Becoming an entrepreneur sounds appealing, but as many investment bankers and traders who have made the switch can contest, it’s a move that can end up consuming your life. For Janny Kul, who left his bond trading job at Bank of America Merrill Lynch this year to kick-start what he calls the “Instagram of fashion”, moving from finance to start-up founder hasn’t been a huge lifestyle shift.
“Working in finance is great, it gives you access to an impressive support group, a strong network, a mentor, but it isn’t a career so much as a lifestyle choice,” he says. “A normal day consists of a 1 hour round trip commute, 12 hours at your desk, 3 hours on a client meal and around 5 hours of sleep. By the weekend, your family and friends would just be left with the dregs of you.”
Kul launched Stylezz earlier this year, which he says is “clothing inspiration, delivered”. It essentially allows users to see examples of people’s outfits and then go on to buy the products if they feel inspired to do so. He’s also launching another product involving artificial intelligence, which he says is “top secret” right now. “I come from a family of entrepreneurs, this was always supposed to be where I ended up,” he says.
Kul was a VP when he left his trading job in February and had over a six-year career trading bonds at both Citi and BAML. In theory, he’s the sort of young, millennial candidate to move swiftly up the ranks as juniorisation takes hold of the trading floor. However, he says the whole promotion process is not as simple as it seems.
“The juniorisation theme depends on asset class and bank tier. If it’s a complex product, a more relationship-based business (OTC), and a profitable bank, this generally won’t be the case – they’d be pretty committed to keeping talent around. I could certainly see less profitable banks following this theme though,” he says.
He says getting promoted quickly is dependent on three things – how hot your product is, how few people in the bank are able to trade that product and, most importantly, how well you’ve played the internal politics game.
“The simplest example is if you traded sovereign derivatives (few people really understood CDS) through the Greek crisis (hugely en-vogue) at a bank where senior people supported you then your entire career has just been made right there,” he says. “At Citi I was a profitable trader and I had better client relationships than most MD’s at other houses. I asked to be promoted internally and it was denied, so I looked elsewhere.”
Kul is now 29 and says that he’s been around “smart, hardworking people” since he started university at Kings College when he was 18. “You get used to the energy and buzz of over-achievers striving to achieve something great,” he says. “What you don’t realise as soon as you step out of the industry is not everyone is like that. Not everyone is naturally able and gifted to do a role well. Not everyone is incredibly smart. Not everyone wants to give 110% every single day. Not everyone is willing to put extra hours in required to meet timelines.”
This has been most evident when he’s tried to hire someone for his new venture: “You end up spending a lot of your time looking for those rock-stars. I believe you should always do more than is expected of you, finding people like that on such a tight, fixed budget is pretty tough. One good engineer will cost you twice the amount of an average one but he’ll be able to do five times the work. I’m only interested in building a company with rock-stars,” he says.
Funding for Kul’s new business has come from angel investors. He says that he pitched to 13 firms around the time he left banking and 11 came on board. “We’ll be looking to bring on a leading VC in 4-5 months for the next fundraise to help with building contacts within the tech space,” he says.
Kul says that he “loved” his time working in finance, but that he’s unlikely to go back again. “The reality is that if you compare a trading seat at a tier one house versus, say, a tech seat at Google, pay is pretty much the same. Prestige, Google wins. Perks, Google wins. Working hours, Google wins. Location (you can live in LA!), Google Wins.”