CEO of Affinity Beyond Capital, a private finance firm providing short and long-term funding for small and midsize businesses.
As the founder and CEO of a growing private finance firm in New York, people are often surprised to find out I’m only 23 years old. According to Pew Research, I represent the last wave of the millennial generation, which means a new generation – Generation Z (the oldest of which are turning 22 this year) – is also beginning to enter the workforce.
Gen Z may be entering the workforce sooner than previous generations, too: 61% of high school students say they would rather be entrepreneurs than employees. Traditional college educations are becoming less affordable; the cost of a four-year degree has risen 151% since 1978, while the median family income only increased by 20.2%. College educations are less desirable in a growing gig economy, too. Fifty-five million Americans (35% of the workforce) are self-employed and carving out new career pathways by learning through experience.
My own career path is evidence that Gen Zers hoping to build successful, enjoyable careers don’t have to go the traditional route, anymore. Three years ago, I was a community college student hoping to enter the world of investment banking after I graduated from university. I was working as a team leader at a firm and not getting paid fairly. Eventually, I decided that I wanted to do things on my own, so I left everything – both school and work – and decided to start my own company out of my bedroom.
For the first few months, I worked exclusively out of my bedroom, and it wasn’t easy or glamorous to get a foothold. I even got to a point, just as recently as 15 months ago, when I was thinking about giving up. My friends, family and others who cared about me were telling me that maybe trying to start my own firm wasn’t a good idea. They said, “You’re smart. Go back to school.”
These voices of doubt and concern started creeping into my head when things weren’t clicking. Eventually, I applied to a lot of different companies for a junior investment banking position. And I actually landed an interview with a major multinational investment bank. That’s when I snapped out of self-doubt and recommitted to my own vision. I declined the interview and went back to work for myself.
That same week, everything started to turn around. Since then, my firm has established partnerships with 40+ lenders, hedge funds and banks. In 2017, our gross revenue was $117,000. In 2018, our gross revenue was $550,000. And in just the past month alone, our gross revenue was $317,000.
Over the past few years, I’ve hired more people like me to be a part of my team, and I’ve learned that young millennials and Gen Zers have a lot of great characteristics that make them strong players in the financial industry. Here are just a few ways this generation is well-suited for success.
I believe that the people who survive in the financial industry are those who struggle to get to the top, and no one struggles to get to the top more than when they’re young and inexperienced. Because this struggle requires faith in yourself, it translates into having faith in your employees. Of course, as the CEO of your own firm, you have to establish expectations of your team, but people don’t generally perform their best when their boss is pushy or aggressive. It’s essential to know when to lay off and believe that your team will do the best job possible.
The people you build a company with are people you should take care of like family. When leaders make work fun, no one gets the Sunday Scaries, because they love what they do. When you treat your team like family, your team will treat your clients like family. When your team loves working for you, your clients will love working with you. In the finance industry, especially, where you’re helping clients finance their dream lives and careers every day, this camaraderie is invaluable.
Previously, I worked for companies that strictly focused on unsecured loans, which represents the vast majority of the industry. When I started my firm, I knew I needed to distinguish myself from my competitors by offering more. I also pushed myself to work faster for a wider variety of clients. By establishing a “one stop shop” model that can fully fund a business in 24 hours, from start to finish, with no collateral, I was able to fill a void in the industry and give each customer exactly what they’re looking for.
They have a growth mindset.
When you’re starting at the bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up. Gen Zers have the unique advantage of being underdogs with an upperhand in a digital economy. It’s much easier and faster to build a good reputation in today’s finance industry, because word of mouth travels exponentially faster on the internet.
It’s important for those starting out in the finance industry to embrace competition and use it to their advantage, because competition is one of the best ways to incite personal and professional growth. I’ve always loved competition, because it forces me to become a better version of myself and discover what I’m truly capable of. Many industry veterans are so comfortable in their experience that they stop feeling the incentive to grow, and this presents an enormous opportunity for those who are willing to expand, improve and diversify their business.
Ultimately, confidence is anyone’s strongest professional asset, no matter their level of experience. One of the best ways to develop your confidence is to see other people succeeding at what you want to do. I hope sharing my experience inspires other young financiers to take a leap of faith for themselves, as well as their future clients and employees.