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Erik Trautman

“Everything you can imagine is real.”
-- Pablo Picasso

Today I Quit My Job

Today I quit my job. Well, not exactly… I gave my notice and set the clock ticking on my extrication from this industry. Energy has been my home for the five years since I graduated Penn with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and an ambition to trade millions of dollars of something on the world markets.

I landed out of school in the Bank of America analyst training program in time to catch the crest of the market wave just before it broke. My analyst class was the largest in the bank’s history (500+), the stock was trading around $53, and the plans were on the table for the glorious new Bank of America tower overlooking Bryant Park in New York. There were cracks already — I remember rotating through the Commercial Mortgage Backed Securities (CMBS) desk for a week and having NOTHING to do while everyone around sort of shambled by like zombies. A year and a half later the world had changed ““ Lehman and Bear were gone and the integration with Merrill Lynch meant that our tiny commodities team in that brand-new-but-nearly-empty tower in New York was redundant.

I spent some time really falling in love with New York City before moving down to Houston to work at BP as a power analyst. I’d always assumed I would be going through Houston just like I’d always expected to be trading for another ten years… you could hardly trade energy without making a pilgrimage to the Mecca of the Gulf Coast. Things were good… really good. Great job, great weather, great life. I stuck with my team when they moved to Freepoint and I took a more market-focused role, probably one of the best seats in the industry and certainly for a guy my age. But I’ve never been a guy with small dreams or the ability to say “this is good enough”. In fact, just staying in one place longer than a year was a major accomplishment.

Back in school, I had my first pivot when I realized I was far more interested in business than in formal engineering. I took entrepreneurship classes during my time abroad in Stockholm and, when I returned, I loaded up on finance, marketing, and accounting courses at Wharton until my senior year schedule included as many credits as three of my housemates combined. It wasn’t your typical senior spring but when I’ve got passion I’m nothing short of all-in.

I blame internet poker. See, I started playing my freshman year after watching a guy down the hall pull 65k in a single night during a massive multiplayer tournament. I attacked the fundamentals of the game with passion and, in time and after several failed starts, I managed to support myself on the income that generated. After a while, I’d earned some decent cash but didn’t have a clue what to do with it. So, just like I did with cards, I opened up “Investing for Dummies” and gradually that cash became savings accounts became mutual funds and eventually I was trading gold and crude oil futures on the global exchanges. I was totally enamored with the flow of capital in markets and also with its deployment in business.

I always intended to start a company. I never knew exactly what it would be or when, but I knew that I was going to create something of value down the road and build it into a lasting enterprise. Maybe it was my father’s entrepreneurial spirit seeping into my subconscious or just a need to create, but it amounted to basically an assumption that someday the world was going to get a piece of my vision whether it was ready or not. Going into finance (really trading) was always more about the short term… it was the marriage of a fascinating and fast-paced career with a relatively safe route to a comfortable life and a way to build up a capital base on which to launch Life Phase II.

It’s an interesting feeling when you’ve purposely pulled the rug from under yourself. It’s like that sensation you get when you’ve overridden your better instincts, put the blinders on, and jumped from the high dive and gravity has just found your stomach. You get a split second where your upward momentum has stalled, you look down, and the conscious portion of your mind perks up just long enough to say “Nice job, dumbass.” You have the choice to either scream in terror like a child or collect yourself, remember why you jumped, and find joy in the excitement of the experience.

I made this change for a reason. Every year around New Years I sit down and do a gut check of my life. I think back on the previous year and figure out what the hell I want to do with my life going forward. This past year, I looked back at the facts and SAW nothing but success. The strangest thing, though, is that no matter how I spun it, it FELT like a failure. I wasn’t happy. It took me a lot of time to figure it all out, but basically I wasn’t doing what I ultimately wanted to do. I’d slowly but surely found myself traveling down a path to a comfortable life but in the end of the day I was pouring my time and energy into something that couldn’t stimulate my whole brain and didn’t leave me feeling fulfilled. I had a lucrative career doing something that no longer fulfilled me… I was the poster child for golden handcuffs.

Sometimes it’s the smallest things that get the ball rolling. For me it was the Steve Jobs book. That’s not to say it was the beginning… the pressure had been building for some time and I found myself once again pouring more and more of my free time into the study of business, entrepreneurship and innovation. But that book resonated like a well struck tuning fork and started the avalanche that led to the realization that all I wanted to do, all I spent my free time building towards, was to take control of my vision and create an enterprise of my own. That I can relate to Steve’s passion for design and simplicity was icing on the cake.

The 4 minute mile was long held to be an impossible human feat until Roger Bannister turned in a world record time of 3:59.4 on May 6, 1954. That record was held for less than two months. When you see that something is possible, it removes any artificial barriers you may have had to its achievement. I think something similar was at work in me ““ I had a building pull towards a new vision and an increasing push from my current one but the bridge was forged when I could see it done. Once the switch was flipped and the possibility was opened up to me, there was really no going back and my current position was inevitable.

Where does that leave me now? Well the ball has started rolling and it’s just beginning to find momentum on its course down a very interesting hill. I have a plan but some parts of it are to have no plan. I know generally what the path forward looks like and where it leads but it will be a winding journey along the way. One thing I do know is that my time in Energy and in Houston is drawing to a close. I know that I have a whole lot to learn but I can’t wait to learn it. And I know that it will be a very challenging road ahead but the idea of that is more refreshing than anything I’ve had in a long time. I’ve got the energy and the drive and soon it will be time to execute.

I invite you to follow along. I’ll be soaking up knowledge like a sponge and passing it on through this blog. I will examine the cutting edge of innovation and I will dive into the skills necessary to execute. I want to explore everything from the hard facts of business to the philosophy of my own journey to the success stories of others and to even the role that art and design plays in the realization of any successful product.

It will be long, difficult, and undeniably exciting.

I can’t wait.