A year after leaving his investment banking job to build an app, Nick von Christierson was ready for his first big pitch. Dressed in a sharp suit and armed with a Powerpoint presentation crimped from his days at Greenhill, he strode into the Upper East Side office block in New York, only to be confronted by a waiting room full of screaming babies.
He was meeting Dr. Jennifer Trachtenberg, a well-known paediatrician in the U.S, to get some medical – and “celebrity” – backing for an app called Baby Bundle, which gives a guide to new parents on everything from sleeping to nappy changing.
“I cold-called her out of the blue and arranged to meet her in New York after travelling from London,” says Nick. “I was out of my depth, really nervous and looked like a complete buffoon in my suit.”
Trachtenberg went for the idea, and Baby Bundle was rolled out in the U.S first, where it has so far had 165,000 downloads.
This was in 2014. It was the culmination of a gamble for Nick and his brother Anthony, who both their quit investment banking jobs a year earlier. Nick had worked for Greenhill’s fund placement division, while Anthony had spent three years in Goldman Sachs’ M&A division.
“It was a bit embarrassing for our parents at first. People would ask them how we were doing in these high-flying banking jobs, and they’d have to explain that we were now developing a baby app,” says Nick.
At the time, Nick was 28-years-old and had no children. He wasn’t building an app to guide new parents through the first tumultuous months based on his own experiences and frustrations, but because he simply saw a gap in the market.
“There was nothing on the market where you could get information about feeding schedules, or medical issues and practical tips all in the same place,” he says. “I’ll admit it definitely wasn’t a vocation, I was feeling my way in the dark and learning as I went. But not having any babies allowed me to have an objective view.”
Nick was facing the same career crisis that many investment bankers encounter after a few years in the industry – stick with it, or consider your exit options. The plan was to take an MBA at Columbia Business School and then see what opportunities presented themselves. He decided instead to go it alone with the Baby Bundle idea.
First, he needed some capital and they initially raised £250k ($359k) from friends. They used the money for development work – since neither brother had any IT experience. Since the success in the US, they’ve since had another seeding round and raised £1.2m ($1.7m). Baby Bundle has also launched in the UK and partnered with Mumsnet.
Nick interned at Morgan Stanley’s real estate fund during the summer of 2009 and inadvertently witnessed the brutal side of working in investment banking when the bank started laying off full time staff. “Senior people were getting fired left, right and centre as the markets turned. It was a strange experience,” he says.
But what ultimately led him to quit banking was not the prospect of getting fired, or working in a trigger happy industry, but just a desire not to get stuck.
“I knew that if I stayed, I’d go on to make VP and then director and I could see my future mapped out through the people I worked with and just didn’t want to be that guy,” he says. “You’re culturally pressured to get a high-paying job and finance offers a good outlet for that. The hardest step of starting your own business is the first – and walking away from that into the unknown.”