As an MIT Sloan alumnus whose career path has taken many twists and turns on the road to career satisfaction, I am often asked to share my story. What I have learned from my experience at MIT Sloan and my career is simple: explore what makes you curious, develop an expertise, turn challenges into opportunities, and consider every opportunity to try something new. When you read my story, you’ll see that this strategy has brought me great career satisfaction, even though the path was never direct.
After graduating from MIT Sloan, I started my career at JPM Investment Management as a research analyst covering tech stocks. I was on the buy-side, recommending stocks to the portfolio managers investing on behalf of investors. I researched and modelled hundreds of companies. I learned what makes a company a great investment. And I learned that in tech, a great company is often not determined by the state of its current financial statements. In 1997 and 1998, companies were coming public with huge losses. Some were even pre-revenue! It did not matter what the company delivered financially at the time of the IPO, instead the company was valued on what it could deliver at maturity. To determine this terminal value, I became skilled at assessing the size of the market and a company’s likely share of market based on its product roadmap, management team and differentiation.
I received great training at JPM, and when the small-cap portfolio manager left for a hedge fund, I made a decision that changed the trajectory of my career: I moved to a venture capital fund. It was 1999, and my pitch to Fred Wilson of Flatiron Partners was simple. I had been a programmer, I understood technology, I had the intuition to choose investment winners, and a successful process for valuing small companies. At Flatiron, I would source and evaluate Series A-stage companies and recommend those that could grow into big companies.
In hindsight, this was a gutsy career shift. In the public market, public companies pitch themselves to the buy-side to attract investment dollars. In the world of private companies, VC’s have to prove their worth to the best early stage startups, not just in terms of capital, but also expertise, network and access to talent. At Flatiron, instead of being pitched, I was doing the pitching.
Still, I settled in well and learned the trade from some of New York’s best VCs when the crisis hit in 2000. The Internet bubble burst. Venture investment dried up. Investor and employee net worth were wiped out. Our largest LP, JPM Chase, took over our portfolio through a clawback provision. I was back in a large organization, but not for long.
I joined Unterberg Towbin Advisors, a technology hedge fund run by Jim Weil. Instead of evaluating and investing in companies for the long run, I learned about trading around a position, managing risk, and what makes a good short position. At a hedge fund, there are fewer restrictions, and many ways to gain or limit exposure to a stock or a sector. Besides the creativity, I loved the profit motive; I had the freedom to structure my exposure and to own/short what I wanted, as long as I made money.
When Jim retired in 2004, I struck out on my own, raising capital and putting up a shingle for a long-short hedge fund called SEAL Capital, named after my young sons, Sacha and Eli. I was a sole practitioner. I traded the book, raised capital, spoke with investors, and ran the business. It was a glorious time.
Then came the financial crisis of 2008/2009. I had just turned 40 and I needed a change. I painstakingly called each investor to explain that I was retiring and giving back the capital to stay home with my children. That summer we took a long vacation to Israel. Having read “Startup Nation”, I decided to check out the startup scene. I met one entrepreneur, Gil Friedlander, who had developed an app to determine the relative power/strength of the cellular signal emitted from the cellphone, based on the carrier. His company had collected millions of data-points and they could recommend the best carrier to use based on your geographic location. I saw a lot of value in this data, and decided to invest a chunk of our personal capital.
This investment kickstarted the next leg of my career, that of an angel investor. I focused on sourcing companies raising capital at the seed stage. Over my ten years as an angel, I invested in about ten companies in consumer, healthtech, crypto and financial services. I sourced deals and structured the transaction and then once the transaction was closed, helped the company with strategy, advice and introductions.
In January, I took a step towards a more formal role, as a Strategic Adviser to the Global Innovation Group at Henry Schein, a publicly-traded distributor of medical and dental products. I work around the edges of the organization, introducing the business units to interesting startups that I’ve sourced. I also help these startups with their strategy and with sourcing talent and capital. I have just scratched the surface of all the amazing innovation in healthtech.
As I look back on my 22-year career, it’s clear that my path was not straight or clearly defined. At times, it was rocky and I couldn’t see the way forward, but I always remained open to new opportunities. I stayed curious, leveraged my expertise, and pursued my interests.
In your time ahead at MIT Sloan, take some time to reflect on what motivates you, explore what makes you curious, and envision the life you want to build. Make the most of every day! The opportunities to learn, explore, and connect are endless. This time is truly a gift. Approach it with enthusiasm and connect with this amazing community that will support you in making the kind of impact you want to have on the world.
Who knows what the future will bring next for me? I’m starting to think about operating a company….stay tuned for more to come!
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