This week, I had the opportunity to chat with Ethan Beard, one of InSITE’s many prominent alumni.
Ethan is currently an Entrepreneur in Residence at Greylock Partners. Previously, Ethan served as Director of the Facebook Developer Network, where he oversaw worldwide developer relations, operations and product marketing for the Facebook API. Prior, he served as Director of Business Development at Facebook leading the team responsible for creating and managing strategic partnerships. Ethan joined Facebook from Google, where he served as Director of Social Media and Director of New Business Development. Prior to Google, he spent several years as Director of Business Development for MTV Online. Earlier in his career, Ethan co-founded BigSoccer, an online community and store for soccer fans, and spent time structuring derivatives at Bank of America. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the Wharton School of Business and an MBA from NYU Stern. Ethan supports a variety of non-profits including as a board member for Beyond 12 and represent.us. He is also an active member of the Silicon Valley band Coverflow. Originally from New England, Ethan now resides in San Francisco with his wife and two children.
Tell us about your graduate school experience (2001-2003).
I was basically a dot-com refugee. I was trying to find a place to hang my hat, and I thought business school was a good place to do that. [At that time post-9/11] The tech industry had imploded and really the entire city was a complete mess. I was just kind of looking for a job. I thought I might want to work in venture, so I split my summer between a hedge fund and a venture capital firm. By the time I graduated, I knew (really, confirmed) that I wanted to be in tech, and ended up searching pretty exclusively in the tech space.
What do you remember about your time as an InSITE Fellow?
My most impactful memory of the experience has to do with the diverse group of students that I got a chance to meet and worth with – at the time, it was students from NYU and Columbia. Relationships that I maintain to this day have come out of InSITE.
Working in the tech space for the last decade, have you found your MBA a value-add?
Broadly, yes, although there are definitely drawbacks. Silicon Valley is so different [from New York]. No one here is really saying, “We need an MBA.” It’s a helpful credential and communicates some aspect that you are trying to build yourself, but it isn’t necessarily that credential that everyone is looking for. And in some cases it can actually pigeonhole you.
So, as an MBA, how did you come to find yourself working directly with developers?
I consider myself a very technical businessperson. I taught myself SQL, etc. I know my way around Linux. Since I was young, I’ve always experimented with building. To this day, I’m still building with technology. Having an understanding of that is so important.
When you look back at your career, do any themes emerge?
Working closely with Sheryl Sandberg for several years, one of the things she used to say was, “When someone offers you a trip on a rocket ship you don’t ask, ‘Which seat?’” It’s easy to get caught up in, “What’s my role? What’s my title? How many people will I be managing?” etc. But arguably the company that you’re working at, the space that it’s in, it’s way more important.
Getting the opportunity to work on such a diverse set of challenges [at Facebook] – that was only the result of working at such a fast-growing company. If you work with great people, you’re going to do great things. I wouldn’t worry so much about themes, or trying to find that job that satisfies some intrinsic passion.
What exactly are you up to as an EIR at Greylock?
Right now, I’m digging deep into industries and technologies – something that I haven’t had time to do in the past. I’m taking a high-level perspective. I’m meeting with lots of different people. I’m also working with the Greylock team on several projects and doing some angel investing on the side. There isn’t necessarily an endpoint – it’s a transition period in my life. I’m really enjoying it.
What advice do you have for students interested in pursuing careers in tech?
Two pieces of advice:
When I first moved out [to Silicon Valley] my first thought was, “Why did I spend any time trying to do tech in New York? This is absurd.” Not that there aren’t great things going on in New York, it’s just making it much harder on yourself to do tech there. It’s so much easier in the Valley. It’s little things – everywhere you go here, you end up connecting with people who work in tech. For example, at my son’s school, I talk to the other parents. A significant number of them are decent work connections because so many people here work in tech.
On Economics-based Career / Company Choices
When you’re thinking about the type of company you want to join, it’s worth spending some time thinking about the economics. If you’re not one of the earliest employees at a startup – the first 5 or maybe 10 – then you need to be at one of the massive unicorns.
Whereas you go to potentially huge company like Uber right now and you’re employee 500. There’s an outside but real possibility it could be a $100B company. Just 1 basis point of of equity at a company like that could be worth $10M. The numbers quickly begin to look very interesting.
Of course, if you find the perfect company and you’re sitting there saying, “there’s only 20 people here and I think this is a $20B company,” that’s the dream one. But outside of that… it’s hard.
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Thomas Sweeney is a 2015 MBA Candidate at NYU Stern and InSITE Fellow. This summer, Thomas worked on the Business Development group at Creative Artists Agency, where he helped manage CAA Ventures, an early-stage fund focused on investing in digital media and consumer retail businesses.