If you had asked me a year ago where I thought I would end up after finishing business school in Chicago, New York would not have even made my top three guesses. I had left my home state five years earlier when I headed West to join my first early-stage startup. After a few years of living in San Francisco, I learned to love the outdoors and the sense of adventure a new city brings. The idea of moving back to New York City had felt as though I was moving in reverse, returning to a city that held memories of my first job out of college, one that had never felt like the right fit. What I realize now is that the discomfort of my early 20s in Manhattan was more indicative of my own internal quarter-life crisis, rather than dissatisfaction with what the city itself had to offer. Now that I’ve been back for three months, I can’t imagine being anywhere else.
I spent most of 2017 speaking with founders for a podcast series I created – 52 Founders - to learn the psychology behind entrepreneurship. During my time as an operator, I had worked for a few founders who had extremely different personalities, yet somehow had all chosen the same risky path. I was curious about what drives someone to become an entrepreneur; the nature vs. nurture of what pushed them down this nontraditional road; the parts of their personality that helped them attract great teams; and what they viewed as the most important elements of success.
I did my best to diversify interviewees to see if there were any common characteristics or themes that jumped out, irrespective of the founder’s gender, race, company stage and sector. I was intrigued to learn that many of the people I interviewed had either emigrated to another country or were first-generation immigrants. Yet when I now reflect on all 52 interviews in my podcast, this makes complete sense; the grit and hustle that comes from moving to a foreign country - often with very little means - and persevering through hardship lends itself to starting a company and overcoming the unexpected bumps of early startup life. In fact, more than half of U.S. companies valued at over $1B were founded by immigrant entrepreneurs.
New York stands out as the city that best represents this immigrant mentality, and offers the diversity – both of talent and industry – that creates seemingly infinite opportunities for innovation and progress. Startup founders in New York have fully embraced the hard work ethos and hustler mentality necessary to push their companies to the finish line. They are founders who are focused on building real businesses, who think of paths to profitability even in the earliest stages.
What brought me back to the New York this fall was the opportunity to work for Primary Venture Partners. I was living in San Francisco when I was introduced to Brad Svrluga to learn more about an upcoming opportunity on the team. I left our first discussion thinking that I had never met such a forthright investor, who managed to strike the rare balance of being both open-minded and opinionated. His approach reminded me of one of my favorite New York qualities: transparency. It’s a value the Primary team exhibits to the utmost degree, both within the organization and with everyone they meet. I’ve worked at enough companies to know how unusual it is to find transparency so highly valued and exercised in the workplace. This resonated with me, as I was looking to join a team that wasn’t afraid to say exactly what they’re thinking, or to say no when they knew they weren’t going to say yes.
I flew back to New York to meet the rest of the Primary team, and I was impressed by the firm’s hands-on, value-add approach. I’ve worked at three seed-stage tech companies, and I know firsthand just how difficult (and exciting) that phase of a business can be. With so much uncertainty in a company’s earliest days, small setbacks can feel catastrophic, particularly when it comes to hiring. A common joke was that we needed to hire “yesterday,” which often led to hasty decisions as we frantically scrambled to manage workflow at the expense of strategically scaling the team. After I learned about Primary’s Talent Program and Expert Network, I knew immediately that this was the team I wanted to join. At their core, they empathize deeply with the entrepreneurial journey, and they are driven by a desire to help their companies in a very tangible, hands-on manner.
Three months in, now looking at the NYC startup landscape through the unique Primary lens, I’m looking to invest in scrappy entrepreneurs who are pushing the boundaries of traditional industries, and who take full advantage of the diversity that New York has to offer. The San Francisco side of me hopes to work with technical founders with big ideas – the folks who are in disbelief that we have managed to operate for so long in a world without their solutions. But the New York side of is eager to meet more of those tech scene hustlers with something to prove, who know that great talent and opportunity are alive and well right here in this city, along with a one-of-a-kind community that is ready and willing to support them at every turn. I feel privileged to be a part of team that amplifies the companies we work with, and elevates NYC Tech as a whole in the minds of entrepreneurs and investors alike.
If you are a founder in the New York area looking for someone to bounce your seemingly crazy idea off of, I hope to hear from you! At the very least, I can promise an open mind and honest feedback.