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Forbes 400 Data Shows Paul Graham Is Wrong
192 points by apsec112 2736 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 138 comments
Someone commented to Paul Graham last month (original thread: http://apps.ycombinator.com/item?id=1320439):

"pg, unfortunately for America, in recent years most of the highest paid people (to the tune of hundreds of millions per person) have been financiers. Even fairly successful outcomes in the start-up world, such as Mint.com to take a random example, don't make founders that rich.

I suspect if you look at the new inclusions in Forbes 400 list over the past 10 years, that list (of deltas) would be dominated by Finance. This is not a good thing."

pg replied:

"Instead of assuming this, why don't you check and tell us? It should be pretty easy; historical Forbes 400 data is available online."

I decided to go check and tell everyone, and Paul Graham is wrong about the Forbes 400 showing startups having a higher return than Wall Street. According to the Forbes 400 data, between 1999 and 2009:

- 211 new people entered the Forbes 400 list during this ten-year period.

- Of these, 59 were from finance.

- 17 were from technology.

I think the record speaks for itself.

You can see the raw data at http://www.forbes.com/lists/home.jhtml?passListId=54&passYear=1999&passListType=Person, http://www.forbes.com/lists/2009/54/rich-list-09_The-400-Richest-Americans_FinalWorth.html.

I made that original comment. Thanks for doing the analysis I was too lazy to do! Your analysis jives with the broader point I was trying to make - in the past 15 years, finance has been the surest path to riches in America. It is not just at the level of the Forbes 400. During the real estate bubble, newly minted mortgage brokers (often coming from other fields such as car sales, they found selling debt far more lucrative) were taking home $0.5 million - and not just a few of them. I have had acquaintances in Goldman, at fairly low level in the org chart, who have been taking home similar sums in bonuses every year. I know Unix systems administrators in Wall Street who take home ~$300K/year - and these guys are generally very low in the Wall Street totem pole.

It has been the age of the financier for a while now. No, this is not capitalism at work; it is Federal Reserve policy. It allowed specially privileged entities to lever up (30x leverage in case of investment banks like Goldman or Morgan Stanley, 10x in case of hedge funds), allow them to speculate with easy money, and have them pay out huge bonuses in case of investment banks or huge carried profit in case of hedgies ... and finally bail them out when their leverage blew up on them, only to have them start speculating all over again.

The thing is, however, that the times are different now. Look at a chart of the US 10 year note from the 60's to the present. It peaked in 1981.

I parse that history as -- the world was coming off of a golden era in productivity, wealth and economic stability. It would make sense for people from B school to make a lot of money if they started getting their chops on Wall Street, etc.

But now it's different. I think that the 10 year note has begun its steady rise again, finally (biggest acceleration since the late 60's and early 80's). But in this economic climate, nimbler business arrangements surely are more viable and better training for future business leaders.

It's just basic math -- in a 4% environment, things like SpaceX and other lighter economic models will be successful. In a 15% environment, financing itself is more useful, and, with synergy and everything, on average produces more massive individual personal wealth.

The constraints that faced those currently on the Fortune 400 list (which is really some sort of integral of the past 30 years -- as these are people at the peak of their careers) are different from those who will be on the Fortune 400 list in 2030.

(N.B. I made all this s* up having looked at an all-time 10 year note chart earlier tonight. But it's an idea.)

ETA: Although it's a bit of a project. I think it would be interesting to compile the 100 wealthiest people in the world over the past 100 years. I have a feeling that certain periods in time would've produced clusters of financiers (JP Morgans, etc.), whereas other times would produce clusters of startup founders. Would be interesting to compare them to different economic indices, etc. Then the thing would be to determine if our own present economic climate resembles others periods -- and what that means to the different types of fields you should, on average, go into to maximize personal wealth (if that's something that you're into). Or at least be aware of it.

The thing is, once you have $15M I'm sure that financial manipulations are enormously popular.

I don't think about getting into fortune 400. I think about going from 5 figures in the bank to 8, for which I feel entrepreneurship is the best choice.

of course I've been an obsessive programmer since I was 13 (16 years now, eek) so it is a more natural path

Quibble, but wasn't it the SEC that allowed the investment banks to leverage up 30x?

Not to mention that all of them are now dead, bought out by bank banks or in the process of becoming so (well, that's just the big names, but as I understand it the smaller fish are very small).

Yur second point is dead on - these companies aren't the "champions of capitalism" some think they are. They are benefactors of government policy, like the fractional reserve system, Federal Reserve policy, etc.

There's a fundamental difference between 'there are more financiers than start-up founders in the Fortune 400' and 'a greater percentage of financiers in America make the Fortune 400 than start-up founders in America'.

Using extreme example to make my point, if 0.001% of all 'financiers' made the Fortune 400 and 5.000% of all start-up founders did, no-one would claim that 211 v 59 means much because of the asymmetrical volume of the candidate pools.

The percentages won't be that stark, of course. Are there 4 times as many financiers as start-up founder? I would suggest more (many, many more) which would indicate that being a start-up founder makes it more likely to hit that measure of financial success than being a financier, based on those figures.

I make no comment about the relevance of this to the original discussion and pg's right or wrongness, which I was not a part of.

That depends a lot what you consider a startup founder. If you consider a startup founder as anyone who quits their day job to start a business, I'd bet that there are many more startup founders than financiers. If you consider only people in the technology field, the numbers drop significantly. If you consider people in the technology field who start a project that may become a business, but don't restrict to those who quit their day jobs, the numbers balloon again.

I could look up these numbers, but they really don't tell you all that much. If you're a Xoogler with venture capital in Silicon Valley, your odds are much better than if you're a college dropout in Indiana who's playing around with Rails in his free time. It's silly to lump both "founders" into the same category.

"- 17 were from technology." Seems like we only consider technology startups.

Then do you consider only venture-funded technology startups? After all, most of the folks on the technology list got there through venture funding. Do you consider only startups where the founders quit their day job? Do you consider ones where the founders eventually quit their day jobs, but not until their startup had traction in the marketplace? (That would include Apple and EBay, FWIW.) Do you consider any technology project that may become a startup?

The original thread-starter wants to know the chances of making the Forbes 400, given that he becomes a tech entrepreneur or financier. He rightly points out that this depends a lot on the denominator - but the denominator depends a lot on how you slice the categories of "tech entrepreneur" and "financier". There are a large number of factors besides entrepreneurship that alter the odds, and many of them alter the odds a lot more than the mere fact that you've started a company.

Which leads to another big point about financiers...too many preppies heading to college for a quick buck on Wall St.

I don't blame the college kids. At least right now, our capitalist society deems their brains are better spent finding the next good $10M trade as opposed to helping ship Office 2010 or becoming grad students in math / physics / CS.

Well a lot of those math, physics and CS grad students end up in finance anyway.

I don't consider shipping Office 2010 a lofty goal... Come on, we are trying to make the world a better place.

As someone currently doing two migrations from Outlook (I finally got approval to get rid of Windows on my corporate notebook and my wife is moving her Exchange-based mail to an IMAP server) I can say any shipment of Office 2010 prevented means at least one more happy person ;-)

As for the other options, making the next 10M trade or becoming a grad student, I think you should follow your heart.

I used to work for CSFB (now Credit Suisse) in London's Canary Wharf. It's the most I've earned in my entire career.

Unless you've worked for an investment bank you have no idea how much money they have. It's like a giant gulf-of-mexico-style money gusher that doesn't quit.

How do they make it? CSFB flies on the bleeding edge of what's legal and always have. I was there when Frank Quattrone was involved in the IPO of VA Linux. The share allocation resulted in the US vs Quattrone lawsuit. Imagine you facilitate an IPO and you get to hand out shares at $80 a piece to your buddies on and the first day it pops up to $300/share and you can sell - right then. http://bit.ly/cBMdqb

I was also there when James Archer, Jeffrey Archer's son was found guilty of manipulating the swedish stock exchange and banned for life. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/1459638.stm

In investment banks there is what's known as the Chinese Wall. It separates investment banking from the brokerage divisions to prevent conflicts of interest. Imagine you have a bunch of guys buying and selling stock for the bank's account and another group of guys recommending to customers which stock to buy and sell. They're all in the same building, using the same elevators, the same mens rooms and the same lunch hall. Quick entrepreneurial quiz: Anyone see a business model there?

They take their licks though. I was there when the LTCM fund collapsed and they lost $600M. Also when the Russian economy collapsed and they lost another $600M. Layoffs? Nah - business as usual.

If you're a developer or ops guy and get tired of startups, I strongly recommend going to work for an investment bank. It's very very hard to get your first job - you're going to have to network your ass off or have a seriously hot resume - probably both. But once you're in, provided you're good at what you do, it's very easy to move between banks and promote yourself into better jobs in other banks or divisions.

So what the fk am I doing running a startup? Good question. I ask myself that sometimes. When you look at the opportunity cost from the "I could be in an investment bank" perspective it is scary. I don't have some magic answer or a bunch of bullet points. I guess what draws me to it is the fact that I own my own business. It's also completely honest. Your success is your own and so is your failure. Working in banking feels like cheating. Perhaps it is. But it pays cash and lots of it.

I've contracted exclusively for investment banks in London for the past 6 years (with the exception of a brief stint at the FSA). The reason I stick with it is the exact reason you specify: the money, or more accurately for me, what the money allows me to do. The majority of the developers I work with have painted themselves into a corner with the money they've made working at banks such that they have no other option but to keep working at banks to maintain the lifestyle they've come to take for granted. The money allowed them to buy large houses, nice cars and good things but it also means they'll have to face a significant downturn in lifestyle if they ever want to move to a different sector not to mind starting a startup.

From the outset I was always conscious of not falling into the same subtle but dangerous trap. I'm not sure why, probably because I never felt 100% comfortable in a corporate environment and knew a some level that I didn't want to be trapped by it. The upshot is that we don't live a lavish lifestyle such that when the income is throttled down the adjustment isn't as severe. We don't own our house, we rent (we're actually quite nomadic so this decision is only partly financially related), no fancy car, we don't tend to spend money on fine dining and entertainment or a lot of the trappings that people often face.

This has allowed me to make choices that were right for me like taking a full 3 months off on the birth of our first child and only going back to work (for an IB I contracted with previously) for 3 days per week for the subsequent 9 months. This really allowed us the time as a family to adjust to our new circumstances. It also allowed me to experiment with a few projects that had been on my mind for a while - nothing significant just the first dip of my toes into the world of startups. Since then we've had another child - again I was able to spend a lot of time with him. I've also been able to try out a few more projects which, although not successful, have allowed me to further experiment and find my feet conceiving and building products. As a result I'm now on the brink throwing myself full time into my own bootstrapped startup which is about to open to beta.

So yes, while I agree that the money to be made from working in investment banks is great, I'd warn against getting too sucked in with the cash if you ever want to keep the door ajar for other things. Well done for making the jump into the startup world, it's a brave move I hope to join you soon. Don't pine for working at a bank, if you value creativity and and the opportunity to strike out on your own (which you clearly do), you've made the right choice whatever the outcome.

So you could work for an investment bank, make a lot of money, use as little of it as possible and save the rest, then after a few years, quit and use the savings to fund a start-up? Sounds like a plan to me...

This is basically what every investment banker does. Virtually every investment banker has "their number", the amount of money they need to quit investment banking and go do whatever it is they want to do with the rest of their life. Very few of them ever actually meet it - or rather, they'll meet their initial "number" early in their 30s, but by then their number will have grown by a few million more, as they realize that sticking with the job for just another year or two will give them another half a million more or some insane amount. It gets to be a treadmill - every time you're about to quit, there's another carrot dangled right in front of you, and it takes a lot of willpower to say "No, I'm done" and leave.

The head of BizDev at the financial software startup I used to work at was one of the lucky ones who got out (and he told me the above observation). You occasionally see other ex-financiers in the startup world, eg. Jeff Bezos or Joshua Schacter, but in general you don't see very many ex-investment-bankers. Most of them seem to still be working on Wall St.

BTW, this applies to other professions as well. An engineer frequently will see "just one more technical challenge that needs solving before I can get to the good, world-changing stuff." (I'm dealing with that now - I keep getting distracted from the ideas I really want to do by the various low-hanging fruit.) An experienced teacher will think "Just one more year with the kids, then I'll retire." Startups are nice in that they have clearly delineated endgames; most salaried professions are not like that.

Yep. That's what I'm doing. With the full support of my bank as well (they know I'm working on my start-up in my spare time, they've arranged to pay me in a fashion that's tax efficient allowing me to invest my money in my startup pre-tax, etc.).

There are plenty of people doing it, at any start-up event I go to (in London) I run into current and former banking peeps.

It's worth pointing out that this is really only a viable career option if you are a straight, white, anglo-saxon male ready to work long hours, drink hard, and put up with a machismo-dominated culture. The financial sector and investment banking in particular, even in their tech departments, have the kind of corporate culture that sends me running.

Having worked at Goldman Sachs in FIG investment banking, and having very close friends at virtually every bulge bracket as well as 8 of the 10 largest Private Equity firms, I can attest that this is completely false. If there is one industry that bleeds meritocracy (outside of entrepreneurship, which I think is a clear first), it is finance. You are definitely right about the long hours - you must be intelligent and be willing to work extremely hard, and you must also be willing to put up with a great deal of tedium and grunt work at almost all levels. However, the one thing that you don't have to be is white. Minorities are vastly overrepresented, and while I have not done a hard calculation if you take Asians and Indians as a percentage of total front office workers, I would not be surprised if it were near 30%. Include Jews and it's even higher. I currently work at McKinsey & Co in the Corporate Finance practice in New York, and the office as a whole (of 500 front office consultants) is probably 40% Asian or Indian.

That said, there are many downsides to finance as well and there are many reasons I am forgoing a $400k+ paycheck in PE to move back to SF to start a company where I am paid $0 and will have to live off of a ramen diet. The fact that I am not straight, white, and anglo-saxon however does not play a factor at all (and in fact there are running jokes at many banks and top tier consultancies that the above description puts you in the minority).

Agreed. I'm British Asian and work on the the trading floor of a mid-tier bank in London, race is completely a non-issue. Diversity is huge both on the business and tech side.

On the IBD side (M&A/CF) there's probably less diversity, but again it's not a huge issue. In IBD the division is more down to class than to race.

The trading floor is still male dominated though, although there are a fair number of female quants in the industry.

I disagree somewhat although I am a contractor not a permanent employee seeking promotion so that might be the reason for the difference. I am straight and white but otherwise I don't fit what you describe. I arrive at 08:00 and leave at 16:30 sharp unless exceptional circumstances arise. I make it clear from the first day that I'm not there to socialise and I won't routinely work outside my contracted hours. My theory is I have the length of my first contract (usually 3 to 6 months) to prove that I'm worth sticking with in spite of not being the proverbial round peg. So far it's worked and I've always been extended multiple times at each institution. They eventually stop offering you out to get drunk if you're politely constant with your rejection - I do get a bit of a ribbing and feel pressure in this respect but it doesn't impact me.

Currently my team is made up of 2x French men, 1x Nigerian man, 1x Indian Man and me (Irish man) the team leader is an English man so there certainly could and should be better female representation but that was also the case (but to a lesser extent) when I used to work in the telecoms sector.

There is a lot of arrogance and machismo on display but it's less prevalent in the back office - certainly more than what I experienced in other sectors. It is hard to stomach though.

So by "better female representation" you mean "less than 100% male". And the team is 50% white, and 100% straight (I assume you'd have mentioned otherwise). And you admit they pressure you to drink with them. So it sounds like you agree with almost everything I said about the makeup of the workforce at these places.

This is completely not true anymore and I don't think it has been for 30 years. Just like that WSJ article from a few months back said, WASPs are a dying breed, if not totally dead already. The CEOs of Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan Chase, Bear Stearns and Barclays are/were all Jewish. As is Charles Schwab, he president of the World Bank, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, the president of the European Central Bank, and so on and so forth. Anecdotally, I don't know any WASPs in Finance at all. British Indian, Russian, Chinese/Korean american, tons of jewish people, white guys who aren't WASPs... the hours and culture might be ridiculous, but it ain't WASP culture anymore, if it ever was.

If I could I would mod this up like 50 times.

They take their licks though. I was there when the LTCM fund collapsed and they lost $600M. Also when the Russian economy collapsed and they lost another $600M. Layoffs? Nah - business as usual.

The finance industry doesn't need as many layoffs as other industries because they solved the stick wage problem.

What's the stick wage problem?

It's easy to raise wages when times are good, but it's hard to drop wages when times are bad, because it results in the whole office getting demoralized and productivity dropping. So companies will resort to laying people off entirely when revenues drop, because the morale hit from cutting people off entirely is less than the morale hit from dropping everyone's salary.

Finance presumably solves this by paying out the majority of compensation in bonuses, which are explicitly tied to the firm's performance. If the company does well, you do well, if the company does poorly, you knew ahead of time that you'd be taking a haircut, so it doesn't feel as much like a broken promise as when wages are cut.

They're not completely immune from layoffs though - when a firm goes under entirely, most of the employee base is let go by the acquirer. And financial firms tend to blow up completely more than other types of firms, because they operate with more leverage. That's why luxury businesses in NYC took a big hit this financial crisis.

This is exactly right. Relative to 2007, my friend's 2008 income fell 40%. In 2009 it was 50% higher than 2007. Layoffs are less likely when wages are flexible.

This is not unique to finance!

How did they solve it?

I don't think if I could live with myself if I worked at an investment bank. Most of what they do provides no benefit to humanity, in fact on the whole they're probably parasitic. Shuffling money around senselessly while taking a cut might be extremely profitable if you do enough of it, but it's just a drain on modern capitalism.

Many of the people I know that work in the vast world of "other people's money" feel exactly the same way, FWIW - on many occasions I've had discussions with them about the fact that all the only value they ever create is to shave the odd basis point off a spread here or there, and they have no illusions that it matters one bit.

But it's an assload of easy money, and once you're in, it's trivially easy to stay in (it's like gambling for a living, where you get a cut of whatever you win, except that you don't actually have to win consistently to continue to buy in because there's always another fool willing to trust you with his money), so it's very easy to end up deciding that there's not enough rational incentive for you to do anything else.

More than anything, I weep for the brain drain that Wall Street inflicts on the rest of the world. Far too many of the smartest people I've ever known were sucked in, people who could otherwise be creating real value doing jobs without which, the financial industry couldn't even exist. IMO, this is the great danger of having a society where the money shufflers are outpaid by 10:1 compared to people of similar ability in other jobs, that too much of our real talent will be wasted on an industry that is practically by definition (as a zero-sum plus fees industry) incapable of creating much more value than it currently supplies.

How smart are they really if they were sucked in?

The smartest people I know care much more about tickling their brains than about earning insane amounts of money. They are happy with their middling six figure salaries doing quantum computing research and the like.

People earn $400-600K doing quantum computing research?

I don't think he meant "middling-six-fgure" rather "middling, six-figure".

Tell that to Southwest Airways.


Shuffling money around is also useful for making public what would otherwise be private information. Greece can profess to the world how solvent they are, but the swap market tells a different story.

I said "most of what they do" rather than "all of what they do" because some of it coincidentally helps others. The ratio of parasitic behavior to useful is unfortunately growing, and hasn't stopped just because it caused an economic meltdown.

What specific behavior do you believe is parasitic?

I wonder how you square this with your past, as I understand, as an online poker pro?

As a former professional poker player myself, it never would occur to me to denigrate the work of financiers or suggest that what they were doing was immoral. I was able to morally justify my occupation to myself.. and, as such, it is orders of magnitude easier to justify theirs.

Online poker is a consentual exchange. Inflating the money supply and taking taxpayer bailouts is akin to coercive theft.

That's pretty much it. Any penny I won at gambling did nothing to harm the broader economy. It might harm some other guy who gambled it, but he knew what he was buying into.

My problem with Goldman and their peers isn't that they won money gambling from other people. It's that in so doing they knowingly destabilized the global economy. The actions of investment bankers have harmed every American, most of whom couldn't even spell CDO let alone know why the existence of so many of them led to Joe Average getting laid off.

I'm not some sort of moral crusader by any means. I really did mean I had less against crack dealers (in fact I think drugs should be legalized, but that's another topic entirely) because the person buying crack knows what they're getting. I don't think everyone can or should be saving lives, they just shouldn't be harming people who aren't knowing and willing parties to the transaction. If my playing poker could have caused economic collapse (in fact the opposite happened, poker became a huge industry that provided lots of well-paying jobs) there would have been an issue.

Like many people, Goldman went long on housing. This did harm the economy. But I take issue with your use of the word "knowingly" - why would Goldman knowingly lose billions of dollars?

Also, many of the people being laid off (e.g., construction workers, realtors) are also complicit in harming the economy.

Thanks for the response.

I'm not being intentionally obtuse, but I still don't understand your specific objecton(s). As I read it, I think it comes down to "a difference in degree is a difference in kind."

I would argue that you can't really know that your winnings never caused a lay-off, for example. Perhaps you beat Frank, the owner of an RV dealership in Eau Claire, so badly that he had to let one of his salesmen go to keep his company alive.

You can raise all sorts of objections at this point about the personal responsibility of Frank. He shouldn't be gambling with money he can't afford to lose! He should understand all of the rules before he sits down! He should have a firmer grasp of the probabilities! He shouldn't be playing with his heart instead of his head!

And those are all objections that market participants can (I believe in good conscience) make about their activities. So, I'm not sure exactly where your objection lies.

Is finance too important to be left to the market? (Let's ignore, for now, the moral hazard of current government interventions... unless that's your objection.) If not, should the markets be limited to qualified investors who have demonstrated some level of knowledge? Should market participants be required to diversify their holdings? Perhaps only a certain percentage of one's net worth can be in play?

So are taxes for building bridges to nowhere etc. A penny in tax is one penny that cannot be allocated for something else (which is far more likely to be productive).

The money supply was inflated because of the easy money policies of Greenspan and co. Attributing that solely to bankers oversimplifies things.

And let's remember that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two of the groups that originally lobbied for 'increasing homeownership' and thus accelerated the real-estate bubble, are still roaming around scot-free.

I agree completely.

For a long time, I used to think along those lines, too. But then I seriously asked myself in what way I'm actually contributing to humanity - and I find it's not so much. And I'm working in research. But in the end, what I do is so marginal that it only really differs from what investment bankers contribute if you look at it through a strong microscope.

"Mafia Boss" provides benefit to humanity?

My company employs 14 people and counting. It's created most of those jobs in a recession. It buys goods and services that total up to a lot of money which then employ other people.

The games provide enjoyment to thousands of customers. Don't get me wrong, I'm not curing cancer, but yes it does benefit humanity.

But it pays cash and lots of it

How much? Can you be more, uh, quantitative here?

Starting salary for typical IT roles (dev, etc) are about £35-45k p.a. in London depending on how well you negotiate. That's straight out of uni. It goes up rapidly as you go up the ladder. Within a couple of years, if you do well, you should be up to £65k or so, and probably start getting a bonus on top of it too (probably about £10-20k or so in IT). It's not that unusual for the salary to go up by about £10k per year if you do very well, which isn't necessarily that hard, because there are a lot of blasé, bored people who don't have any energy anymore (the environment saps it out of you).

If you're on the business side rather than IT, the equation changes dramatically upwards. I have a friend who's 5 years into a front office, commodities sales job, starting from the lowest possible rank, and who's now earning £150k per year plus bonus. She started on £30k because she really wanted the job - so her salary has gone up 500% in 5 years. That's not counting the bonus either.

That's not fuck-you money. Few people earn that even at banks. But it is a very comfortable salary.

It's cheap to get that salary, too. All you have to give up is your dreams. My friend who earns £150k hates her job, and used to tell me that every time I saw her.

> It's cheap to get that salary, too. All you have to give up is your dreams.

Don't forget the effect of compound interest: they want your soul as well, and you burn out more every year for as long as you stay.

In my early career, a headhunter came after me to interview with his London bank client. I did a few quick sums at that point, and it's not nearly as attractive a package as it looks.

I'm in Cambridge, UK, so we have quite a few guys around here who get approached by the big London banks or who choose to interview there; a few of my friends did. Without exception, the ones who took the jobs get up early, commute down on overcrowded trains, work long hours during the day itself, and then commute home on overcrowded trains. By the time they've done that, they are so tired that they often don't want to do much on weekday evenings any more. The only thing that might improve the situation is moving to London, but that pushes your cost of living way up.

I don't earn as much money on my decent IT contracts as your £150k+bonus friend, and I've been working a bit longer. On the other hand, by the time you figure out an hourly rate including things like commuting time, I bet I'm not that far off. By the time you factor in the costs of commuting or getting London accommodation, I'm even closer. Oh, and I still have a life Monday-Friday.

I can understand people who go straight into that kind of environment for a couple of years after university, when you're young enough to take it and you're basically making an investment of 2-3 years of having no life in exchange for more comfort for the rest of your life. But I can't understand why anyone would want to stay there for much longer, even with all the financial reward: money is only worth anything if you have time to enjoy spending it.

Nah, cost of living isn't that high (as ig1 says). I've been living in London for the last 7 years, much of it on a rather limited salary. You can live very comfortably near central London (zone 1-2) in a nice area on £35k. You won't save much money, but once your salary goes up, of course, you will be able to (depending on how you adjust your lifestyle, of course).

As for hourly rate, that can be computed easily. My friend works about 12 hours a day, 5 days a week (no weekends, since her work is linked to the markets being opened). She gets 4 weeks of holiday a year, and there's about a week's worth of bank holidays. So that's 47 weeks * 60 hours = 2820 hours a year, on the upper end (assuming no sick days or other unplanned absences).

That works just above £53 an hour.

You could drive that down by counting her (30 minute or so) commute in, but you won't make much difference. The fact is, she earns very good money no matter which way you cut it. And that's not even counting the (very significant) bonus.

I'll grant you that living in Cambridge and working in London is daft, but that's why they have, ya'know, houses and stuff in London. So you can move there rather than spend hours on the train every day.

It depends very much on which bank you're working for. American/Asian banks tend to be much more hard pushing in terms of hours of facetime you have to put in, but at many of the European banks 40 hour weeks are fairly average even for Front Office devs.

Cost of living wise london isn't that expensive once you take into account cost of commuting. I'm paying £1300/month for a large two bedroom flat within walking distance of the city.

I'd expect the bonus to be higher, 10k bonus is what I'd expect a new grad to get a year out of uni. Although bonus varies a lot by bank, how close you are to the money, and if you get paid out of an "IT pool" or out of the "desk pool".

For base I think your figures are pretty accurate, although bases tend to max out at around £100k (in pure developer roles; developer management can go higher). A lot of senior devs become contractors, with day rates typically being in the £550-£750 range.

I've taken the contractor route and I'm perfectly happy with it. Although I fall within the range you specify I've seen higher for some specialised front office roles in certain technologies. This past week I've seen live positions in the range of £800 - £900.

Yep there are definitely positions in that range, but I think they're outliers rather than the norm.

That's not that much money. You should do better in hourly contract work in Silicon Valley. That can be, at worst, dull. But not soul-sucking.

Given that, why would you even enter the IT side?

because you have the skills necessary?

You make around S$200k/yr within 4 years if you're in banking IT in Singapore. This is not even counting the bonuses they usually get. OTOH if you work work for a startup here, you get around S$80-90k/yr max. And if you're a non-IT person at a bank, the figures are just astronomical.

Almost half of the people I met in university are now working for banks, and you'll find them either preparing for CFA exams over the weekend or thinking about their MBA applications for next year. These include people with PhDs in Physics and who worked on cutting-edge stuff like quantum cryptography.

S $200k/yr == USD 144k/yr.

By the way: tax rates are way lower in Singapore.

I'm in Singapore. Can you name a few startups here that pay like you think they do?

Before you start that bank job you should also think about whether what you're doing is moral and right. Whether by doing that job you're contributing to making the world a better place.

That's a good point, startups don't usually make the world a better place, but at least they generally don't seem to actively try to make it worse. And even if a startup were bad, it's very unlikely to be powerful enough to do damage on the scale a big financial institution could.

Your comment reminds me of this story: http://www.astatespacetraveler.com/have-you-ever-wondered-wh...

Broad strokes: Startups directly create new value, which by definition makes the world a better place, at least for someone. In contrast, the finance industry adds value indirectly by optimizing capital allocation. At best, finance increases efficiency, but it's very hard to measure whether it's helping or just exploiting the complex rules to skim off the top. In contrast, startups without a value proposition fail.

Only consumer product startups create new value, at least in the sense I think you are describing.

A B2B startup, much like finance, will only increase efficiency. If I build HRWeb (replace your human resources dept with the internets), all it does is makes a bunch of other companies more efficient.

A business is two things: an organization that sells something, and a collective of employees.

As you say, some B2B startups sell efficiency to the organization.

But there is also good money in selling products to the employee collective, even if they decrease efficiency of the organization.

For example, you can sell employees a product that gives them job security by making them appear more valuable. You could sell them a tool that will help them get rival employees fired.

Both of these would come at a cost of efficiency, but would be excellent B2B products. In the end, it's the employees who sign the purchase orders, not the organization.

I have a sneaking suspicion that these make up a much larger portion of B2B products than most people would think.

Heh, FYI http://HRWeb is the name of Microsoft's internal HR resources site.

Also consider that you didn't create the system and are just a part of it, if you don't take the job someone else will. Depends what stage of your life your at, the money could be a primary concern or a secondary one with flexibility, personal interest and creating something valuable higher.

> you didn't create the system and are just a part of it, if you don't take the job someone else will.

Exactly why I moonlight as a crack dealer, with the odd stint pimping adolescents I meet at the bus terminal. Sorry for the lame attempt at the witty reply... I guess the point is that not doing something doesn't mean it won't happen, but it does mean you won't do it, and that matters to some people.

I have far fewer moral qualms about crack dealing than investment banking.

I know you're joking, but I don't see the moral concern about investment banking. You may not be making the world a better place (although that is very debatable), but you're not making it worse, either.

Are you kidding? It's been what, 2 years since the market crash they caused?


Investment bankers created and sold the toxic assets (which they knew to be toxic) that caused the financial meltdown.

The top commenter explained a few more terribly evil things they do as well. For more examples, read any book ever written about Wall Street.

That's like saying men are bad because men are responsible for most wars.

You can't ignore the benefits created by investment banks. Without them we wouldn't have had the financial meltdown; but neither would we have had the rapid growth of the last century which has largely been fuelled by financial markets enabling huge amounts of investment. Without the investment banking sector you would have no IPOs, no financed takeovers, no VCs, even bank lending to small business would be close to non-existent. If you want to see the impact of financing, have a look at places which have introduced microfinance in recent decades. It has a transformational impact.

Of course they're not all bad. This isn't a movie, nobody is truly evil.

But the problem is the industry has fundamentally changed as it's been deregulated from the useful industry of yore that you mention (helping to efficiently allocate capital and provide liquidity, entirely separated from retail banking) into highly leveraged gambling institutions with a small arm that still provides some of those old services.

The guys inside the big investment banks who do the things you're talking about are more or less insignificant to the results of the big banks. The traders look at them the way a programmer at Google probably looks at the cooks in the cafeteria. All of the money is on the bond floor, and that's where the damage has been (and will in the future be) done.

I've worked in most major asset classes (equities, interest rate swaps, government bonds, credit derivatives, fx) and they all have significant real world uses.

In a couple of those classes, for example FX, the volume of speculation trading exceeds the volume of "real" trading, but again that's not without it's benefit. FX spreads have dropped dramatically and liquidity is near instant and it's much harder for an individual company or country to deliberately interfere with the market price of a currency.

Prop trading which is essentially the gambling part of most banks generally tends to be a relative small part of most banks. When it comes to trading most banks make their money from market making rather than any kind of prop trading. Bank share holders generally don't like prop trading due to the high risks involved.

In terms of risk there are obviously cases where bankers are taking excessive risk (because there's a high personal upside and low personal downside risk) and that's one of the factors that contributes to the failure of some banks. But it's not as if the activities the banks undertake are fundamentally wrong, rather that the rewards for the bank aren't matched by the risks.

In terms of morality there's very limited number of banking activities you could point to and say "that's morally wrong". You could for example reasonably argue that a salesperson at a bank selling A* rated CMO's to a pension firm is morally in the wrong if they suspect that the default rate on the underlying mortgages are higher than the triple A* would suggest, but on the other hand it's not as if he's selling it door-to-door to pensioners, he's selling it to a professional banker representing the pension fund whose job it is to do the due diligence on the product he's buying. A certain amount of responsibility for the purchase falls on the buyer of the product. As the old saying goes "It takes two to tango".

If the IB's knew the assets were toxic, why did they take long positions on them? Did they want to lose billions of dollars?

They didn't. They hedged the long positions with credit default swaps, assumed that they couldn't lose (which was true if the counterparty could afford to pay the swaps) and thus didn't declare them on their balance sheets as they were viewed to be without risk.

What ended up happening is the counterparties (most notably AIG) had taken on far more in credit default swaps than they could pay out, meaning there was lots of risk hiding off balance sheet. This is why Uncle Sam had to bail out AIG. (The Fed could have bailed out all of the people AIG owed instead, but that would have been far more work for no clear gain.)

I thought they didn't so much take long positions as ended up with being long as a result of everyone stopping buying them. Were they buying from other IBs or was it just a case that they couldn't sell some of the toxic packages they'd created?

That's true for Goldman - they tend to have a very short term focus. It was not true of many of the other banks. This is why Goldman did so well (relatively speaking) in the crash.

But when or if you have a child to look in the eyes and be a role model to, would it not make you a bit queasy?

Show and tell day? :)

Agreed. At worst it seems to be another form of parasitism. But the parasitic drain per host is fairly small. Taxes are arguably a larger drain.

I don't think that's true anymore. The amount of money controlled by the gamblers, and the amount of leverage they use, has gotten to the point where it threatens the fundamentals of our economy. It melted it 2 years ago and nothing substantial has changed since.

I do worry about this, when I consider working a few years at banks after graduating to save up some fuck-you money.

Can we explain this by saying many hedge funds are negatively correlated, along with survivor bias?

This is a huge simplification, but consider for every four hedge fund managers, one goes long the market, another short the market, another long volatility and another short volatility.

No matter what it's very likely one or two out of those four perform very well over one year. Start with enough hedge funds and throw on enough leverage and after a few years, there are bound to be some huge outlier-sized winners and many other blowups. It's like a big roulette table, but every possible outcome has someone betting big on it.

Contrast that with startups, where almost every startup has exposure to market beta (either in receiving funding or finding an acquirer). In addition, it's quite possible every music startup in the industry goes bust, or every PDA-maker startup, or every online poker startup, etc. The roulette wheel has an infinite number of bets, and can easily land so that no one wins.

Edit: I'm very convinced there are people with extraordinary skill in investing and/or in founding startups. I'm only suggesting how the Forbes 400 list could still exist if it was pure luck and no skill.

The roulette wheel model of hedge funds is even slicker, since other folks provide most of the money you're gambling with and you get to keep 2% of the chips you wager win or lose, and 20% of their winnings when you win.

Startups are usually short "establishment beta," i.e. if there is a profitable cash-cow company serving a particular set of customers, the typical startup wants those customers to be paying less money--to somebody else. Human needs are limited, and meeting almost all of them can be facilitated through a financial transaction.

The "beta" of finding funding or an acquirer is a funny kind of beta--it's highly unlikely that a great company will not get their first $1mm in funding because the VC world has just been deprived of $1b in assets allocated.

The cheapest way to short a startup is to bet on whatever establishment they're taking on. You could have shorted MSFT before they were public by buying IBM; if Big Iron kept on winning, you'd keep on getting your dividend checks. But startups are more akin to, e.g., long-shot CDS trades: the people betting against them get a predictable, incremental profit, or a massive, sudden loss.

Startups have the same phenomenom: for every product that people are not buying, there's a substitute that they're buying instead. Either that or consumers are stuffing their money under the mattress, but we know (from the savings rate data) that this isn't happening.

In some ways, there ought to be more variation with startups, because consumers will tend to pile onto the market leader because they're seen as reliable, which starves other firms in the industry and shifts resources onto a few big winners. The information cascades among consumer businesses can be much bigger than the information cascades among financial firms.

That accounts from some ways startups can be negatively correlated, but for the purposes of billionaire founders making the Forbes 400, I still say they are all hugely correlated to market conditions that enable crucial funding rounds, M&A events, and IPO events.

Also, if I think startup X sucks, it's not that obvious how I can bet against them and get rich on their dismal failure. But if I think hedge fund Y is doing stupid things, I can take the other side of their trades, and one of us will wind up rich.

"Also, if I think startup X sucks, it's not that obvious how I can bet against them and get rich on their dismal failure."

Compete with them. If you think startup X sucks, then enter the same market, gunning for the same customers, but serve them better.

It's harder to do this than for a financier to short a stock, but that's because everything in finance is higher leverage than in business. The goal of an entrepreneur is to do things better than established businesses; the goal of a financier is to predict which firms will do things better, and then divert capital to them. The actual effort involved in finance is simply a decision, but that decision needs a lot of information to be correct more often than it's wrong. (None of which changes the relative likelihood of wealth concentrating at the top of one of these fields.)

I don't follow. Say a startup comes along and I think the entire idea, space, and sector is doomed to failure. The whole market is a no-go. I can't get rich off the ones I decide will be failures, and it's possible for an entire sector to fail together in a correlated way. Say, Gmail crushes all web-based email startups, or iPhone crushes all startups based on the available 2007-era mobile platforms.

At least in financial derivatives trading, there is a somewhat zero-sum aspect to who is winning and losing money. Every dismal derivatives trade should have some winners on the other side.

> Every dismal derivatives trade should have some winners on the other side.

Unless the market collapses. In that case, all you have are losers.

OTOH, markets collapse not because resources are destroyed, but because investors realize they never existed.

> Unless the market collapses. In that case, all you have are losers.

And people who were short.

People can interpret a data set in so many ways. I don't know which people you put into the "technology" and "finance" categories. I just went with the people that Forbes put into the categories of "Finance" or "Investment" vs the people that they put into the categories of "Internet" or "Software". I ran some numbers on the data they provided and here's what I found:


  Total People: 81
  Avg Net Worth: 181.77
  Avg Age: 62.32

  Total People: 48
  Avg Net Worth: 321.47
  Avg Age: 45.43
The net worth is in millions I guess, but the numbers don't seem to jive (Bill Gates is worth $85B??)

It seems that technology > finance, in terms of net worth and number of years required to achieve that worth. While a financier may be more likely to make the list, the expected value for a tech entrepreneur seems to be much higher.

Did you look at just the new rich (the people who have gotten rich over the past ten years), or all the rich? If the latter, you're including a lot of dot-com people who wouldn't have gotten nearly as rich if it weren't for the bubble.

I'd have to normalize the data for all kinds of bubbles in a variety of markets, not just the dotcom bubble. Plus, I couldn't see how to determine who was new rich based on the data.

In the light of morning, I'd like to amend my statement to "the expected value for a tech entrepreneur seems to be slightly higher", based on the definition of an expected value:

  81 / 400 x 181.77 = 36.80
  48 / 400 x 321.47 = 38.57
Given that the odds of making the list in finance are higher, it's still a better bet to start a technology startup.

This is a false dichotomy. The financiers who made this list were all entrepreneurs. James Simons, John Paulson, Steve Schwarzman, David E. Shaw, etc all successfully founded companies. Their companies just happen to be investment firms. The fact that more founders of financial startups have made this list in past decade than founders of tech startups speaks to the dominance of the investment industry in recent years. It says nothing about finance vs start-ups. The Forbes list will always be dominated by those who took an entrepreneurial risk and had that bet pay off. Nobody, finance sector or otherwise, makes this list by being an employee. Not even top employees can reach this level. Jamie Dimon, Lloyd Blankfein, John Mack are not on here.

Now for more modest monetary goals, there's still no better field than finance. The only path to the Forbes list is through entrepreneurship, but finance opens up additional paths to millionairehood. Make it to Managing Director at an investment bank? Become a successful trader? You'll get 7-figures in yearly comp. Wanna do that in the tech world? You'll need a successful exit.

"Nobody, finance sector or otherwise, makes this list by being an employee. Not even top employees can reach this level."

That is indeed true, but "start-up" has specific technology connotations in the minds of most people here.

One could argue that Renaissance (Jim Simons) and D. E. Shaw and Co (David Shaw) are actually technology firms, and only incidentally financial firms. The majority of their competitive advantage emerges from software design and implementation, and systems integration.

With Renaissance, it's even in their name - the full name of the company is Renaissance Technologies, not Renaissance Capital.

Two of these (James Simons and DE Shaw) having started quant funds.

The original discussion was about expected value, not maximum value. I continue to believe that the expected value of finance exceeds that of startups, but the answer to that is not in the Forbes 400, which shows those who are at the extreme. To make an analogy, the guy that just won the Powerball lottery is far richer than all the doctors in his state, but that doesnt mean the expected value of playing the lottery is higher than being a doctor. Salaries in finance tend to start at close to $100K for first year employees coming out of undergrad. A solid performer can get up to $300K/year in 5 years. The difference between this kind of career path and startup is that the finance employee has much more control over his compensation - if you're smart and willing to work hard, the salary rises in a predictable fashion. An entrepreneur can make a lot more if he is successful, but many of the factors that determine success are out his control. The entrepreneurs win much bigger than financiers (so the entrepreneuers should be much better represented in the Forbes 400), but the expected value of being a financier is greater (no data available to prove that).

The real question is: Do you want to be a financier or a founder? Personally, forget finance. Some of us like to invent stuff, and by stuff I don't mean phony securities.

Interesting. Who were the 59 from finance?

I'm curious what your test was for deciding whether someone was in finance.

Here are the industries I considered to be "finance":

- Hedge funds and other money management

- Private equity

- Investment banking

- Leveraged buyouts

- Proprietary trading

- Traditional (retail) banking and credit cards

I did not consider heirs with investments to have gotten their money in finance, unless they increased their original sum ten-fold or more (in real dollars). I also did not consider real estate investment/speculation to be finance.

Sounds reasonable. But when you have time it would be useful to see the actual lists of the people you put in each category.

Since the ecosystem of non-bootstrapped startups combine founders and financiers, where do you draw the line? VC firms seem squarely in the financier camp, and founders who do not contribute capital are not, but angels and incubators are more difficult. An honest classification attempt would attribute some of their equity to capital and some to work contribution, but even when there is currently a stable valuation available to calculate the capital contribution to an equity grant, the numbers are often uncertain guesses.

apsec112: I see your reply, but it is [dead]

I actually counted VCs as having made their money from technology rather than finance

You know my next question then: what is the financier/founder ratio if you consider VCs to be financiers?

Real estate probably should be considered finance, making money in real estate is all about having access to the proper financing.

Just fyi, every person you listed above founded the financial company that made them rich. So they are founders and did do a startup - just not a technology startup.

How are you defining "startup"? "Startup" for most people has technology connotations. To quote PG:

"Startups are a comparatively new phenomenon. Fairchild Semiconductor is considered the first VC-backed startup, and they were founded in 1959, less than fifty years ago."

Clearly, he's referring to tech startups specifically. If you consider any small company that becomes big a startup, then Rockefeller and Carnegie made their wealth in startups.

I can't imagine describing either Renaissance (founded by Simon) or DE Shaw as anything but tech companies. They use technology as a competitive advantage in investments, much like Amazon uses technology as it's competitive advantage in retail.

You can apparently filter the results by the industry (from one of your own links), and here's a direct link as concerns the finance industry: http://www.forbes.com/lists/results.jhtml?passListId=54&...

James Simons (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Simons) was a mathematician who founded Renaissance Technologies a HFT (High-freq. trading) hedge fund. A lot more of a tech company than a finance company I would say.

But that's not quite accurate.

You see, while these guys are in Finance, at least 1/3rd of the above have serious hacking skills, not traditional finance skills;

  James Simons - math, but closer to hacker than financier
  Kenneth Griffin - was financial hacker , not a dealmaker
  DE Shaw - another hacker, a computer scientist/compbio

None of the above except Shaw are technology people. Simons is a mathematician, and Griffin seems to have a pure finance background:

"While still at Harvard University, he started two funds from his dorm room, and he claims that in between classes he would make trades. He even installed a special satellite link to his dorm to acquire real-time market data. After graduating with a degree in economics, he won the attention of an investor named Frank C. Meyer, founder of Glenwood Capital [1]. Meyer was amazed at Griffin's success and rate of return with his investments (which at the time were largely based on convertible bonds), and provided a relatively small investment for Griffin to invest ($1 million) [2]. Griffin exceeded Meyer's expectations, and as word of his strong performance spread, investors persuaded to back Griffin. Citadel was officially founded Nov. 1, 1990 with $4.2 million; the name "Citadel" was chosen to suggest strength in times of volatility [3]." - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_C._Griffin

> "Instead of assuming this, why don't you check and tell us? It should be pretty easy; historical Forbes 400 data is available online."

Well, he wasn't WRONG. He just advised you to make a stronger argument, since the data is easily available.

outliers hold no interest for me. what percentage of people who tried to become successful financiers made it vs what percentage of tech entrepreneurs started a successful company?

Maybe, but that's not what this discussion is about:

Original Post: http://apps.ycombinator.com/item?id=1320439

  > Despite the high risk/high reward, I think the
  > expected value (in money) of going to Wall
  > Street is still quite a bit higher than that of
  > a startup.
pg's reply: http://apps.ycombinator.com/item?id=1320447 :

  > The one place data is easy to find is at
  > the high end-- in the Forbes 400-- and there
  > at least that is not the case.

Difficult to say exactly. Both are definitely high-risk industries. The key difference is probably the timespan over which you make your money. A moderately successful entrepreneur might work hard for five years, sell his company for $20M, and get $4M of that. A moderately successful financier might work hard for thirty years, and make $500K - $2M every year that he works. Essentially, successful financiers tend to be older (50s and up) while successful entrepreneurs tend to be younger.

> Essentially, successful financiers tend to be older (50s and up) while successful entrepreneurs tend to be younger.

I think this data can also answer the question. Has any one done any calculations on this front?

That'd be an interesting number as well, but my guess is that financiers win there, too. Even if you don't make it big in finance, you can "fail" into a lot of lower-level jobs that pay around $200-300k. In tech, the fail-out-into-a-salary route tends to get you more like $100-150k.

If you can make the cut at a top investment bank, hedge fund, PE firm, etc, it's fairly trivial to accumulate $1M in liquid assets after 10 years of work. Much much easier than trying to sell your startup for > $1M.

The smart middle ground would be applying good technology/product entrepreneurship to the finance industry. They clearly have the money to play with and what may seem simple to us is wizardry to them. Someone pointed out an opportunity to me yesterday re: illiquid real estate assets. My mind is blown. I'm sitting here fucking around trying to get a 300k angel round, and these guys are trying to get rid of 300mil. there's a lot of money to be had out there combining tech/product know-how with boring industries. Money is usually found in the unsexy places.

I don't understand why the two categories are being contrasted against each other as though one cannot be both. Wouldn't many highly successful founders later become financiers as well? If the root of this discussion is indeed which paths any given individual might take to achieve much greater wealth-- and not some sort of "financing vs. founding" contest-- then the founder role should nonetheless receive greater attention in all/most aspects. For most, the financier role will only ever be open if they are founders first.

It appears that the "finance" category often is totally separate though, and that you can break into it without doing something like tech first. The people being classified as "financiers" on the list never started a non-finance company--- folks like George Soros made their money 100% in finance. They made their initial money moving up the ranks at investment banks, playing arbitrage strategies, pulling in bonuses from big deals, etc.

It may be stating the obvious, but if you are founding a (tech) startup for the money, you are doing it for the wrong reason.

While this is true to a certain extent, one must consider the opportunity cost of a startup. In this case: how much I am giving up, assuming I could have gone and worked in finance?

A man of finance measures his success on a single metric - wealth accumulated. A techie founder on the other hand has many takeaways - social respect, geek goodness, making the future instead of guessing it, money in some cases.

I think if economic wealth is used as a measure instead of monetary wealth, pg would be spot on. What say?

You said:

> 211 new people entered the Forbes 400 list during this ten-year period. > Of these, 59 were from finance. > 17 were from technology.

He said: 'that list (of deltas) would be dominated by Finance'

So how exactly was he wrong wrong?

"that list (of deltas) would be dominated by Finance" was said by startingup.

pg said, in response to "the expected value (in money) of going to Wall Street is still quite a bit higher than that of a startup.", "in the Forbes 400 [...] at least that is not the case."

> I think the record speaks for itself.

There's something about the way you phrased this that makes me think you were gunning for pg. It would be nice if you included the complete breakdown, as well as your criteria for determining tech vs. finance. Since you had to manually go through the entire list, I can't imagine it would have been difficult to record your results.

"There's something about the way you phrased this that makes me think you were gunning for pg."

I was responding to him specifically, yes.

"Since you had to manually go through the entire list, I can't imagine it would have been difficult to record your results."

Not actually difficult, just time-consuming (I did it by having the two different lists, sorted by name for easy comparability, in two adjacent browser windows).

I'm not saying you're wrong, just that it's a little disingenuous to publicly call someone out without providing your methods or your results.

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