6 lessons I learned leaving banking to become an entrepreneur

I’ve met countless folks in banking who are unhappy with where they are in life, but never do anything about it.

Whether they are clients, colleagues, or competitors - the script is pretty much the same: 'I’ll just work another X years, collect Y bonus, and then I’m out of here'.

Then bonus season comes, everyone complains a bit, and it’s the same thing all over again. I was guilty of it myself for a number of years.

I said I would leave in 2011 - nope.

I said I would leave in 2012 - nope.

In September 2013 just before my 30th birthday I finally left, after spending five years on the Asia Equities team at UBS. I left on an extremely good note with them and have nothing but good things to say.

Now that a few months have passed, here are some lessons I’ve learned about life after banking:

1. Relationships are still everything.

One of the biggest lessons I learned at UBS was the importance of relationships. When I first joined in late 2008, a co-worker said that your reputation and relationships are the most important asset in this industry - whether that’s with clients, colleagues, or competitors. You never know if an old colleague, client, or competitor will introduce you to a potential opportunity or help you avoid a costly mistake down the line.

2. Get used to the lifestyle downgrade

Gone are the days of happy hour with colleagues at a swank hotel, taking clients to nice restaurants, and splurging on extended vacations. As a bootstrapper, every dollar spent comes out of your bottom line and it’s game over when you run out of money. Things always take twice as long, cost twice as much, and require double the energy to happen. The secret sauce is knowing that you are accepting a temporary downgrade for a bigger payoff in the future - freedom that comes from having a business that gives you time, income, and mobility freedom.

3. Surround yourself with good people

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. To make this work (and I’m still figuring it out), you need to hang out with the right people who are doing the same things because it’s critical to bounce ideas, get feedback, and support each other. Friends and family don’t want what’s best for you, they want what is safe for you - which isn’t necessarily the same thing.

4. Embrace the fear

Throwing away a finance career that most folks only dream about is a huge mental shift you must make, because the fear of shame and failure are very real. Since starting #BALLER Leather, my main business selling Italian leather wallets - I've realised that reading a company’s P&L is one thing, and managing your own is another. If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done. Some days I wake up and have no idea what I’m doing, but it’s scary and exciting at the same time.

5. Resigning is just the beginning

I always thought leaving the industry would be some monumental event, but turns out it’s just another day. In entrepreneurship, things always take more time, money, and energy than you originally planned. It’s like a farmer that plants seeds and enjoys a great harvest over time, compared to a hunter that must go out and look for food everyday. Like the plane that veers 1 degree off course, over time you will end up in a very different place that most folks who chose to stay in the same place.

6. Don’t worry about your 'idea'

If you think you need a brilliant idea to quit, stop. Businesses is iterative and never follows a linear path. It’s an ongoing process of talking to customer(s), finding out what problem you can solve, integrating that feedback, doing it better than the competition, and repeating. You can sit around all day hypothesizing what may happen, but in the end it’s about putting your foot down and figuring it out as you go.

For those considering entrepreneurship but haven’t taken the leap, just do it. It’s scary and you might fail, but it certainly beats not taking the chance and wondering “what if” for the rest of your life.

Terry Lin is the founder of #BALLER Leather, a men’s fashion accessories brand with handmade Italian leather wallets that are slimmer than fourteen sheets of paper and weigh less than two slices of toast. He was formerly at UBS Investment Bank in the Asia Equities team based in Taipei. Find out more at ballerleather.com

image: © Vinoth Chandar

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