-5 routine.
While I now disagree with much of what’s in The 4-Hour Workweek, there is one point I do agree with 100%: “Pure hell forces action, but anything less can be endured with clever rationalization.”
When I forced myself to succeed, I had no options left: going back into finance was not possible, I had cut off all my connections, and after months of working from home, I could not force myself to go back into an office again.
Burn all bridges, jump into pure hell, or do whatever else it takes to force yourself into action.
And if you have any doubts, just remember what Sylvester Stallone did…
There is Always a Way Out
This may seem like a contradiction of the point above, but it’s not.
No matter how dire the odds, there is always a way out. It may not be the ideal solution, and it may not be a long-term solution, but it’s out there.
For me, the “way out” was releasing a very small part of my mammoth product simply to get something out there, boost sales, and start generating more interest in the site.
Ironically, *I* was the biggest obstacle to my own success.
If I hadn’t been so stubbornly set on perfecting and releasing a massive product, I would have launched my interview guide much sooner.
Sure, sometimes external factors prevent you from succeeding… but before you blame the outside world, ask if you are the biggest obstacle first.
Sometimes you need to remove yourself rather than anything external.
The Rest of the Series:
[catlist name=brian-life-story numberposts=-1 orderby=title order=asc]
Free Exclusive Report: 57-page guide with the action plan you need to break into investment banking - how to tell your story, network, craft a winning resume, and dominate your interviews
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Stories about starting something are always interesting. And thanks a lot for sharing yours. Your story is really inspiring. Can’t wait to read the next parts. Taking into account your excellent writing skills – didn’t you think of writing a book someday?
Thanks! I don’t think I’m a good writer and I doubt this story would appeal to people who don’t already know the site, so a book probably isn’t an option in the near-term.
It’s a great story about starting something you believe in. I think what’s scared me away in the past is the time it takes to get there – but the end of the day you just have to realize that you’re going to adapt. What you have in your head when you first start a business by yourself will almost never be what it becomes 5 years afterwards. But you only get there through working your ass off, making mistakes, and making adjustments along the way.
Which means… your story is actually pretty “normal” for something like this I think.
Thanks! And yes, you’re right. I just enjoy dramatizing the entire process. :)
Although it’s been said many times – love the series and can’t wait for more!
I have been following M&I since 2009, although it turned out that finance is not really my thing, M&I remains a very resourceful and entertaining site to me.
Thanks! Hope to write more soon.
great series and so inspirational. looking forward to part 3 and 4.
Thanks! More coming soon.
Hi Brian, great article.. guess i know the answer for this, but would you like a VC to step in, take a stake and make it an internet as well as a classroom model.. ? Guess it will be a complete circle then..!!
I think classroom training will be extinct in the near future so I don’t have a strong interest in it, plus I hate hiring and managing trainers. Also, a VC would have to be very dumb to invest in this business because he would never be able to earn the IRR they aim for with tech start-ups.
I am writing this comment (and reading this article and M&I site for the first time today), and in here you had mentioned that classroom training will be extinct in the near future, what do you think about it after about 5 years??
I am asking this cos I want to purchase your products but one thing which keeps coming into light when I compare yours with other products in the market or even in the reviews in WSO, that BIWS is ONLINE ONLY, and that they are not trusted by banks for in-person training.
I want to know your perspective about it.
You should not sign up for any of our courses or guides if classroom/in-person training is your top concern and/or you spend a lot of time reading message board threads written by high-school and university students.
Yes, classroom training will eventually die. It has taken longer than expected, but firms are switching away and/or doing more training internally.. Wells Fargo just purchased 150 licenses from us for their incoming bankers – why would they do that if we are “not trusted”? Why would Harvard Law School, Chicago Booth, and plenty of other institutions have deals with us if we’re not trusted? Online education/training is taking over, not just in finance, but also in programming and other technical areas.
We purposely do not do any in-person training because it’s of no interest to me. And I no longer need the money, so I can spend my time doing what I want (i.e., creating new and better content) instead of pursuing goals solely for financial purposes.
So, again, it comes down to what you want. If you want in-person training, don’t use us. If you want the most detailed content and support, do use us.
Do you make more money now, or did you make more as a banker?
I don’t comment on pay numbers, but who do you *think* would earn more: the Founder of a successful business, or a junior-level employee at an investment bank?
So it was not until 2010 that you began to publish anonimous interviews by hiring people to tell their own story?
The first interviews were in 2009 but I did not do as many back then.
To clarify, I don’t pay anyone who shares their story on the site – they are all volunteers who just want to give back and who contact me on their own. We do have guest writers whom I do pay and who write features and/or conduct their own interviews.
Did most of your finance / modeling knowledge come from your time as an Analyst or how did you become so proficient with the technicals / modeling?
I’d say only 5% came from my time in banking. Even though I worked on more deals than 99% of people in that time frame, it still wasn’t close to enough to create all the courses here.
And I didn’t know anything about industries outside of tech, such as RE / O&G / FIG, so I had to learn all of that on my own via self-study and interviewing people and reviewing other banks’ models.
Keep going with this! It’s awesome to hear the story of breaking out. I was also super interested to hear how similar our formative years/families were — unfortunately, I didn’t avoid the going to law school step, and there our stories diverge. But I have been thinking a lot about where I want to go with my career and while for a time I was thinking finance (how I came to your website some time back), I have recently started to come to a similar realization as you — that even though I am still deeply in debt (btw, have you been able to pare down your student loan debt?) and have what many would consider to be a great job, I am too entrepreneurial and independent to keep working for someone else for the rest of my life. I’m not going to be copying your model, but the gist of the story is really inspirational. Great stuff!
Thanks! Yes, I repaid all of my debt several years ago (coming up in part 2). More soon.
You BETTER write more of your story! I find it highly ironic and amusing that you, someone who decided he didn’t want to continue in the corporate world, has a career helping people get into the corporate world!
Anyway, great story!
What good story would be complete without irony? More coming soon…
Great read mate – really fascinating. Looking forward to the next installment.
Thanks! Looking forward to writing it…
I DO want to read more. I have been reading M&I for about 2/3 years now and it is one of my favorite websites. So please, publish part 3 & 4 of your story. Your effort would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks! The next parts will be coming over the next few months.
Perhaps because you’re not writing a 500-page tome, or perhaps because it’s not your intention, but so much of this writing tends to be so episodically driven that, while I can draw your timeline for period you write about, I still don’t feel I know *you*. This isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with your writing, but maybe the context is to blame: because this writing is retrospective, because your reader knows your current state, it isn’t inductive. Notice how Dickens starts:
“I am born. Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” You can’t do this: unfortunately your readers already know you.
But the case isn’t lost completely. To be truly “off-topic,” I’d like to detect more more than just an entrepreneurial spirit. What is your favorite flavor of ice cream? Favorite season of Friends? What is your relationship with a family from whom you noted that you are so different (that little comment begs more exposition!). What informed your interest to write? I think you are so used to giving advice (as well you should be, for it is truly helpful), that even pieces that are meant to be introspective seem didactic. Of course this is not your intention. Instead of drawing conclusions, what if you just laid out the facts and feelings, and let the reader draw his or her own? It makes for a more satisfying read.
Sorry for the rant. Just thought I’d put my initial reactions down. This is the same thing I’d say to any author or aspiring writer, and let’s just say I do speak from some experience. Best of luck!
Thanks for your feedback. I hear what you’re saying, but there are a couple issues:
1) Honestly, it really would turn into a novel if I included all that. It is already in “novella” territory.
2) I am intentionally mixing in advice and take-aways along with my own story, because I want everyone reading to get some value out of it. We have received poor / mixed reactions to pure “literature”-type features before, so I didn’t want to turn it into a pure autobiography.
3) I don’t necessarily want you to know all the details about my personal life right away – after all, what TV episode or book chapter ends *without* a cliffhanger? You can’t reveal everything to the reader right away… same with relationships, it’s just boring if you get to know the person too quickly. There will be more of this in the next parts, though, including some things that might surprise you.
4) After almost 6 years of doing this and increasing my income each year, I’d hope I’m no longer “aspiring.” :)
Thanks for the article. It was an EXCELLENT read. Everyone absolutely loves your website and tutorials, and people were dying to learn more about the mastermind behind the website / content.
You tend to call yourself “OCD” and put a negative connotation on a valuable character trait you have — namely, ‘meticulous attention to detail’. Also, re: you keeping diaries and logs of chats going back 10 years….I happen to be an expert on the ‘life story’ of the brilliant financial mind of Fischer Black (yes the one that created the option-pricing model that won the Nobel Prize in Economics). A lot of the stuff that you do that you call “OCD” were exact character traits of Fischer Black…these odd character quirks are what define ‘genius’. Anyways, thanks for the article and I am SO grateful you started BIWS….thanks to that website my dreams of ‘principal investing’ are all possible.
Thanks! Interesting comparison there…
1. Please write the next parts of your experience asap because you are a good writer and it is a fascinating story.
2. On that note, why not merge these articles with parts of your diary to write a book?
Or, better yet, since you have the Cost of Capital experience, why not make a mini-series out of it? (where of course you would star as yourself – would make the keyboard/blackberry smashing more believable)
3. Any clues (even vague ones) about your current side projects so that we can get additional insights/good ideas as well?
Always interesting to hear from someone who made it by thinking independently without following The Track.
Best of luck mate!
1. Thanks! I hope to add more soon.
2. I really don’t have the time to take on anything else right now, and would rather wait until I’m much older anyway.
We have thought about the mini-series idea before, though, haha, though I’d never want to act in it.
3. Honestly, I spend 99% of time on this business, so everything is related to that… new courses, site upgrades, new features, etc. My hobbies have “atrophied” in recent years.
which lifestyle was better for dating/having relationships?
Ah, my favorite question so far. Neither one, in both periods all my relationships were destroyed due to work and my compulsiveness. Basically, I won’t date anyone now unless she also works 60-70+ hours per week.
Thought Nicole was your girlfriend =)
Uh… I hope you’re not serious. We work together. I never date co-workers / employees for any reason as doing so would be the worst idea in the history of western civilization, even worse than setting off multiple nuclear weapons over large cities.
Yet, so many people are worse than nuking multiple cities, especially in the USA and even though they’re not single. Haha
By the way, do you guys have a formal tangible office or are you guys working online?
No physical office because everyone is located in different countries.
Geez I actually ended up thinking one step further that she was your better half :D
Thanks for sharing. I enjoy your writing very much (my favorite article was the one on the “Greatest Weakness” question – it was hilarious!).
I was wondering, though, why you devoted your life to advising people to break into finance, when you don’t seem to have particularly liked it/found it fulfilling yourself.
Thanks! How I would answer your question:
1. Actually, I liked most of the work. I think it is interesting to analyze / work on deals and investments. I just didn’t like the corporate environment. So for me, it is still fulfilling to teach the concepts.
2. Also, the scope of this site and BIWS has expanded and a lot of people signing up now are not even necessarily trying to get into finance necessarily. Some are already working, some use the courses at normal companies, and sometimes we license them to universities and business schools.
3. Finally, and most importantly, it doesn’t really matter what I think: if you have a useful skill and can do something well, you have to do what your audience and prospective customers want to see. Too many people make the mistake of chasing something fun, but not useful, rather than doing something useful and making it fun for themselves.
I notice that your “Investment Banking Networking Toolkit” has many bankers’ contacts, whether they include Bankers in Mainland China, Hong Kong, and especially in Singapore?
Yes, there are lists of banks and investment firms in all those places. However, there are not as many names as in markets like NYC or London simply because there are more firms in NYC, London, etc. to begin with. But those regions are still covered.
Please note that we do not provide individual bankers’ contact information (due to privacy issues and the fact that it goes out of date very quickly) – these are just firm names, descriptions, and addresses / contact information.
great post – I am following almost since the beginning. Always great to read your posts.
Thanks! Glad to hear it and thanks for being a long-time reader.
amazing post, been waiting for it for a long time. :) Hope you hurry up with parts 2 through x. ;)
Since you have experience with finance as well as establishing a business I was wondering what your opinion is on a project similar to M&I/BIWS but with focus on start-ups/establishing a business or even specifically blogshops or something similar. I realize the market is much more crowded then 5 years ago and that there are already a few blogs like that (such as the ones mentioned by you above), but still, I wonder whether there is an opportunity there. Particularly since, due to the learnings made, you would be able to establish that site much quicker than the current one.
Thanks! I think something like that focused on start-ups would be very difficult because start-up founders are notoriously cheap and unwilling to spend money. Internet marketing or blogging, yes, but those are established and crowded markets already.
I personally have no interest in setting up another business because I already work constantly on this one and probably won’t have enough free time to think about anything outside of work for another 10-15 years.
Hey Brian, great story.
You may cover this in the upcoming part(s), but I wanted to ask what has been your greatest challenge in starting up, and more importantly scaling up, M&I. If entrepreneurs are asked about difficulties in growing their business, they often cite factors that non-entrepreneurs would never think of. I ask this as I’d imagine that they hardest part in a startup is not starting it up, but growing it beyond a one-person-and-a-PC operation.
Thank you! Greatest challenge: by far, hiring people, picking the right roles to hire for, and matching the right people with the right roles.
For example, I have concluded that hiring someone to edit articles and ensure that guest articles match my voice and style is essentially impossible after going through dozens of candidates. So I’ve given up on that one.
On the other hand, it’s easier to hire for roles such as sales, (some) marketing, support, and even researching the courses and finding supporting docs because those are not dependent on my writing style.
But finding the right person at the right time… that is very tricky.
Secured a top mm offer this summer, in large part due to your website.
Thanks so much for everything.
Thank you very much for your comment and feedback! It also takes you to do the work so I must acknowledge you for putting in the efforts we suggested on our site to land this offer.
Great article! I have been following M&I for 2 years, subscribed to most courses and have been constantly blown away by the quality of your material. The help of your articles for me was twofold: I realised I am not interested in IBD and managed to get an internship in Sales, which is much more to my liking. I also run an internet start-up, so this story was extremely useful for me. By the way, judging by some comments, I think you should offer a new course called “Breaking Out of Wall St”!
Thank you for your support and comment! We greatly appreciate it!
Thanks! Glad to hear it. I’ve thought about such a course before, actually…
I know this is probably isn’t the best place to ask this, but do you have any recommendations for incoming full-time analysts. I’m going to be in a generalist m&a / restructuring elite boutique, and want to prepare if possible. I’ve already taken the GMAT, signed up for the BIWS fundamental and advanced modeling courses, and have read the Pearl and Rosenbaum book. Do you have any other recommendations / resources, especially to strengthen accounting and finance knowledge?
P.S. I’ve read your “How to Prepare for Your Full-Time Investment Banking Job” article and really appreciate the insight. I’m going to travel to Asia and Africa before FT as well.
Thank you for being our customer! Congrats on your offer! You’ve already done quite a bit of work. I’d suggest buying Damodaran’s Book on Valuation: http://www.amazon.com/Damodaran-Valuation-Security-Investment-Corporate/dp/0471751219 While the CFA is not necessary for IB, it is a good way for you to deepen your knowledge in finance & accounting. You may want to check it out. However, I don’t know if you’ll have time to study for the exam when you start work, though you can always refer to the books in the curriculum.
Thanks for the advice. I have a set of the Schweser books from a friend. Do you recommend I look through the financial reporting & accounting / corporate finance books for just level 1 or level 2/3 also?
Probably level 1 first. I’d only focus on the finance/accounting topics. I’d probably skip over the ethics part (not sure if its in the 1 curriculum) unless you plan to take the CFA.
I would focus on getting to know the people in your group and figuring out how “politics” there works. All banks and groups have some type of office politics, and you need to figure out who has power, who’s respected, who’s bad to work for, etc. before you start working… ideally by speaking with analysts who are already there and subtly asking about it.
Got it. So do you think it probably isn’t the best idea to focus on the BIWS courses then?
You should go through those at well, but only 1-2 months before you start or you might forget too much by then.
You promised (not long time ago) to teach to all of us the proper business “hand shaking” remember that?when will that happen? keep persisting….. without a car accident of course!
Haha what? Hand shakes? What did I say exactly?
Brian Brian Brian..
Terrific one! Reading your piece for years now (was n college when I started, and its’ been 2 years I am working since then) .. I was one of the ‘fans’ who were waiting for this day – for your story!
Glad you made all us fans a part of the action by sharing your story. Keen to hear the Asia adventures’ bit going forward.
And must say – YOU INSPIRE!
Thanks! Glad to hear it. More stories to come. :)
Great post Brian, as usual. So how much do you actually work? As many as an investment banker? Or despite disagreeing with Ferriss, do you work a more enviable schedule?
Right now, I work around 70-80 hours per week but that’s because I’m juggling about 15 different projects. Occasionally I take breaks, but I think the last “vacation” I took was sometime in the middle of 2011.
Did you work at UBS LA when it was a powerhouse? Would explain the car accident haha
Hey, every good story needs a mystery… LA seems like a likely place to have a car accident, though.
Haha fair enough. Were you a tech banker btw? Noticed a tech focus with the AAPL/RIMM and MSFT/YHOO case studies in BIWS.
Yes, I did TMT. Although those examples were mostly random and I’m planning to change the companies in the future to introduce more variety on the site.
Brian, your attitude to everything you do really reminds me of Steve Jobs! Really)
I suspect you just made Brian’s day. Thanks for your kind comment! Brian may have more to add here. :)
Thanks! I can only aspire to be like Steve, though we share some similarities.
Hi Brian, thanks a lot for sharing. I will be checking this site everyday for part 2! :D
Thanks! Haha Part 2 is at least a few weeks away, but feel free to keep visiting the site every day.
This post is by far the most insightful and human.
You mentioned many things that are true in real life and real eye opener for would kids entering the real world.
Life after graduation for many graduates is difficult is getting tougher with the glut of graduates and many are feeling disillusioned by the notion that a degree or masters can guarantee a stable job never mind one with prestige and high compensation.
What you said is more inspirational and genuine compared to many other self-help gurus.
I salute you Brian keep it true and regular readers like me will always appreciate that!
Thank you! Glad to hear your comments.
Like your family I belong to a service oriented family. I myself was in service in the Finance Division of Min. of Defence Govt of India.My grandson an analyst at Barclays capital is a great
admirer of you.He passed on your part 1 for me to go through. Really interesting to read at my age.(I am past 75).Can I summarise it in your own words,”There is always a way out’.You got your way.looking for other parts.God bless you.
Thanks! Glad to hear it and I’m glad you enjoyed reading this story.
Waiting for Part 2 & 3
Ha Cool Brian!
You seems to have had a busy life before you start bonking around… but in very successful manner. Do not stop please! keep going and I know you can do it!
Thanks! I will persist!
I started reading your site in the beginning because it gave me an idea of what it was like to work in a high powered office environment.
I was never really interested in banking but the fact that the real world was so different than school was exciting to read – especially when you described how much money people made.
Hah, glad to hear it.
great article.the only thing missing is: At what point did you quit your job?
June 27, 2008. At that point I was covering rent with site income, but was cash flow-negative overall. But things improved substantially in the next few months due to recruiting season.
Keep up the great writing. I’ve been following the site for ~3 years now, and never moved into IB (took the consulting path –> exited to a software company) but still love reading. Its a great way to connect with guys working in IB/PE/VC, entertaining, and a great glimpse into the entrepreneurial path/mindset.
Thanks! Glad you enjoy it even though you’re in another field.
I’d definitely be interested in hearing more. Thanks for posting this.
Thanks! More is on the way.
I’m guessing with the 121 comments in a day you don’t need much more evidence. But yes, great story, inspiring, interesting, etc.
Bring on parts II-IV!
Hey, I always welcome more comments. :)
I love the accuracy of this article! I spent the last 2 years as an Investment Analyst in Private Equity and am currently venturing out on my own providing consulting services and making investments in early stage companies.
I am very curious to know why you didn’t want to provide any consulting?
Thanks! Consulting: it’s not a scalable business model… the same reason why consulting companies trade at lower multiples than product companies. I didn’t want my income to depend directly on my time, because to me that was the same as a job. We do offer consulting services now, but Nicole works with clients and I help occasionally.
My Equity Story:
– 2007-2008: I was a young, naive kid who thought IB was Nirvana, and like it, impossible to get in to. Gave up, I had no pedigree.
– 2009: Found this site, read everything, communicated with you, signed up for everything, went through everything several times.
– 2010-2012: Decided to get in or die trying, despite enrolling at non-target and unconventional background. Leveraged all key takeaways from M&I/BIWS, networked like a ninja, landed PE and IBD internships.
– 2012-2013: Re-leveraged everything, work exp., M&I/BIWS insights, newly found network –> Landed multiple offers with CS/JPM/GS/GSCP/MS.
Present: Currently sitting at top 3 BB IBD working on a high stake landmark transaction on one screen, and your site on the other.
Dear Sir, you have my deepest gratitude. Continue writing about technicals, the politics, the life, the recruiting and especially, about you (include juicy anecdotes, love to relate).
– If I met you IRL at 3 PM (feeling good about where I am), I would buy you dinner and drinks.
– If I met you at 3 AM (reviewing unreadable mark-ups from some crazy MD) I would punch you in the face.
Awesome story! Glad to hear about your success. More juicy anecdotes soon…
Dude, this is for sure the best post I’ve read here.
I follow M&I since 2008, back when I actually liked to work in IB. Think just like you and me, many of your early readers “evolved” together, and are now either out of the industry already or thinking about it (and procrastinating indefinitely).
This post is a gem about someone who actually had the guts to dropout and do something new. Congrats!
We’re all eager to read parts II, III and IV.
Thanks! And thanks for reading since 2008. Impressive. :)
Extremely interesting read as I’ve also failed my internet business last year ;) Lots of learnings and lessons for everyone.
Thanks for sharing, yeah we get to more of the “failure” stories in the next few parts.
Looking forward to it
I had a good laugh and a bit of glazed eye reading your story. It seems remarkably similar to mine but on the other side of it- wedding.
How did I even begin to get your email? Well, I was at one time obsessed in breaking into finance-2008,2009 so was absorbing everything and anything finance ( I didn’t take me no where) although I still feel I could if only I get the right channel. When I subscribed to your post, it gave me a bit of confidence but hey! I ‘d already quit my 9-5 and decide to run with my passion-weddings. … moved back to my country.. yadi yadi yadi..
Right now, am receiving little or nothing from the site but like you i know I have to create a product which is my next goal for this month.
I love your writeups and WOULD BUY YOUR BOOK.. it’s hilarious and faith strengthening!!
p.s: I haven’t actually had the time to sit and read any of your article, I think I have been on your site like 3 times cos of the catchy headlines. This is the first time I feel I have connected with you… creepy..
Thanks, glad to hear it! Good luck with your own product.
What an inspiring story, Brian! I have to confess that reading your intriguing writing has made me an addict to M&I. Please keep feeding us more entertaining life stories of yours! I am also curious to know what the relationship is like between you and your coworkers (at different levels) in a banking environment filled with office politics.
Thanks! Will do. More on office politics soon as well.
Very interesting, it was like reading about my life but in reverse order! Well done and I look forward to part 2
Thank you! I think that’s the most memorable comment so far. :) No pressure to anyone else leaving a comment after this, of course…
Brian, hats down, you’re super at writing. I’m very much expecting the next parts. thank you!
Thanks! Glad you enjoyed this one and are looking forward to the next parts.
This is a very interesting read. Thanks for sharing! This is becoming a “get to know brian” and “start-up experience sharing” series, the two makes for a perfect combo, becoz people like to read about the people they know (you), and things that are relevant to them (start-up insights).
Some questions about this article:
1.You considered of pursuing mba at one stage right? Mind telling us a bit more on that?
2. How many years of work experience did you have before you made the switch to finance? And how long were you in banking for?
When is part2-4 coming out? Cannot wait for your adventure in asia! It would also be interesting to know how you created all those different industry models when you worked only in technology baking.
Also, one thought I had from reading this article and feedbacks are that perhaps you’re not creating articles quickly enough by doing the work alone or with help from a dozen of staff. I’m not familiar with the online business at all, but is there a way that you could scale the business? One way of tackling this that I can think of right now is getting into the consulting (career coaching) business, it could fulfill individual demand more quickly and it might help you to capture the trend of people’s needs better, which could then be developed into a mass product on biws, but then I’m not sure if this is gonna be a priority for you now given that this is entirely is a different business model, as it requires hiring consultants, and ensuring they have the standards as you do could be difficult.
Apologies for such a long email!
Thanks! On your questions:
1. Not very seriously. I thought about it more as a “Plan B” if nothing else worked out, but quickly dismissed it when I realized the work required and how it’s not super-helpful for people like me.
2. Depends on how you count work experience years, but in total less than 5 and only in banking for a few of those.
Part 2-4: Probably each spaced a few weeks apart.
I don’t really want to go into the business of hiring lots of consultants – too much time and effort and too hard to do quality-control. A business like this scales when you create content that remains relevant for a very long time; creating content will always be time-consuming.
Stumbled onto your website in early 2010 after I got steamrolled by my first interview for a summer analyst role in IBD. Was eventually able to secure a full-time offer in IBD the following year during the recruiting cycle.
The interview guide and articles were instrumental in my breaking in into the industry and I would not have been able to do it without them.
Thank you and please do share the rest of your story.
Awesome, congrats on your success! More story is coming soon.
Genuine, informative and easy-to-read – you are such a great writer, Brian! Thanks for the honestly and openness. I agree with Malcolm Gladwell too, esp. on the 10k-hour rule.
Please do write more. Your sharing makes a difference.
Thanks, glad to hear it! More coming soon.
This post is so awesome, thank you for sharing. I’m also a ex-banker (your site definitely helped tons) and transitioning into being an entrepreneur in the long term. Your post is very insightful – one of your points reminded me of what I learned form the post from Jason Fried (http://goo.gl/W9qcI) as well, which is the more you practice, in this case starting a company and making money, the better you become.
Anyways, you are so inspiring! :) Very excited for parts 2-4!!
Thanks! Yeah that article from Jason Fried is great. Should be required reading for everyone.
gr8 article indeed. I have been a regular on this site for last 1 yr. and your content is one of the finest on web. I agree with you that loads of trial and error and hardwork goes before one reap the success fruit. Can’t wait for the second part of the story.
Thanks! Yes, too many people try to take the easy way out… not recommended.
I came across this website (haven’t been to this in a while!) through your facebook page, and I must say it’s been a while since I spoke to you but this is an amazing post detailing your journey. (I think it was 2009?)
I can relate 100% to the emotions that’s detailed in this as I, myself, after giving a career at banks started a business. The little snippets about you mentioning responsibility, learning curve, etc. all rings very true. There is no guarantee of payment, insurance, safety nets, etc. You might take the FULL pay home, but you can also lose everything – as well as the sheer fact that you don’t get paid at all for not working when running your own business.
I think this is amazing, and would love to hear more on your life journey as it is truly amazing what you detailed here.
I don’t know of your whereabouts these days, but would love to grab a beer if we cross paths.
Take care matey.
Hey good to hear from you again. I remember meeting up in Korea in 2009 when I first got there. :)
I’m back in the US now but will be traveling more this year, so will let you know.
Great! Looking back, I was a sorry little piss off back then – not knowing much about life. ;) But then, everything is a learning process ain’t it?
Wish you the best – and will let you know when I get back over there this fall! All the best Brian.
Brian, great post. It is inspiring! Thanks for sharing your story mate.
p.s. Part 2 is a must :)
Thanks! Part 2 definitely!
Just wanted to say that this site is THE reason I got interested in IB, Trading, and other specific areas in finance. I love the backstory and am looking forward to the next 3 installments!
Thanks! Next 3 are coming soon.
First, great story. I really hope you write the series up to the present. Your story made me think of how I could position myself to get ahead in my respects.
Secondly, I have a question. You seemed to have a lot of connections in the industry, why did you think you couldn’t climb the corporate ladder? What skills do you think you lacked?
Thanks! I just didn’t like playing the office politics game and didn’t want to be in an office environment. I actually liked the work, pulling all-nighters, and constant craziness.
Hey! Great article! =] I’ve been reading your articles since late 2009. Even though I’ve stopped recently, it was a great motivator for when I was in college! Also, please add parts 3 and 4! I would love to learn more about your most recent works!
As side note, could you include rough dollar amounts in your next parts? Of course, nothing exact, but big ball park ranges would be interesting to hear about!
Thanks again! and looking forward to reading more!
Thanks! Parts 3 and 4, definitely. Dollar amounts, I don’t really like to disclose revenue for various reasons. Plus, I am a workaholic and would work non-stop regardless of the amount of money I make.
What, so no hookers and blow stories?
Kidding aside, I like your blog, and it was recommended to me from one of my friends that went to a target school. Do you have anything about breaking into the west coast scene? I live (and go to school) in SF.
Hmm there’s one article here about banking in different parts of the US: https://mergersandinquisitions.com/investment-banking-new-york-california/
And another one on UBS LA from back in the day. West coast recruiting isn’t too much different, but I’ll see if we can cover it in the future.
I found this website after ruling out law school when I was a freshman at a severe non-target. I transferred to a target for my junior year and now I’m a senior with a FT BB IB job lined up. Couldn’t have done it without this site, the M&I guide, the networking guide, the modeling course, the resume template, how to tell your story template, etc. I needed all the help i could get at the time because my parents made around the same salary as your parents made and I knew literally no one in finance. I still use a modified version of your networking cold email template.
It’s funny though because this site and your guide have been so successful that, imo, they’ve actually increased the level of preparation needed to break into the business because everyone knows this site and follows your advice.
Awesome! Glad to hear about your success.
I think the level of competition has increased, but it’s surprising that many people still don’t use the tactics here effectively…
Just a little color on what I’ve seen: 90% of the people at my target who successfully got BB/Elite boutique IB jobs used the M&I guide to prepare…and current analysts used it to prepare too so when these analysts interview prospective hires, I feel like a lot of them use questions from M&I. I had an Evercore interview where an analyst asked the same “company buys $100 of PP&E with debt with x interest and y depreciation and z maturity; what happens in year 1, 2, 3, etc” that you have in your guide.
Wow. Interesting. Thanks for sharing, I didn’t realize that people at banks actually used it as much.
That is HUGE.
Awesome man. However, I had no idea how severe your OCD is. Check-in a hospital asap
Never! I enjoy it.
I really enjoyed reading this story and am glad you started up this series.
I am currently interning at a BB investment bank in Sydney. Your site was really useful and I probably wouldnt have learnt all the things i needed to break in, without it.
Keep the personal stories coming!
Thanks! Good luck in Sydney!
Just wanted to give a big shout out thanks to Brian for sharing this story.
His experience with M&I was a major inspiration for me and my team in creating the GMAT Pill (www.gmatpill.com) – though we were a little late to the party (2009 instead of 2007).
All the trials and tribulations mentioned above are indeed true for us as well.
We thank Brian for his inspiration and advisory through these challenges.
Just don’t reveal any of our hidden secrets! Not that there any, really.
awesome. very interesting to know the journey of the entrepreneur behind the site.
Thanks! Yeah, I figured I might want to write something about myself at some point…
Brian – this is a great story. Very interested in the subsequent parts.
Thanks! The other parts are coming soon.
Write more!!!! please!!!!!
I really liked this article. I would like to get to know your story better, so please continue with 2nd and 3rd part.
Since you’re mentioning many books, I would like you to public an article of business/motivation/success/law/gardening/bodybuilding…books you find interesting/useful/you strongly disagree and so on.
Keep up the good work!
Thanks! I’ll see what I can put together there… that’s a pretty broad range to consider but I might cover it in the future.
LOL. I think you covered the entire first floor of Barnes and Nobles.
Inspiring post, I’m looking forward to part 2, 3 and 4!
Thanks! As AJ would say, “Just give it a few hours” (Ok, maybe need a bit more time than that…).
Site looks great. The iterview guide got me through very tough interviews. I’d have been a deer in headlights had I not prepared with your fit and technical questions. Great story above. Looking forward to hearing the rest.
Thank you! Glad to hear it helped so much with interviews.
Great article! You do a great job and provide excellent content. And as you’ve realized, people love rockstar employees and excellent products, but we are all people at the end of the day; and we want to have excitement and intrigue in our daily grind. Adding articles like this and having your Cost of Capital series is great entertainment on top of your content. Makes it real and interesting.
Thanks for all your hard work. You provide a valuable service to job seekers in finance and I also think your methods are applicable to careers outside of finance, in principle. Keep up the great work!
P.S. Yes, please to part 3 and 4!
Thanks, glad to hear it! More “entertainment” coming up soon. :)
Great story. Thanks for sharing.
Just want to say that the entire ‘ecosystem’ (for lack of a better word) you’ve created – from M&I, to the Interview guide and BIWS – have truly paid dividends for me. Your resources really helped me understand whether investment banking and private equity were really for me, and more importantly, land my current job in PE.
In sum, I’m glad you went through such a roller coaster ride, otherwise I wouldn’t be where I am today :) Thanks.
Awesome! Glad to hear about your success and thanks for reading the site and using the courses here!
Amazing article. I followed this website since 2008 and had a lot to learn. After regularly following up on the website, I started my first internship in a major foreign BB in Korea in 2009, and networked my way into a regional boutique in Canada – and I still read your articles to stay on top of the potential opportunities that might come by sometime.
Thanks, and please do keep it up.
Thanks and glad to hear about your success! And thanks for continuing to read all these years.
Thanks for writing. I always enjoy reading people’s stories on how they got to be where they are rather than the bullet points or 12-step plan.
I currently work in politics (hate it) and have been looking into banking, consulting and real estate development (what I really want to do). Ultimately I want to own my own business and get out of the cubicle, and reading about how you and others started successful businesses (and dealt with the bumps in the road along the way) is a great source of inspiration.
Thanks! Glad to hear it. Yeah, if you think this sounds like a bumpy ride so far, just wait for Part 2 and beyond…
Very nice article Brian! and yes please carry on! :)
IMO in order to succeed in business (either as employee or employer) is a bit like poker; you ought to play your cards well. Some (?) people don’t even know what cards they’re holding or the rules. Sounds a bit pompous what I’m saying but I think it’s true.
Thanks, will do! Nice analogy with poker… and yeah, that is definitely true about not knowing the cards or the rules sometimes.
I really liked this article. I started reading your website out of curiousity after I realized I didn’t want to go into academia.(no jobs, tenure is dying, no choice on where to live) I sort of was in a position of having a couple of good degrees, a good gpa, graduating a couple of years early and no idea of what I was going to do.
I made a conscious decision NOT to get into ibanking after meeting a few (cynical/depressed) bankers and realizing that I was more interested in creating long-term value than doing deals. I’m still in finance (FP&A at a well known semiconductor manufacturer) but it’s a much different lifestyle from banking.
I think the big take away from your story is not to waste your life working in an industry you hate purely for other people or because your to afraid to violate the mythical standard of what “you’re supposed to do”. You have to make a living but there’s a million different ways for smart, nice, ambitious, people to be VERY successful without selling their souls.
Yeah, very well-said. I wouldn’t say I “hated it,” just that the corporate setting wasn’t right for me in the long-term. Glad you have found a role you enjoy!
Please write more! I’ve been a fan of this site for years.
Thanks! Noted and will do!
I loved this post! It is really interesting hearing about your story from the beginning. I just landed my first IB internship (I am a junior in college) and your site really helped me to not only succeed in my interviews, but also figure out what exactly I wanted to do.
I cannot wait to read parts 2-4 and definitely think that you should continue writing these posts.
Awesome, glad to hear it, congrats on your offer, and thanks for your feedback!
Very fascinating.loved it.looking forward to part 2
Thanks! Part 2 will be fun.
Write more please. This stuff is life-changingly inspiring.
Really keen on how you can outwork 30 man teams and be so productive. Perhaps you can expand this site into general ‘life coaching’ ha.
Thanks! More coming soon. Out-producing 30-person teams doesn’t work in every industry, but it is possible in certain areas such as software. Hmm life coaching, now that’s an idea…
Great great article. Shows us that we should be true to ourselves and our passions rather than follow the “surest and safest” way to “greatness”
Thanks! Yes, sometimes doing the complete opposite of what’s expected is the path to success.
THANKS for the post! LOVED reading it! would absolutely love to read more~
Thanks! More coming soon.
Fantastic. I have read all your articles, had interviews, and have still come up short for an offer. This website, your “career path” – it’s a fantastic success story for everybody else who can’t quite make a career in banking.
All of the bankers I have spoken with have literally said, “If you want to make millions, don’t go into banking. Start your own business. Take a few grand a grow it.”
I can’t wait for you to branch out of this banking niche and find a way to delivery this same service in a different form!
Sorry to hear. :( Though banking is not the end-all, as you can see from my story and all the interviews here. There are always lot of other possibilities. I’m spread too thin to do much expansion right now, but a few new major projects are on the horizon…
Great read, interesting perspective.
Thanks for reading!
This was a great read! reminded me of when Henry kravis said: “a true entrepreneur is one that has no safety net
Thanks! Another good one: “The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.” – Nassim Taleb
Keep on coming!
Thanks! Will do.
The best post thus far on here.
Thanks! If you say so…
Bravo! Loved it
Please write more! So looking forward to Part 2!
One minor question: what’s your career advice? What I tell people is to “follow what you are good at,” not to “Follow Your Passion”. Wanna hear your thoughts.
Coming up soon! Career advice: you need to find something profitable (or at least something people will pay you for) and then find a way to *make* it fun or interesting for you. Most people approach it in the wrong way and go for something they’re “interested in” (but which may or may not pay) and/or assume that just because something is not fun or engaging initially, it won’t ever be… which is not the case, in my opinion.
When I started reading the article, I was torn between two feeling/ideas: “Yes, I finally get to know how/why/when/insert question he started the website, created the attraction, made it into a real business…” and “It will be like the end of an existencial book/movie/TV show when you are looking for all the answers (is the truth really out there?), but know that nothing will never be good enough because humans love mystery”.
After reading it, I can tell that my first desire has been fulfilled and that there’s still enough mystery around to make me want to follow the reading.
Lots of people around me (when I say people, I mean banking professionals) want to make the same move you made, meaning leaving this job where you are just a little monkey following orders, and creating something of you own instead.
I remember something one professor who’s also an entrepreneur once told me: “You can’t have any plan B. You don’t want to rely on another job, because when the first difficulties arise, you will quit”. And while reading your article, this is exactly what it feels like. You sticked to your idea and went all-in. In order to succeed, you have to devote yourself 100% to your company, that’s it.
All of this to say that it was a very inspirationnal article, that readers wanting to follow the path of entrepreneurship should read this (I forwarded it to all the “I want to have my own business” bankers around me), and that I’m looking forward to reading more of it.
Of course, there has to be a mystery for the story to work. :)
Thanks for your feedback and hope to write the rest of the series soon!
Absolutely Fascinating. I could not take my eyes off the screen. Kudos for your achievements. I think many of us would like to hear the rest of the story.
Thanks! Coming up soon…
I definetly want to read more.
I think you do a great job in covering the finance world and while writing about your life may not be specifically a finance topic, it does have a great impact to the readers. I think most people around here are not only looking for a finance job, but to be successful in life. Surely you can’t teach someone a recipe to be successful, but you can tell your story, as a successful person, and I am sure people will eagerly listen to it. Curiously, I am not even into finance anymore, and more into something of entrepreneurship, so I can relate a bit to your burning bridges theory and your story. Keep up the good work!
Thanks! Yeah, I think there is a lot to learn from this even if you want to stay in finance and move up the ladder, work in another industry, or start a very different type of company.
I’ve been following your site for a year now and it has been simply fantastic. I do audit and tax work for a midsized accounting firm (not the Big 4) but have a lot of friends here in NYC who are into banking. I’ve also met other bankers here as well since I moved from SF. The material on your site has made it easier for me to understand them and to also make conversation with them as well. Haha. Thanks a lot! Keep it coming!
For some odd reason, despite the stories of my banker friends and the content of this site, a part of me still wants to become a banker. We’ll see!
Hah, thanks! Yeah, sometimes we’re attracted to the pain for some reason…
You > Me. Bleh. It’s like that DevinSuperTramp guy that makes others look like they have no lives. Ha, thanks for your story. Inspiring!
Thanks! I wouldn’t compare yourself to others, though, it’s not a great way to go through life and who cares anyway.
Agreed. Haha. But everyone, in my opinion, needs an aspirator or some standards to achieve or exceed.
Btw, the thing about your site, that many other sites don’t have, is that you actually answer people’s comments. I’ve been following “managementconsulted.com” and he has decent articles, but never answers his audience. He doesn’t put the “personal” part of it, that a site needs.
True. Yeah, I agree, the personal touch is very important and there’s no real way to get to know your audience otherwise.
its funny reading this while I am waiting for my contract after getting a FT-offer. I started reading this site in 2010 and I did not really know what IBs actually do back then. I had some success in between by getting an unpaid IB internship in a regional boutique, then getting a paid internship and now I am about to start FT coming this fall.
The funniest thing is how I actually came across your website:
I wanted to know if I should include on my resume that I was a model when applying fo internships. Obviously I found your website about financial modeling but havent found out yet if I you suggest including the other modeling on my resume (until now I did not put it on my resume).
thx for everything (and yes I come from a non-target)
…and yes I would love to read more … (also which BB you worked at but I guess thats the big secret)
Thanks! Glad to hear about your success.
Which bank I was at: hey, every good story needs a mystery…
Oh, and to answer your question: yes, list the courses on your resume. There’s a guide to how to do it right here: http://biws-support.s3.amazonaws.com/BIWS-Courses-Resume-Instructions.docx
Yes, I want to read Parts 3, 4, and any more you can write!
Jesus you really are getting desperate for articles to write
How about branching out into different career types instead of regurgitating the same crap about your life story? Eg law
Alternatively u could get them translated into different languages eg. Chinese
you are being ridiculous. I think you are fairly new to this website. This is the first time I see Brian writing about himself in 3 years. And by the way, it’s called mergers and inquisitions, not consulting and inquisitions, not ERs and inquisitions, not big laws and inquisitions. If you don’t like it, just don’t read it, instead of taking other people’s hard work for granted.
I’m pretty sure I won’t be the only one to dislike your comment.
This post needs a “Likes this” button.
It’s on the “to do” list for the next design update of the site…
I think you might be over-reacting a bit, because:
1) We cover plenty of other careers here, from corporate finance to trading to IB to PE to VC etc. etc. There are almost 500 articles altogether.
2) More is on the way. In fact, I currently have 523 topics to cover over the next 5-10 years.
3) As Morange said, this was a quick “off topic” article and I’ve actually never written anything about my own story before. So I’m not sure what you’re referring to here.
Write more! I’ve been reading this blog since high school and it’s nice to finally get a glimpse of the guy behind M&I. Thanks Brian.
Thanks! Will do.
Yes. Write more.
haven’t started reading but i just want to be the first one to comment:
finally, thanks Brian!
What, so no hookers and blow stories?
Kidding aside, I like your blog, and it was recommended to me from one of my friends that went to a target school. Do you have anything about breaking into the west coast scene? I live (and go to school) in SF.