5 Lessons Rocky Can Teach You About Getting Into Investment Banking
“Ok, I’ll give you $25 for him.”
Had it really come to this?
First, his wife’s jewelry and now his dog?
When you really need the money, anything goes, right?
It had all started with dreams of being a movie star, and now he was here – broke, and selling the last of his possessions to stay afloat.
Back in the Day
Since he was a child, Sylvester Stallone had wanted to star in movies – not TV, not plays, not anything else – but movies.
But actually becoming a star?
Well, he had gotten over 1500 rejections from agents in New York so far.
At the time, there weren’t even 1500 agents in the city – but he had been to many of them 5 or 6 times.
The First Job
One day, he arrived at an agent’s office and stayed there overnight when the agent refused to see him.
The next day, around 4 PM, the agent saw him there and gave him his first movie role: he would play a thug that appeared for 30 seconds and then got beaten up.
He played a few more roles like this, but it wasn’t enough to pay the bills – so he had to start selling his possessions.
His wife kept yelling at him to “get a normal job” but he refused – he knew that once he gave up, he would get caught up in the routine.
Hunger was his only advantage.
Becoming a Writer?
Broke, freezing, and depressed, Stallone went to a public library one day and discovered the poems of Edgar Allen Poe – after which he decided to change his strategy: he would write his own film instead.
After several hundred more rejections, he finally sold a script for Paradise Alley – for $100.
That was an enormous sum of money to him at the time, but it wasn’t enough: he had to start selling his wife’s jewelry.
And finally, he had to sell his dog for $25 to a guy at the liquor store down his street.
The Next Day
The next day, he watched a boxing match between Muhammad Ali and an underdog of an opponent – Chuck Wepner.
All odds were on Ali dominating – but Wepner kept bouncing back and actually knocked Ali down in Round 9, almost winning the fight.
Eventually Ali triumphed in Round 15, but Stallone had gotten what he needed from watching: inspiration.
Immediately after the fight, he sat down and wrote for 20 hours straight – until he had the script for Rocky.
Right after that, he went out and started shopping it around to agents, but to no avail.
“It’s too predictable.”
“Haven’t I already seen this 500 times?”
After countless rejections, he finally met a few businessmen who believed in it – and they offered him $125,000 for the script.
It was more money than he had ever seen in his life, but there was a catch: they would not let Stallone play Rocky. Instead, they wanted Ryan O’Neal – a “real” actor.
“Take it or leave it,” they said.
Stallone walked out of the room.
A few weeks later, they called Stallone again and offered him $250,000 this time.
$250,000 to NOT star in his own movie.
He turned it down again – and they came back with an offer for $325,000, which he also turned down.
Finally, they reached a compromise: they would pay Stallone $35,000 and allow him to star in his own film. To them, $35K was chump change and they figured the gamble would be worth it.
They spent $1 million making Rocky, which went on to gross $200 million and win 3 Oscars.
The first thing Stallone did was go back to the liquor store where he had sold his dog and wait around for the same guy to show up.
On his 3rd day of waiting, he finally found the man, along with his dog.
He offered $500, then $1,000, and the man refused both times.
Stallone finally got his dog back after several more attempts: he had to offer $15K and a part in the next Rocky movie to the guy who bought his dog.
That may sound ridiculous to you – but if you really want something, you will pay anything to get it.
Ok, So Now About Getting Into Finance…
This story is one of Tony Robbins’ most well-known motivational tales.
And it’s often remembered for a simple message: never give up.
At first glance, that’s what the story seems to be about: Stallone never gave up, and eventually he became a star, right?
1. Persistent Adaptation
Persistence is part of the picture, but it’s not the whole story.
Sometimes I get emails that read like this:
“I’ve been through 50 informational interviews and have contacted 500 different bankers, but I still haven’t gotten any interviews. Should I give up?”
If you’ve done THIS much networking and have still not gotten any results, you’re doing something wrong.
Persistence is good, but persistent adaptation is better. If something isn’t working, why would you continue to do it and expect different results?
If something isn’t working in your recruiting efforts, you need to figure out why and then change it. Talk to your friends in the industry, reach out to people you know and see what’s wrong… and then fix it.
Yes, you have to do some testing first to figure out if something works – but make sure that you’re not using ineffective strategies ad infinitum.
Just think what would have happened to Rocky if Stallone had kept starring as a minor thug in movies.
2. Networking Is Not 100% About the Present
You might think that this story had a poor outcome for Stallone: he only made $20K after you subtract the cost of getting his dog back.
But it paid huge dividends in the future: he became a star and made far more fame and fortune in future years.
Too often, you get very focused on getting a job immediately with networking.
Yes, if you want to do a lot of cold-calling that can happen – and if you’re in a crunch for time, you may have to do that.
But more often than not, the true benefits of relationships will only present themselves in the future.
But please, don’t ever take advantage of this to make 20 movies with the exact same plot…
3. If You Want It Bad Enough, You Can Get It
This is why I rarely answer “What are my chances?” questions anymore: most of the time it comes down to a simple question: How bad do you want it?
Sometimes you need to hit rock bottom before you get motivated enough to make a dramatic change.
That’s why so many people sit in their comfortable existences doing something boring all the time: they don’t want anything else bad enough.
(And yes, I know the grammar is wrong. It’s intentional.)
4. Predictable Does Not Equal “Bad”
Lately I’ve seen some “interesting” suggestions for how to “stand out” when networking.
Send a box of chocolates to an MD? What about wine bottles? How about figuring out where he lives and camping out in his yard?
There’s a thin line between “creative” and “psychopathic stalker,” and you have to be careful not to cross it.
The hard part about networking is not coming up with brilliant ideas – it’s execution, asking for feedback, and actually having the motivation to call 10 firms each day and refusing to take “no” for an answer.
Hey, it may not be the most glamorous or revolutionary concept ever, but neither was the script for Rocky.
5. Knowing the Outcome Guarantees the Result
This is another type of “advice request” that I stay away from:
“Do you really think I can get into investment banking… I’m not sure… I…”
Ok, let me get this straight: you aren’t confident yourself, but you think that some random guy on the Internet can give you all the answers?
Stallone succeeded because he knew the outcome: he would be a movie star.
Along the way, he changed his strategy and tactics to reach that outcome.
A quick example of this: why would you call someone and say, “Are you hiring anyone right now?”
“I wanted to see how I could best position myself for an interview for…” is much better, because you’re:
- Assuming that they are indeed hiring.
- Assuming that you will indeed get an interview, and that it’s just a matter of working out the logistics.
A good “advice request” might be:
“I’ve been working for 2 months on getting interviews. So far, I’ve gotten a 10% response rate from 50 alumni using these methods [Describe the action that you've taken]. However, I want to get my success rate higher – which of these points do you think I should do differently?”
Once you visualize success, the details fall into place.
Lessons Not Learned?
Ok, you may not want to copy everything Stallone did on his way to becoming Rocky.
If you stayed overnight at a bank, you might get kicked out or arrested – and you should never offer a company $15K to hire you unless you’re a trust fund baby.
But aside from those, you could learn a lot from Rocky – just like Jack Bauer.
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