Nov 07, 2016

Extra-Ordinary Companies

By Erica Toews T'18

Led by students, Tuck industry treks are amazing ways to travel, explore industries, and engage with company leaders. I arrived in Hanover feeling invigorated after the entrepreneurship and venture capital (VC) trek to New York. Eight Tuck students visited several companies over the course of two days. Each meeting felt intimate, and we usually went around in a circle and shared our backgrounds. I was humbled that company founders, whose time is extremely valuable, were interested in learning about us. While most of my classmates are going through on-campus recruiting, the trek opened me up to new and exciting career opportunities.

The first company we visited was Primary Ventures, a VC firm that provides seed funding to early stage startups. Brad, one of the two partners, offered us coffee and bagels and spoke with us about the tech ecosystem in New York compared to the Silicon Valley. Primary Ventures shares an office with one of the companies they invest in, Square Foot, which facilitates renting office space. We met the CEO, who advised us not to start a company for the sake of being an entrepreneur, but only if we are passionate about a brilliant idea. It reminded me of these lines from Charles Bukowski: “unless it comes out of / your soul like a rocket, / unless being still would / drive you to madness or / suicide or murder, / don’t do it. / unless the sun inside is / burning your gut, / don’t do it.”

We rode the Subway uptown to Lowenstein, a law firm that helps startups in all industries and at all stages. Jonathan, who began his career at a biotech startup and now serves as Counsel to startups, spoke about how every company faces unique challenges. This means there is no one-size-fits-all approach to questions around how to incorporate, how to handle founders equity, and when to go public.

We traveled back downtown to meet Matt and Steve at Bain Capital Ventures. Associates focused on data services and fintech, their time is spent sourcing deals, performing due diligence, and managing deals. When I asked how they decide what to invest in, they said their two strategies are “big ideas” and “big ears”. The first is a top-down approach driven by a thesis or idea, and the second is a bottom-up approach that involves going to conferences and keeping up with literature on new founders.

Squarespace, a company that makes it easy for people to build beautiful websites, has a different vibe than the firms. Their exquisite office space includes a rooftop with an epic view of the Manhattan skyline. We met Margaret, a GSB grad who described her role as a combination of business development, strategy, product, and marketing. She contrasted Facebook’s culture of “Move fast and break things” with Squarespace’s belief that good work takes time. Margaret encouraged us all to change our mindset from the question of What can I do to what do I want to do?

The next morning at Namely, an HR platform for mid-sized companies, the VP of Marketing shared what it was like to be hired as the twenty-sixth employee and watch the company grow to over 350 people. He spoke about the balance of maintaining a tight-knit office culture and growing a business. In true tech fashion, the office was full of couches, bean bag chairs, and plants, and had a well-stocked kitchen.

We took the Subway uptown to SeatGeek, which was founded by Dartmouth ’07 grads Russ and Jack. SeatGeek is a marketplace for people to buy sports and concert tickets. The company shifted its focus early on from forecasting ticket sales to e-commerce. Russ said it’s important to constantly think about how your company can expand. He explained that most people weren’t working at their desks that day because they were in the middle of a hackathon.

At Gotham Ventures, we met Lucas, a computer scientist turned venture capitalist. He graduated from Tuck in ’09 and worked on security at Adobe before joining Gotham. His technical background shone through: at one point, he drew a picture on a whiteboard to teach us about zero-knowledge proof in cryptocurrency. He strongly advised us to start a company or at least work at a startup before going into VC.

Our final visit was to 1stdibs, an online marketplace for luxury goods. As soon as we walked in, they offered us beer on tap. Their office is very chic, and I truly believe that all 275 employees have a love of beautiful things. Caitlin, a T’13 and the manager of Marketplace Trust, said 1stdibs pivoted from a “fancy Craigslist” to a “fancy eBay,” meaning they shifted from listings to e-commerce.

After a whirlwind trip, I’m fired up on the job search. The trek served as a reminder of how strong the Tuck fabric is: every Tuck alum we met gave us their contact information and encouraged us to reach out.