Valeri Gervaziev left his role as an executive director at Morgan Stanley in 2022.
Courtesy of Valeri Gervaziev
Valeri Gervaziev left a lucrative investment banking career at Morgan Stanley to start a company.Gervaziev’s dissatisfaction with banking led to the launch of Deepwrk, a platform for body doubling.Despite having to adjust his lifestyle, Gervaziev is more fulfilled and doesn’t regret his choice.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Valeri Gervaziev, a 37-year-old startup founder in London. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I moved from Bulgaria to the UK for university when I was 19. After completing my master’s in finance, I joined Barclays‘ banking analyst program, where I spent about six years and was promoted to senior associate.
After Barclays, I joined Morgan Stanley in 2018. A few months after being promoted to executive director in 2022, while earning a total compensation of over $400,000, I quit to start my own company.
I decided to leave investment banking because I’d lost the meaning and purpose of my work, and I wanted to find it.
I’d always been interested in finance and investment banking
My family ran a small business in Bulgaria, which sparked my interest in business and finance.
Becoming a managing director wasn’t a specific goal when I started in investment banking. I focused more on gaining responsibility, learning, and enjoying the work, which led to promotions.
Despite the excitement and learning opportunities in mergers and acquisitions and getting to work with some of the brightest people, when you lose the ‘why,’ it becomes challenging to continue.
The year before I quit, I had many internal tribulations
My dissatisfaction had built up throughout the years but was particularly clear to me the year before I left. I wasn’t motivated by a higher salary or bonuses. I knew I had to make a change as I wanted to create something impactful — to be more than just an advisor on the sidelines.
I felt a mix of fear and excitement when I decided to leave. I was excited about life after banking being full of opportunities, which outweighed my fear. My managers initially tried to talk me out of it, but they supported my decision once they realized nothing could be done to retain me.
When I quit, my current venture wasn’t fully planned yet. There were many unknowns, but I had already decided to leave before my promotion because, to me, it was either that or stay in banking forever.
I had to adjust my lifestyle significantly
I adjusted my holiday and social spending immediately. I don’t own a home, so I don’t have a mortgage, but my partner and I rent in an expensive part of London, and our rent increased significantly after the pandemic.
In my early days in banking, I wasn’t very good at saving money. I focused more on lifestyle experiences, which I later realized could’ve been better managed. I also sent money home to my family in Bulgaria more regularly, bought my parents a car, and helped them finish their house, so I had less to save.
When I became a senior associate and my salary increased, I started to save more. My expenses plateaued around the time I became a VP.
In my early career, I felt like a HENRY. By the time I quit my job, I had enough financial security, but it came at the expense of everything else. I realized money is just part of the puzzle.
The idea for my startup came when I was working from home and felt isolated
During the pandemic, a friend in the US and I started working together virtually. I realized having a friend or partner who works simultaneously with you, also known as ‘body doubling,’ could be helpful for many others.
This led me to the idea for Deepwrk, which launched in September. Initially, we tested the concept with solo entrepreneurs and remote workers, but I quickly realized that people with ADHD benefited the most.
Looking ahead, our strategy is to develop a complete platform for adults with ADHD, start group coaching within the platform, enhance gamification, and integrate AI for better community connections.
The biggest challenge at the beginning was the loneliness
I’ve found it crucial to have a community, which, luckily, is a pain point Deepwrk can solve. I’ve become close with some people who regularly attend my body-doubling sessions. I’ve also kept in touch with a few people from banking.
I run my business largely independently, but I have a team of about 10 people on a contract basis. We’re bootstrapped through my savings, but we have paying customers through a subscription model.
I’m now considering external funding. The biggest expense isn’t the business investment but the opportunity cost and covering my living expenses while extending my financial runway.
I haven’t drawn a salary for myself in a year and a half, and I plan to pay myself when the business generates enough cash, or after closing an external round of financing.
I don’t regret leaving banking for a second
It’s almost inevitable to experience lifestyle creep in an industry like banking or consulting. When you quit, it can be hard to adjust. I see it more as an opportunity to live a happy, healthy, and fulfilled life with less.
I feel more fulfilled now, doing what I love and helping people, which is more important to me than money. I was in a privileged position to make such a decision, though. I don’t have fixed commitments, like a mortgage or children, which gave me the flexibility to leave my banking career.
I have certain worries about the future, but the satisfaction I get from impacting members’ lives is incredibly rewarding and makes it worth it.
Have you quit a high-paying job to make a career pivot? Email Lauryn Haas at [email protected]