Siri Srinivas, Venture Analyst
Tell us about your career up to this point.
It’s been quite nonlinear. My first job was as a reporter covering arts and theatre for the local edition of a national newspaper in Bangalore, India (where I grew up) at age 19. It was interesting because I knew nothing about arts and theatre. I was studying to be an engineer at the time. My first full-time job after graduating from college was as an engineer at JP Morgan Chase — I worked in a project management team that designed and managed disaster recovery tests across our massive data centers which housed dozens of mainframes. It was an excellent education in the scale and sturdiness that a financial services giant require in its computing infrastructure. Most people I meet in the Bay Area these days start their careers in small technology start-ups. I started off at the very opposite end of the spectrum, at an enterprise behemoth.
After three years at JPMC, I upped and moved to New York to get an MA in Arts and Culture Journalism at Columbia University in 2013. I got to study and experience so many new things: policy, culture, sociology, urban development. It was also the time I got curious about Venture Capital. VC dollars had completely changed the media game: companies like Buzzfeed, Vox, etc. were challenging veterans like the NYT, WaPo, etc. I remember listening to Ben Smith (of BuzzFeed) and Eric Hippeau (of Lerer Hippeau Ventures) and thinking that something fascinating was afoot at the intersection of technology, media, and business.
I graduated and landed a fellowship at The Guardian in New York, and I grabbed it with both hands. At the Guardian, I covered the Economy and Personal Finances. This was tough. I hadn’t worked as a full-time news reporter and was working in an American newsroom, having grown up in India, so I stuck out like a sore thumb. Thankfully I had some great editors who were very supportive and kind.
Around 2014, when I was at the Guardian, they were rolling out their first major design revamp, heading closer to being a news platform from being a vanilla news website. It was a fascinating time, and I learned a lot as a passive observer. I then worked for a startup that was building a news product related to private markets investing. It was at that time that I was offered a role at FundersClub (an online VC) as part of their investing team in 2015. Outside of work, I teamed up with the amazing Sydney Thomas to start a small community of Women of Color in VC in SF.
How would you describe what you do on a day to day basis?
I’m currently on a career break, so I spend most of my time reading the news, tech, cryptocurrency, and other things that catch my fancy (+ lots of Netflix). I’m also working on a side project where I’m trying out some ideas I’ve had in the last year. I’m also helping some female founders with their companies.
During my time in VC, my work involved researching companies, researching industries, talking to their customers and understanding the businesses of companies we looked to invest in. In an average week, I dove deep into 3 – 4 companies, meeting with founders and understanding their pitch and working with them on it. Unlike traditional VC firms, FundersClub creates investment vehicles for each startup they invest in, raising money from individual accredited investors. My job was to make sure that our thousands of accredited investors had the information they needed to understand and evaluate the company in question. I also managed our internal targets for fundraising for each fund. So at any given time, I worked with 5-8 companies at various stages of the process.
I also worked with our internal teams — Engineering and Product. For instance, if we felt that a particular way of measuring investment volume made more sense, we’d discuss and spec out how the feature should work; this was often the most rewarding and fun aspect of the job.
The rest of my time was taken up in working with our fund operations teams and our lawyers to make sure everything was in order (No one works harder in Silicon Valley than the lawyers. Nobody!).
What made you decide to work in tech/startups
Working for a massive organization like JP Morgan was rewarding in so many ways — they invest considerable amounts of time into educating their employees, and I worked alongside many smart people. However, startups are unmatched in the level of impact one can have at an individual level. It’s also safer to move fast and break things in startups, whereas tiny mistakes can cost a financial service giant millions of dollars and downtimes are catastrophic.
I wanted to work in a startup because the impact is the most important measure of how much I enjoy my job. I think it’s essential to be able to track the impact of what you constantly do. Secondly, startups allow you to multitask and experiment, and these two things together are very very gratifying. Especially for those who tend to be generalists (I am one!).
What was your perception of the tech industry before entering it, what is your perception now?
One thing I talk about a lot is the difference between working for big business vs. startups. My understanding crystallized after having worked for both large companies and small ones:
- Large companies value accuracy/reliability more than efficiency. Risk can be costly for large firms. In massive enterprises, labor is broken down into discrete units of work so that no one person is responsible for too large a portion of work. This is how they keep the machine running. I always say large firms are like LCD screens. A few dots blowing up here and there make no difference to the overall picture. This may seem bleak, but there is something to be said about the beauty of scale.
- The smaller the company you work for, the more your versatility is put to the test. But a lot of tech startups tend to build, break and rebuild. Often there is no correct way to do things until someone stumbles upon it. I prefer the latter setup. Things are always interesting.
On the other hand, before I worked in Silicon Valley, I honestly believed that the technology industry was closer to a pure meritocracy than other sectors. I now know this is wholly untrue, given the underrepresentation and sidelining of women and minorities.
What are three tips you can give to high school/college students who wanted to follow your career path?
Dear lord! Don’t follow my career path. Forge your own. Three bits of general advice:
- Start something, if you can. The barrier to entry in 2017 is lower than it used to be (sometimes all it takes is a laptop and an internet connection). Working on your own product/project/company early in your career is as good as (better than!) going to grad school, in my opinion.
- Always ensure you are adequately compensated for the work you do. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you are worth.
- Learn to code, if possible!