Startups As Second Acts
Treating a law or finance career as simply a stepping stone to an entirely unrelated career probably isn’t what most professionals have in mind as they slog through graduate school, often accumulating significant loans in the process. But they may just be following the jobs—at least in the country’s financial and legal capital of New York City. Based on data from the New York State Department of Labor, over the past six years, the number of people working in securities and banking fell by 9%, while employment in the high-tech sector rose by 14%.
And at least some former Wall Street professionals say that their finance backgrounds have actually given them invaluable experience when it came time to launch their own businesses.
Olga Vidisheva, 27, says that she’s grateful for the two years she spent working as a financial analyst at Goldman Sachs in Manhattan because it helped teach her the value of hard work. The first summer that she interned for the bank, she says, “I don’t think that I slept.”
But Vidisheva was frustrated by the fact that her job mainly entailed advising major companies on mergers, acquisitions and other financial strategies. What really inspired her was getting into the operational details with clients. “I thrived on that, and thought, That’s what I really want to be doing,” she says.
The old mentality of choosing a career based on compensation is going out of style.
So in 2012 she launched her own fashion startup, Shoptiques.com, a site that aggregates and sells clothing, shoes and jewelry from boutiques around the world. As testament to Vidisheva’s promising business plan, the site launched with backing from coveted startup seed investor YCombinator, as well as other angel investors. “I was one of the first non-technical people they’ve ever funded,” Vidisheva says. “But I think they understand that my skills [from finance] are very valuable as well.”
Of course, plenty of new law and business grads still jump at the chance to work 100-hour weeks for major firms and banks in exchange for a big paycheck and good job security. But it’s no longer a sure sell.
“There seems to be more emphasis nowadays on loving your work,” says 33-year-old H., who left a corporate law gig to start a math tutoring company, and blogs about the experience under the pseudonym Big Law Rebel. “The old mentality of choosing a career based on compensation is going out of style.”
But Vidisheva cautions that even though launching your own business may appear attractive, there’s a risk that it’s gotten too much social cachet for its own good.
“Humans naturally have a herd mentality—and entrepreneurship is now a herd,” she says. “Everyone wants to be in a startup. I get emails everyday with completely random ideas that they haven’t thought through—they just want to be a C.E.O. And you think, Come on. Do you really think this is going to exist 10 years from now?”