Going from Employee to Entrepreneur

Formerly at Lehman Brothers, Now an Entrepreneur

What happened to Lehman Brothers was a tragedy. But, many former Lehman employees will no doubt go on to do amazing things. Peter Ubriaco is a great example of an ex-Lehman employee who is now well on his way to becoming a very successful entrepreneur.

Peter Ubriaco is proof positive that smart, hard-working folks can come out on top, even in this down economy.

He has the dubious distinction of being one of the many Lehman Brother alumni who were cast out when the firm ran into massive troubles in 2008, after the mortgage crisis unfolded.

However, Peter has rebounded just fine, thank you. He's started his own company and is doing well. We asked him to share his entrepreneurial experiences with us.

Peter, tell us about what you were doing at Lehman Brothers.

Lehman Brothers employed me as a developer of finance technology in their Information Technology division.

As you probably know, the firm went bankrupt and layoffs ensued. However, I was not exactly 'let go'. I had entrepreneurial desires for months, and my coworkers knew this, so when push came to shove, I volunteered for the severance package.

I was employed at Lehman Brothers for two years prior, until I was laid off October 29, 2008.

Why have you decided to become an entrepreneur instead of simply looking for another job?

I was sure I wanted to own my own business before I graduated college.

In fact, the Information Technology program at Rensselaer strongly encouraged entrepreneurs, and through the two years I worked at Lehman Brothers, I still paid annually to remain a member in good standing of the Rensselaer Incubation Program, which I have recently renewed my relationship with through 2009.

After losing my job, I realized that the 'classical wisdom' that told me to take a job at a 'highly respected' firm was dated and that if there were ever a time to try to make it on my own, it would be now.

Honestly, I still can't believe Lehman Brothers had to declare bankruptcy. It was an excellent company. I guess it does show that even the mighty can fall. So, Peter, with your new business venture that you are working on, did you buy a business or did you start it from scratch?

I am building the business from scratch, because as a technologist, I have developed unique technologies.

I believe this is the best approach for me because instead of laying down capital -- it allows me to convert my time into intellectual capital. On the other hand, I'm sure I could buy a pizza shop and be successful in that regard, I just don't have the money -- making it somewhat harder!

Well, tell us a little bit about your new company.

My business, New York Information Systems Inc. d/b/a NYISI, develops and operates information technologies targeted at businesses and consumers alike.

We are currently developing a mobile phone location service platform to help individuals find lost phones, help parents keep track of their kids, and help businesses manage their vehicles and other mobile assets. We also have developed a comparison shopping technology for consumers. Additionally, we provide direct technology consulting and management for businesses.

Sounds like some great offerings. Are you going it alone on this process or are you consulting with others for advice? If you are talking to others, who have you met with? What good advice have you heard?

I am doing this with the support of a single partner, a fellow Rensselaer alumni, and with the support of the Rensselaer Incubator Program, which has also fostered a number of other technology companies started by RPI graduates.

I've heard good things about that program. So, Peter, owning a business must be very different from working at Lehman Brothers. What are some of the key differences you've noticed?

One of my biggest concerns is the lack of benefits. At least while I was at Lehman Brothers, despite the lack of job security, I had health care and dental care. Coping with the high cost of health care is a serious concern at this point.

But frankly I think the risk of failing at starting a business in 2009 is greater than the risk that I'll break my leg in 2009, or I would go find another job. Also, I will essentially be living off savings until I have sufficient cash flow to permit myself to pay wages.

Are your loved ones and family supportive of you making this transition?

My family is generally supportive. However, ironically, my father (who owns his own business) has been incredibly discouraging, specifically noting that I could just as easily get another job. He sees the time spent not working as a 'loss', whereas I see it as an investment.

Overall, those close to me have been supportive, but even if they weren't, I would probably choose this route anyway as I've always felt it was the right path for me.

What is your timeline for becoming an entrepreneur? Are there some specific goals that you hope to achieve by a certain time? What are those goals?

Financially speaking, I hope to have positive cash flow by the end of 2009. I hope to fully pay back my cash invested by 2014 at the latest. However based on projections I think that a 5-year payback is actually quite conservative, because our costs to operate our technologies are so low.

Technically speaking, I would like to see our mobile phone location service platform be 'enterprise ready' by the end of 2009. I think this is realistic because it is already almost 'consumer ready' and we have only committed about 8 weeks of development time to get where we are.

Sounds like things are moving along at a good clip. I'm curious what makes you think you will be successful in running your own business?

I think I will be successful because I'm working hard every day towards my goals. Each Monday, I start the week by wiping down my whiteboard, and filling it with tasks to complete. I spend the rest of the week working towards those goals.

Also, despite Lehman Brothers having gone bankrupt, I considered my time there a success. I was even featured in an internal newsletter shortly before the bankruptcy.

Several of my colleagues asked me to re-apply and come back in the 6 weeks since I left, but they know that I've wanted to do this for a while so they were not surprised or really disappointed to hear that I was pursuing my business ventures.

Anything else you'd care to share with us regarding the transition from being laid off to starting a business?

Free time is a double edged sword: it's essential to keep active throughout the day to keep from losing your mind. It was also sort of eye opening to find out how bad daytime TV is.

Overall, I actually have found it incredibly liberating so far. But it is of the utmost importance to me to use my free time wisely.

That's so true. Time is money may sound cliché, but it's definitely the truth for entrepreneurs in the earliest stages of a startup. Listen, Peter, we really appreciate your sharing your thoughts with us today. Good luck with your new venture, Peter, and stay in touch.

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If you have been laid off or just quit a job, this story shows that with hard work and ambition, you can start a company. We hope you learn something this interview on what it takes to go from employee to entrepreneur. We welcome your comments, tips and advice below. Thanks!

  • Peter Ubriaco posted on 9/5/2011
    Peter Ubriaco
    Original interviewee here - reporting in just shy of NYISI's 3 year anniversary. First, thank you so much for the opportunity to share my story with other entrepreneurs. The first 2 years were a struggle, but things are really starting to come together. There were many times along the way I thought I wouldn't make it, but I stuck with it. With hard work and determination, almost anything is possible. Thank you again for posting this, good luck to all entrepreneurs.

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