🐧 Building a portfolio career with 2M+ audience | Eric Sims

INSIDE: From Jobless Grad to MD of UBS I-Bank, Building Institute of Life, Portfolio Career Lessons
February 4, 2024

I first crossed paths with Eric Sims in a Linkedin creator workshop.

He shares his insightful journey going from side hustle to building Institute of Life full-time.

Today, in 10 minutes or less, you'll learn:

  • 🏦 How Eric went from jobless grad to MD of UBS Investment Bank
  • 🚀 How Eric decided to go full-time with Institute of Life and what worked (vs didn’t)
  • 🫶 Portfolio career lessons learned, mistakes, and advice


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Building a Portfolio Career With 2M+ Audience | Eric Sims

Suffered from inferiority complex since young, Eric Sim was jobless for six months after graduating from Lancaster University in the UK.

Fortunately, after taking a series of small actions, he managed to carve a career in banking, where he worked for Citi for eight years before joining UBS Investment Bank as a managing director. While in banking, he was an Adjunct Associate Professor of Finance at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

A key opinion leader with over two million followers on LinkedIn, Sim has now developed a portfolio career that consists of teaching, coaching and speaking. Based in Singapore, he is also the author of the book: “Small Actions: Leading Your Career to Big Success”.

1. Tell us about your career journey going from graduating jobless in London to becoming a MD of UBS Investment Bank to founding the Institute of Life.

Without any luck in securing a job in London, I came back to Singapore only to be hit by the Asian financial crisis. Front-office banking jobs disappeared. I changed tack and went into risk management. After working in risk for four years, a friend from Citi called to ask me if I was interested to help Citi set up a risk advisory function. Of course, I was. I joined Citi and worked there for eight years in Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Then, another friend from UBS called to invite me to join their team. Soon, I joined UBS Investment Bank as a managing director.

I attribute my good fortune to the social capital I’ve accumulated over the years with colleagues and friends. Social capital is the goodwill that you gradually build up with others. It works a bit like depositing money in a bank and seeing your savings grow. Each time you’re nice to someone or help them, you generate some social capital.

2. You started Institute of Life in 2015 after your LinkedIn article about it went viral while you still worked full-time in investment banking. How did you build and sell the first Institute of Life programs as a side hustle?

The LinkedIn article on “The Education We Need Next Year” garnered over 3,000 likes. Many people agreed with my list of skills that young people need to achieve success. So I designed a two-day personal development course targeting young professionals. The course aimed to teach personal branding, selling, negotiation and networking skills on top of the mindset required to climb the corporate ladder.

Only five people signed up, so I cancelled the course. It was a huge setback for me. I began to doubt myself: does it mean I am not cut out to run my own business? Luckily, I got my first coaching client during the process. That was my first sale. My confidence came back when my client secured a better job in a bigger company.

3. What worked and didn’t work to grow Institute of Life in the early days? Were there any difficult moments and how did you overcome them?

When I was in investment banking, the fees involved were in the millions of dollars. I thought if I asked for a few thousand dollars of course fees, it would be an easy sell. No! While it was the same Eric Sim offering his services, the products were different. The decision makers were different.

I discovered that it’s much more difficult to sell a self-development course than investment banking services….. because, back then, I was known as a banker, not a trainer.

It took about 18 months for my business to pick up. So patience is needed. Without the big corporate brand name behind me, I had to rely on my own personal brand. Now that people understand my offering more clearly, they refer business opportunities to me on their own.

Here’s an example of how I grew my business:

  • Since in my entire banking career, I had been dealing with corporates and financial institutions, I realised I am better at B2B than B2C. So in my portfolio career, I focus on servicing businesses instead of targeting end customers.
  • And I stopped targeting all businesses. Instead, I serve financial institutions and large corporates, because my credentials and experiences are valuable and relevant to them. Lesson for me: don't go to where you need to fit in, go to where you are celebrated.

4. How did you decide when to go full-time with Institute of Life?

The money I made in banking didn’t bring me as much happiness as before. I have no desire to upgrade my lifestyle. To this day, I am still wearing a Timex watch.

But the stress in banking could be too much to handle. For example, a client defaulted on a structured loan that I originated. I felt responsible for the default. I thought of quitting my job but my market reputation would be ruined if I did that. So I worked with the client to restructure the loan. After 11 stressful months, I recovered, in full, the principal and interests plus legal fees from the client.

A few months later, I pivoted to a portfolio career to pursue a more meaningful and interesting life with the freedom to do what I like. I’m excited to help people achieve success at work and in life.

5. What mistakes do you recall making while building your business? What would you have done differently?

I thought if I can sell investment banking services, I can sell anything including training and coaching services. I was wrong. It doesn’t work like this.

Knowing what I know now, I would have lowered my expectation and given myself more time to build new client relationships for my speaking, coaching and training business.

6. What counterintuitive or non-obvious advice would you give to young professionals looking to build a portfolio career like yours?

Before you quit your day job,

  • incorporate your interest and hobbies into your day job. This will help you develop your interests. If you want to be a speaker, try offering training to your colleagues. If you like baking, offer your cakes to colleagues and get feedback.
  • build your online presence, write on LinkedIn and contribute to industry publications
  • expand your network and identify potential clients for your portfolio career
  • if possible, work out a part-time advisory arrangement with your day job employer
  • treat colleagues well and accumulate social capital with them. They may refer business to you after you leave your day job.

7. Where can we go to learn more about you?

You can follow me on LinkedIn or read my book “Small Actions: Leading Your Career to Big Success

🌐 Beyond your borders

📺️ Bob MetCalfe is the Ethernet billionaire. I enjoyed watching his interview recounting stories like getting mentored from Steve Jobs, his journey as founder of 3Com, and the best money he’s ever spent (link)

🇺🇸 U.S. workers getting hired by international companies increased 62%, many for remote roles. Remote roles getting crushed in the US. Yet global companies are looking for talent who have worked for the world’s most successful companies (link)

🤑 Reddit: How to stop obsessing over your salary. Lots of fascinating comments on this thread by the OP. The quick rule of thumb? Your goalpost is always shifting 20% or so (link)

📆 How I can help

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Dexter Zhuang

Dexter is the founder of Money Abroad, a website focused on financial independence for professionals abroad. He has 10+ years of experience building products and teams at companies like Dropbox, Xendit, and startups. He's lived and worked across the US, Asia Pacific, and Latin America. His work has been featured in global publications like Business Insider, CBS, US News & World Report, and Tech in Asia. He graduated from Dartmouth College.

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