Why I Left Wall Street To Start A Fintech Company

Mike Furlong, Sliced Investing Co-founder

The following is a guest post by Sliced Investing co-founder, Mike Furlong. He eagerly left Wall Street to launch this start up. Sliced Investing is backed by Y Combinator, Khosla Ventures, TriplePoint Venture Growth, Data Collective, and Carnegie Mellon.

Funny enough, I also left Wall Street so I could focus on Financial Samurai. I spent this past Spring consulting for them as I found their business objective of providing greater access to hedge funds and alternative investments through crowdsourcing highly intriguing. 

My first job was a rather humbling one. I worked at a country club where I caddied for super rich bankers and traders. They were living the good life most people just dream about. They had tons of money to own fancy cars, top of the line clubs, luxury watches, designer clothes, and me to wait on them.

Meanwhile I was making minimum wage, lugging their 50-pound bags on my back, and trying to keep a constant smile on my face while sweating like crazy in the summer humidity and blinding sun. I tried to be as accommodating as possible and give them suggestions on which clubs to use, but most of the time they did whatever they wanted to without listening to me.

Lessons Learned On The Green

The experience taught me a lot of things. First, it taught me very quickly that making minimum wage doing manual labor is not an easy way to make a living. Second, it made me money hungry. If those guys could be rich and live the good life, why couldn’t I do the same? And third, it propelled me to take control of my future and build a career path that I’d be proud of.

During my days as a caddie I overheard a lot of conversations amongst the club members trading stock tips between holes, My fascination with financial markets grew as a result and I aspired to one day join them in the upper echelons of Wall Street. Through athletics, academics, and mostly networking I made my way into a good college and eventually into a position as a trader at Citigroup.

Trading Quickly Lost Its Luster

Fast-paced, ruthlessly competitive, full of both risk-taking and ample financial rewards — on the surface Wall Street seemed like the ideal career. However, the longer I spent at Citi the more I witnessed technology rendering certain banking functions irrelevant.

The most obvious function was my own job: trading. As it became increasingly automated, I watched peers lose their jobs to quants with computer science degrees, each of whom could do the work of a half-dozen traders.

Without fully realizing what a good decision it was at the time, I decided to quit my career-track job at Citi and move to San Francisco to start a financial technology company.

Related: The Ugly Side Of Silicon Valley And Wall Street

I Left Wall Street For A New Beginning

I made the switch for three main reasons:

First, I wanted to be judged on ability, not age.

I always hated being told that I couldn’t do something because I wasn’t old enough. Though I believe trading to be the closest thing to a meritocracy in finance, there was nonetheless a ladder that could only be climbed over a period of many years. In Silicon Valley, technology has democratized value. Age and experience are irrelevant — you can add value if you create.

Second, I wanted to understand risk.

On Wall Street, I had a clear path to success. As long as I performed adequately, I could move up to the next level and eventually make lots of money.

Starting a tech company is the complete opposite. In the beginning, you have nothing. Everyone is skeptical of what you’re trying to do. If I failed, I would have had little to show in terms of outwards accomplishment and returning to the steady big bank career escalator might not have been an option.

Sure, I was taking risks every day at Citi. But it wasn’t my risk. In fact, I had nothing to lose, and everything to gain, which, frankly, is true of most people in finance. I didn’t have skin in the game. But in tech, I’m all in. I’ve learned to understand and appreciate risk in entirely different ways because of it.

Lastly, I wanted to create something real.

There may be no greater satisfaction than to create. To make. Every day I wake up excited to work with a world class team and collaboratively build something genuinely useful that ends up in the hands of real people. Our products are used by our customers every day, and we’re constantly interacting with these users to improve them. Accomplishment for us means empowering someone else – not just making more money.

The Great Migration To Fintech

Of course, I’m not the only one to come to these realizations. I can’t tell you how often traders and bankers ask me how they can break into tech. There’s even a startup in New York dedicated to enabling this transition, Suits to Silicon Alley.

This Great Migration is part of what’s fueling the current groundswell of fintech startups, and should ultimately be to the benefit of consumers. Technology has allowed many core banking functions previously available only to institutions or the super-wealthy to John Q. Public.

For example, P2P pioneer Lending Club offer better interest rates on loans, even to those without stellar credit. Acorns and Even automate the saving habit.

Roboadvisors offer sophisticated money management services on the cheap. Fundrise changing the way capital is raised for real estate transactions.

Many of these fintech companies were started by former Wall Streeters who realized the pain points of many consumers and sought to address their needs.

Fintech Is A Welcome Disruption

Finance is inherently a service-based industry. It’s supposed to be about the customer and, at root, keeping people’s money safe. But the public’s trust in banks plummeted during the financial crisis and the Great Recession.

Gallup poll

Source: https://www.gallup.com/poll/171995/confidence-banks-remains-low.aspx

Fintech is helping to breathe new life into finance by bringing trust back through improving transparency, reducing fees, and democratizing investments — each of which can clear the fog of doubt and mistrust over time.

The rise of fintech has enabled a resurgence in traditional finance value propositions: protecting and empowering the individual. When I think about where finance is heading, I am reminded of one of my favorite T.S. Elliot quotes:

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

I’m often asked how it feels to leave finance or why I left Wall Street. I respond by saying that I feel closer to it than I ever have before.

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Update 2021: Unfortunately, Sliced Investing shut down, but Mike is still at it with a new startup.

About The Author

18 thoughts on “Why I Left Wall Street To Start A Fintech Company”

  1. your site is a little flaky Sam, I posted my first comment yesterday… didn’t see it by end of the day and then looked again just now and still nothing. So I posted another version thinking the first one went into the either and then BANG the first one and the second one is visible…

  2. No responses from Mike re: the comments?… I was hoping to see how he addressed the accredited investor issue and the Warren Buffet bet question. Those seem like fair game to me.

  3. With.no.background.in finance, I must say some this post.just flew over my.head. Best wishes in.your.endeavors.

  4. It’s admirable that you can leave 6-digits salary, and leave potential of 7-figures of bonuses as you move up the rank to start your own business. Goodluck with future andavours. I’ll be on the look out when your company start offering IPOs, the model looks great, you guys probably take up a big buyout from an investment bank.

  5. This is awesome, not many people have the courage and will to do it what you have accomplished. Many people said I was crazy that I said no to Wall Street, because for sure there is a certain path that you need to follow to become successful, etc. But based on my experience, it wasn’t what I wanted and so far no regrets. I think you have done an awesome job and good luck for the future accomplishments!

  6. No Nonsense Landlord

    As I get ready to retire myself, I am constantly trying to determine is a FA is a good investment, or just do it myself. Most FAs are not that good, they just read the screen and invest when their model says to invest in.

    1. It’s your money. Just read up on the latest trends or stick it into low cost index funds with Vanguard. I personally don’t see the point in a FA unless they make great returns constantly with is very unlikely. My economics professor said no one can consistently beat the market for more than 2+ years (unless you are like a Warren Buffet and even he loses money all the time).

  7. Forgive me for asking, but isn’t sliced investing just adding a layer of fees in exchange for more exclusive access?

    I could abide by this if the access was to some product that could exhibit risk-adjusted alpha that offset the fee layer, but I’m not confident (given the track record of consistent underperformance exhibited by hedge funds against indexes) that would be the case.

    Obviously, if Sliced Investing had exclusive offerings to private equity deals with low-cost advisement and selection (Find me the next Uber or AirBnB), then there is probably some value in diversifying with some Sliced Investing capital. However, that is a tall–and probably unrealistic–expectation, and might be a bridge too far.

    I’d love to see the net returns the median investor is getting through the service. But, it’s certainly a novel idea. A little bit like a Kickstarter, but with higher buy-in.


    1. Sliced Investing got clients into the latest Lyft fundraising earlier this year through a fund. Then Carl Icahn decided to invest $100 million in Lyft soon thereafter. There are opportunities that come up all the time. Just got to stay ready.

  8. Great post, Mike. And congrats on your success!

    I wish I could invest in something like this – but again the accreditation issue comes up. I understand the reason the rule exists, but it still seems too strict – especially for someone with a finance background and knowing what I’d be getting myself in to. Just being blocked out because of net worth and income (I think many people would be fine with a lower threshold) is again limiting these possibilities solely to the golf club circles you were a caddie for.

    Of course Sliced isn’t to blame for any of this, but perhaps with more services like yours gaining popularity there could be more of a voice to change the rules for smaller investors to gain access to these options.

      1. Maybe a dumb question, but are we saying that I would need to be an accredited investor to invest as little as 10k into one of sliced’s hedge funds?

        If so, that really is restrictive, since this entry requirement is so low and the fund is already diversified.

        1. Yes, unfortunately that is what this rule is implying. I’m fine with the rule even having limits on how much you could invest based on your total net worth or income, but straight-out blocking people from investing any amount unless you’re already ultra wealthy is horrible.

  9. Thanks for sharing your story Mike! And congrats on co-founding your startup. That’s quite an accomplishment. I love how fintech is breathing new life into the industry and making investing more appealing, fun, democratic, and a whole lot easier too. Keep up the great work!

  10. I believe that this trend will continue; it is very difficult to keep huge companies going year after year. I work at a company that employs 60k+ employees and management here is very solid. When you have shady management and poor decisions that are made, then it makes the whole organization shaky.

    Like you said in the article, you didn’t like being judged by your age. I’m in the same spot where I believe that I can make it to management, however, I need to “put in my time”. The next few years should be interesting. My father left corporate life in his late 30’s and started a business and hasn’t looked back. I feel that I have the same interest. Corporate life isn’t ideal and many people are striving for much more.

    Do you think the trend from corporate to startups will continue? If the market tanks or corrects, do you think we could see something new?

  11. Very well written.

    Can you elaborate a bit on your target investor? Maybe the lowest amount that would make sense to invest based on a fictional investor? Sam often has posts outlining examples. Maybe you could give a few?

    Age, amount invested, time line, expected returns, etc.

    My first reaction is:
    If I only had 10k and didn’t want to lose it (barring an extended timeline) I’d just bank it.

  12. Very cool. It’s refreshing to see “regular” people gaining the ability to access private investment options otherwise reserved for the very wealthy.

    I don’t want this to sound like I’m diminishing your tremendous accomplishments, but it’s a legitimate question to ask: Why hedge funds? What’s the appeal for the average investor to have a slice of a hedge fund when they have been under-performing against market indices for some time now.

    Barry Ritholtz has documented this numerous times:

    Vanguard did a study, linked in the article above, that showed a 60/40 stock-bond portfolio beat the hedge fund industry 6 of the last 7 years. It did that with only a .24% fee.

    More famously, the bet between Warren Buffett and Protege Partners. In it’s 7th year, Buffett’s S&P500 fund is vastly out performing Protege’s 5 hand picked hedge funds of funds. Most are saying the game is over, calling Buffett the winner.

    Hedge funds sound sexy, but the sexy ends when the returns come in and the fees are paid.

    I’d be more interested to learn about the other “private equity” investment options you guys offer.

  13. This was a great idea. I think working with administrators who can provide access to self directed IRA’s would be great for you guys. This is a concept I have certainly considered applying to oil and gas.

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