Retraining Wall Street: What you should really be turning bankers into… and how

When the city announced its 11-point plan to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship in NYC, it was met with quite a bit of skepticism for the few in the startup community who bothered to notice it.  Most of the existing entrepreneurs who didn’t need a financial downtown as an excuse to start a new company didn’t take the two minutes to read the city’s press release because they were too busy working on their businesses.  Much of the plan centered around taking those that had been laid off from Wall St and helping them start their own businesses.

I think the reality is that the mindset, DNA, and maybe more importantly lifestyle of somebody who worked for a big bank and didn’t leave until they were forced to doesn’t exactly overlap with what is needed to start a company—and I’m not sure that a 6 week training program can change that. 

However, what I realized this morning is that there are extremely specific needs at many well funded startup companies that aren’t being met.  For example, I’ve talked to at least four startups in the past two weeks that needed someone to run their web marketing—but not write site copy or do branding work.  They needed some hardcore quants to test strategies for loyalty and affiliate programs, measure ROI on paid search, etc.  Frankly, fine tuning the web marketing strategy and lead conversion of an e-commerce company is not unlike managing a portfolio, trading or doing financial analysis.  It’s putting a person in front of a set of quantitative tools, analyzing large pools of data, goal seeking, and optimizing.  It’s the kind of thing that, if you were awesome at it, you could walk into any startup that sells anything, pitch your ability to add directly to the bottom line and pretty easily get hired to do it. 

What I’m saying is, there are lots of opportunities at the startups we already have, and skillsets that are scarce.  Instead of creating more startups, why don’t we make sure the talent pool is deep for the existing startups that already have some traction and funding.  Let’s create more product managers and web developers, not more entrepreneurs.  While the job market is difficult right now, there are a ton of opportunities in startups that aren’t getting filled because they can’t find a specific skillset.  If someone were to train themselves to be a web marketing analytics ninja, they’d get hired in a second.  How to you get that skillset to a former financial analyst?

I don’t know if programs like Jumpstart NYC are going down to this level of detailed skills training—and the reason I don’t know that is that their classes are closed.   You have to attend in person and there’s no materials or courseware on the web.  Why not just release all the materials in public and record the classes to put them up  online?

Contrast that with how it looks like we’ll run our little learning Python experiment.  We asked the community for feedback on what books do use, how to structure it, and even for people to join Julie Steele and I in our little quest to learn how to program.  We got lots of feedback and we’re going to do the whole thing in public.  We’ll probably just get a little group of 5-10 people together, but we’ll share everything we’re doing so that others can follow along with us or even find the materials in the future and maybe add to them.

Not only would that increase the number of people who could possibly learn—like those who couldn’t make it in person—but it will be available for others to not only find it later, but to add best practices and materials to it as well.  I don’t think a big top down program could be dynamic and flexible enough to teach people the specific, detailed skills that are immediately useful to startups.  Group learning and public materials could get all these Wall Street tech guys working on trading systems coding iPhone apps faster than a city program could.