Donald Trump made threatening to do something and wanting someone else to pay for it a key part of his campaign. Sorry to start off with some disappointment here, but nothing is free. I want to put that out there early so you don’t think you’re about to get a special handshake instruction on how to get companies to fly you around the world. Sorry. I honestly wish there was a magic trick. It would make things much easier wouldn’t it?
My university recently invited me back to talk to the current Master’s and Ph.D. classes about what I’ve been up to since I left. I thought hard about what I would have wanted to hear when I was in their shoes. Number 1 would be there are no free rides. Here is what I shared with them.
Today I make a living as CEO of 11:FS, a consultancy of globally recognized FinTech leaders who build banks and transform traditional financial services companies into truly digital powerhouses. I’ll talk more about what it means to be truly digital in another blog post.
Most of the time the projects are pretty fun and involve things I really enjoy. Clients come to us saying, “How do we change our culture?” “Help us build a new bank!” “How should we replace our core banking and with what?” “Design us a new Internet Bank.” “What the hell is Blockchain and how should we start thinking about it?” These are the top things we are being asked to help with lately and I love them all.
I founded 11:FS with people whom I’m truly proud even know my name. I host the business podcast FinTech Insider, which brings together more people I’m proud just know I exist. In seven months, it has hit the number 1 spot on iTunes and has been downloaded in more than 160 countries. I’m also the Non-Executive Director of Bud, a company that can change the world of banking, and I get to keynote at some of the best conferences around the world.
Bear with me here. I say this not to boast but to illustrate a point. In the last nine months, I’ve been flown to Milan, Manilla, Amsterdam, New Orleans, Turkey, Geneva, Canada, Madrid, Barcelona, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Athens, and a bunch of other amazing places that I never thought I would get to see and can’t spell.
It’s a fantastic job and between the folks we help with 11:FS, the places I’ve spoken at, and the following we have built up with FinTech Insider, it is perfectly understandable that a lot of people ask me a pretty consistent question.
The messages we get on Linkedin, Twitter, and via email after every milestone we reach are along the lines of the following:
My response is usually either silence or pretty harsh, as I’m offended at the suggestion that a career that’s taken more than a decade to create could be summed up for others to emulate with a single message. It’s a dream of a career and I can’t blame others for wanting to pursue something similar. I can say with confidence that there is no defined path to such a career.
Maybe explaining the path I took could be helpful at this point.
I wasn’t a very academic kid. I wasn’t dumb, just not very academically focussed. I lived in a world where I felt like I was missing something that everyone else knew, that this would all turn out to be some sort of Truman Show stunt and the real purpose of all this would be revealed to me.
I went into a life of computing only after a knee injury put any delusions of a sporting career to bed. I came out of my undergrad degree in computing with a 2:1, having completely coasted through it.
My school career before this could pretty much be summarized in one line:
“David does just enough and no more”
Fast forward to the end of my undergrad degree and you’d witness a complete awakening for me. I’ve always prided myself on being an individual. Arriving at the end of my education to find myself one of hundreds of thousands of people who had the exact same skills as me was terrifying.
I vividly remember standing on the steps of my university looking around after I picked up my results and thinking:
“Oh shit – I’m just like all you other people. Damn, now what?”
At that exact moment, I knew I had wasted a huge amount of my opportunities by just doing enough to get by. I decided to make one simple change: I would work harder than anyone else in anything that I put my mind to. Simple right?
I decided to do a Master’s in eCommerce and put that into practice. I studied harder and worked longer than anyone there. The results paid off with a double first and course work grades at the c90% mark. While doing this I studied for my CCNA and MCSE, which also makes me a CISCO and Microsoft Engineer. I was hungry. I worked harder and wanted to learn more than anyone there.
So what’s the secret to success? Apply this strategy to everything you do. There you go, you’re all set.
After 15 years of doing this since that awakening, I have earned the right to be an individual. I have a unique perspective and vantage point on this industry. I’ve spoken in the third-person for a bank, insurer, a large offshoring company, a research house, and a consultancy, and only now feel comfortable having my own voice. I’m paid to say things when I have nothing nice to say, despite what my parents told me growing up.
It took more than 15 years to create an opportunity to do what I’m doing today. It required taking a huge risk. I exchanged a well-paid job in a well-respected company for the fear, doubt, and uncertainty that comes with forging a start-up.
If you are trying to get into FinTech, you have to know that turning up is not enough. You have to make it happen. This job was never my specific intention. Just an organic evolution and series of fortunate experiences that has led to today.
So my answer to those wanting to travel the world and get paid for it: Do the work first. Create a following and an audience first. Prove your value first. Demonstrate your understanding of the industry first. Do all that and then, and only then, maybe a you’ll be in a situation where you can chance it all to create something from nothing with your own company. It took me too long to understand this.
My focus is, and always has been, on doing work I care about that touches people’s lives whether in a customer experience or through changing how people think. It is an honor to get paid to do work I love.
There are no shortcuts. No magic words or secret handshakes. If you want something, anything, do the work and make it happen. You.
So here were and are my top 5 career tips:
1) Be a Tourist
Consider yourself a tourist in the industry when you first start out. It will keep you sane and allow you to rationalize the hours and the job twists and turns, and you’ll feel safer knowing that, despite someone else holding your career in their hands, this isn’t forever.
2) Social Chameleon
Don’t be in a rush to emulate your heroes. Senior people have the ability to act, talk, and move in certain ways because they have earned the right. Some abuse this (see number 5). You cannot pull this off yet so don’t try. You need to be a social chameleon and play them at their game for as long as needed. This will mean wearing a suit and speaking their language, but you will be on the road to earning the right to not have to do either of them in the future.
3) Think Rich Act Poor
Many people leave themselves at the door of their company and don’t act like they would in everyday life. Spend every penny at any company as if it’s your own money. This will help you rationalize when to spend and when to not. Don’t lose yourself to big numbers and become numb to the value of money.
4) Life Isn’t Your Movie
You need to know this isn’t your show. You’re going to be playing an extra for a while, but if you play your part and understand your role, you might get a few lines before you know it. Don’t miss out on the opportunity when it comes along.
This is the most important one so please take note here:
5) Don’t be a Dick
This one is pretty simple but the most important. Don’t be a dick. When you learn your industry and get some lucky breaks (and hopefully, you will), make sure you stay humble. Bragging about people paying your way is just classless regardless of what class of flight you’re on. Help those coming through, not for what you get from it but because it’s what good people do.
Thanks for reading. Visit 11FS.co.uk to learn more about what I’m up to.