I was a millennial finance analyst at a huge investment bank in NYC. This is how I launched my own multi-million-dollar business in under 18 months.

I was a millennial finance analyst at a huge investment bank in NYC. This is how I launched my own multi-million-dollar business in under 18 months.

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  • While he stood out at an early age for his talent in investment banking, Nelson Lee didn't feel satisfied to continue his climb up the traditional finance industry path.
  • After a stint at a well-known investment bank in New York, Nelson Lee cofounded a fintech firm, Pacific Wealth Solutions, in 2017, and created a multi-million-dollar revenue stream in less than 18 months.
  • Below, he shares exactly how he did it, including a three-step approach for how others can attempt the same level of success.
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There are many levels of success. One level is working for a top multinational investment bank and financial services company. But quite another is co-founding your own fintech firm and creating a multi-million-dollar revenue stream in less than 18 months.

Nelson Lee - who started his career in a large investment bank in New York City and today is CEO and co-founder of Pacific Wealth Solutions (PWS) - can claim both of these achievements. How did he accomplish this dual feat?

A great educational base

The story starts back in 2010. After studying business economics at UC Irvine, Lee was tapped for an analyst internship at a global financial services firm in New York, which he describes as a "great base of education" that would later help him launch his own company in the finance industry. During the dedicated learning program, Lee learned the basics about everything from wealth management and Bloomberg operations to market analysis and client interactions. He quickly caught on to the nuance of investment banking, and while in his late teens, achieved the top sharpe ratio in a virtual portfolio management contest at the company.

Nelson Lee


But while he stood out at an early age for his talent in investment banking, Lee didn't feel satisfied to continue his career climb up the traditional path in the finance industry. "I was thrilled to receive this opportunity from such a reputable organization, but I didn't feel that there was a great deal of innovation at the time, or that career development in this big corporate environment was very enticing," explained Lee. "I wanted to seek the freedom to imagine the future and change the world."

So after completing his analyst internship, Lee continued building his skill set, taking on another internship the following summer at Chinese Internet giant Tencent. The combination of these experiences led Lee to discover a deep passion for financial mathematics and data science - in particular, for finding innovative ways to look for what he describes as "holes and mismatches in the world."

Lee identified the insurance industry as the right place to test-drive some of his insights, and spent the next 3.5 years in business development at the life-insurance and wealth management company Northwestern Mutual. After developing a new execution method for premium financing in the insurance industry, Lee's work began to gain more attention within financial services circles. He was subsequently recruited to Pacific Advisors, where his methodology continued to make a splash and began to attract enough investor interest for Lee to fund his first startup, leading to the birth of PWS in 2017.

Read more: I helped launch an 'Uber for lawn care' startup that failed miserably. This is exactly how I knew when to give up - and how we were able to pivot to launching a multimillion-dollar company within the same year.

A leap of faith

While Lee jumped at the chance to launch his own company, he had some reservations about his readiness to leave the corporate world and go out on his own. "To be completely honest, when I got funding as a first-time entrepreneur for PWS, I wasn't sure if I had all the skill sets needed for success yet," he said. "I was confident that I knew what I was doing, but I didn't know what I didn't know." His belief in his purpose kept him going, however, and he committed himself to learning about entrepreneurship "on the fly" as a founder. "Sometimes it just really takes that irrationally strong leap of faith," said Lee, "because entrepreneurship is monumentally harder than working in a big corporate."


And now for the multi-million-dollar question: How did Lee manage to build a $2M+ revenue stream in less than two years? What strategies did he follow to make his startup successful so quickly? Lee's answer is a simple one, yet succeeding in each of the three steps that he recommends isn't easy.

"First, unearth the truth in a market filled with lies and salesmanship," he said. "Second, prove what you found can be validated with numbers in repeatable testing. And third, present customers with applicable technology that brings convenience and enhances the overall experience."

The "lies and salesmanship" that Lee refers to in step one is based on his experience of researching deeper into the insurance market and discovering a business opportunity: "My team and I realized that the insurance industry was not only sorely lacking in transparency and standardized quantification of quality - of products and of salespeople - but also of technology and convenience, all of which led to a traditionally poor experience," explained Lee. "With quantifiable and standardized metrics, along with a compatible technology platform, insurance transactions can deliver highly consistent performance and experience." As a result of these discoveries, PWS was formed to research and identify innovations that led to quantifiable advantages in investment strategies and risk underwriting, instead of relying on old-school salesmanship and networking.

Read more: There are 11 types of emails you'll send when you launch a business. Here's a template for each that will help you gain new clients and keep your old ones loyal.

Nelson Lee


Cultivating the long-term vision

For step two - the proof and validation required for rapid financial growth - the co-founder points to the importance of patience. "Innovation often comes at the conflicting intersection between making revenue the old way right now, or making revenue later in a better way," said Lee. "To be an entrepreneur, you need a long-term vision, perseverance, persistence, and the willingness to say no to things that may be good at the moment but you know don't bring value long-term."

He added that the right investors should be aligned with the time horizon of your vision, enabling you and your team to execute without unnecessary baggage. During the first 12 months, Lee's startup did basically zero marketing and approached no clients. Instead, they conducted research, developed products, validated, tested, and validated some more. This positioned them well for year two. "Once we did have our approach and product ready, we had very good revenue growth in an eight-month span," said Lee. "Probably a lot more than if we focused just on selling from day 1, which would have led to not nearly as many innovations that would drive long-term revenue."

Read more: 90% of startups fail. Here's exactly how you should vet a company before deciding to join.

A winning strategy that can work for others

With steps one and two successfully executed, Lee and his team were free to focus all of their attention on step three: enhancing the customer experience (CX) through a convenient platform. And the rest, as they say, is history. "Once we secured all the technology, tools, resources, and contracts we needed, clients started coming to us in surprising volumes," recalled Lee. "The traction began to build, and before my second year with this company, we were hitting 2M+ in annualized revenue."

Lee's strategy of refusing to put the cart before the horse - spending the first year focusing on the fundamentals of mining data sets of product performance, mathematics modeling, underwriting analysis, and building technology applications - paid off. "Even with no dedicated salespeople, clients managed to hear about us and come to us with money to invest for them," said Lee. What's more, Lee's belief that technology will be the key ingredient in creating large-scale change in the insurance industry led him to recently launch a second startup, iLife Technologies, dedicated solely to technology innovations in the world of insurance.


It's an inspiring story, but is it one that other entrepreneurs could make happen too? Lee believes that they can: "If you have the funding and the patience to do lots of R&D in the beginning, and not succumb to the seduction of just hiring a sales team to sell whatever brings revenue, then it definitely is a model that could be replicated."