Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, I’m Patrick Curtis and I’m the CEO and Founder of Wall Street Oasis, the largest online community focused on careers in finance.
The main products and services we sell are interview courses for finance careers. These courses help students and young finance professionals learn the specifics and how to answer investment banking interview questions and private equity interview questions, among other industries.
We also sell premium one-on-one services including resume reviews and mentorship where people can connect with professionals from their target industry to get detailed advice on their unique situation.
At the core of the business is a thriving online community which we invest in heavily in order to try and make it the most entertaining and educational content in the finance career space.
The community has now reached over 100 million visitors over its 14-year history and is currently getting over 2 million visits per month.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
After working 90+ hour weeks in investment banking at Rothschild for a few years out of college and then transitioning to private equity two years after that, I thought I had it made. I landed my dream job in private equity in my dream city (Boston) and had a much more healthy work/life balance.
The dream, however, quickly turned into a nightmare. In my first review less than 4 months on the job I was fired on the spot and asked to sign a waiver and take $10,000 to go away. I was confused and my confidence was shattered.
Even worse, I was blackballed from private equity in Boston. Every time I had an offer in hand it would get rescinded because the employer that fired me would only say that I worked there and wouldn’t give me a reference -- probably out of fear because I wouldn’t take the $10,000 or sign the waiver.
It was 4 months of scrambling to try and not derail my early career. Interviewing, getting to final rounds and then losing offers in the last stage because of my former employer.
My network is what saved me. Luckily, a former colleague at Rothschild vouched for me to his private equity fund back in New York. I knew to stay on “the path” and not derail my career, I needed to move back away from family and friends to stay on the buy-side.
I accepted the offer but I was never really the same. My confidence that everything would work out if you worked hard was gone.
Perfect is the enemy of progress. In order to succeed, you need to get started and stop trying to come up with the perfect business plan or perfect idea.
After reading a Forbes 30 under 30 article, I remember being struck by how many of the successful businesses were in a specific niche or sub-industry, not some grandiose idea or the next Google.
I knew I wanted to start something, so I immediately called my friend who knew how to code. Since my only expertise was investment banking, we decided on creating a fun community centered around young finance professionals.
We had no real plan on what the monetization strategy would be but knew that if we could build a strong following that we would be able to generate revenue to reach this audience.
Within a few months, the first iteration of Wall Street Oasis was born (was actually called iBankingOasis.com in the first few years!) and we started reaching out to student groups focused on finance and my small network to get feedback and try to get activity on the forum.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
My co-founder guided us to use a Content Management System called Drupal which was a great decision. It allowed us to configure and modify the site as we wished and although not perfect, allowed us to release new features at a decent clip.
The initial design and community itself were very basic. We used a free template theme and paid I think $50 for a logo (monkey hanging from iBankingOasis.com) and we were off to the races!
Describe the process of launching the business.
Our main strategy was to initially try and get as many people talking in the forum as possible - so we sent out thousands of emails from finance student clubs and had enough actual professionals on board from my immediate network to quickly answer questions as these first few discussions started taking place on the board.
This email collection process took months and we knew that we had one chance to get the community active. So once we had a very targeted list of 3,000 undergraduates and young finance professionals, we sent them personalized emails ~10-20 at a time over the period of a few days (typically at the university club level) to give us feedback and check it out.
We were able to incentivize enough people (~200 in the first few weeks) to register by offering a free compensation report we had put together from our network and enough people were active ~50 that we immediately started building out our content with the conversations that were happening naturally. We also had a few admin accounts that we could use to respond to new users quickly so that they’d keep using the platform.
We gave very little thought to the monetization and our goal was first to build an audience and figure out the revenue model later.
I used $1,000 of my own savings and Google AdSense to help fund the start-up costs...which were really just server costs.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
The most important way we have attracted and retained customers is to make the community a fun and functional platform that welcomes a variety of different perspectives. The massive inflow of user-generated content (UGC) led to natural growth in organic search traffic as our content base quickly went from 100 topics to 1,000, to 10,000 to now over 400,000 discussions and millions of comments.
You can think of this as we were able to leverage the massive influx of UGC over many years to build a content machine. It costs us $0 to publish and we just had to focus on providing a fun, welcoming and insightful community.
As social media has gained importance, we have shifted some of our effort to building up those channels - we now have 7 million impressions and over 500,000 engagements every month across our accounts and growing fast, however, the community is still where we pull most of our content for social from since we have such a massive archive of wisdom.
As the community grew and traffic did alongside it, we were eventually able to get into a vertical ad network focused on financial products (think trade and brokerage accounts) in 2008. This helped us go from ~$50,000/y in revenue to ~$200,000/yr and dramatically change our trajectory as we invested in a stronger dev team.
Eventually, the next leg up came in 2009 as we released the first iteration of what would eventually become our interview courses. I was shocked at the demand and number of sales that came in that first release (over $20,000 in the first month), so we decided to continually improve it and release courses for other industries and verticals which has helped us continue our revenue growth alongside our traffic.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today we are building out a massive database of incredible WSO mentors in any type of finance role you can think of to help guide the future of finance.
We also continue to build out our online course offerings including financial modelling classes an investment banking interview course, private equity interview and LBO course, hedge fund interview course and consulting interview course.
We plan to continue to roll out more courses in 2020 and grow our finance talent
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Yes, I’ve developed some habits in the last few years that have helped me stay focused including Bullet Journaling and reading a book called Traction to help us lay out a roadmap to success.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
The 4-Hour Work Week still impacts me to this day because of how Tim Ferriss thought about hacking Lifestyle Design.
GaryVee for inspiration and pushing me to look at long term investment instead of short term ROI.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Perfect is the enemy of progress...not sure where that quote came from, but I’m a big fan of this. In order to succeed, you need to get started and stop trying to come up with the perfect business plan or perfect idea.
Start trying to build and provide value first and the answer will come as you learn more about your market and the consumer.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Always looking for motivated and passionate people that like to work remotely. Currently looking for a Recruiting Assistant and Customer Support role.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Want to start your own business?
Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business. By sharing these stories, we want to help you get started.
Interested in starting your own business? Join Starter Story Premium to get the greatest companion to starting and growing your business:
- Connect + get advice from successful entrepreneurs
- Step by step guides on how to start and grow
- Exclusive and early access to the best case studies on the web
- And much more!
Are you ready to boost your revenue?
Using Klaviyo will open up a massive, untapped sales channel and bring you closer to your customers!
Level up your email marketing with Klaviyo!