The Biggest Decision of My Adult Life

Why I Quit My Finance Job to Co-Found a Startup

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I flew over 100,000 miles in 2013. I traveled all over the world, and at home I lived in a brand new Manhattan apartment. Everything was going great.  I was working as an analyst at a hedge fund in NYC, the stock market was going up, I had a great salary—no complaints all around. However even with a stable paycheck and the perks of city life, I still felt something significant was missing. Little did I know I had a big decision coming up.

During this time my friend and graphic designer Joey Cofone and I had been working on a new project. At the time we didn’t know if it would be big or a complete flop, but that’s the half the fun.  We had been working a little over 5 months on creating a better paper notebook, the Baron Fig Confidant.  We spent months talking to designers and other thinkers from around the world, making scores of prototypes, taking photos, and making a killer video.

Then we put it all on Kickstarter.  We had no idea what to expect.  We set our initial goal at $15,000, which was a carefully chosen a number. If we didn’t hit it, then clearly we were wrong about the idea, but the goal was also small enough that if we surpassed it, we could do many multiples.  With our friends and family ready to go, we pressed the Kickstarter launch button.

The pledges started coming almost immediately.  We hit our $15,000 goal on our first day.  From there it just continued, 2x the goal on the second day, then 3x on the fourth.  We started getting more media mentions, featured on the Kickstarter homepage, and more backers.  After 30 days we raised over 11x our goal with $168,289 in pledges for 8,760 books going to 4,242 backers from 48 different countries.

Our campaign surprised us as much as anyone else. After all, we were selling a paper notebook.  Was it a fluke? Did we have a real business?  Could we really make a business selling paper notebooks?

Joey had quit his freelance graphic design studio months before the Kickstarter, and now I had a decision to make.  Would I quit my comfortable finance job with benefits, a nice salary, and stability to do Baron Fig full time?  If I did, I would be trading all of those predictable comforts and income for a world of pure unknowns.

Could a notebook company possible sell enough?  Could we make future products?

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Then I had more practical questions.  How would I pay my rent?  How would I get health insurance?  What if the business didn’t work, then I would have to get another job.

The only thing I knew for sure is that if I didn’t quit now, this might be an experience I would regret for the rest of my life.  It was a rare combination of Joey and I working well together since he had the artistic background and I with the business background along with our Kickstarter doing far better than we expected. I wanted a good adventure and learning experience, and this was it.

I tend to look at things in terms of upside risk and downside risk.  There I was, still young, with a bit of savings, and a potentially big opportunity for things to go well.  I knew that the path was about to diverge at that moment.  How would I feel looking back in 10 years knowing that a rare and unique situation sat right at my doorstep?  And if things didn’t work out, I still had youth and some savings to go out and find another job.  Then I’d still be essentially at the same point which seemed like a fairly low downside risk.  So even though logically it seemed the risk was well worth it, it would take a major emotional leap.

Beyond risk, I knew there was a great opportunity for teamwork.  Joey and I met in early 2010 at an entrepreneur meetup one of our common friends had organized.  Even though we were from dramatically different backgrounds: Joey a student in art school (his second 4 year degree after first going to school for Philosophy and Literature), and myself having studied business, engineering, and working in finance.  Over the next few years we worked together on a number of smaller projects, and it always seemed to work out better having perspectives from different backgrounds.  We always ended up with a better solution.

If nothing else, I figured there would be tremendous learning involved.  There would be so many areas we needed to learn about, including marketing, sales, e-commerce, recruiting, manufacturing, customer service, and all the systems that we’d need to manage it.  This would be a way to learn about many areas of business quickly.  I definitely wanted to learn, and this seemed to beat just about any other option.

So I made my decision.  After bonuses were paid in January 2014, I quit a week later.  I didn’t discuss this with anyone other than Joey.  I completely made my own decision.  I knew that if I asked people for advice they would call me crazy.  Why would I leave a good job with good pay for something where I got paid nothing?  I knew it would be hard for me to defend joining a notebook company and was afraid someone/everyone would try talking me out of it.

So with my mind made up, I told a few of my closest work colleagues about a week before I quit.  Then on that cold January day almost exactly a year ago, I walked into my boss’s office and told him I was leaving.

It was scary and nerve racking, but I believed it was the right decision.  I knew it would be an adventure and that was just the start.

See more about Baron Fig