The ink is still drying on your diploma that you’ll wait a few months to receive, but already your head is in the clouds dreaming of how you can change the world and start a company of your own. While there are a few case studies of college students going straight from class to Forbes 30 under 30, the majority of successful entrepreneurs begin in a traditional job and get their feet wet by working for someone else.
Speaking from experience, I put in a few years in the corporate world before doing a few of my own ventures. What I learned is that the first job (or two) provides two key lessons for budding entrepreneurs. Ambition to start a company started when I was a teenager, and it was at Lehman Brothers that I learned about the greed and fear of the market, before technology started to meaningfully transform finance.
The first is as a test to discover what you want to do and which aspects of the job you enjoy. The second key lesson is to learn about an industry and gain broad transferable experience so you have the flexibility to define your future.
I landed my first job as a sell side equity research analyst in 2005 during the bull market on Wall Street. I first felt the ambition to start my own company while working at Lehman Brothers. It was here that I learned about the technology revolution building in the investing world. I left near the peak of Lehman Brother’s stock price in late 2007, not because I saw the bankruptcy coming or electronic trading compressing margins and jobs, but because I learned that I wanted to invest and build quantitative algorithms to improve the investing industry.
However, the insight I needed to move beyond a general desire to leverage quantitative algorithms didn’t become clear until my third job at PIMCO and spending a summer working for a robot advisor in 2010. All of these experiences combined were steps closer to my end goal. As technology has been transforming everything, we observed an exodus of Wall Street workers into Fintech or venture investing, which contributed to San Francisco real estate prices.
It was then that I had built the knowledge of how the investing world works, combined with the skill set and network from prior experience as a foundation that I continue to expand at my startup that leveraged all of this experience to solve an issue that I kept seeing in my corporate jobs. From this combination of knowledge and experience came Totum, my startup that provides investors tools to measure client risk capacity based on unique life situations.
The relevant skillset to succeed today as an entrepreneur is also in knowing the soft skills needed to make a great idea profitable. This builds on the ability to build excel models and PowerPoint decks to include product management, digital marketing, sales, and data analytics. I also learned how and when to hire talent or outsource certain tasks that can help the company run more efficiently. These are some of the transferable experiences new graduates should consider to learn in your first jobs.
So while you’re enjoying having a real paycheck and financial independence, remember to take in every aspect of your first job as it will pave your journey through your career. Take every opportunity offered that will benefit your foreseeable future.
And always keep your eyes on your entrepreneurship goal