Q&A with WSO Founder, Patrick (Part 1)

M Friedman's picture
Rank: King Kong | 1,073

(See part 2 here) Over the weekend I had the chance to sit down and interview someone who is technically my boss, founder of Wall Street Oasis, Mr. Patrick Curtis. Though, most of you probably know Patrick as the orange bearded monkey that goes by WallStreetOasis.com on the forums (real original).

The overlord of WSO is actually a pretty nice guy, and was kind enough to share his professional path from investment banking to private equity. In part one of this two part series, Patrick details how he broke into investment banking in a post 9/11 world and his time at Wharton MBA.

Enjoy, and make sure to read part two as well

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MF: So that WSO users can get some background on you, let's start off by talking about your past investment banking experience as an analyst.

Patrick Curtis : I broke into investment banking in 2002 through OCR at Williams College (yes, our mascot is a Purple Cow). It was actually a pretty tough year (kind of like now), since recruiting was right after 9/11 and a lot of banks just cancelled OCR and/or scaled way back on the number of positions they were looking to fill. So I think I was lucky, to say the least. There was no Wall Street Oasis back then and I barely even knew what to expect during interviews.

I think the two most important facts I learned as an analyst was:

1) I do have a breaking point

2) It could always be worse.

Before Rothschild I thought I had an incredibly demanding schedule: 5-7 hours of homework every night, sports in high school followed by more challenging academics and sports at Williams. The reality is that I always had enough free time to get it all done and do well.

I remember a few months into my analyst stint we had a particularly brutal week - I had slept 3-5 hrs each night and had been in the office every waking hour. Then on Friday there was a "fire-drill" at 5pm that included a ton of work that needed to get done by Monday - this was all unexpected. It didn't hit me until that point how tough the job was - both mentally and physically. It can mess with your head when you never know when you would have time off or when you'd suddenly get staffed on a Friday afternoon ruining any chance of having a day off.

Do not get me wrong, my two years at Rothschild were extremely rewarding (professionally) and I learned an incredible amount. I worked with some great people in the restructuring group, got to close on several live deals, etc. By the end of the first year, however, I realized that no matter how tough or competitive I thought I was, the machine will take every last ounce of will you have if you let it.

I have no regrets, but I knew I couldn't survive for a third year so I started looking into private equity by year two.

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MF: What about your transition to Private Equity?

Patrick Curtis : I made the move to private equity primarily because it sounded interesting (invest in companies across a variety of industries), the pay sounded great and it would give me a chance to move back to Boston to be closer to more family and friends...plus, I knew I would completely burn out if I stayed a third year in banking.

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MF: What was the most important part of your private equity experience?

Patrick Curtis : As some of you know, my move to Boston and working for Heritage Partners was a short one. I was called into the office for my first review five months into the job, and fired on the spot- I was shocked and confused (a few days before Christmas - happy holidays!).

I was determined to stay in private equity in Boston and over the next three months I had a ton of interviews and had basically secured several jobs...except for one thing: I would not sign the release form and take the $10,000 Heritage offered me. Since I wouldn't sign (because I didn't know why I was fired), they would only "confirm that I worked there"...try getting a job in PE with that reference. I lost so many "in the bag" offers that a recruiter I was working with at one point flatly stated, "You've been blackballed from the PE industry in Boston." Not a fun three months.

Long story short, I ended up at Tailwind Capital in NYC (yes, still in PE), thanks to a former co-worker at Rothschild vouching that I was a good analyst - he was a pre-MBA associate there at the time as well.

About a year after I was in NYC I started reading some PE news about Heritage and how some of their biggest investments we going bust - investment professionals went from something like ~20 down to ~5. So I quickly realized that I was just the first out in a long line of firings (bad diligence on my part).

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MF: When did you get the idea for WSO?

Patrick Curtis : I actually got my idea for WSO (initially iBankingOasis.com) when I read a Top 30 Entrepreneurs Under 30 article one night. I thought to myself, what can I start now that may give me some independence in the future. All I really knew was iBanking at the time so with the help of one of my friends from MIT who was a coder, we set up iBO back in 2006 and it grew from there.

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MF: Why leave PE to risk it all on a website?

Patrick Curtis : Why not? We'll all be dead in 60 years anyways. I plan to enjoy the ride as much as I can.

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MF: So took the idea and left the industry to go to Wharton MBA, how was your experience there?

Patrick Curtis : My experience at Wharton was great - I especially enjoyed all the support my classmates and entrepreneurial programs gave me. They knew my goal was to make WSO into a real business that I could run full time. I got great advice from so many of my classmates that really helped transform the business and I really think that is why we have come so far.

Besides also being a much-needed break from investment banking and private equity, the environment is less about grades and more about true learning. I felt like I could take out whatever I wanted from every class and I really didn't care about my grades. I still did well, but the beauty of grade non-disclosure and not recruiting is that I had the freedom to really build WSO while going to class.

Part two tomorrow will discuss more about WSO and it's future, so definitely stay tuned

Comments (32)

Feb 6, 2012

Enjoying these interview series. Always great to hear people's backgrounds and how they got to where they are.

Feb 6, 2012

Definitely, looking to do more of these so if anyone has suggestions on who they would like to hear about let me know.... Heister?

Feb 6, 2012

He's not technically your boss...he is your boss and A Baws in general.

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses - Henry Ford

Feb 6, 2012

yeah, if anyone has specific questions on the transition from IB to PE, WSO, etc...feel free to ask away in here. I am admittedly a bit far removed from the Wall St. game, but I am sure some of the lessons learned still apply today.

Feb 6, 2012

i would say get heister and bondarb to do an interview...thanks

Feb 6, 2012

How about Gekko21?

Feb 6, 2012
JamesHetfield:

How about Gekko21?

+1

Feb 6, 2012

An interview with Ant would be great.

Feb 6, 2012
Clarkey:

An interview with Ant would be great.

Co-Sign, however I believe he did an interview with M&I..

Feb 6, 2012

Awesome, really appreciate this Q&A

Feb 6, 2012

I have a few specific questions -

How much capital is required to run the business? Coming from a guy who knows precisely dk about internet companies, I'd imagine very little. I'm really just curious.

Are you sole owner? If not, do you have equity investors? In short - what's WSO's capital structure?

How many hours a week do you spend working on this?

How much do you pay the career folks that work for WSO doing mock interviews? PM me if you're looking for more.

All said, do you feel the (lifestyle) reward of going for a "web 2.0" career was worth whatever you gave up by leaving banking/PE?

Feb 6, 2012
AVPGuerilla:

I have a few specific questions -

How much capital is required to run the business? Coming from a guy who knows precisely dk about internet companies, I'd imagine very little. I'm really just curious.

Are you sole owner? If not, do you have equity investors? In short - what's WSO's capital structure?

How many hours a week do you spend working on this?

How much do you pay the career folks that work for WSO doing mock interviews? PM me if you're looking for more.

All said, do you feel the (lifestyle) reward of going for a "web 2.0" career was worth whatever you gave up by leaving banking/PE?

Capital - depends on the month, but we have never taken out any loans and have never brought in any outside investors. I always made sure we were spending less than we were bringing in, but I have put a significant amount of $s back into the site (and continue to do so) -- some months we are at 80% gross margins, some months closer to 60%.

I am effectively the sole owner - my dad owns a small stake...he asked to help buy out my initial partner that helped me launch iBankingOasis.com (my initial partner was getting his phD from MIT so didnt have the time to work on it as much as I did). I didn't need the $ but thought it would be nice to have someone that could listen to me bitch about all the issues on the business. My dad, although he knows very little about the internet, has been a good ear for 4+ years now.

My work week is also very flexible. When I was in Argentina I was doing between 30-50hrs per week unless I was traveling, then sometimes it would drop to 20. The last several months I am clocking in more around 60-70 hour weeks...I'm back in Boston and I have a girlfriend that is really busy (resident), so it gives me more time to work on WSO.

If you are interested in becoming a Wall Street Mentor please e-mail [email protected]. He runs that side of the business for me and can give you all the details.

I 100% feel the lifestyle reward was worth the switch, but I caution people from just jumping. You have to remember that ibankingoasis / WSO was small (but growing) for 3-4 years before we started pulling in enough revenue where I thought this could legitimately be a full time job. A lot of people ask, "how could you take that risk?" and leave PE behind.... I tell them #1 it wasn't that big of a risk. By the time I was graduating from Wharton, we were already bringing in enough revenue that I did not have to be uncomfortable or live off of Ramen noodles. so is it risky that I run a web 2.0 business? I guess, but I also like the skills that I am building managing a large team and picking up other skills (SEO, sales, adwords, etc) - I think these are transferable to a lot of business should things with WSO ever go downhill.

Point is, I've put in a lot of work to WSO but it doesn't feel like work to me because it has been so much fun to see it grow from nothing into the great resource that it is now. There is also STILL so much more we can do (and are doing) to get better content in front of our members & visitors, develop better products (technical PE interview guide and updated Tech guide coming soon, WSO Video Library), better services (WSO Job Board, Wall Street Mentors, WSO resume review) and overall develop a better structure for consuming and discovering content within WSO (WSO Company Database, WSO Finance Dictionary, FAQs, etc.).

We will keep working hard to make sure WSO is the best resource for finance careers out there, but we will also never lose our identity as a fun place to network and meet other people in similar situations to yourself. So that's the long answer to the question, but I'm very excited about where we are going in the next few years - and yes, I love the lifestyle and the freedom working for myself allows, but it can also be very stressful at times.

Hopefully that answers your questions....

    • 1
Feb 10, 2012

I was just wondering what are the main costs of running WSO? Hosting server? Bandwidth? Writers salary? Site admin?

WallStreetOasis.com:
AVPGuerilla:

I have a few specific questions -

How much capital is required to run the business? Coming from a guy who knows precisely dk about internet companies, I'd imagine very little. I'm really just curious.

Are you sole owner? If not, do you have equity investors? In short - what's WSO's capital structure?

How many hours a week do you spend working on this?

How much do you pay the career folks that work for WSO doing mock interviews? PM me if you're looking for more.

All said, do you feel the (lifestyle) reward of going for a "web 2.0" career was worth whatever you gave up by leaving banking/PE?

Capital - depends on the month, but we have never taken out any loans and have never brought in any outside investors. I always made sure we were spending less than we were bringing in, but I have put a significant amount of $s back into the site (and continue to do so) -- some months we are at 80% gross margins, some months closer to 60%.

I am effectively the sole owner - my dad owns a small stake...he asked to help buy out my initial partner that helped me launch iBankingOasis.com (my initial partner was getting his phD from MIT so didnt have the time to work on it as much as I did). I didn't need the $ but thought it would be nice to have someone that could listen to me bitch about all the issues on the business. My dad, although he knows very little about the internet, has been a good ear for 4+ years now.

My work week is also very flexible. When I was in Argentina I was doing between 30-50hrs per week unless I was traveling, then sometimes it would drop to 20. The last several months I am clocking in more around 60-70 hour weeks...I'm back in Boston and I have a girlfriend that is really busy (resident), so it gives me more time to work on WSO.

If you are interested in becoming a Wall Street Mentor please e-mail [email protected]. He runs that side of the business for me and can give you all the details.

I 100% feel the lifestyle reward was worth the switch, but I caution people from just jumping. You have to remember that ibankingoasis / WSO was small (but growing) for 3-4 years before we started pulling in enough revenue where I thought this could legitimately be a full time job. A lot of people ask, "how could you take that risk?" and leave PE behind.... I tell them #1 it wasn't that big of a risk. By the time I was graduating from Wharton, we were already bringing in enough revenue that I did not have to be uncomfortable or live off of Ramen noodles. so is it risky that I run a web 2.0 business? I guess, but I also like the skills that I am building managing a large team and picking up other skills (SEO, sales, adwords, etc) - I think these are transferable to a lot of business should things with WSO ever go downhill.

Point is, I've put in a lot of work to WSO but it doesn't feel like work to me because it has been so much fun to see it grow from nothing into the great resource that it is now. There is also STILL so much more we can do (and are doing) to get better content in front of our members & visitors, develop better products (technical PE interview guide and updated Tech guide coming soon, WSO Video Library), better services (WSO Job Board, Wall Street Mentors, WSO resume review) and overall develop a better structure for consuming and discovering content within WSO (WSO Company Database, WSO Finance Dictionary, FAQs, etc.).

We will keep working hard to make sure WSO is the best resource for finance careers out there, but we will also never lose our identity as a fun place to network and meet other people in similar situations to yourself. So that's the long answer to the question, but I'm very excited about where we are going in the next few years - and yes, I love the lifestyle and the freedom working for myself allows, but it can also be very stressful at times.

Hopefully that answers your questions....

Feb 6, 2012

@WSO - what are you doing full-time these days? Are your hands full with WSO, or are you still in PE?

Feb 6, 2012
dudguy:

@WSO - what are you doing full-time these days? Are your hands full with WSO, or are you still in PE?

full time WSO.

Feb 6, 2012

Hey great series guys. Patrick I was wondering if you could talk about the initial development of the site a bit more. I know there is a part 2 tomorrow so I'll ask a few questions after reading that. Thanks.

Feb 6, 2012
FlySoHigh:

Hey great series guys. Patrick I was wondering if you could talk about the initial development of the site a bit more. I know there is a part 2 tomorrow so I'll ask a few questions after reading that. Thanks.

feel free to ask away in Part II tomorrow and I'll do my best.

Thanks

Feb 6, 2012

"Why not? We'll all be dead in 60 years anyways. I plan to enjoy the ride as much as I can."

That is a sick quote Patrick, respect.

Feb 6, 2012

How about a mobile version of the site?

Feb 6, 2012
SF_Reg:

How about a mobile version of the site?

we had one but it was still very buggy in chrome...was pulling up the mobile version on desktops for users using chrome sometimes + mobile version of site was getting into cache and displaying for anonymous visitors as well.

That is why we have also considered going the mobile app route instead of the mobile site route, but there are really no good cross platform solutions that we have been able to find within our budget that wouldnt take a lot of maintenence.

I know we 100% have to go mobile eventually, I am just doing more research and hoping that we either have an easier way to develop a mobiel app across platforms (have been looking into PhoneGap HTML5, but again, who would manage / update these? and the web dev is not cheap to get a good app)

We are still looking for a plug and play solution that will give us cross browser mobile compatibility, allow for users to sign in and post but also not break the bank...not an easy list of requirements.

Feb 6, 2012

Patrick,

Thanks for interacting so candidly. I appreciate what you have accomplished and I honestly think WSO is the best community out there mainly because of anonymity and its top class members.

Can you recommend any readings or programs you took to gain experience for this start-up or did you nose dive?

Regards

Feb 6, 2012
go.with.the.flow:

Patrick,

Thanks for interacting so candidly. I appreciate what you have accomplished and I honestly think WSO is the best community out there mainly because of anonymity and its top class members.

Can you recommend any readings or programs you took to gain experience for this start-up or did you nose dive?

Regards

Was more of a nose-dive, but I recommend mixergy.com to learn from other entrepreneurs and copyblogger.com for good tips on copywriting, etc...

Feb 6, 2012

Also shout out to M Friedman

Feb 6, 2012

Did you read any of Tim Ferriss' materials when you started working on your site? (eg. 4 hour work week?)

It seems that you follow a similar philosophy that's why I ask.

Feb 6, 2012
Unforseen:

Did you read any of Tim Ferriss' materials when you started working on your site? (eg. 4 hour work week?)

It seems that you follow a similar philosophy that's why I ask.

yeah, i read 4HWW about 3-4 years ago and I used the same philosophies to run my business. It really did help me make the backend of WSO MUCH more efficient. I try to give the people that work on WSO as much freedom and decision making power as possible since I hate being a bottleneck and I enjoy having more time to interact with the community ....so I can figure out what is working and what needs improvement.

Feb 6, 2012

Fantastic interview. Would definitely like an interview with ANT as well.

  • Commuter
  •  Feb 6, 2012

greatest story ever told

Feb 7, 2012

Hi Patrick,

Thanks for sharing with us. I'm relatively new to this site and I honestly believe it's one of the best community with experienced individuals sharing their advice. Do appreciate all that.

Quick question. Currently, I'm in the equity capital markets side and highly interested in moving into the PE side. What are the chances like, how would you advise/recommend me the skills that i need to build to increase my chances further? Understand one of the skills are financial modelling skills - what are the best way to build strong modelling skills as my current job does not involve much of it?

Thanks.

Feb 7, 2012

Great interview. The following mixergy interview with Patrick also capture's WSO's story: http://blip.tv/mixergy/patrick-curtis-wallstreetoa...
I think an interview with Bondarb, Flake, monty09 or Brady4MVP would be awesome.

Patrick, there is an often quoted statistic along the lines of "80% of entreprepreneurial ventures fail within their first year of inception." I'm also confident that there must have been at least a handful of individuals who blatantly dismissed WSO's feasibility as a business with a cocksure "it's not going to work" remark during your initial days after launching. Did you ever feel that having having a co-founder to partner with would have helped reduce the burden and prevented some of the aforementioned noise from getting in the way of your pursuit to build a great community?

Feb 7, 2012

CoolStoryBro

Get it!

Sep 24, 2014
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