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LifeGuides: Bringing Life to the World of Recruiting

12/02/2014

Across all of the companies we fund, and most startups, there’s one major challenge that still hasn’t been solved…recruiting. Startups are constantly doing their best to virtually strut their stuff, show off their culture, and fight for the top talent. Our newest portfolio company, LifeGuides, is going to help companies do just that. LifeGuides creates guides on what it’s like to work in a given function, at a given company.

On the other side of their platform are individuals looking for advice on what career path to take.  As someone trying to figure out your career, it’s often hard to find other individuals who have been there and done that to talk to.  LifeGuides is making this process much easier by creating guides by professionals who talk about their stories and share advice for people who are considering a given career path.

LifeGuides Screenshot

By solving both of these problems with one platform that helps talent self-identify with specific cultures, companies, and individuals, LifeGuides is going to make it way easier for everyone to land in a role that they’ll be excited about. Startups and larger companies are very excited about this concept and the company is launching today with a number of public and venture backed companies signed up for the LifeGuides platform. The team has now created over 35 guides.

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Founder Phil Strazzulla is extremely excited to take part in the Dorm Room Fund community. “Dorm Room has given us resources to build our team, and a community of some of Boston’s smartest students to draw on for help and guidance,” he says. Phil comes from a background in the world of VC, spending two years with Bessemer Venture Partners before attending Harvard Business School. He’s a passionate and determined founder focused on changing the game of recruiting, and we’re excited to help him in his journey. Interested companies can email info@lifeguides.me to start creating guides on working at their company.  LifeGuides itself is also hiring!

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Donating our carry, or how we share success with the community

11/21/2014

People tend to ask me, “Why did you join Dorm Room Fund and put so much time into it? Do you get paid? Do you get equity in the startups?” The answer to that has always been the same — I don’t get paid, and I don’t get equity. I joined Dorm Room Fund because I love the mission of supporting student entrepreneurs and the college communities that help them succeed. More importantly, I joined and have stayed on the team because I love all of the talented and interesting student entrepreneurs that I’ve met and learned from along the way. People with varying skills — designers, hackers, business hustlers, etc. — and in myriad industries and niches. One of the great ways that we give back to these communities of entrepreneurs and support the next generation is through our tradition of giving the carry from our portfolio’s successes back to the schools that are at the heart of our mission.

When one of the startups in our portfolio exits, Dorm Room Fund sees a return based on our stake in that company. 80% of that return goes back to the LPs that seeded the fund. In traditional venture funds, the rest of the carry would go to the general partners who made the investment. In our case, we give that money to the schools that we’re a part of. The carry is evenly distributed across organizations that we choose to support at schools in each city.

We’re proud to announce the organizations that we’ve dedicated our carry to. Groups that are already helping turn students’ ideas into products and helping them gain entrepreneurial experiences, and also organizations that will be around in 3, 5, or 10 years when our companies start to see successful exits. Below is a list of each organization and why we chose to support them.

Dorm Room Fund Boston

MIT TechX

TechX is one of the most active student groups on campus — they run the annual 1,000-person hackathon HackMIT, the hardware hackathon MakeMIT, give thousands of dollars in grants to students to work on interesting projects, and collaborate on running MIT’s tech-focused spring career fair. We think that TechX is driving innovation at MIT, and look forward to contributing to their successful programs.

Northeastern University Center for Entrepreneurial Education

NUCEE is Northeastern’s umbrella institution which funds all of the entrepreneurial endeavors at Northeastern. One of the things that sets Northeastern entrepreneurial programs apart from others is that the two defining organizations, IDEA, Northeastern’s venture accelerator, and the Entrepreneurs Club, are student run. We’re working with NUCEE to allocate all carry to these student-run organizations, as we feel the money will account for maximum learning per dollar in the hands of students.

Boston University Entrepreneurship Club

One of Dorm Room Fund’s goals is to support and inspire careers in the start-up industry by helping students take their ideas from their dorm room into the market. We chose the Boston University Entrepreneurship Club as one of the recipients of the carry because of the overlap in the two organizations’ goals. E-Club acts as a networking organization that provides a variety of resources for students interested in entrepreneurship. With direct connections to virtually every other entrepreneurship and tech club on campus, E-Club provides a unique environment for students looking to engage in the community. Beyond networking, E-Club also holds project-based weekly meetings devoted to helping student entrepreneurs through their business development process. The club is essential in growing the entrepreneurial community at BU as well as in Boston, and we are closer to achieving our goal by supporting these efforts.

Boston College Entrepreneurship Program

The entrepreneurship program at Boston College is dedicated to inspiring students to follow their passions, learn from incredible mentors, and build great companies. Current programs like the Boston College Venture Competition and the award-winning TechTrek program are just the beginning of a growing organization of alumni and mentors at Boston College dedicated to supporting student entrepreneurs. Our pledge to support entrepreneurial organizations and initiatives like this at Boston College aligns directly with our goal to empower and inspire more students to start innovative companies in Boston.

Dorm Room Fund New York

Columbia — CORE

As the largest entrepreneurship organization at Columbia University, CORE works to help inspire and educate students across campus about launching startups and getting involved in the startup community. CORE organizes speaker events with notable founders and innovators and educates students through workshops, challenges, and entrepreneurial programs. CORE also works to help students find opportunities in the New York startup ecosystem through their jobs board, recruiting events, and through their partnership with the career center. CORE also holds regular events and series on social entrepreneurship, edutech, greentech, fintech, and inspiring women entrepreneurs and brings the forefront of entrepreneurship to campus at the annual #StartupColumbia Entrepreneurship Festival. We congratulate CORE on the success of the many initiatives just launched in the past year and look forward to supporting even more.

Cooper Union — Create@Cooper

Create@Cooper is an up and coming organization dedicated to empowering the students of The Cooper Union to create their best work. Members share skills, showcase projects, and immerse themselves in New York City’s hacker ecosystem. We admire Create@Cooper’s passion and innovation and appreciate the opportunity to support them in building a better tomorrow.

Cornell — PopShop

The POPSHOP is a co-working space founded by students run by students, and built for students. A lot like Dorm Room Fund. The POPSHOP serves as the center of activity for Cornell’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. In the middle of the night, or in the middle of the day you are bound to see multiple students coding new apps, drawing our wireframes or building pitch decks within the space. It’s a place we go to build new things, become inspired by those around us, and develop long-lasting friendships.

 Cornell Tech — Startup Projects

The Startup Projects are a unique part of the Cornell Tech experience, giving students the opportunity to found startup companies and create products of their own invention. The Startup Projects allow Cornell Tech students to embark on a natural startup experience as part of their education, while remaining full-time students. It’s hard to imagine a program more aligned with Dorm Room Fund’s mission of supporting full-time student entrepreneurs, and we’re thrilled in turn to be supporting the Startup Projects at Cornell Tech.

 NYU — NYU Entrepreneurial Institute

The NYUEI sits at the nexus of all entrepreneurial activities across NYU.  Charged with leading a university-wide initiative to accelerate the pace of technology commercialization and the launch of successful startups, the institute’s team of startup experts and thought leaders offers educational programming, events, resources, and funding to inspire, educate and connect entrepreneurs across NYU.  We’re excited to support NYUEI as it launches the Leslie Entrepreneurs Lab, a 5,900 sq foot facility located at the heart of NYU’s Washington Square campus to further embody their mission to be at the epicenter of all things NYU entrepreneurship.

 

Princeton — Entrepreneurship Club

The Princeton Entrepreneurship Club is dedicated towards strengthening the university’s community of entrepreneurs by providing students with resources and mentorship to help them succeed. E-Club runs hackathons, classes, elevator pitch and business plan competitions, and trips to New York and Silicon Valley startups, among a myriad of other events. As the campus’s largest and most active student entrepreneurship organization, we’re thrilled to partner with E-Club to help support the fast growing startup community at Princeton.

 

Dorm Room Fund Philadelphia

 

University of Pennsylvania — Wharton Founder’s Club

Wharton’s Founder’s Club is one of the primary entrepreneurial organizations on campus. The group is comprised of current founders, aspiring entrepreneurs, and tech enthusiasts who meet regularly to socialize, learn from each other’s experiences and give back to the Wharton community. We’re really excited about supporting Founder’s Club as a fellow student-organized group that encourages and enables students to pursue their entrepreneurial aspirations.

 

Dorm Room Fund San Francisco

Stanford and UC Berkeley — Kairos Society

The Kairos Society Northern California Chapter was founded in 2012 to bring together top student entrepreneurs and leaders from a variety of disciplines to create a unique local system helping students accelerate their startup pursuits and impact. The chapter now has over 40 students from both Stanford and UC Berkeley, the majority of which are working on high-impact startups, some working on nonprofits and leading on-campus groups, and others working on groundbreaking research. The Kairos Society has been a great benefit to both schools, providing a community capable of helping undergraduate entrepreneurs be successful and overcome many barriers in their impact-driven, startup journey.

 

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Bringing energy to those who need it most

11/10/2014

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One of Dorm Room Fund’s latest Boston investments isn’t the standard profile of a student startup. Most of the startups we see operate domestically and most address a niche close to home. Most startups don’t target those living on $2.00 a day in rural areas without access to electricity (living in “energy poverty’) as their primary market. As SolarRoute Founder Morgan Babbs argues, “The problems of last mile distribution are the greatest threat the base of the pyramid faces towards accessing the high quality products that we enjoy in the developed world. The worlds poorest face the least reliable access [to goods] and the highest cost of delivery.” SolarRoute seeks to address this where it will have the maximum impact in improving people’s lives; energy poverty.

At its core, SolarRoute is a distribution company for solar products in Nicaraguan communities living in energy and internet poverty (What Founder Morgan Babbs calls, “the last mile”).  Morgan noticed that in these communities, despite their high costs, cell phones have high penetration (112 cell subscriptions per 100 people across Nicaragua). However, those without electricity must travel to charge their phones.

The people in these communities jumped at the chance of purchasing a reliable solar powered lamp with cell charging capabilities, one which would pay for itself in under a year. There was a need for these products in Nicaraguan communities however there was virtually no distribution network to bring the products to them. Upon Morgan’s return to Nicaragua for the pilot of SolarRoute this past summer, she discovered a scalable distribution network.

Due to the pervasiveness of cellphones (and the fact that all of them are on pay as you go contracts), there are a couple of companies which criss-cross Nicaragua on a daily basis to bring sim cards, cell credit and cell phones to people spread throughout the country.  Since the realization that her cell charging solar products are the perfect compliment to cell phones and that these distributors traverse the entire country on a weekly basis, she has partnered with the top distributor to achieve a direct reach to over 30,000 people. This network is easily one of the penetrating and vast operations that exists in Central America – second maybe only to Coca-Cola’s.

Morgan currently has a Nicaraguan staff member managing operations as she is back at school for her senior year. In May, she will return to Nicaragua to scale the business. She currently juggles a double international relations and economics major, whilst also singing in the Amalgamates (Tufts’ oldest co-ed Acapella group) and directing the Empower Program for Social Entrepreneurship at Tufts. Morgan is building a meaningful business that, at its core, works to overcome the last mile distribution in emerging markets. She is creating financial, environmental, and livelihood returns for households in need– and building a scalable business. Dorm Room Fund is humbled and proud to support such a worthy endeavor (in a sought-after market at well!). Welcome Morgan and SolarRoute!

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How to Attract Talent to a Student Startup

10/23/2014

with Fred Wang, CTO of PageVamp

PageVamp

PageVamp Team: Fred Wang (Left), Atulya Pandey (Center), Vincent Sanchez-Gomez (Right)

Attracting talent to a startup is an art regardless of which stage, but at student startups it can be even trickier. To gain actionable insight from a founder on the ground, I consulted our very own Fred Wang, the CTO of PageVamp:

Will: To give the readers some background could you explain exactly what PageVamp does?

Fred: PageVamp is the world’s easiest-to-use website builder. With just 1 click, you can instantly create a beautiful site for your clubs, small businesses, or even portfolios out of your Facebook Page. We started out of our dorm room at Penn, moved to NYC, and raised money from VCs to build the company.

Obviously with the growth that you’ve seen, scaling the company has been a priority from day one. How have you approached it?

We are agile in the way we scale and so far the rule of thumb has been to first figure out where the bottlenecks are and prioritize them based on company objectives. E.g. if the bottleneck affects your top line (i.e. revenue) and that is what your company focuses on, then that’s something you need to address immediately. This applies to everything from product development to customer support to building a team.

We’ve also been efficient on maintaining talent quality. We’re not afraid of bringing developers from overseas on board. If we don’t think someone’s performing, we believe it’s best to let him or her know and give him or her a chance to improve. We won’t waste anyone’s time; we’ll let anyone go and keep things professional. Our typical process of contracting first has allowed us to filter before bringing anyone on full time. Our belief is we do our best to bring everyone up to the highest standards, because the company is only as strong as its weakest link.

Can you walk me through your first hire?

This might sound controversial but our first hire was in fact offshore. My other co-founder Atulya had helped us bring on contractors from Nepal when we were running our web development agency before Pagevamp. We found out about them after Atulya did some extensive networking in Nepal and several people recommended them to us. After working together for over a year, and despite the time differences and geographic separation, we decided to hire them full time.

I believe most of our successful hires came in through working with them first, and then extending an offer later. Contracting is a relatively low-risk way to assess skills and ability to mesh with the team. There is so much truth in the mantra “hire slowly, fire quickly”.

Here’s a tip to startup job-seekers. One of our most successful intern hires came from a Facebook thread. My buddy Dave Fontenot is well connected in the “hacker” community. A high school kid read our post on Dave’s status about job opportunities and personally reached out to me through a Facebook message. He was hungry, ambitious, and had taken several online classes to learn programming. One of the first things he asked was for a project so that he can show his potential. We gave him a task, and he worked nights and weekends all the while preparing for finals and SAT’s. Needless to say, he was probably one of our best hires to-date.

What are some of the mistakes you’ve made along the way?

We’ve let people go in the past. The key takeaway we share is you always need to get collective agreement from all your team members before extending an offer, especially when the team is so small. It’s like introducing your girlfriend to your close friends or family. If anyone is in disagreement, there’s clearly something you’re not seeing.

Are there any resources you would suggest consulting before hiring (i.e. blogs, talent services, etc)?

Talent services have generally been no-go’s for us. Employee turnover in this industry is super high in general so headhunters are simply incentivized to pass along every candidate they have, regardless of fit and capability. I’ve interviewed many candidates from talent services and almost all of them fluffed up their resumes. TopTal is an exception in my experience (but keep that a secret).

Is there one massive takeaway you’d like to give readers?

Hire from within your team’s network, go beyond the interview to truly understand the person, and vet with your team.

Are you hiring right now?

We’re hiring 2 super-cool interns in the Fall for Sales/Business Development and Engineering. Email me here: fred@pagevamp.com!

Special Mention to Ray Cheng for Editing

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Gifts that “pop” — welcoming LovePop to the DRF community!

10/15/2014

elegant_christmas_tree-red_green_gold-paper_lovepop_popup_card-beauty

It’s not very often that you see a product that makes you go “wow” — but that’s exactly what I heard all around the room when LovePop co-founder Wombi Rose first brought a sample of LovePop’s cards to the Dorm Room Fund team — ships above and at water level, snow flakes, a car, and even a ferris wheel that spun. One of the Boston partners even purchased one on the spot! Dorm Room Fund is proud to welcome LovePop to its community, and we’re excited to support their Kickstarter as they reinvent the way we show affection to one another.

Greeting cards have grown almost extraneous to the act of gift-giving, they’re  there to hold money, sometimes tell a funny joke, or contain a personal note, but a greeting card is not necessarily needed to achieve these objectives. We’re excited to see LovePop attempt to change this by making the traditional vehicle of affection significant in itself as a gift and source of joy. With 7 billion greeting cards purchased every year, we think that there’s plenty of people that would be interested in these. And the team has proven that the cards do sell. This summer alone, Wombi and John sold over 4,000 cards exclusively through in-person sales at various markets and fairs around the northeast, and we’re excited to support their efforts to scale sales online. Between their business acumen and ability to hand-make these from concept to card, we fully believe that Wombi and John can achieve their vision.

In a time of text messages, e-cards, and snapchats, it’s amazing to see a physical product that brings joy and conveys genuine emotion. Beyond just being a great product, LovePop does good by providing jobs to families in Vietnam who locally craft and assemble the cards. From technically-sophisticated 3D design to handcrafted work, LovePop cards shows that great products can disrupt old industries. Dorm Room Fund is proud to support LovePop as they bring a more personal touch in a digital age.

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Welcome Our New Partners and Yale University to Dorm Room Fund NYC!

10/07/2014

At the beginning of this school year, I had the pleasure of meeting many of our investment partners from Philly, Boston and SF as NYC hosted the first all Dorm Room Fund gathering. Surrounded by some of the most talented and accomplished group of students I had ever met, I felt inspired.  As another team member said, these are the people that will be the future leaders in this industry, if not already.

It has been an exciting journey since I officially joined the team in January, and the highlight of this experience has been meeting all the people.  From student founders to well respected venture capitalists, I have learned so much from the exchanges along the way.  But the individuals that I have learned the most from are those on my team.  It never ceases to amaze me how much I gain from the discussions I have with our team of student partners.

As we enter into the school year, I am extremely excited to announce five new individuals joining DRF NYC as well as a new campus, Yale University!  David, Jiaying, Matt, Parthiban, and Viveca bring their technical skills, experiences interning at startups, passion for helping others, and above all, a diverse set of interests.  We are also excited that David and Viveca will be the new representatives on Yale’s campus.  The entrepreneurial community at Yale is full of amazing students and we look forward to adding this new school into the DRF network.  This is going to be a great year and another that is going to be full of learnings!

Welcome David, Jiaying, Matt, Parthiban, and Viveca! 

David Chi

David Chi

David studies Applied Mathematics at Yale. In high school, David co-founded Forward Tutoring, which enables students to pay for online tutoring not with money—but with community service. He’s particularly interested in technologies that improve the delivery and cost-effectiveness of meaningful healthcare outcomes. David has interned at Abdiel Capital in NYC and Lone Star Investment Advisors in Dallas. In his free time, he can be found spinning a Chinese yo-yo.

Jiaying (JY) Lim

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Jiaying (or JY, for short) is pursuing a joint major in Economics and Political Science at Columbia College. Since joining the Columbia Organization of Rising Entrepreneurs in her freshman year, she’s been deeply embedded in the community, organising events and mentoring new members. As a member of the executive board, she is the Director of Events, co-founded the CORE Blog, launched social entrepreneurship initiatives, and leads Women@CORE. She has interned at NY-based startups Fundera and Try the World, as well as Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund Temasek Holdings. Other than that, she enjoys traveling, good food, even better books, and running.

Matt Windt

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Matt is passionate about commercializing technology and bringing products to market. He is part of the inaugural MBA class at Cornell-Tech focusing on entrepreneurship. Before going to grad school he worked in the R&D group at the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority (NYSERDA) where he funded and mentored the development of early stage technologies and companies. While at NYSERDA he also led the growth of the Cleantech Open accelerator program throughout Upstate NY, aiming to better connect early stage companies with resources throughout the northeast. Matt received his BS in Environmental Engineering and M. Eng in Chemical Engineering, both at Cornell. In his spare time he can be found attending concerts in NYC or hiking the gorges in Ithaca.

Parthiban Loganathan

parthiban-loganathan

Parthi is a Computer Science major at Columbia, minoring in Economics and Operations Research. On campus, he’s a board member of the Application Development Initiative where he works towards building a stronger CS and entrepreneurial community by hosting workshops, hackathons and connecting students with tech companies. Parthi has worked at Coursera as a Kleiner Perkins Fellow and Sailthru as an NYC Turing Fellow in the past. An avid Android developer and aviation enthusiast, he built an app that’s actively used by tens of thousands of pilots worldwide.

Viveca Morris

Viveca Morris, Headshot

Viveca Morris, one of the first Yale students to join Dorm Room Fund, is interested in how technology and business can be leveraged to make the world a more humane place. At Yale, Viveca studies environmental challenges with a focus on urbanization and the future of food production. She spent last summer learning to code at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute and building a web application to help U.S. veterans successfully transition from combat to college. She agrees with Bill Drayton, founder of Ashoka, that one of the most powerful things in the world is a big idea in the hands of an outstanding entrepreneur. She is deeply excited by change-makers who are inventing, developing, and implementing creative solutions to challenging problems.

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It’s on-campus recruiting season. Are you good enough to ignore the banks and consulting firms?

10/06/2014

Reblogged from Phin Barnes’ Sneakerhead VC:

I read the recent piece Michael Lewis wrote about young people choosing to work on Wall Street over Silicon Valley, and found myself nodding along in agreement. The first time.

But something wasn’t right.

So I re-read it a bunch of times over the weekend and tried to figure out what was bothering me. His description of what happens when recent graduates — usually recruited the previous fall — go to Wall Street really resonated, but his conclusions about why they go feel wrong. In particular, his view that Wall Street has a permanent choke hold on the best young minds in the world feels almost naive.

“Technology entrepreneurship will never have the power to displace big Wall Street banks in the central nervous system of America’s youth.”

Nothing is permanent. This is NOT the way it will be in the future and it is NOT what I see when I spend time with college students.

Over the past 3 years, I have been a part of creating and building Dorm Room Fund – the first student run venture capital fund dedicated to investing in student-lead startups. I have spent a ton of time with many of the most talented students in the world.

This experience has made three things clear to me:

  1. The career development offices at top universities are designed to funnel talent into finance and consulting, not startups.
  2. The startup industry is the best place for the best students to get the best professional start
  3. I would not get into college today

There are a ton of challenges in displacing Wall Street banks and management consulting firms as the go-to options for the top university talent, but most of them are marketing challenges. The banks and consulting firms have rigged the system to leverage all their advantages, and I think if more students could see this, it will help startups win.

As on-campus recruiting heats up, students have to decide if they are talented enough to ignore the Wall Street Banks and the management consulting firms. They have to decide if they want to help scale a startup or get help to scale a corporate ladder — and if they are confident enough to wait until Spring to secure a job. This is really hard to do. Here are just a few of the challenges I see, and some ideas:

Students are process oriented:

Students at the best schools are accustomed to high achievement. They’re comfortable with fixed processes that evaluate relative performance against their peers and quantifiable results that are tied to easily articulated rewards. Banks and consulting firms run very clear recruiting processes (and in fact, set the rules on timing with the career services offices at most schools to create a fixed process). These firms are open about having a specific number of “slots” for students from each school, and they operate in a competitive landscape with a well organized stack rank of status from top to bottom (McKinsey>BCG>Bain and Goldman>Morgan Stanley> Credit Suisse). Both reinforce the relative competition for tangible rewards that students have been trained to react to like Pavlovian dogs.

Startups can’t compete here without a huge investment in education and marketing. The recruiting budgets for most of these firms are multiples of the seed capital most startups raise (even today). The career development offices help students know what to expect and then push them down the well-trodden path. Startups are different – They start recruiting in the late spring because of the fast paced nature of their business makes hiring needs hard to predict over long periods of time. This means students who want to work with them have to forgo offers from bigger companies and trust that they will find something better, later. Traditionally, to get recruited by a startup, you have to abandon the well-mapped paths and bushwhack your way into an interview. You have to figure out where you want to work based on what the company does and find clever ways to get noticed by someone who can make a hiring decision. This is changing and while the timing is still MUCH later in the year, it is becoming easier to find and apply for a job at a startup now more than ever.

The process should be clearer to everyone. Most startups and venture firms have “jobs” pages that list available opportunities in their portfolio. Most startups are listing jobs on AngelList,Indeed, and HackerNews Job boardsReadyForce has a very cool platform and so do Venture for Americastartup hire, and VentureLoop. If you don’t have a computer science degree or internship experience at a startup, Lynxsy is a good resource for surfacing opportunities specific to non-technical roles. For those of you who want some more coaching and guidance during their search, The Muse and HIRED both provide more hands-on support throughout your process until you find your dream job.

I have also noticed many more startups hiring a recruiter or hiring manager much earlier in their growth — often focused on specific experienced roles, but also open to meeting with talented young people with tons of horsepower.

Unless you are an engineering or CS major, the specific jobs that are advertised are unlikely to be an exact match — but you can learn a lot about a company by looking at their hiring needs and how they change over time. Are the jobs that they are posting different so you can assume the company is successfully building a team? If you search for the company on LinkedIn, is there growth in employees? Do the people filling the roles seem to be high caliber with deep experience? Is a founder in charge of the functional area where you believe you could add value? If not, has the person leading this group been there a long time and has the group grown below them, implying they are a good leader? How would you be able to add value? Where would your skills fit in this early-stage company?

Goal #1 is to graduate with a job:

Prior to graduation, most top students have never faced real uncertainty. Yes, post high school there is stress about where you will go to college, but if you land at one of the top universities in the world, there was probably never doubt about how you would spend the next 4 years of your life. Now you head into senior year and the next chunk of time in your life is undefined and uncertain. This is scary. The banks and consulting firms know this. They also know how many cogs they need in the associate wheel years in advance and are happy to help you sleep at night by offering you a job before you head home for Thanksgiving and face your friends and family — and the inevitable questions about “What are you going to do after graduation?” Pretty f’ing sweet to say, “I’m going to Goldman…” and have smiles all around while you drop the mic and ask Grandma Mildred to pass the mashed potatoes.

Startups, in contrast, try to achieve just in time hiring. Long-term HR planning is not a strong suit. Startups are dynamic, fluid organizations that accelerate at different rates and in different directions over time. It is hard to know how many talented people you will need in 6 months and even harder to know what you will need them to do. Even if startups decided to make offers in November for jobs that started in June, it’s very likely that the job description would change dramatically over that time — and this makes hiring with a defined process difficult. If you choose to work at a startup, you will have to endure Thanksgiving and winter break with no job and likely have to balance spring break plans with interviews that you have had to chase down on your own. When you do get the job, no one will know the company where you are working and even fewer people will understand what you are doing. If you get into the details of the salary etc. it will be less than what bankers make and the concept of options are about as foreign to most people as Iraqi Dinars.

I would argue that the way a company hires is often a strong indication of how they manage, develop and promote talent as well. The hiring process for the banks and consulting firms is up or out, the internal culture is up or out. The process is designed to extract everything they can from you and deliver the best outcome for them. The work of an associate is more of the same. A great startup hiring process filters for fit; looks for a flexible mind and approach that can adapt to the changing realities of the company and the market; and in many ways requires the job seeker to define the role and lead the process. You have to make your own way and unlock the opportunity. You have to be a leader. If you are, you will learn 10x more, have 10x more impact and be 10x more engaged than any of your banker or consulting peers.

Prerequisites are acceptable in student life:

Students are trained to accept prerequisites. When a university says, “To take this really interesting class that you are passionate about, you have to grind your way through these 3 others that require long hours and brutal, mind-numbing problem sets or research papers,” the best students dig in and grind. When a sorority, fraternity or other group makes hazing a part of the vetting process, students accept it and engage in the punishment. The consulting firms and banks have marketed the role of associate as a prerequisite for successful pursuit of what you really love. They figured out the vulnerability of financial instability and a general feeling of being highly educated but unskilled, and they leaned into it. Hard. Come for a few years and work hard, learn a lot, make great connections, pay off your student debt and then, and only then, go start a company or join a startup or join the Peace Corps. Michael Lewis nails this piece of the puzzle when he asks, “Then what?” The functional things you learn are likely not helpful outside your industry of focus, and the moral compass that you adopt is probably unusable beyond the walls of the Death Star bank you choose to join.

Don’t fall for this. College was the prerequisite to the opportunities you want. You have earned the right to pursue your passion, and you will do that the fastest at a scaling startup led by amazing people. It is a myth that you need to have technical expertise or that you have to be a founder to build a career in the startup industry. Many of our best founders start their careers by joining successful startups as managers or individual contributors. They get to learn what it takes to build a company by being part of building a company, and for the lucky ones, it is a great company with a great team and culture.

I have a ton of respect for Michael as an author, and many of his books are my favorites, so it hurt to hear this view coming from someone who has studied sudden and dramatic shifts in industries and written so much about disruption in established systems. I want to see the banking and consulting monopoly on talent broken and see many, many more people pursue a career in the startup industry.

If you are graduating in 2015, you have already been programed to work at a startup and to be an entrepreneur. You have newfound beliefs and often they are tightly held. You are optimistic and want to change the world. You are full of passion and push stuff to the edge, often because when you try something for the first time, the only fail safe way to find the edge is to go over it. Learning has been your primary focus, and you should continue on this path. Click here to get started in the First Round Community or connect with someone from our Talent Team and they will help you accelerate your career at startup speed.

 

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My Love Story: Why I Joined DRF

09/19/2014

Have you ever been in love? You know those feelings of the unknown but excitement of the possibility and the ¨what ifs¨? Late nights, endless chatter and just clicking?

Love is when you sew the missing pieces of your project until three in the morning, three nights in a row, while having your parents visit during finals. Love is not having any clue if people will love or hate your project when it’s done. I am a graduate student at NYU ITP, or the center for the recently possible. It’s a hot bed of creativity, engineering, programming and exploration of the imagination. Classes range from a study of games known as Big Games,  understanding the benefits of mushrooms with Fungus Among Us and cell phone networks or Towers of Power. This last class was the foundation for my student project called “Smart Hoodie” that led to the late night sewing and soldering sessions. Our student project went from homework to possible consumer product before our eyes. Our texting sweater gave us valuable media attention that translated into market research. My co-creator and I have the opportunity to explore a business around wearable communication technology. This may sound challenging with graduate school, but if you look at the history of ITP projects that turned into companies it may be just the right time: Datavisual, Stringwire and Foursquare, among others.

If you asked any of my friends who pitched me an idea for a business in the last few years you’ll know exactly how I feel about entrepreneurship. I will promptly provide them with twenty websites to visit, five people to connect with, and endless ¨what ifs¨ to pivot their initial ideas. My love for entrepreneurship runs high. A lot of my family members have businesses and I see their successes and struggles but overall their love and passion for building their businesses. Love is blind as they say and sometimes the struggles are left behind.

The future and past, here in the US and particularly in New York has always been heavily woven with entrepreneurship. New York City schools provide a special mix of creativity and collaboration that leads to some of the most unique startups I’ve seen. I wanted to be a part of Dorm Room Fund because I want to support the growth of student startups. The creativity I’ve seen in my peers and fellow students from other universities leads me to believe this time we have while in school is the most valuable to our imagination. Our thoughts and ideas start to mix and the potential to create is high. I hope love finds you and you spend endless nights building your dream. If you have any crazy ideas, I’m here to listen!

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Putting Team First

07/28/2014

In your opinion, how important is the founding team to a company’s success?

If you said it’s the most important factor, and you believe your choice of co-founders is the biggest predictor of your company’s success, you’re not alone. The top early-stage investors agree. Ron Conway said “We start with the people first.”  Paul Graham wrote “The most important ingredient is formidable founders.” When Dorm Room Fund first launched in New York, First Round Capital partners Josh Kopelman, Howard Morgan, and Phin Barnes each told us that the quality of the founding team is the most important factor in their investment decisions. Team is paramount. It’s what makes companies successful and it’s the first thing investors evaluate in a pitch.

Given how widespread this view is, it can be surprising how little preparation some companies seem to devote to pitching themselves as a team. Discussing their market and product, they are thoughtful, polished, and equipped with killer slides and compelling research. When it comes to talking about their team, though, they often speed through a plain-vanilla slide (usually at the back of the deck) as though it’s an obstacle in the way of the interesting stuff.

It’s not an obstacle, it’s the entire race.

It’s evident when founders haven’t put time into figuring out how to talk about themselves and one another. The problem is not merely that this part of your pitch lacks polish. Rather, the lack of polish is signaling something much more fundamental – and negative – about you and your company. If you don’t invest enough effort developing the way you talk about team in a pitch, it calls into question whether you invest enough effort developing the team itself.

Do you?

Try answering these questions:

  • How many hours have you devoted to learning about your customers?
  • How much do you know about your competitors?
  • What’s the hardest problem for your company to overcome?

Now these:

  • How many hours have you devoted to learning about your co-founder?
  • How much do you know about your co-founder’s family?
  • What was the hardest problem your co-founder ever had to overcome?

If you had difficulty answering the second set of questions, and many founders do, then have you really dedicated enough time to understanding your co-founders at a deep and personal level? Are you really treating your ‘team’ like it’s the most important factor in your company’s success? I would argue not. (If you didn’t have trouble, good job, but keep going; those were easy.)

To value your co-founders appropriately – not to mention to manage your team well – you need to understand them beyond their skills and accomplishments. Learn about their motivations, their experience with conflict and hardship, their family, their philosophical views, and whatever else has been important to them in their lives outside of your company. These things shape how they will work with you, your investors, your employees, and your customers. They shape how a future argument will go down (it will happen) and how well your team will endure the hard-slog of bootstrapping.

It’s not just the state of knowing these things that is important, it’s dedication to the process of learning. Your relationship with your co-founder needs to scale as quickly as your company or else it will become a constraint. Like any feature, it needs to be developed deliberately. Conversations about personal history and goals, feedback sessions, and bonding activities; these should be as planned and frequent as feature pipelines, sprints, and releases. Even if your co-founder is your childhood friend, it is important to take an intentional approach to continuously developing your relationship. These conversations will feel forced at first. Over time, they will become natural. If nothing else you’ll get to know your partner better.

Turning back to the pitch, I want to make clear that I’m not suggesting you tell every founder’s life story – that’s probably too much. Then again, there’s no formula. Just spend time learning about your team, and once you know them better, spend time preparing how you talk about them. Find what resonates for you as people. It doesn’t take much for investors to notice that you’ve put work into getting to know each other as well as you know your market. If you actually have, you’ll appear genuine, and your team will seem stronger. More importantly, you actually will be stronger.

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BoardRounds: Improving Patient Care by Optimizing Emergency Room Efficiency

07/23/2014

The DRF NYC team is extremely happy to announce our investment in BoardRounds, a startup that focuses on optimizing the post-discharge care of emergency room patients to save time and money for hospitals, health insurers and most importantly, patients. The team is led by CEO Benjamin Jack and CTO Aditya Mukerjee. The founders attended Columbia University as undergrads and met through a Columbia professor after graduating. Both continued along higher education as Benji received his MD from Weill Cornell Medical College and Aditya recently wrapped up graduate work at Cornell Tech. Aditya is also a former member of the DRF NYC investment team. Both bring a lot of medical experience to the table as Benji holds an MD and Aditya comes from a family of doctors. They have seen up close and personal the multitude of problems within the medical sector.

The medical industry in the United States has seen more than its fair share of problems and inefficiencies lately. Specifically speaking, emergency rooms typically struggle to deal with peak demand and often have a lack of beds for patients. Hospitals are looking for ways to reduce length of stay, decrease readmission penalties, and improve patient satisfaction. That’s where BoardRounds comes in.

CEO Benjamin Jack

CEO Benjamin Jack

CTO Aditya Mukerjee

CTO Aditya Mukerjee

 

 

 

 

BoardRounds provides a solution to address these issues. With BoardRounds’ application, hospital staff members can better identify, schedule, track and communicate with patients to improve process efficiency. The core idea is, the more that healthcare providers and hospital systems can improve communication with their patients, the more cost effective and efficient the overall process will become.

In addition to DRF NYC joining BoardRounds recent financing, other investors participating include Greg Pass, former CTO of Twitter, and strategic investors including individuals who have invested in Oscar and Flatiron Health. Thatcher Bell, Managing Director at Gotham Ventures and BoardRounds investor had the following to say: “Even the most advanced drug therapies and other treatments are irrelevant if patients don’t use them as directed. By improving patient adherence, the BoardRounds solution will lead to healthier patients and lower overall healthcare costs. Benji and Aditya have the healthcare domain knowledge and technical capability to bring that solution to market.”We are very much looking forward to the work Benji and Aditya are doing, and would like to extend a big welcome to the DRF Family!

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