This week I am joined by Patrick Curtis, founder of Wall Street Oasis. Wall Street Oasis serves more than 2 million people per month through its free discussion forums and its premium online courses all related to finance careers. Over the last decade, Patrick has built Wall Street Oasis into the largest online community focused on careers in finance.
This week I am joined by Patrick Curtis, founder of Wall Street Oasis. Wall Street Oasis serves more than 2 million people per month through its free discussion forums and its premium online courses all related to finance careers. Over the last decade, Patrick has built Wall Street Oasis into the largest online community focused on careers in finance.
Patrick built Wall Street Oasis as a safety net after he was terminated from his job. Wall Street Oasis began as a backup plan, but Patrick soon realized that there were many in the Investment Banking world who would find value in hearing what it was really like to work in the industry before committing their entire career to it.
Entrepreneurship takes courage because, like Patrick shared, there will be moments where your mission and goals seem so much greater than you think you are capable of pulling off. Sometimes that courage comes from someone else. That is the power of community, like the one Patrick built with Wall Street Oasis and what I hope to build here with The Startup Story.
Of course, every founder’s story has a beginning. And, for Patrick, it was crystal clear for him where his journey began… This is Patrick Curtis’ startup story.
“It takes a special breed to deal with the day-to-day grind to be an entrepreneur. I think anyone could be an entrepreneur, but I DON’T think everyone should be.”
—Patrick Curtis, Wall Street Oasis
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Special Guest: Patrick Curtis.
The Startup Story - Patrick Curtis
Patrick Curtis: Hi, this is Patrick Curtis, CEO and founder of Wall Street Oasis, and this is MY startup story.
Every wildfire began with a spark. Every superhero has an origin story. And every single startup has a moment that they point to as their beginning. And every founder has a purpose that drove them in the midst of all obstacles. THAT is The Startup Story.
James McKinney: Before we jump into this week's episode, I want to say thank you to the team at Fuse Dynamic Workspace for allowing me to use their podcast studio to record this episode. If you ever find yourself in the Dallas, Texas area, make sure to visit workatfuse.com. Each week I read an iTunes review, and as an extension of gratitude, I asked everyone to insert a micro ad for their business so that they get some exposure to my audience. Many times people take me up on it, many times they don't. Nevertheless, this week's iTunes review comes from Ahmed Sabiani. He gave the show a five star rating and wrote, "A must listen to podcast. Kudos to James. You are amazing. Thanks for putting together wonderful episodes. This podcast is very addicting. Every episode is unique and shows how entrepreneurs overcome obstacles and challenges to make their dreams come true. - Ahmed Sabiani with livecart.ai."
Well, first off Ahmed, thank you for the kind words and for taking the time to write a review on Apple Podcast. Those reviews really do matter. Secondly, I visited I visited livecart.ai and I love that you're trying to bring value to shoppers, restaurants, and grocers while trying to reduce food waste. I applaud your vision on this and I hope The Startup Story audience will visit livecart.ai to learn more.
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Our guest this week is Patrick Curtis, founder of Wall Street Oasis which can be found at wallstreetoasis.com. Over the last decade, Patrick has built Wall Street Oasis into the largest online community focused on careers in finance. Wall Street Oasis serves more than 2 million people per month through its free discussion forums and premium online courses all related to finance careers. What I love about Patrick's story is that he built Wall Street Oasis as a safety net because of a career moment where he was terminated. He started working on Wall Street Oasis so that he had a backup plan should that ever happen again. And as he began building it out, he realized that there were many, many people like him in the investment banking world that would find value in hearing what it was really like in that industry before committing their entire career to it.
Well, he was right. There are over 2 million people every month that find value in that information. Patrick's journey is encouraging to me personally because what he has built with Wall Street Oasis is similar to what I want to build with The Startup Story: build a community of individuals that are walking the same journey, deliver value to each of them, and facilitate ways for them to deliver value to each other. All right, sorry for the man-crush moment. I just love meeting with founders that are laser focused on delivering value to their customers and community. And one of the common questions that we often talk about after the microphones shut off is the discussion about the role our family upbringing plays in our entrepreneurial journey. Well, for Patrick it was crystal clear for him where his journey began.
Patrick Curtis: I definitely think there's something to be said about genetics. I think my dad's dad, my grandfather, did run his own business. He was a sea captain, sailed around the world 27 times so kind of an interesting guy. He was born in 1896, had my father when he was older. So just kind of an odd… and my dad was never an entrepreneur. Well, he was in a sense. He ran his own medical practice so he did have to manage employees, have all the stress that comes along with trying to fire employees, hire employees, deal with all those stresses. And I think seeing that didn't really, at least at a young age, didn't influence me to think, "Oh, I'm going to be an entrepreneur." I think it was maybe more a little bit later in life when I had some struggles in my early career that I thought maybe I need to build something for myself to kind of protect myself. It was more at a later career. In my childhood, I did have a few things now looking back I haven't even thought of this for so long.
James McKinney: That's why we do this.
Patrick Curtis: I think I sold fudge with a friend of mine door to door. I think people bought it out of pity, not out of actually wanting to eat some random fudge.
James McKinney: The childhood hustle is like the easiest hustle ever in our lives because the cute factor sells all the time.
Patrick Curtis: So I don't know if it would fly today, but yeah we went door to door. That was fun. Still, I was kind of a happy go lucky kid, pretty low stress. Grew up in I'd say an upper middle class. You know, my dad was a doctor so he had a pretty good income. My mom was a teacher and so I didn't go through a lot of struggles and see them at least financially. My dad did lose his job early on and so we had to tighten our belts a little bit and eat at the cafeteria that my mom was at. But for a kid, you don't really realize that I think.
James McKinney: When you said your dad lost his job, was this the medical practice he built or-
Patrick Curtis: Yeah, he was a partner and was fired basically. He had been hired and so I think early on, seeing a little bit of that maybe there was some subconscious things going on.
James McKinney: Well it's hard not to let it affect us. We may not recognize it as a kid, but it definitely plays a role. As you navigating your childhood and being the fudge-preneur that you were at the time, at the end of your high school years because high school is a natural chapter for us. It's where we've got to put on our big boy drawers and figure out what we want to do with our life, and so what was your next step? Did you know what you wanted to do with your life at the end of high school?
Patrick Curtis: Absolutely not. I had no clue. I was so sheltered and so protected. A little bit of the it's not your typical I'm an immigrant mentality and I had to we had no money. It was very much I went to a private school. The one thing I'll say is that being around incredibly smart friends and driven people taught me early on work ethic. I don't exaggerate, we had between five and seven hours of homework every single night, and we had classes on Saturday. It was harder than college by far.
James McKinney: Wow.
Patrick Curtis: So from a young age, you get disciplined in terms of here's how I have to structure my day, I have to manage my time well, I have sports, I have this, I have that. I think if it taught me anything, early on I realized I could do this. I always was very, my personality was always very relaxed. So my mother was always like, "Just wait until you get there, you're not going to survive." I'm like, "I'll be fine, I'll be fine." So I've always been like a little of the more go with the flow personality, so it's good to push myself and to put myself in uncomfortable situations because that's when I really grow. Otherwise I can just get a little bit into the day by day routine and flow, and just go down the river wherever it may lead me.
James McKinney: So at the end of high school, what was your next step?
Patrick Curtis: So I think like 99% of the people from my high school go to college, so that was just the traditional thing. I started applying. Ended up going to Williams College, Williamstown, Mass., middle of nowhere. They call it the Purple Valley and our mascot is the cow, a purple cow, go Ephs to give you an idea. It's one of these small liberal arts colleges that's very tough to get into. Academically elite. One of these things where it allowed me more time to figure out what I really wanted to do and to push myself academically, so I was an economics major, write a thesis, all that good stuff. But there was still nothing in me at that point that was hey I'm going to be an entrepreneur. It was really more like hm, what am I going to do after school so I don't have to rely on my parents anymore? Because at this point, there was a little bit of guilt knowing that they paid so much money for my schooling. You realize that. They're not hiding that from you. You're just thinking oh no, what can I do?
So I think this is what happens to a lot of kids and we see it on Wall Street Oasis too. Basically when you don't know what to do, a lot of kids fall into the safest path. They go down the safest route, especially for hardworking kids who are academically successful. They'll go down the safe route. To me, I started talking to people, hey have you heard of investment banking, and I said no, what's that? This by the way was like my junior year, which if people waited until junior year nowadays they would have no shot. This was back in '01 I think, so basically I said, "What's that?" He said, "Well you can get paid $70,000 right out of school. I'm like what? $70,000 that's amazing, so let me look into that. If we're being honest, it was really just my personality flowing again to, "That sounds interesting."
James McKinney: What were the people around you doing? Because you talk about your high school years you're around driven individuals. Like Jim Rhone says, we are the average of the five we hang out with the most. The people we run with matter. So in college, who were you running with? What were they accomplishing? What were they doing?
Patrick Curtis: Well a lot of my friends from high school were at MIT getting like PhD's and masters. We were uber nerds, you know what I mean? And then so when I was at Williams, my best friends were like athletes but going into management consulting and investment banking, it's a small, tiny school but it feeds into this, and some still staying in academia and doing a little bit more actually good for the world. But so it was a very common path coming out of there. Again, I had no thoughts of I want to go start my own business. Entrepreneurship at that stage wasn't really a glorified thing like it is I think today a little bit. For me, it was more what can I do that's the quickest route to maybe going, living in the city, being independent from my parents so that I cannot be a burden anymore at least financially.
James McKinney: Yeah. What year was this by the way? Let's put a timestamp on that is.
Patrick Curtis: This was '02. It was actually crazy because right after 9/11 was kind of the whole recruiting was happening. It went from like 100 companies coming onto campus to recruit down to 30 within a month. Everyone cancelling.
James McKinney: It's kind of crazy to think about that side of 9/11 with the tragedy and the loss of life, how the companies especially public companies still move forward. You talk about the recruiting side and it's like wow, I never thought about that side of that event.
Patrick Curtis: We were kind of in this bubble, isolated. It seemed so surreal. I remember that morning, I think everyone remembers it in terms of where they were, and being the type of person that I was, I don't really deal with stuff like that very well. Not in the sense of I don't internalize it so much, I think I keep up a little bit of a "Oh yeah, that's crazy" and just keep going through my day. I got to class and people were there, people just going to class just to be together. So it wasn't even a function but for me I was like, "Okay, everything is going to be okay. We've just got to keep going." It was surreal. In terms of recruiting, after a few months you say wait a second, I still need a job. And so it was one of those things where the realities of the economy going into recession, everything going down and potentially going to war today, I remember it was suddenly a very kind of dark time where there's a lot of uncertainty. If anything, it just pushed people more in the direction of certainty, in the direction of let me get something safe.
James McKinney: So why investment banking though? I know you're an easy going guy and someone happened to suggest it, like have you considered investment banking, and that tends to be how some decisions are made, especially for young men. Suggestions are highly influential in our life. Other than suggestion, because right in 2002, we're not in the recession, we're six years out of it but there were a lot of things happening in the financial world at that time.
Patrick Curtis: Yeah, the dot com bubble and all of that.
James McKinney: So why investment banking for you?
Patrick Curtis: I think it was really just a function of the career center, really what the connections were, what companies were coming on campus. It really was like the path of least resistance. I'm not going to sell it as if I had some sort of grand plan or anything. I did interview for management consulting as well, but given how competitive it was and those interviews are a whole other story. Those are like you've got to prep like crazy, case interviews and all this stuff whereas investment banking, that's one thing I would say I was not prepared. I think like you, you're kind of a more natural sales person. I felt very comfortable going into an interview and I'm going to have a conversation with these people. It doesn't cut it. It doesn't cut it for these types of interviews. They grill you. I eventually did, I was able to secure an offer for an investment banking analyst position at Rothschild, but it happened to be my 20th or 30th, like one of my last ones, and I think that's not a coincidence. I think it's because I had the ranks with the others, and I was like oh no.
James McKinney: So being I believe that every step really sets us up for ultimately where we get to, what was your time at Rothschild like and what were some of the key takeaways from your time at Rothschild that you now look back on that that helped me to get to where I am today?
Patrick Curtis: Rothschild was both incredibly challenging, painful, gut punch after gut punch-
James McKinney: Oh wow.
Patrick Curtis: … but also in the long run good for me. I remember within the first few months, and this is remember you're how old now, 22 years old coming out of school. You think you know everything. You think you're a hotshot.
James McKinney: You're full of hope too.
Patrick Curtis: yeah, full of hope, you've got an investment banking job, you're getting paid, you're not living… you're not on the parents dime anymore. You're in the big city so you think the world is your oyster. So you get in there and you work there for a 70 hour week and like okay, that was tough. By the way, I had been working from high school through college, I had juggled a lot so I was very confident I could handle this. Oh, they work a lot? Okay, watch. So I get in there and man it will crush your soul if you let it. It's a simple fact of the industry if you're a hard worker, they will take every ounce that you can give because it's just the function.
It's a sales job. The people at the top are under enormous stress to keep bringing new clients, so when it comes to pitching for new clients or pitching new decks and creating new presentations, it flows down hill. And it piles up so you could be there an unlimited amount of hours. Part of it's a little bit of a hazing culture where they went through it so now you're going to go through it. Part of it is just the simple it's a client facing job, so it's when the client says something Friday afternoon, you're there all weekend, and that's just how it is.
To give you an example, I'd get calls at 3 or 4 in the morning while I'm still in the office, from my managing director who was what probably my age, 40 or 45 at the time, had kids. Calling into the analyst to fix, go through a pitch deck. So he'd be like, "Page 33." I'm like, "Yep." He's like, "Footnote number 6, we need a comma after that." And I'm thinking to myself, it's literally this tiny font he was correcting the punctuation in a footnote on 150 page deck.
James McKinney: Oh my goodness.
Patrick Curtis: That was a little bit of an extreme example, but really I think was a microcosm of the entire, how the industry works. There's so much attention to detail. There's so much fear like one little mistake is going to cost you millions of dollars in fees, so there's just like this incredible focus on presentation, on perfection. So the couple things that I took away from Rothschild number one was probably just the ability to take a lot of pain and sleep deprivation. Maybe I'll say three things. Two, I became incredibly proficient in Excel and PowerPoint which is valuable.
James McKinney: That's awesome.
Patrick Curtis: And three, I think it was one of those things where, well I don't have a third. I don't know what my third was.
James McKinney: How long into your Rothschild journey did you know this is not what you wanted to do for the rest of your life? Or did you convince yourself that it probably wasn't the industry, it's probably just Rothschild?
Patrick Curtis: I think I knew at that point it wasn't Rothschild. I had heard stories and talked to friends. It was well known. I think it's just it was one thing to hear about working an 80 to 100 hour work, it's another thing to go through it. When you're there Friday afternoon, it's 5 o'clock and you think you're getting out and you have worked 80 hours already that week, and then they throw some stuff and say, "We've got to get this out tomorrow morning ina book," it is just… I remember I actually was emotionally unstable. And I'm the most stable emotional… not emotionally unstable where I was crying or anything like that, but I could feel myself getting worked up when I could leave that Friday, and I just wanted just give me some sleep. So it will push you. It'll push your physical boundary. Not like it's actual boot camp in the military or anything that hard.
James McKinney: It's not waterboarding.
Patrick Curtis: It's not waterboarding but it is sleep deprivation. The industry has made some changes interesting he last several years to try and make it more attractive, because they have a huge problem with attrition. Now, private equity firms are just stealing all the best kids out of investment banking very fast. They're using investment banks to do all the recruiting for them, and then the private equity funds come in and say, "Hey, you only have to work 60 hours and the work is more interesting, and you're buying and selling companies."
James McKinney: That's awesome.
Patrick Curtis: That's what has been happening. It's almost gone so far in one direction where people are putting private equity on such a pedestal that I think it's gone too far in the sense of people are leaving really good opportunities if they just stayed with the bank.
James McKinney: What was your next step after Rothschild though? Here you are, your soul is dying slowly. You're there for how long?
Patrick Curtis: I'm there for two years. At about a year and a half, and again this goes to my similar personality, one of my fellow analysts said, "Have you heard of private equity?" Of course, I still hadn't heard of anything. So I said, "Yeah, heard of hedge funds, private equity. Tell me about this private equity thing more. What is it leveraged by?" Okay, yeah so they buy and sell companies for a profit, okay got it. So he's like, "Yeah, use this study material or you're not going to get the job." And so he gave me like this whole primer on LDOs, leveraged buy outs and all that stuff, so I studied up on that. Started applying my second year, got some interviews. Really wanted to get back to Boston because I was in New York. I had a lot of my high school buddies were still back there, so I wanted to get back there. Ended up getting a job with a fund called Heritage Partners. It was funny because again you get that job offer, you think okay now things are going to get better, now things are going to change. I was in for a rude awakening soon after that. I don't know if you want me to go into that now.
James McKinney: Every chapter there is a cycle. We go into a lot of different chapters with just a tremendous amount of hope. Even still, we haven't gotten into Wall Street Oasis which is your current venture but that begins with hope, and yet it's short lived often times and we have to grind through things. At Heritage Partners, what was that journey like for you?
Patrick Curtis: So I started and now I've got to say going from being told when you can go to the bathroom to being told nothing is actually a pretty rough t4ransition.
James McKinney: Oh my goodness.
Patrick Curtis: So I go from basically investment banking where you have an associate or a senior analyst or somebody being like, "Okay, we've got to do t his, we've got to do this, fire drill," working these crazy hours to quiet office, 15 investment professionals. Going in, I'm like what is going on? So it was tough for me because in private equity they expect you to kind of just step up and do things. That's it, you're driving it. Very much like, "Hey, I need to go do this, I need to go do that." So I think that was a little bit tough for me. But it was my first review right around the holidays, I think it was right around Thanksgiving or right after Thanksgiving where they're like, "Come into the office." I think I'm going to get a $40,000 bonus and I get fired.
James McKinney: Oh man. What year was this?
Patrick Curtis: This was '04, end of '04. So I get fired in my first review. That was like four or five months into the job. Looking back, I shouldn't have been surprised. There were kind of like, "Hey, you need to do some of this, do some of that." I was a hard worker. Rothschild still wanted me to stay so I figured hey, I know how to do the modeling, I can do all this stuff. And it was a huge hit to my confidence. A huge hit. Maybe I don't know what I'm doing, why don't they want me, all these things started going through my head, and they wouldn't tell me. So the interesting part is I get into that room where you think you're getting the bonus check and they're like, "Here's a $10,000 check to go away and sign this piece of paper."
James McKinney: Oh man.
Patrick Curtis: I didn't take the check. I didn't sign the paper.
James McKinney: I hope you're enjoying this episode of The Startup Story. Throughout the month of January we are highlighting the mission of Destiny Rescue. For just $1,500 we can save a girl out of the sex trafficking industry. Think about that, for just $1,500 we can completely change the future for a young girl. My hope is t hat all of us, the entire Startup Story community, the tens of thousands of listeners, can come together to save not just one girl but to save 10 girls during the month of January. That's just $15,000. So throughout this month, across our shows and social channels you will see calls to action to get involved and contribute. Visit thestartupstory.co/rescue to help today. We will also include a link in the show notes. When you see these posts, share them across your profiles. Let's see what this community can do to help save girls out of sex trafficking. Now, let's get back to our episode.
Patrick Curtis: To me, it was more like I wanted to know more. I don't know why I wouldn't sign it. It was almost like the $10,000 meant nothing to me because it was about my career. What was I going to say? What was I going to do? How was I going to recover from that is because it looks horrible?
James McKinney: So it wasn't a pride thing as to why you didn't sign it and take the check. It was-
Patrick Curtis: I'm a little stubborn too, but yeah maybe a little pride. Also just trying to get information. If I sign this, there's clauses in there saying you can't say this, you can't say that. So I can talk about it now. I didn't sign anything. So my point was I got out of there and immediately I started talking to people and trying to figure out what was going on. They were very much like, "Well, just don't think it's a good fit," blah, blah, blah. I was lucky because my network saved me.
There was a guy I worked with at Rothschild who happened to be at another private equity fund. He vouched for me, got me an interview. This was, before we even get there I had reached… I was a good interviewer. I reached final rounds at three other private equity firms in Boston. I wanted to stay in Boston. And every time I had the offer in hand, the recruiter's like, "You've got this, it's done, they're just checking your references, so they're going to call Heritage." I'm like, "Okay, cool. I think they're just going to, I don't know. I think it's fine." But because I hadn't signed that form, all Heritage would say is, "Yes , he worked here, these are the dates," and click. And that's it, so huge red flag. So I got three offers basically rescinded at the last stage to the point where the recruiter says to me, "I don't know what to tell you man, I think you're blackballed from private equity in Boston." He literally said this to me.
James McKinney: Oh no.
Patrick Curtis: Yeah, because he was shocked even by the third time, I got all the way to the end again. Because I had look it's just a fit issue, to be honest, blah, blah, blah. And to be honest I didn't know. I didn't know why I got fired. Turns out, so end up getting another job in private equity going back to New York, which I didn't want to do.
James McKinney: So you were only back in Boston for a few months.
Patrick Curtis: Six months, yeah. Job searching for another three months, so seven or eight months, something like that. So had to go back to New York, sell a car I had just bought.
James McKinney: Oh man.
Patrick Curtis: Yeah. Luckily a guy, a fellow analyst at Rothschild vouched for me and got me an interview there and I just explained to them, "Look, I think it was just a fit issue. I'm a really hard worker." So I think they liked the story and they were willing to take a chance on me, and I'm forever grateful.
James McKinney: So you left Rothschild because your soul was being drained and you were working 80+ hours. Went to private equity, that was short-lived, still don't really know why and how it happened. You went back to Rothschild?
Patrick Curtis: No, I actually went to a private equity fund that a Rothschild colleague was at.
James McKinney: Got it, got it.
Patrick Curtis: So he had left and he vouched for me to get me in there. I wanted to stay private equity. I didn't want to go back to banking.
James McKinney: Got it okay. So what was that experience like? What was the name of that private equity firm and what was that experience like?
Patrick Curtis: Tailwind Capital and it was amazing. So first off, the guy who kind of got me that interview I'm forever grateful to him. His name is Jason Scheer. He's now like head of Apollo something, alternative investment. He's done extremely well, not surprising, but he took a little bit of a risk to say, "Hey this guy is good." He knew I had worked my ass off at Rothschild so he knew I could handle it. But they brought me in and it was actually great. It was 60 hour weeks, 50 to 60 even so it felt like a vacation still compare to what was going through before, and to the point where I started building Wall Street Oasis on the side. So it was called I Banking Oasis back in the day, and the reason for that was it was almost like this itch. It was like I read some Forbes 30 under 30 magazine, I remember that kind of starting a little bit of a spark, and then thinking to myself well what if it happened again? What if I got fired again unexpectedly? How can I be so sure?
James McKinney: What year did you begin working on Wall Street Oasis?
Patrick Curtis: It was I think late 2005 I started discussing it, and then early 2006 we got it live.
James McKinney: You started working on things.
Patrick Curtis: Yeah, yeah.
James McKinney: What was your, again once we unpack Wall Street Oasis in its entirety people will understand kind of how you got to where you are through your journey, but what was your hope with Wall Street Oasis when you started?
Patrick Curtis: I think my hope was to build something that could protect me. To build something that would be useful to other people that were in my situation. They could actually find some information out before making such a critical career decision.
James McKinney: Did you have any financial downfall because of your journey, between from Rothschild to Heritage, back to-
Patrick Curtis: Yeah, I had to dig into savings a little bit in between.
James McKinney: So nothing devastating by any means.
Patrick Curtis: Nothing devastating. I had cleared a few good bonuses at Rothschild so I was okay, and I ended up getting a raise going from Heritage to Tailwind.
James McKinney: So this is really more about just forward thinking-
Patrick Curtis: Forward thinking.
James McKinney: … having been fired, like, "I don't want to be put in that spot again where I'm scrambling trying to figure out."
Patrick Curtis: And a little bit of idle time too. People think oh 50 to 60, but I was single. I had my friends and you have time.
James McKinney: Oh, the twenties are such a year for people to experiment and try. Hold on, for those thinking experiment let's be very clear, I'm talking experimenting with passion points as far as adventures and business ventures, online things, all kinds of things. In our thirties, we begin to refine things as we start settling down with responsibilities and things like that. I'm all about leveraging your twenties to just figuring out what are the things you want to do for the long-term. So you're doing it as a side gig so that you would never really find yourself without income.
Patrick Curtis: Correct.
James McKinney: Nowadays, for a person to start off with that idea would be hard to have longevity in because it's not a very clear vision, right? So at what point did Wall Street Oasis become what it is today?
Patrick Curtis: I was talking to a friend of mine who was getting his PhD at MIT and I said, "I want to start something." And he said, "Well what?" And I said, "Well, we can't really do any sort of like manufacturing business. The only thing I really know well is investment banking because I went through it and I lived it." I said, "But I want it to be kind of fun. I want it to be not some boring career site or anything like that," and I think he maybe had mentioned what about a community, what about an online community. And I think for engineering, he was an engineer, computer science guy, for those people it was very common. In the finance side, it wasn't as common.
I think there were a couple sites out there, but I said, "Oh, that's perfect but let's make it really fun. Let's actually have it be monkeys and bananas," because the monkey business is a very famous book in the industry from back in the day, and it's about those 100 hour weeks and being a monkey in the office. So I thought let's make the theme monkeys, user points will be bananas, and when you have a download it's monkey shit getting thrown at you. So that's what we wanted. I said, "Let's make it fun."
I think initially, I think in the back of my head if I'm being honest it wasn't so much like I'm going to build this big empire to protect myself. It was a little bit like I just think it's smart to build something that potentially could become something real down the line. At least start trying.
James McKinney: Yeah, and I agree. I think in today's day and age, everyone should have some type of side hustle. We all are created to create, and there's so many ways to monetize that. There's so many ways.
Patrick Curtis: But you learn, even if you fail you learn so much.
James McKinney: Yes, you do.
Patrick Curtis: You learn so much in the process. It's funny because it's really my first business that I created and I've created others after that and they've failed. It's funny because my first one actually worked out and the others have not.
James McKinney: That's awesome. So what is, for our listeners, what is Wall Street Oasis?
Patrick Curtis: Sure. So Wall Street Oasis is the largest online community focused on careers in finance in the world.
James McKinney: And finance, that's accounting, investment banking, private equity?
Patrick Curtis: Yeah, more high finance. Private equity, hedge funds, VC, management trading, that kind of stuff.
James McKinney: Got it. And what is the business model? Because people in your community, there's lots of ways that could be unpacked in the listeners ears. What is your business model?
Patrick Curtis: Well you can think of it like when you're trying to think community, you can think of it like a Reddit or like an anonymous Facebook for finance. You can think of it like that in terms of how it's structured, the forums, and all that good stuff. In terms of how we monetize, early on it was very much ads like banner ads just to bring in some revenue. Once we joined a vertical ad network in the finance space, I remember it bumped our CPM from Google ads from $1 up to like $5 which is a huge win for us. $5 extra revenue. Back in 2009 we started releasing our own interview courses specifically for these industries, and we started developing more products and services, so like a resume review service, a mentor service where students or young professionals can connect with a mentor, pay for hours whether it's a mock interview or a career consultation. So it's very, a higher touch, higher priced service but something that's super valuable.
James McKinney: Yeah. You said that started in '09. I think a lot of people might remember the greatest recession in American history and what that did in the investment banking world. So what was it like being on the inside of that? Really technically we were all part of inside the recession, but as an investment banking and private equity-
Patrick Curtis: Well I was at business school then, so it was funny because I had left private equity to go to business school with the thought process of I'm going to make this side gig my fulltime gig when I get out of business school, and the business school was just my two year runway to make it work.
James McKinney: So you left, for clarity, you left the private equity firm-
Patrick Curtis: After four years.
James McKinney: To go to business school and you were going to leverage that time in business school to really build Wall Street Oasis so it could be a fulltime gig.
Patrick Curtis: You got it.
James McKinney: What was the catalyst? Now, what was the catalyst for that decision though? What were you seeing that you were like this is going to be my fulltime gig?
Patrick Curtis: Traffic. Saw about a million visits a month and even though we were bringing I think $40,000 a year in revenue, it was pathetic our monetization. I said I just don't know what I'm doing here. I recognized that. I said I know this could be a much bigger business.
James McKinney: So you knew you had the traffic.
Patrick Curtis: I had something, yeah. I knew I had something.
James McKinney: And that's the thing. You had the audience. Now it was about learning all the ways to monetize, I've got to go to business school. Am I safe to assume or am I falsely assuming that student loans helped to carry you through business school and the growing of Wall Street Oasis?
Patrick Curtis: Four years of private equity helped pay.
James McKinney: Got it.
Patrick Curtis: I also got a scholarship to attend Wharton, so lucky there-
James McKinney: That's awesome.
Patrick Curtis: … or I would have really dug into the savings a lot more, and then Wall Street Oasis was generating enough to kind of help pay for the day to day at that point. Not saving from it.
James McKinney: That's awesome. Walk us through how the wheels are spinning in your time through business school as to the opportunities you saw for Wall Street Oasis.
Patrick Curtis: Sure. I mean for me it was we were running these AdSense ads making nothing, so I started talking to people. Even people in business school were super helpful in terms of being you have the wrong ad units, you need this ad unit here, that there, and you need to join… I was able to finally join a vertical ad network. I don't know if they're even around anymore, vertical ad networks.
James McKinney: I think they might be. I'm not quite sure.
Patrick Curtis: So basically you can think of a vertical ad network basically as a specific niche, so this was a finance vertical ad network, so they would go to the large companies like the e*Trades of the world and the Schwab's, and they would sell a larger package and get it distributed across sites like mine that were highly targeted. That ended up really accelerating us from about what was when I first started this I think it was $50,000 to $70,000 in revenue up to a couple hundred thousand.
James McKinney: That's fantastic.
Patrick Curtis: Yeah, so that made a big difference.
James McKinney: But again, you're building a community and this is your only monetization stream at that time.
Patrick Curtis: This is it, yeah. This is it. The other thing that bothered me was the ads were very intrusive and so like as you're trying to build a community and keep the user experience, it's just completely, it's what Facebook faces. It's what any of these, or Reddit, you're trying to monetize and get attention when someone's trying to read the content. So you're always up against this battle of do I monetize more, do I piss off more users to grab a few more dollars, or do I play for the long run.
So for me it was like making sure we didn't get too intrusive and then as soon as we had the opportunity where I could replace most of the ad revenue with our own products and services and keep them kind of in the eco system, I think it was a no brainer for me even if I took a little of a hit on the revenue side, just so we weren't having these banner flash ads. Flash ads, all the technical headaches that came with it, the audio playing, you know what I mean. You go to a site like Forbes, it's like a nightmare.
James McKinney: So what year were your products sufficient enough to ditch the ad placements?
Patrick Curtis: I believe it was 2011 or 2012. It took a few years.
James McKinney: Did the recession have an impact on you?
Patrick Curtis: I think it helped me.
James McKinney: That's what I was thinking too.
Patrick Curtis: Yeah. It was unbelievable. We got to 2008 and I was in business school, and I remember the sky was falling. I am at the epicenter of where people are panicking because they're trying to recruit for investment banking, private equity, and there's just no jobs. In the meantime, Wall Street Oasis traffic is going up and to the right like crazy because people are trying to figure out what's going on, what bank is failing, who is getting cut where, what are some of the other options. I think it helped the business in the sense of it really solidified us as a place to go to get information up to the second, up to the actual inside, truly inside information about each division, stuff like that.
James McKinney: What were the first products you ahd that helped?
Patrick Curtis: It was a $9 investment banking interview course I believe was the first one, or $9 technical, $9 behavioral, something like that.
James McKinney: What was your audience at the time? Prior to launching that $9 book, what was your audience?
Patrick Curtis: In terms of traffic, like lurkers on the site?
James McKinney: Yep.
Patrick Curtis: I believe it was close to 800,000 or a million visits a month, something like that.
James McKinney: Consistently 800,000 to a million. Do you know what your uniques were?
Patrick Curtis: Probably around 700,000.
James McKinney: So most of them were unique visitors. You did have a good 15% that continued to come back.
Patrick Curtis: Yeah, like 1.2 or 1.3 visits.
James McKinney: Okay, that's awesome. So you launched this book. What was your product launch strategy? And the reason I'm asking these questions,, I believe there are listeners right now that have these communities. They haven't quite figured out all the switches and dials on how to monetize. And I think back to a previous episode I had with Anna Victoria, she was one of the early Instagram fitness people. She had this audience where people were hitting her up. She launches her $9 book and immediately is making $50,000 a month through this ecommerce platform because she just got tired of all the DM messages and decided I'm going to create a PDF to make it easier to help people. So what was your product launch strategy as you were putting this together, and what was the month one like for you?
Patrick Curtis: I think it was very easy to know that investment banking interviews were like the core issue and concern that people had. There were so many questions about it, there was so much of this other stuff. I think it was very obvious to us, anybody reading the community that would probably do best. In terms of the launch strategy, it wasn't overly complex. It was let's put together a course that's really comprehensive, and at that point it was PDF, the eBooks and all that good stuff. Let's put together something really comprehensive that covers all the most common questions and even sample answers on how would be the best way to approach it and kind of follow up questions, stuff like that.
So when we launched it, it was really just advertising. We didn't pay Facebook or any of these other platforms to try to get reach. We had the reach it was really about emailing our newsletter out, announcing it, and the support it really shocked me. I remember we released it around the holidays actually. It was around this time probably 10 years ago. That's really funny.
James McKinney: That's awesome.
Patrick Curtis: Now my expectations were low, remember, because it's $9, how many are you going to sell? I think the first month it was at least $2000 or $3000 which for me, that's not a lot of money but for me when we were bringing in I think i don't know $6000 to $7000 in revenues, it's a nice additional leg up for that first one that we released. It just kept coming, and it kept growing, and growing, and growing. I think as it had a good reputation, it started kind of growing up from there.
James McKinney: Was there any part in the building of Wall Street Oasis when you left the security of employment, was there any part where you thought am I really able to pull this off?
Patrick Curtis: Oh, many times. I doubted myself a lot and I think it's because every time I would go to talk to somebody that knew more about a specific design or ads, I realized how I had been doing it all wrong for the previous X number of years. So yes, many times. I think that's something that for me I've always been a little bit more cautious with how I've grown the business. I've never sought outside capital. I've never hired aggressively to try to expand. All of our sales have really been kind of organic and internal. We don't have a B to B sales culture. We have a very much B to C, just serve our customers. It's served us really well. It's grown the community tremendously, but it's something that we struggle with even today.
James McKinney: Does comparison against other communities and their growth play into how you approach your business at all? For example, you mentioned Reddit early on. Reddit wasn't around when you started Wall Street Oasis.
Patrick Curtis: Yeah, I don't think so.
James McKinney: No, it wasn't. When you see community sites like that which have just exploded, have you ever fallen into the comparison trap?
Patrick Curtis: Yeah, I think you always look to the side and you're thinking am I missing the boat, am I doing something wrong. I did try other community sites. I tried to launch one for legal careers, so called JD Oasis. Back in 2011 when I was down in Buenos Aires, so I ended up moving down to Argentina. So while I was there, I actually tried to launch almost an identical copy to Wall Street Oasis for legal careers.
James McKinney: And why didn't that work, because our past guest Goli Khalkoran with Lesson From a Quitter-
Patrick Curtis: I needed her.
James McKinney: Yeah. She says every single attorney hates being an attorney, so you would think that would be a fairly easy one.
Patrick Curtis: I think the hard part is there were other forums that were well established by that point. By 2011 it was almost too late, so it's very hard to get people by that point to get them to register, get them to contribute. Whereas if you have already an active user base that's contributing, people are more likely to join.
James McKinney: Got it.
Patrick Curtis: It's like the chicken or the egg problem.
James McKinney: Yeah, yeah. For sure, for sure. So what other ventures did you have besides Wall Street Oasis and JD Oasis, or are those the only two?
Patrick Curtis: That's basically it. Oh, actually no that's not true. With my cousin, I did help him and his buddy launch a Bluetooth Speaker business made out of ammo cans.
James McKinney: Hardware, that's awesome.
Patrick Curtis: Yeah. It was incredibly tough because they were making it from their garage down in Atlanta, in Georgia. You can imagine the margins aren't very…
James McKinney: Oh my goodness.
Patrick Curtis: We ended up partnering. I helped them get the site up. I helped him get some partnerships going, and then I was like just take my equity because it's too much. I was trying to run Wall Street Oasis and it was fun though, it was a blast. I think it's still going.
James McKinney: What are some data points for Wall Street Oasis now so we can celebrate some of the successes? How many employees do you have, what kind of traffic are you seeing?
Patrick Curtis: We're doing about $2 million business a month, although I'll say it's gone up and down. Since 2012, we were kind of skyrocketing, more like 30-40% growth, and since 2012 organic search traffic really flat lined. The good part is in the last couple years, we've really figured out social so we're exploding on Instagram, on LinkedIn, less so on Twitter and Facebook. Facebook though engagement is amazing. We're finally kind of getting better at that. Where our organic traffic is flat, our social is kind of picking up so our reach is actually continuing to grow for the brand.
James McKinney: Why do you think organic is flat?
Patrick Curtis: I think Google doesn't necessarily like user generated content coming from non expert users and anonymous users named Banana Boy, which I can't blame them. Part of it's a technical SEO thing where basically if you have a large swatch of long tail content, Google used to rank each individual URL as a standalone, kind of like a standalone entity. So if you had a piece of thin content or a user was cursing at somebody else, it didn't hurt you because they just wouldn't rank that or it would rank extremely low. Whereas now, Google changed their approach around 2012 where they're looking at the site holistically now. So if you're not very good about telling your site ignore this trash, then it can actually hurt, bring the whole ship down. Does that make sense?
James McKinney: Yeah, yeah.
Patrick Curtis: Some forums in 2012 they dropped, they lost like 70% of their traffic. I was reading all these horror stories, I was trying to figure out what happened, what changed and I did enough research to realize that okay, it's just the game has changed. And that's the thing, when 80% of your traffic to your site is organic Google, it's scary. It's scary.
James McKinney: Yeah, no kidding. Really in today's day and age, the platforms are always changing. There's always a new startup somewhere which we've got to pay attention to.
Patrick Curtis: Now it's TikTok, right?
James McKinney: Yeah, right. I wonder how Wall Street Oasis plays on TikTok, that'd be interesting.
Patrick Curtis: Not at all yet. We have to get on it.
James McKinney: And Facebook. I think a lot of people are slowly trying to write off Facebook, but there's no way to write off Facebook. From the eyes perspective, there's so many eyes on perspective. It can be costly learning the lessons on how to advertise on Facebook. What are some things that you have learned really well that work well in the Facebook advertising space?
Patrick Curtis: We've never been able to successfully scale. It's been much more than $10,000 a month so we're spending about $10,000 a month but it's almost all of our success comes from retargeting, people who've visited the site, know the brand, surprise, surprise are more likely to buy. We haven't gotten very good at warming up the cold audience, bringing them down the funnel. Part of it is because I think we're just not, again we don't have the DNA of super sales, get them to the funnel, flash sale. We don't want the bells and you know what I'm talking about, that cross a lot of online businesses.
I feel like the reputation is worth more than that, of the community not to try and just grab every last dollar there. I think it's important that we're serving the community first and if we're doing that, we're doing a good job, we're keeping engagement high and we're providing a lot of value through the podcast and other stuff that if and when, as we launch more courses, as we do more services I think people will buy.
James McKinney: Has there been anything in the timeline or lifeline of Wall Street Oasis that had you gritting your teeth that this might be the end of it all?
Patrick Curtis: 2006 was our first down year ever in revenue. And I say down year, it was down like $20. It was crazy. No, I think organic traffic is a thing that keeps me up at night and it's really that, and that's why I've pushed the team so hard. We've hired around doing more of our own content because I don't feel like you can just rely on UGC anymore, user generated content. I don't feel you can just sit back and hope that the high quality content comes. So we've been super aggressive about curating more content. Whether that's the podcast we've launched, whether that's bringing the mentors in to do more AMA's, like actual professionals. I think if you want to be the platform where people come to get answers to their questions around careers, you need to make sure you're the platform. You need to make sure you're bringing in experts. So we're being much more intentional about that, rather than just letting it happen organically.
James McKinney: If we were having a where are they now episode in let's say five years from now, what does Wall Street Oasis look like?
Patrick Curtis: That's a good question. I have more a two year, a three year-
James McKinney: Let's go with two or three.
Patrick Curtis: I think we're going to be investing heavily in more the services, more content, more media. So we're going to ideally be building out our YouTube channel a lot more. We have something called Monkey to Millions coming out soon where it's me actually mentoring four college students trying to break in. just trying to play on that, trying to provide more value so that we keep our engagement high. I feel like our mobile app is now taking off. In terms of business, it's a lot more of the same type of stuff. Partnering with good course providers to make sure that we're getting our users the skills that they need to excel in their careers.
James McKinney: So when we're talking about Monkey to Millions, this show that you're talking about, for YouTube I assume, correct?
Patrick Curtis: Yeah. We're going to launch in podcast but yeah, it's YouTube primarily.
James McKinney: So when we're talking about Monkey to Millions, from a strategic perspective what is your hope in creating that type of content for Wall Street Oasis?
Patrick Curtis: The main goal is long term engagement, brand building. I think it's incredibly important. We have an incredibly strong brand in the finance niche but I don't want to lose that. There's a fear that if, let's say for example we just rely on organic search traffic, we keep doing what we're doing, let's say starts sliding. We're not putting any efforts to grow on social, on Facebook, on Twitter, on Instagram on this or YouTube, and we don't have any original content, we don't have any brand building. So really it's an engagement play. It's a way to just get our brand out there, for people to discover who I am, for people to discover what is this whole community about such that when we do present them with an offer they love us. We want there to be raving lunatics about Wall Street Oasis and how it helped them. It's funny because I'm talking to people that are now senior finance professionals. I get on the phone with them and try to bring them in as a mentor. They say, "Oh, I owe you guys so much, absolutely." And I get that I'd say 70 to 80% of the time is the response. So to me, it's just about making the ask when people are willing to do it. I think we're getting better at it. Yeah, I see just more of that.
I also see there being a big opportunity if we build a mentor network up from 400 to 1,000 mentors there's potentially a huge consulting opportunity there. If you have professionals that are incredibly at financial modeling, consulting, all this stuff where you could bring in companies and start saying hey, we have this pool of incredible talent who are happy to do a side project for you, you could pay a couple thousand dollars and they'll happily build a financial model for you.
James McKinney: That's pretty awesome. That's a pretty cool idea.
Patrick Curtis: Yeah, so that's one potential angle down the road.
James McKinney: Yeah, but it's interesting. The idea of Wall Street Oasis, Monkey to Millions, because MailChimp, the link here is not because of the monkey, the link here is about the content. MailChimp which we believe all of my listeners know who are email newsletter service, they have some marketing automation, it's a technical platform. But they within the last calendar year I believe have started creating their own video content, and really nothing to do with business per se. it is branded content that is just highly creative.
Patrick Curtis: Yeah, I'd be curious what type, if it's not business is it more like-
James McKinney: Well, it's business. For example they have this, I wish I could think of the name of it but they have this webisode series that is centered around it's like a mockumentary about tradeshows.
Patrick Curtis: Love it.
James McKinney: But it's hilarious. Little six episode series, it is really funny and really well done. It just it talks about the extreme side of just the tradeshow network. It's almost like a tradeshow meets truck stop. It's really well done but it doesn't fit with the MailChimp persona we all know them to be other than it's just another brand reach. I think when we think of content, there's something to be said about just creating great content that might somehow might be loosely connected with what it is you're doing to get people intrigued about what it is you do.
Patrick Curtis: The other thing is you can ask, like I asked my community about this idea it kind of popped into my head. I'm thinking okay, we're interviewing all these people who are successful, what about all the kids, it's kind of like a selection bias. You're interviewing all these people who've already made it. What about all the kids who haven't made it, and what about the kids who flame out? So I said what if we did something where we actually mentored some of these kids and we saw that progression.
James McKinney: That's pretty cool.
Patrick Curtis: And so I threw that out there in the community and the response was overwhelmingly positive, so I said okay there's something there.
James McKinney: That's really cool.
Patrick Curtis: I have to know, I have to do it.
James McKinney: Yeah, that's really, really cool. As our time comes to an end, there's a couple questions that I ask every founder and one of them comes from my wife that she posed to me when we recorded my startup story episode. That is the idea about entrepreneurship, and the question that she posed to me was that I now want to bring before all my founder guests, and that is do you believe anybody can be an entrepreneur or do you believe that you are born an entrepreneur?
Patrick Curtis: I don't think anybody can be an entrepreneur. I think there has to be… it's a really tough question.
James McKinney: It is.
Patrick Curtis: It's actually a really tough question. I struggle because I don't want to discourage people who think they're an entrepreneur, but I just see so much out there of people saying they're an entrepreneur, everyone starting a business just because that's the thing to do. I think Gary V says you have to be able to have enough self-introspection to know when you're number two or number three, and that's okay. You can be incredibly successful. It takes a special breed to deal with the day to day grind, the challenges, the stress, to want to even be an entrepreneur. So I don't think everybody should be an entrepreneur. I think everybody can be if they're willing to put up with it, but yeah I think that's… I would say no, probably not, everyone should not be an entrepreneur.
James McKinney: Awesome, awesome. All right, the final two questions as our time starts to wrap up, and the first one is about gratitude. As you look back on your journey to Wall Street Oasis and even in the ten years that you've been growing Wall Street Oasis, or not even ten years actually-
Patrick Curtis: 14, 14 years.
James McKinney: 14 years growing Wall Street Oasis, it's incredible. As you look across we are standing on the shoulders of people that have lifted us up in some challenging times and have encouraged us in some amazing ways. So when you look back across your journey from childhood to now, who are the people that you point to with incredible gratitude for their contribution to your journey?
Patrick Curtis: Yeah, I think that's easy. I think that's both my parents, my mom and my dad for always supporting me and believing in me. My dad especially because he listens to me complaining about all the business stuff that goes on day to day. My wife for putting up with just… I think she likes it because I have the freedom of putting up with the struggles that come along with kind of sometimes my stress when it gets up high, and things aren't going working out the way that I want it to. Those three people for sure.
James McKinney: Awesome. The last one, we've been talking to tens of thousands of listeners at a high level about just your journey. I believe The Startup Story is a digital mentor where they can learn from your journey, the journey of many founders we've had on the show, some of the missteps that some have taken. But right now I want to bring that conversation from the tens of thousands down to the one. And so my listeners are really made up of a few different personas. One of them is the frustrated entrepreneur, the one who has been doing what they've been doing for quite some time and not getting the traction or the successes that they see from those around them.
It's the want-repreneur, the one who's got a 9 to 5 and a book full of dreams and ideas, but yet some narrative and fear as to why they don't move forward on that. Maybe it's because they have a mortgage, kids, or maybe they're 60 and they think they're just too old for it and they've fallen into that trap. And then there's the defeated entrepreneur, the one who has tried time and time again and can't quite figure out why, that they never have success when they try something so they're about ready to stop trying. Whatever of those personas you want to speak to, this is a conversation between just you and them and it's my gift to my listeners for that one on one mentor minute if you will. What do you say to one of those personas?
Patrick Curtis: So I just want to talk to the frustrated entrepreneur that isn't maybe getting as much traction as they want. Listen man, or lady, it's you've got to really keep your perspective because the fact that you're even doing this is incredible. I think it's important that you just keep trying and keep grinding. The fact that you have something that's even it's not growing as fast as you'd like is phenomenal, and it's the fact that you started is already a lot further along than a lot of other people can even say. So I'd put the want-repreneur bucket in the people who talk about doing a lot of stuff, and there's a lot of people that talk about ideas but you're actually executing on ideas and trying. So the fact that you're trying and failing is already lightyears ahead of where most people get to, so congrats on that and respect yourself for that, because it's not easy to get up and fail, and fail, and fail, and fail. If you keep going, you eventually will kind of have that breakthrough, so keep going.
James McKinney: I am sure that not too many of you listening had much of an interest in a career in high finance. That said, if you know someone who is, then you might want to point them to wallstreetoasis.com so they can find resources and mentorship from those in the same mix as them. And that is the whole point of The Startup Story, to bring learnings from authentic stories from founders that are farther down the road than you are, all with the hope of providing you with courage to keep moving forward. Notice how I said providing you with courage? Entrepreneurship takes courage because, like Patrick shared, there will be moments where your mission and goals seem far greater than you think you are capable of pulling off. It's in those moments where courage is needed and sometimes that courage comes from someone else. That is the power of community. That is why I created The Startup Story.
I hope you found some real value in Patrick's startup story episode. If you've been around The Startup Story for any length of time, then you know how much emphasis I put on the idea that entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs. For that reason, please help support Patrick's startup and share Wall Street Oasis with your network. Maybe even follow them on all the social channels. They can be found by just searching Wall Street Oasis on either Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and even YouTube. In fact, on YouTube you'll find some original content they're creating as they seek to continue to add value to their community. Let's show up for Patrick Curtis in a big way by helping to raise awareness of Wall Street Oasis. We will include a link in the show notes of all their social accounts for easy access. And now for my personal ask.
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If you like this podcast and are thinking of creating your own, consider talking to my producer Danny Ozment. He helps thought leaders, influencers, executives, and authors create, launch, and produce podcasts that grow their business and make a real impact in this world. You can contact him today at emeraldcitypro.com/startupstory.