John Steinberg, Founder of Fiduciary Trust, Becomes a Venture Capitalist

A Wall Street Banker Turned to Comedy for Happiness and a Career Change

John D. Steinberg, founder of Fiduciary Trust, a private wealth management firm based in New York City, had built his firm into one of the largest in the U.S. and was the first to offer clients the option of creating a joint account to diversify their investment holdings. But then he realized that it wasn’t enough to be a bank for retirement nest eggs.

As Steinberg’s firm grew, he found that he had no clue how to grow his business. He didn’t know what to do to better himself, so he turned to comedy. He joined a comedy group, Improv Everywhere, and started making jokes about himself. “I wasn’t a master at doing a lot of the really hard things,” he said. “When I joined the comedy life, I was the new guy — the newest person who hadn’t done a lot of the stuff.”

In his early 20s, he said, “I was like, ‘What?’”

Steinberg quickly learned that comedy can be a great way to learn something new and, perhaps, learn something about yourself as well. His goal became to become like the comics he loved to watch on television — he wanted to learn to be one himself.

“People asked me, ‘John, how do you become so funny?’ I said, ‘It’s an inside job.”

And like many comic businesspeople, he saw the value in becoming like his favorite comedian: Jerry Seinfeld.

“I wanted to be like him,” Steinberg said. “Then one day he turned to me and said, ‘I want you to be funny. I want you to be my partner. I would pay you what you make.’ He said, ‘Don’t make money, but if you can’t make it, make it.’”

Instead of taking a more traditional route to success, and instead of building a business, his path eventually led to his greatest achievement — being a comedian who became a successful venture capitalist.

A Breakthrough Year

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