In another life, Reto Bolliger might have been the lead singer for Zurich’s answer to the Sex Pistols. As it was, he ended up at Goldman Sachs.
“I played around 50 gigs as the front man for a band that started out as punk and evolved into heavy rock,” he says. “After the band broke up, I had a sideline of DJing for student parties and electronic parties across Zurich which helped me pay the bills as a student.”
Pogoing aside, Bolliger’s passion for music was so strong that it led him to study the Science of Music at the University of Zurich. But, after a year he realised it was a bad idea and switched his major to the more sensible option of Banking and Finance.
This is how he got his first job in cross-asset derivative sales at Goldman Sachs in London. Six years later, he took the opportunity to return to his rocking past by launching Hypesong, a tech start-up that links record labels to emerging new artists.
“I received the ED title before I left, but practically in sales that does not mean that much,” he says. “Regardless of your title, your budget increases every year and you get more PnL responsibility. Simultaneously, your salary increases which makes exiting harder and harder.”
In other words, once you’re sucked into the world of six figure salaries and plentiful bonuses in investment banking, it becomes scary to leave. Bolliger has also swapped the hustle and bustle of the trading floor for working for himself in shared office spaces in Shoreditch, East London.
“The biggest downside is the smaller salary, but adapting to that was actually easier than I expected,” he says. “When I worked in banking I took taxis everywhere, lived in an overpriced flat and rarely looked at the bill in restaurants. Now, I live in a cheaper flat, and sometimes look at the bill...”
Bolliger has now handed over the reins to Hypesong and instead launched a holiday company called Follow Alice. The idea, he says, is to target millennials looking for ‘experiences’ that they can easily share on social media, rather than the older generation who’d have been happy with a package deal on the beach. Right now, it’s offering the chance to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, but the plan is to increase the number of options in the near future.
“There’s obviously a huge risk starting a company – around 70-80% fail. Also, your salary is basically just covering your living costs and if your venture fails, you come out flat at best,” he says.
"But it’s still better than sitting it out hoping to get rich in banking. “You have almost unlimited upside potential through the equity in the company. I prefer that to being stuck in a salary band. I see the uncertainty of potential outcomes as a very enriching life proposition,” he says.
Investment banks are losing both junior and senior staff who leave to start their own businesses. Most never return, but Bolliger believes that investment banks should welcome back former employees with start-up experience.
“A key driver of success in a start-up is researching extensively, gathering as much intelligence as possible and changing direction quickly if you are on the wrong track,” he says. “If you don’t adjust and learn at a very fast pace you’re bankrupt before you start. Banks are large corporates with deep pockets and they can afford being on the wrong track for longer.”
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