Last week, Stephanie Palmeri of SoftTech VC braved a cross-town cab ride with a broken foot to join a group of InSITE fellows for breakfast in Midtown. With her wealth of knowledge from her current role as an investor, as well as her previous experience at InSITE, NYC Seed, Accenture, Lot18 and Esteé Lauder, she attracted a group of InSITE fellows with a diverse set of interests, from an aspiring venture capitalist to a startup founder. Though I unfortunately won’t be able to pass along her investment expertise (as the only law student in the group, I could only nod along and make mental notes to Google “pro rata deal” when I got home), I found her general career advice to be incredibly insightful and applicable to any young, entrepreneurial professional.
Demonstrate that you have a high risk profile. Regardless of whether you want to be on the investor or company side, the tech industry was built by people with a high tolerance for risk. Although business schools have robust recruiting schedules and job fairs, a startup is more likely to appreciate a resumé that reflects the individual’s willingness to dive off the beaten path. Stephanie was by no means saying that being unnecessarily reckless with your career choices or that working for a large, established company will preclude you from getting hired by an emerging company. Rather, she encouraged us to be mindful when choosing internships and jobs, and to demonstrate that we have the risk tolerance needed to ride the ups and downs that working with startups entails.
It’s not about Silicon Alley vs. Silicon Valley; it’s about your support network. Given that all the InSITE fellows are starting our careers in New York, a burning question on our minds was whether there is a substantial advantage to starting our careers in the Bay Area. Stephanie acknowledged that New York tends to breed companies that are steeped in existing, quintessentially New York industries such as fashion, advertising, and finance, she advised that the decision should be about the location that helps you best build and grow the career you want to have, while also balancing your personal preferences. For Stephanie, that boiled down to a decision between staying in a smaller market where she had established connections or expanding into a new, larger market where she’d have to grow a local network from scratch.
Being a female in this industry is still a challenge, but it’s doable. Personally, I was very interested in attending the breakfast with Stephanie because she’s a female in a very male-dominated industry. One of my favorite moments was how candidly Stephanie acknowledged that historically, women have not had an easy time entering the world of venture capital, in large part because the industry is built on relationships, and the historically male-to-male network can be self-perpetuating. Despite this reality check, chatting with Stephanie over breakfast left us all more excited about our aspirations. After all, organizations like InSITE exist in part to create networks of people with shared interests. If Stephanie isn’t a sign that the model is working, then I don’t know what is.
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Dahni Ma is a second-year law student at NYU Law and InSITE Fellow. This summer, she worked on the Legal and Government Relations team at Lyft.