Blog post by ELP Fellow Naomi Grossman (Business | Class of 2020)
I joined the Entrepreneurs Leadership Program, like many others in this cohort, because I wanted to get an entrepreneurial education. Before it even started, I had an idea of what the program would entail: mock pitches, the business model canvas, customer discovery. I knew that by learning the basics of starting a company, I could equip myself with the leadership and creativity skills that would benefit me in the long run, and I could do this while becoming part of the tight-knit entrepreneurial community on campus. However, reflecting on my first semester of the program, I now realize that I wasn’t just learning entrepreneurship, I was experiencing it.
The Recruiting Process
To be completely honest, ELP’s “guaranteed internship” program really drew me to apply. I figured that as a sophomore with no experience interviewing for an internship before, this would make the process easier for me. I thought: It’s guaranteed, so all I have to do is interview with 1-2 companies and I’ll have it all figured out. I was wrong.
Throughout February and March I was getting on about 3 calls a week, pitching myself to startups and VC firms, never saying no to an opportunity to interview. Then after a number of first rounds and a breath of fresh air, I thought I was done… until I got an email for a second round, and third. It was definitely not easy to pitch myself over and over again, but in a sense, I was being a true entrepreneur by selling myself to different companies. And I learned that as long as you have the bandwidth, and the beauty of college is that you do, to never say no to an opportunity.
Finally, I got an offer from Laconia Capital Group, a venture capital firm in New York. I have to admit I was hesitant at first because I didn’t know anyone in NYC and venture capital is fundamentally hard to understand, but diving into this ecosystem was the best decision I made.
When most people think of VC, they think of Sequoia Capital or Andreessen Horowitz, Airbnb or Facebook, but Laconia takes a different approach. By investing in late-seed stage B2B SaaS companies based in Northeast major markets, Laconia takes a hands-on approach during the investment process. The four-person team does everything from screen deals, listen to pitches, perform deep due diligence, and mentor entrepreneurs, all while on call 24/7. Unlike the large VC firms which place many bets in the hopes that one company in their portfolios hits a billion-dollar valuation, Laconia closes about 2-3 deals per year, providing the startup with guidance and mentorship, and hoping that each company makes an exit. This difference demonstrates the major tradeoffs in venture capital between how large the firm/fund is, how many deals can be screened, and the expectations regarding the performance of portfolio companies.
My First Week
Three weeks after the end of the recruiting process, I started my first day at Laconia Capital Group. After ten minutes, I’m sitting in on a due diligence meeting with the firm’s partners and prospective entrepreneurs. The next day I’m building a financial analysis for a project the company is working on. And the next day, I’m trusted to screen potential deals from entrepreneurs reaching out. After meetings with companies, I’m asked for my opinion. Every day I get a glimpse into how the partners think, why they ask the questions they do, and how quickly they generate a verdict on the deal. This is the value of interning at a startup or small VC firm. You are sitting in on meetings and interacting with people with whom it would take you years to meet at a large corporation. You are truly valued as a member of the team, not just seen as a temporary intern.
After completing the recruiting process and my first week on the job, there is definitely a lot that I am looking forward to, and even though I still have the summer ahead of me, I have already learned so much. As I move forward, and I recommend that anyone beginning an unfamiliar job in an unfamiliar place does too, I will hold myself accountable to the following pieces of advice:
- Explore: You’re not only there to work. Explore the city, get the feel for a new lifestyle, meet people. It is in this environment where you can grow immensely both personally and professionally if you do it right and are mindful along the way.
- Say yes: It is during an internship where you will figure out what it is you like and don’t like doing. But the only way you can take advantage of the opportunity is to try everything. Sit in on every meeting you can and offer help on a project even if you already have a lot of work on your plate.
- Always ask questions: Whether you are having a conversation about your weekend or sitting in on a pitch, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Even though you may feel like as an intern it’s not your place to chime in during important meetings or divert your boss’s attention to get clarification, you will learn exponentially more. Just because someone has more experience than you doesn’t mean you don’t bring along a valuable perspective as well.
Jump in at the deep end: Yes, this is new. It’s not supposed to be comfortable. But you only have three months, so you can’t take your time. Challenge yourself, speak up, and jump in at the deep end. I promise you’ll swim.