How did you first get involved with DUU and how did DUU change under your leadership?
I think I came into DUU at a pivotal time, when I joined it was still called “The Union.” I thought that it was a really cool student organization that not many people knew much about and I really saw an opportunity to do a lot more with it. I was CFO my junior year and President my senior year. I was also a barista at the Coffeehouse! During my senior year as President though, we decided to change the branding of “The Union” to Duke University Union. We also acquired Small Town Records that same year.
And on the flip side, how do you think you grew and changed from your experiences in DUU?
When I was a junior and CFO of DUU, I was very focused on getting an internship on Wall Street and working in finance. When I was a senior and President of DUU, I began to think a lot more about being an operator, restructuring a business, and helping organizations thrive. I ended up applying to work at McKinsey after college and took a job there that was much more focused on building businesses.
What was your career path after college like?
I joined McKinsey after graduation and worked at the San Francisco office for 2-3 years. I loved McKinsey and worked across technology and financial services. My last project with the firm was in Education. The senior partner I was working with, Sir Michael Barber, left to join Pearson and I joined him as his Chief of Staff. Once at Pearson, one of the things I did was set up Pearson’s Corporate Venture unit.
What was your career path like? Did you always know you wanted to end be in marketing?
Honestly, I didn’t really even understand marketing until I had a job with marketing in the title. I really wanted to get into news and I got an internship at the Huffington Post after graduation. I thought for sure that I would stay in news writing, but the only way they would give me a job out of the internship program was as the evening editor covering breaking news overnight. When the assistant manager moved onto another role, my boss asked me if I knew anyone who would want to manage the social accounts for politics coverage and I offered myself up. That was my first foray into marketing. Then, Netflix reached out because they were looking for someone to manage the social media campaigns for documentary films and series. Now, I manage full marketing campaigns, from social media to trailers, billboards, etc. for comedy series. I feel like happy accidents are a theme in my life. I just so happened to get involved in a lot of the organizations that I ended up sticking with at Duke and I’m so glad that panned out the way that it did. Same with my trajectory getting into social media and marketing here at Netflix.
I ran the venture fund at Pearson for 5 ½ years, investing in education and ed-tech companies all over the world. I also co-founded a company called Delivery Associates that helps governments and social sector organizations drive results and accomplish their goals. At its most fundamental level, the methodology is simple, but few organizations actually do this kind of work and do it well.
Did you always know you wanted to end up working in the VC/startup space?
I always wanted to be an investor. I wanted to work on Wall Street when I was in college, I was an econ major, and was fascinated by investing. Venture capital is such a great combination of investing capital, building businesses, and working with entrepreneurs. And even building a venture fund itself is an entrepreneurial endeavor because you’re pitching to limited partners to invest in your fund. Then, you have to actually figure out who to invest in.
My interest in venture lends from my DUU experience because I acquired Small Town Records when I was President and we also worked on restructuring a couple of committees. Being a venture capitalist is like being President of DUU because you have all these different portfolio companies (or, committees), and you have to decide how to best support the ones that are flourishing and how to work with the ones that need extra help to restructure or figure out a new budget.
What is your favorite part of your work?
I love working with amazing people with world changing ideas. I call them people who “will the future into existence.” They’ll think that the world needs this particular innovation and they’re the ones who can get it done. I love backing those kinds of people and being the one who can go to bat for them.
Last question, thinking back to your time at Duke, what is your favorite DUU memory?
I remember my senior year, I helped my friends who had this idea for a small-scale Coachella-style music festival put on this event called “Joe College.” We brought a ton of bluegrass bands that played all day on campus on a Saturday. My friends and I were driving around West Campus in a golf cart handing out glow sticks and tie-dyed shirts. Everyone was just listening to music and having a good time. It was so great seeing the event come to fruition!