Hear what can happen when you leave a fancy finance job behind to “give back” to the community. In this episode of Career Relaunch, Scott Lee, a former money markets broker in London who left his job behind to feed the homeless shares his thoughts on creating value, making a contribution to society, and how reading books can really change your life. I also shared a couple of my favorite books that had a major impact on my career.

Key Career Insights

  1. You don’t have to make professional decisions that make sense to everyone else.
  2. Doing work that feeds your soul can help you figure out what really matters to you.
  3. You don’t have to figure everything out on your own. A wealth of resources exist out there. You just have to take the initiative to seek them out and tap into the information.

Tweetables to Share

Resources Mentioned

Listener Challenge

During this episode’s Mental Fuel segment, I suggested you get that book on your reading list and start reading the first 10 pages this week. I’m going to commit to reading Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins just to join along! What’s on your reading list? I’d love to know, so be sure to let me know what you decided to read in the comments below.

About Scott Lee

Scott Lee responseIQScott Lee is entrepreneur who’s never looked back since he left the daily grind of London’s financial world behind. After working in the world of investment banking, wealth management, and money market brokerage, Scott left the finance sector, spent some time working with homeless people in need, and eventually went onto found responseIQ, a sales optimization platform.

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Episode Interview Transcript

Teaser (first ~15s): I quit, I took the money that I had, and I started feeding the homeless in my hometown with a good friend of mine who had been on his own journey as well. We were both sort of looking for an outlet to almost clean ourselves of the previous life.

Joseph: Good morning, Scott. Welcome to Career Relaunch. Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us today.

Scott: Thank you, Joseph. My pleasure. Looking forward to it.

Joseph: I’d love to start, Scott, by first of all hearing what’s been going on for you in your career, in your life. I know you’ve had ton going on the past few months and would love to hear what you’ve been up to.

Scott: The past few months have been very exciting. I started a company called ResponseiQ around eight or nine months ago now. I’m very fortunate to say that we’ve just secured venture capital funding. We’re going to be moving over up into new offices in London and expanding considerably. It’s a really exciting time in not just my life but in the company’s life. Things are full throttle right now. Everything keeps changing week from week, but I’m very excited about the next couple of months.

Joseph: Congratulations. We’re going to come back to talking ResponseiQ. Can you just, in a nutshell, give us a really quick snapshot of what ResponseiQ is all about?

Scott: We solve the problem of the fact that companies aren’t that good at getting back to internet-based inquiries. We’ve built a sales acceleration and lead management platform that turns inquiries into phone calls within 60 seconds.

Joseph: Can you go back in time and just tell me a little bit more about the work you’re doing in the finance sector between 2011 and 2013, before you founded ResponseiQ?

Scott: I did quite a lot of jobs in the investment sector before I quit and started this journey. I’ve been in finance and investment banks. I’ve been in wealth management, and most recently, I was a money market broker at ICAP in London. It didn’t really fit me too much, but there was a lot of good times had there, a lot of great people met, and a lot of lessons learned. Unless I did that part of the journey, I don’t think I’d be at this part of it right now. Everything along the way is certainly a lesson learned.

Joseph: What originally attracted you to that sector?

Scott: To be honest, like everyone else in that sector, it is the monetary rewards. My educational part just led towards that. I always did quite well at school. I went to a very good business school and performed extremely well. I got very good placements and internships. Before I knew it, I was at the biggest companies in the world, working with some of the biggest-name brands.

That kind of just happened. It wasn’t really something at 15 years old that I said, ‘Yeah, I want to be an investment banker, I want to be a money market broker.’ It just happened very spontaneously, Joseph. I kind of blinked, and the next thing I knew, I was in Canary Wharf.

Joseph: Can you explain what your day-to-day life was like there?

Scott: The most recent job I had was a money market broker. The way I can possibly describe that is the movie ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ is probably the last industry where it is still a little bit like that. You got a load of very aggressive and loud men in one room, all very close together, shouting big numbers at each other, lots of stress. The hours were incredible. I was sort of working 5:45 till 5:00 every day, no breaks. I was a junior there. I was a young man, a junior, which means you’re first in, last out. You get the lunches. You say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’s. It’s sort of do all the work with not much of the rewards.

You work in those hours, but you’re also expected to go out and entertain clients and drink and eat excessively at the same time. It’s physically a very draining job, but even though you sat down for 99% of the day, you’re burning it very much at both ends.

Joseph: I know that when we first spoke, you mentioned the daily grind of the City of London’s financial world. What made this a daily grind for you? I know you talked about the hours and how you had to spend your evenings with clients. What made this especially difficult for you?

Scott: At some jobs where you have clients and you have a bit of a relationship with them and you sort of like them, in that environment, traders and investment banks of your clients, these are some of the smartest people in the world. They sort of have a bit of a god complex, and you’re sort of treading on eggshells the whole time. Eighty percent of the time, you are not doing very much, but that 20%, if you get a decimal place wrong, you’ve caused the person to lose a few thousand pounds. He’s your friend, so he’s annoyed at you. The trader is shouting at you, and the company’s annoyed at you. It’s just absolutely rollercoaster of emotions that really does just drain you down.

At the same time, you go home and you’re stressed, you can’t sleep. I was a young man in my young 20s, and by Friday evening, I just wanted to sleep. That’s a grind on anyone.

Joseph: What do you think keeps people in that industry working like that?

Scott: I can absolutely tell you what keeps you in it because when I interned at this company before I was offered the role in later years, I remember having a very nice man sitting down and going, ‘Scott, you seem like a nice, smart, young man. Why do you want to work here?’ I was like, ‘It’d great to work here.’ He went, ‘Are you kidding? Me and everyone else in this room, we would leave if we could do anything else. We’ve been here so long, one, we’re addicted to the money. Our lifestyles were at a certain level. Our kids go to a certain school. Two, we can’t do anything else. We only know how to push around these imaginary numbers and turn them into other numbers.’

He said to me, ‘It’s weird how this now become true. What you need to do is leave and go work for a startup. That’s the future.’ Little did I know that that would obviously come to fruition in later years.

Joseph: What made you realize that you wanted to shift out of this world?

Scott: I got really into documentaries, and then I got very deep into a lot of literature, a lot of stuff that they don’t teach you in school. I’m a very well, financially qualified, young man, but then when you actually learn about how the financial system works, about how debt really works, things aren’t planned up to lessen the funding of wars and things like this. I sort of thought I’m reading books about the companies that when I get off the Tube and walk in the office, I then go and serve. I was kind of leading two lives, and I come to a pinnacle moment.

I remember I used to go home and visit quite a lot in Kent from London, which isn’t too far. There was one time I was with my friends having a drink, and I remember saying the sentence, this time next year, I won’t be working in the city. The next day, one of them called me and said, ‘Scott, you realized what you said last night?’ I said, ‘Yeah, it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot.’ I think that was the pinnacle time where I actually said the words out loud. I’ve probably just thinking about it in my head. That certainly started the journey of looking for the next step.

Joseph: What did you do next once you realized that you needed to move on?

Scott: I started looking at other options. I thought about going back to university and doing a Master’s, but really, I knew that that was just putting the inevitable on hold. In the end, I decided that I’m actually just going to quit. I don’t particularly want to do anything. I know that mentally, I’m not prepared to take another leap into an industry that I know I don’t like.

I quit, I took the money that I had, and I started feeding the homeless in my hometown with a good friend of mine who had been on his own journey as well. We were both sort of looking for an outlet to almost clean ourselves of the previous life. We did that all winter.

Joseph: What was that like for you? That seems like a huge contrast between working in a fancy office, making quite a good income to then being in this other world, feeding the homeless. What was going through your head as you were doing that?

Scott: It felt good. It felt nice. I hadn’t really given any value. A term that I like to use a lot is value. I think in the financial sector, there is zero value being created, whatsoever. It’s a zero-sum game. When you’re meeting people out in the streets, they start remembering your name. You start knowing a little bit about their background stories. You see them when they’re drunk. You see them when they’re sober. It was a nice feeling, because you’d go home and go, ‘Wow, I’m freezing cold, it’s been raining for two hours, but a lot of people have now got a warm meal,’ and it’s a nice feeling. It’s something that I hadn’t actually experienced before.

It’s something that I recommend that everyone does actually do. It’s easier to give £5 in a charity box where only 50 pee of that will actually end up serving the charity. You’re better off just putting your hands in your own pocket and doing something yourself in the active community.

Joseph: What did that teach you about yourself as you went through that?

Scott: Not to judge a book by its cover is certainly one thing. I saw and met some of the smartest people I’ve ever met while I was doing that, granted when they were sober they were a lot smarter. Some of the stories were just incredible. Some of them are ex-city guys themselves that had just taken a few bad turns, and then they get stuck in this rut, and there really isn’t much to get them out of it.

I was someone that did just this: you walk around with your chin up. You think you’re a captain of the industry, but that’s of course they breed you to think like that. They breed you to think that you’re the best thing walking, but you’re not. Everyone is just a normal human being with a normal story. Everyone’s got the same worries and same worries as everyone else.

Joseph: It’s always so tempting to become arrogant and feel like you’re on top of everything and you know everything, but in reality, we all live in our small, little worlds, and there’s so much we don’t know, and there’s so much that could happen to us. Life is so fragile, and things can get taken away from you really quickly.

You’re feeding the homeless. You’ve left your job. A lot of people, when they don’t like their jobs, they tell me, ‘I’d love to quit, but I just can’t because I don’t know what it is that I want to do next. I know I don’t like what I’m doing now, but I don’t have a sense of where I want to go.’ How did you manage that? Because I know you mentioned you weren’t completely clear on what was next for you when we talked before.

Scott: I took a bit of time out. I’d tried to almost not decide on what I was going to do next, and then it organically happen. I was lucky enough, I was working at the same time. My family run a medium-sized building company. It’s pretty successful where I’m from. I’ve worked on that during the summers as a child, so I had a second home to go back to. They can’t quite believe why I left the city to come work on a building site, but to me, I was 20 times happier. I got to do that to essentially tick over and have enough money to live and spend the excess on what I was doing with feeding the homeless with my friend.

That gave me enough time to zone out mentally. That’s the job that you can do and you can go home and you can forget, and you can actually have time to process about what you want to do next and what you’re actually interested in. With the internet now, you can really just go down any rabbit hole that you like. You can grab hold of anything now and just sow a couple of information for free. Don’t even get me started on the books that you can get on every single subject. That’s when you really get into something.

Joseph: You’re reading these books. You’re learning a lot about yourself. What were people in your former professional life saying about this? Did you have interactions with them still? I’m just curious what the reaction was to this new life that you’d created for yourself.

Scott: It wasn’t just so much of the people from the previous life. It was family and friends as well. They think I was a little bit crazy, and for myself, it was a little bit crazy. It’s quite a random thing to do. Obviously, it’s paid off now, but to have the courage to actually do that, it was difficult, and there were some of the closest people to me who, even though maybe they wouldn’t have said it to my face, they were skeptical. That’s not to say that they shouldn’t have been skeptical. It’s healthy skepticism, but it certainly did exist.

In later years, I’ve had people come out and go, ‘Scott, I thought you were mental when you said the stuff that you were saying.’ On the other flipside, some of the people that made me really well, just turned around and went, ‘Scott, whatever you do, you’ve got this. We believe in you. You’ve always done well. Whatever you choose to do next, you’ll be fine,’ but let’s make it clear: there was a lot of people that would’ve put me in the crazy column.

Joseph: How did you manage that?

Scott: Confidence to be honest. There’s a little bit of arrogance in me. I’m aware of what I know, and I’m proud of what I know. If I know more about something than someone else, then I will stand by my opinion in any given circumstance. That’s sort of been well-documented in my life. If I know that something’s the right decision for me, then I’d weighed out the pros and cons and it’s cool, therefore, I’ve made the decision, and my decision is made.

There’s always going to be skeptics along the way, but no one ever achieved anything by agreeing with everyone else. That’s for sure. Nothing ever got created that way either.

Joseph: What was the hardest part of that time between when you left your job and moved on to founding ResponseiQ?

Scott: It was sitting down with my dad and stepmom. My dad’s a successful man. If he hadn’t been sort of an entrepreneur himself, I don’t think I would’ve had it in me. At the time I didn’t know that, but if I just rewind a little bit, I had to come down to folks and sit with the both of them who really had no idea what I was going through mentally, how unhappy I was with my role, with what I was just learning about with how the financial system works. I was genuinely unhappy about these things.

I’d sit them down and go, ‘Look, I need a little bit of faith, but I’m going to quit. My decision has been made. I’m really not happy right now. I’m not in a happy place. It was a very emotional conversation. I’m not ashamed to say that. That was definitely the hardest bit, and I remember it very well. I even remember what I was wearing that day. That’s something that certainly stuck in my mind.

I’ve been so lucky, Joseph. My family have been so, so supportive in everything that I’ve done. Never once was it really questioned. They had belief in my more than anyone, so I’m very fortunate.

Joseph: At that moment, you mentioned that that was really tough. What were you concerned about?

Scott: I was concerned about what the future of my life looked like, and I was also concerned about—it sounds almost a little bit naïve—yes, I am now the CEO and Founder of this company, but I also care a lot about world poverty, about global issues, and things like that. At the time, those issues are really eating me up, so I actually probably cared more about those at that moment in time than I did my own wellbeing. That’s where I was at at that moment in time, so that also made it very hard.

To other people that love me, I tried to explain to them that I care more about other things than myself. That’s a difficult conversation to have by itself.

Joseph: I knew that I also wrestle with that sometimes. I feel like sometimes I’m focused on my own ambitions, and I sometimes feel guilty that I’m not doing more for other people. I always feel like I could be doing more. I think about that a lot actually.

Scott: The problem is, you have to draw the line somewhere. One day, you just have to go, ‘I’m going to do this amount,’ and you have to stop there because I was going down the path of doing everything, and then you end up not really contributing anything because you got nothing to contribute.

My long-term ambition is the ‘Warren Buffett’s of this world that make incredible money and then get to spend the rest of their life giving it away. Who would not like to spend the second half of their life doing good things to people who deserve it? I can’t imagine anything more rewarding.

Joseph: You’re kind of figuring things out during that year. How did you start to put the pieces together that you wanted to found your own company?

Scott: I think it started with the self-help industry. I think I got into that.

Joseph: Was there any particular resource that you found useful?

Scott: I think I read all the classics, everything from Guy Kawasaki. Brendon Burchard, he’s got some not very specific books, but this gem of books that just made you feel good if I’m honest. Then I sort of got the bug into reading books that made me feel good. A lot of things people, and also entrepreneurs as well, whether it be their marketing, their own books, or whatever thing they’re probably selling ultimately, but that got me interested in the world of entrepreneurship. The next thing I know, I’m probably reading two books a week on different topics of entrepreneurship. A really good one that I read was The Millionaire Fastlane. It didn’t have a catchy title, but it’s a very, very good book for any budding entrepreneur.

Then just one thing led to another, but I didn’t stop reading, and I still haven’t stopped reading. In fact, next to me right now, I have two books in a package ready to send to my new head of sales, and I want them to read them, because I know how much I got from them. You can spend a year learning about something or you can shut yourself in a room for a week and read all the books in it. Someone’s been there before, made the mistakes you’re going to make, and giving you the solutions. It’s that simple – knowledge is there.

Joseph: Was there any one or two pieces of insight that you got from those books that helped accelerate your move toward starting your own company?

Scott: Yes, there was. It was in The Millionaire Fastlane. Ideas are easy to come by. Every guy who’s ever sat in park has had a great idea. I had someone call me very recently and shared their idea with me but don’t have a lot to protect the idea. An idea is nothing. Everything is in the execution.

Also, as important is if an idea has already been done, that doesn’t mean that you can’t do it. The world is a big place, and you can certainly take a twist on it. I think an example that they give in the book is a gentleman who made a bog standard bottle of vodka, but he shaped it as a skull and then he sold the company for 30 million just by making the bottle look cool. You just got to take something, put a twist on it, and shoot it to another market. That’s what really got me thinking.

If you sit there and think, ‘I’ve got the have the world’s next big idea. I’ve got to create a microchip. I’ve got to create a PC or the iPhone,’ it’s not going to happen. You just got to scale down. I would very much recommend The Millionaire Fastlane to people to open your eyes out to the opportunities that are there without you knowing it.

Joseph: Can you just also tell me a little bit about what you learned about yourself, during the past transition that you went through, about career change?

Scott: I don’t think anyone can really be aware of the ideas that they can have and the things that they can overcome unless you take a chance and you change something up. Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with being an employee for the foreseeable future, but you can still have your own, little, mini entrepreneurship within your job. I think sometimes and as you push yourself outside of those boundaries, you’re not going to actually be able to have ideas and achieve things unless you make that chance.

That’s something that I found very much myself. I hit roadblocks almost daily, and then come 8:00, 9:00 p.m., I’ve overcome it and absolutely excelled past it. I never thought I’d be able to do things like this until I took myself out of that comfort zone.

Joseph: Finally, do you have a piece of career advice you could share with people who are on the cusp of making that change? Maybe they’re unhappy with their current role, but they just can’t quite take that leap. Anything you want to share with that person?

Scott: Whatever problem you’re having, whether it’s mentally, financially, or spiritually, put your head in a book. Get up an hour before you go to work. Read that for an hour. I used to read on the Tube on the way to work. Anything you want to overcome, there’s a great author who’s put it in a book for you. Go out, buy that book, and I promise, it’ll be the start of the next hundred books that you’ll read.

Joseph: I definitely want to hear a little bit more about ResponseiQ. I know that you mentioned before, it is about response optimization and sales acceleration. Can you tell us a little bit more about what you’re doing there and what ResponseiQ is all about?

Scott: We’re very much solving a problem. If you get back to an inquiry within five minutes, you are 100 times more likely to speak to that person versus if you wait 30 minutes. We walk in, we up that connection rate by 10%, 15%, 20%, 30%. They create great first impression. Off the back of that, there’s all these metrics to show you how well your sales agents are performing, who’s connecting the most calls, who’s making the most appointments. It’s also very much an accountability platform. We’re in a very good place right now, and we’re really looking forward to some accelerated growth.

Joseph: Wow, fantastic. I know that you just recently landed a round of VC seed funding. Is that right? You’re moving into London, right?

Scott: Yes, that’s correct. We’ve landed some funding with Fuel Ventures, courtesy of Mark Pearson. I recommend that people look in Mark if they’ve got a great idea at seed level. He’s a very, very good man, very happy to have partnered with Fuel Ventures. We’re very grateful to be in this situation.

Joseph: My final question for you is, when you landed that VC round of funding, what was that like for you to have reached this point after, not so long ago, making that brave decision to leave your old job behind?

Scott: Interestingly, I mentioned to you about how important the conversation with my dad and stepmom was when I first made that leap to leave. Interestingly, I actually got the email confirmation when I was on a Eurostar train to Belgium to go to a music concert with my dad and stepmom for my dad’s 50th.

They didn’t really know exactly what was going on. I kept the cards close to my chest, because obviously, I was very excited, but I didn’t want to say something that didn’t happen, so I sit there and go, ‘Guys, I’ve got something to tell you,’ and we were shouting, and we’re screaming. It was just this beautiful moment, and then the whole weekend in Belgium was stunning. It was a really, really good time. Looking back to where I was, where it was 12 months ago, it’s an insane journey, but you got to take those risks.

Joseph: Congratulations again on all your success. It’s been a really interesting story to hear, just how different your life is now compared to what you’re describing at the start of this talk. I just wanted to thank you for taking us through the importance of contribution and the power of reading and also how you managed your own career change. Thanks so much for your time today, Scott.

Scott: Thank you, Joseph. All the best for the future.

About Joseph Liu

Joseph Liu is dedicated to helping people relaunch their careers and do more meaningful work. As a public speaker, career consultant, and host of the Career Relaunch® podcast, he shares insights from his decade of experience relaunching global consumer brands to help professionals to more effectively market their personal brands.

About Joseph Liu

Joseph Liu helps aspiring professionals relaunch their careers to do work that matters. As a keynote speaker, career & personal branding consultant, and host of the Career Relaunch podcast, his passion is helping people gain the clarity, confidence, and courage to pursue truly meaningful careers. Having gone through three major career changes himself, he now shares insights from building & relaunching global consumer brands to empower professionals and business owners to build & relaunch their personal brands.