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Impact: Deferred, Until Now

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18 Aug 2019

It was mid-2017, and I was about three months into my new job at Salesforce. As a product marketer, I had been clued into the notion that the Salesforce zeitgeist considered its perihelion, its period of getting closest to the sun, to occur in that little, inconsequential period of time known as Dreamforce.

As the time arrived, this premonition came all the more true. Typical daily work was replaced with quick tweaks here and there of a Keynote. Wrangling speakers for various talk tracks went from gentle nudging to stern reminders. And visions of various Salesforce critters became part of my evening dreams (or nightmares, depending on how the previous day had gone).

My mind was fixated on helping Dreamforce become an amazing, fulfilling experience for attendees (and, in typical Salesforce conference fashion, it was). But down the road, another conference that was gearing up occupied a dormant, yet ready to burst, section of my heart: SOCAP.

Now, it shouldn’t be surprising this occurred: anyone who knows me has heard me say that I have “a public policy degree just sitting there”, and while there are some ancillary benefits of policy analysis I brought to my work, I’d sadly state that the deep-rooted parts of my studies had not yet been challenged. Even as I glanced back at my business school admissions essays, “I want to combine my engineering experience with a business background to help a world in need” comes through in a pretty obvious way.

I knew that, eventually, the longing to practice something along those lines would reach critical mass. So, when I joined Salesforce in a Product Marketing position, I had a few chats with Meredith Finn and Matt Garratt, who ran the Salesforce Impact Fund and Salesforce Ventures, respectively. I wasn’t looking for a job (uh, I had one), but i was starting to get a little bit antsy: how could I get closer to the place where capital could be used to help meaningful businesses thrive? Their advice: find a way in to impact-focused venture capital. It was pretty apparent that staying on a pathway of being a product expert would be really valuable - up to a point. But then it would take a bit of luck and timeliness, a willingness to get humbled by a totally different way of working, and an openness to drinking from the firehose.

Fortunately, the convergence of those things would come sooner than I thought.

After moving to DC with Stephanie late last year, I admittedly put the idea of pursuing a career in impact-focused venture capital in the back of my mind. I had to focus my energies on helping the Democrats win an election with smart uses of data. But after a pretty abrupt end to my time there, I suddenly faced a whole host of opportunities that probably wouldn’t have even crossed my tech-emblazoned event horizon if we were still in the Bay Area.

As a segue: it’s incredible what a scene change can provide. Friends that have journeyed away from the Bay Area have started commuting to work via trail run, settled into a sleepy college town in central Massachusetts, or started an adventure tights company. So when I settled in and started to explore whom I knew - and where I wanted to work - in DC, the pathways bifurcated into a kaleidoscope. Finance, tech, politics, government agencies, consulting firms - of equal measure, opportunities existed.

One of our closest friends in DC, Caroline, is a longtime impact investor, and it was during this time that said dormancy lit up. She must know what’s going on here, I thought - and she did. In a big way.

I’ll fast forward the details behind my conversations, the process, and the decision, and get right to it: I’m thrilled to announce that I’m joining the Accion Venture Lab team, helping their portfolio of entrepreneurs serve a world in need.

There are myriad reasons why I’m excited, but here are a few:

- Focus. Fintech is a space I’ve dabbled in, having worked with a handful of organizations at GitHub and Heroku that used our services. Accion’s been in the game of exploring, evaluating, and acting in financial institutions for over fifty years, and this expertise spills over into how Venture Lab approaches tech companies looking to advance the cause of financial inclusion.

- Kaleidoscope. The team I’m joining represents a variety of countries, backgrounds, genders, and experiences. For this midwestern-bred, public school-educated thirtysomething white guy, I can point to Accion as a place I feel most, well, comfortable.

- Success. A glance through Accion’s portfolio makes it clear: there are some amazing ideas the team has invested in. Whether working on migrant remittance programs, crop insurance, or small business lending, the breadth of their investments and the countries they serve is pretty vast.

- Exploring. I’m entering a new role where my colleagues know far more about the challenges of scaling a sustainable business. I have so much to learn, yet I can’t think of a time recently where I’ve been so excited to dig into a topic and do my best work.

I’m grateful to everyone that has provided guidance, counsel, and even a free coffee here and there the past few months. You’ve been wonderful sounding boards, and at some point, I have no doubt that “Career Karma” will provide an opportunity for me to offer thanks in a more tangible way. But for now, I’m going to go and see if I can get the #SeeYouAtSOCAP hashtag trending on Twitter.

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