What It’s Like …
What It’s Like … To Turn a Wall Street Layoff into a Dream Job
Jessi Walter: From Bears and Bulls to Cakes and Kids
Everywhere we turn there’s more bad news about the economy … Banks are collapsing, governments around the world are panicking, and Wall Street is about as stable as that soufflé you attempted a few weeks back.
We could all use a ray of sunshine right about now, and mine came when I heard about Jessi Walter. Laid off from her job at Bear Stearns after the JPM merger, she did what all of us do – polished up her resume and started applying to other jobs in her field. In the process, she realized that her heart just wasn’t in finance anymore, and so she decided to take another route – and Cupcake Kids! was born. In just a few short months, Jessi’s life did a complete 180 and now instead of wading through spreadsheets and numbers, she’s elbow deep in pizza dough and frosting.
I caught up with Jessi to find out what inspires her, her thoughts on the current financial crisis, and which movie she was obsessed with when she was the same age as her current clients (hint: it’s not Wall Street).
How did Cupcake Kids! come about?
I’ve always loved food and kids. Cooking in the kitchen was part of my daily life growing up, and as an adult I’ve tried to bring this fun learning experience to the kids around me. In April 2007, I had the idea to make it into a side business to provide the kids of New York City the very opportunity that I loved as a kid. Kids can learn so much in the kitchen – from math to science to reading to patience.
Was the decision to leave finance for food difficult? What made you finally take the leap?
It wasn’t difficult as much as it was life changing. I always knew that I wanted to be involved with food and kids, but I never seriously considered making it my profession. It wasn’t until I left Wall Street that I sat down to try and prioritize my life and figure out what I wanted the next chapter of my life to be. In the end, I decided that I had to go with my current passion and desire, which were teaching kids in the kitchen about food, nutrition and generally helping them to live healthy lives.
Weren’t you nervous about launching this business after a career on Wall Street? Did you have a safety net? How did you overcome your fears?
I was actually really excited about it! I’ve been always been interested in entrepreneurship and saw this as an opportunity that allowed me to take the next step and launch my own business. Of course, there is always the worry of if my business will become successful enough to support me but I just felt a deep desire to go for it and to see what happens. It’s been great so far and I’m even more excited to see how business develops over the next year.
How does running Cupcake Kids! compare with your former life on Wall Street?
Hmm, well, I don’t wear suits anymore, which is fantastic. The change has cleared way for a lot more room in my closet as suits take up a lot of hanging space! I definitely work more now than I used to (if you can believe it). When you have your own business, it just doesn’t seem like there are enough hours in the day. But when you are doing something that you love and that you believe in 100 percent, I can’t wait to start working on it everyday.
Why cupcakes? What other kinds of activities do you do with the kids?
I love cupcakes, so when I was thinking of a name, my mom suggested Cupcake Kids! I immediately thought that it was so catchy and decided to go for it. We make all sorts of food (savory & sweet) and really only make cupcakes as part of our cooking birthday parties. We have a heavy emphasis on seasonal and well-balanced diets, which I believe can definitely include a good cupcake from time to time.
What is the best thing about what you do now?
Running my own company is very challenging and very rewarding. I love coming up with ideas and following through on them from start to finish. I also love the flexibility that being your own boss provides as I lead the business in new directions.
What advice would you give to other women contemplating the life of an entrepreneur?
I’d say to go for it! It’s a huge challenge and so rewarding. But it’s also a LOT of work so be sure that you’re committed to you idea 100 percent and really want to take on the challenge before proceeding. You have to love your idea! Especially as you’ll be working on it day in and day out going forward.
What are your thoughts on the current financial situation? Are we going to see more and more stories like yours popping up?
It’s pretty bleak out there on Wall Street right now. Only time will tell how long it will take for us to get out of the current situation, but I’m hoping sooner rather than later. As for more and more career change stories, I hope that everyone is able to follow his or her passion. One of my passions was and remains Wall Street and the way companies finance themselves. But I also have a lot of other passions that I want to pursue. I think life is meant to be lived and enjoyed. That, for me, means working hard at what I love, and right now that’s on Cupcake Kids!
Rapid Fire Questions:
1. When you were 10 years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an astronaut – I was obsessed with the movie Space Camp.
2. What type of kids did you hang out with in high school?
Swimmers — I was on the swim team and swam for 16 years (age 6-22).
3. What women from the past do you most identify with?
Hmm, I’m not sure, although I’ve always been intrigued by Cleopatra and Ruth (from the Bible).
4. What’s your workout?
ARC trainer at NYSC followed by abs; if I’m really lucky then I’ll make it to a spin class.
5. Cat or dog?
I’m more of a fish person.
6. What do you do when you want to completely tune out?
Bake and clean.
7. What book is sitting on your shelf waiting to be read?
Lots of magazines.
8. If you could have dinner with any two people, who would you choose?
9. What is the one thing you want or do not want the next generation of girls to encounter?
I want them to have the freedom to pursue their passions.
10. If there were one thing you could change in your life, what would it be?
I’d have a washer/dryer in my apartment!
Cupcake Kids! is a pioneering company that specializes in hands-on cooking events for kids ages 2 to 16. The idea was born in early 2007 and ballooned into a company that brings cooking classes, birthday parties, and other special events to the kids of New York City. Our events are help at Pong Restaurant at 150 West 10th Street in the West Village of New York City. We also travel to schools, homes, museums, churches, camps and more.
Betty Discount! 10% off any class or apron and $25 off any birthday party for Bettys in the NYC area. All readers can take 10% off a Cupcake Kids! kids apron – it makes a great holiday gift. Offer valid until 12-31-08.