It’s been a real journey! I have been actively working on altering my career path for 5 years now. It wasn’t like I was ever majorly unhappy, I just felt incomplete. There was something more I wanted and I couldn’t figure it out.
5 years ago I was living in HK and working at BAML as an equities program sales trader. At one point when I was younger, I absolutely loved it. I remember my now wife saying to me “You are the only person I know in banking who loves their job this much.”
Over time I grew up and priorities changed, I came to realize that I didn’t want to do this for the rest of my life but also didn’t know what I wanted to do. I decided that I needed to leave HK, a place where people in finance are looked up to, and for me, it was home, where I was far too comfortable. I asked for a transfer to NY, thinking if there is anywhere I can figure this out, NY would be it.
Being in NY I took some time and thought about the things I was passionate about in life. One glaring one was — Financial literacy; it always bugged me that people around me didn’t know what to do with their money. I didn’t know where to invest, didn’t know how much they should be saving, seems like quite general topics but time and time again I saw people didn’t have confidence in what they were doing.
At the same time, whilst in NY, I explored other careers and was drawn to the startup world. I was going to meetups multiple times a week, blockchain was getting big back then as was fintech so there were plenty of people to meet. I would spend 10 hours a day at work then spend the evenings meeting like-minded people and trying to come up with ideas for my own startup.
I came up with SeaWalnut. It was my first ever attempt at a tech startup, the whole raise money and scale style startup. It’s around the idea that there are financial advisors all over the world with different specialties, yet people just go to the closest one to them simply for convenience. Just because the advisor works near your home or work — that means they are the best person to advise you on your money? Nonsense. I ran into regulatory issues with SeaWalnut, and reality also hit me. I was doing it at night after working my pretty demanding job during the day. It was never going to work; I was never fully dedicated.
It did open my eyes up to the fact that I wanted to start something, I wanted to create something, be an entrepreneur. I enjoyed the process, it was challenging but so rewarding, I learned a lot through the process, soft and hard skills. So I used that as a learning experience and decided to give it a real shot. I moved to Singapore, back to Asia and close to home, but not home, not to my comfort zone.
In all honesty, I had no specific idea I was going to work on. I had SeaWalnut, which I had done an immense amount of research on, even going to the Starbucks at Times Square offering to buy people coffee if they chatted with me for 5 mins. But I also knew to be open-minded. I decided to take a bottom-up approach and meet with people in SG, startups, accelerators, hackathons, etc. I had gotten into a program called Entrepreneur First (EF) and decided to give that a shot. For those that know me, when I am in something, attempting it, I am going to give it 100%. That’s exactly what I did with EF.
I connected with a co-founder, and together we came up with a company that was a great sell, on paper. Through the program I had made mistakes, nothing to do with the actual program, it was more personal. I had been working at a bank for over 10 years and the money-hungry winning version of success was still ingrained in me. I fell back into my immature days of wanting to win and be rich. What was winning? Crushing it at EF, being the best team, the first one up on demo day. What was rich? Getting funded.
Nearing the end of the program it all hit me. I recognized that I had fallen back into the same trap. I started doubting everything I was doing. I was working on a B2B product that was selling to financial institutions. Nothing to do with what I cared about — financial literacy.
We had gotten so far though, so I shut out my emotions and powered through. Bad move.
We eventually got a term sheet and it all came crashing back. Fortunately, I had gone through the experience of quitting my job, changing careers and moving countries all in one shot. In a way that prepared me for this decision. I turned the money down and left my own startup.
Going back to the drawing board was rough. Self-doubt, massive confidence swings, I was an emotional nightmare, to be honest. Luckily I have an incredibly supportive and encouraging wife. I did a 10-day silent meditation called vipassana; it was super intense. Like a natural drug trip, but over 10 days!
I took some time to recover from the experience. During this time I had a friend call me and ask me for some financial help. The same thing people had been asking me for the last 10 years — I saved some money, what should I do with it? So, of course, I helped him. I never tell people what to buy, I try and educate them and guide them in the right direction by explaining their options. I have been told that I have a good way of simplifying complex financial products and explaining them to people outside of the field. I had fun with it and started bringing up the financial literacy topic over social settings. Before I knew it, I was helping a handful of people. Not for money, just helping them because they were friends or friends of friends and because I enjoyed it.
I had a bit of a relapse, self-doubt, confidence, emotional, that whole ride again and I spent 2 months looking for a job; it was exploratory and very targeted. I looked at firms I truly believed in and roles where I thought I would add value as well as learn. I finally came across one but the timing didn’t work out. But everything happens for a reason.
I stopped looking for a job. I took a few days and realized helping people with their finances, educating them and seeing them grow their confidence and learn life lessons about their money, is the only thing I have done in my life that didn’t feel like work. I did it for free because I cared that much about it. Without thinking of scaling, money or setting long term goals, I started creating a methodology. I spent time with my clients and used them as beta testers to create a business out of this — financial coaching is what it came down to.
Completely personalized one-on-one financial coaching. Helps the individual, I enjoy it, I am good at it and it comes to me naturally.
I am not going to worry about making it scale, not going to worry about how much I can make out of it. Baby steps. For now, it helps people, I enjoy it. The rest will come. Worst case scenario I go back to what I have been doing for the last 10 years and just help people, just in a more efficient manner.
So, after 10 years of working on it without knowing it, 5 years of helping clients informally and 6 months of beta testing with live clients, I bring you — Cafe cash flow :)