The road to Venture Capital has many lanes and as the push to diversify the industry continues, I would like to shine a bright light on Stadia Ventures as I reflect on my final day at the firm. Their impact in the Sports and Esports industries are historic, but as we go through trying times as a society, I am most thankful for the team at Stadia Ventures that brought me in to VC before diversity issues started coming to the front page of the news and social media feeds. As a volunteer with Stadia, the very first pitch I witnessed was from Mustafa Abdul Hamid, the founder of Boost. Today, I give praise to the Stadia Team and also advice to those behind me who are working hard to break through.
“The reason Stadia was started was to connect the good founders with the good people in the Sports and Esports Industries.” — Tim Hayden, Co-Founder and Managing Director @ Stadia Ventures
I truly did not expect to see someone of my complexion on day one. However, the room of 150+ Senior Leaders from the Sports and Esports industries was diverse with Women, Black, Brown, Asian and White people in leadership. As I helped to aggregate scores and comments from that event, what made an even greater impact was that those very judges demanded more diversity from Stadia.
So my Venture Adventure began and I owe it to Tim Hayden, Art Chou, Joe Pimmel, Brandon Janosky, Bill Powell, Alex Chalmers and Jim Liu for embracing me as a teammate and Stadia Venture Family member. There was risk and reservation coming out of a top ranked MBA program and joining a small firm. Despite that worry, the opportunity to impact and effect every part of the business was the greatest experience that I could ask for.
Managing a network of nearly 6,000 Sports and Esports Leaders (Tim Hayden); managing a fund, valuations, spreadsheets and negotiating term sheets (Joe Pimmel); managing the portfolio and keeping an ear to the ground to know what Stadia founders need (Brandon Janosky); seeking out and negotiating direct investments in Rockstar Sports Tech and Esports companies globally (Bill Powell); brokering high level corporate partnerships globally (Alex Chalmers); liaising between the team and portfolio founders and seeking out new deals (Jim Liu). The opportunities to learn and get hands on were plentiful.
There is no greater perk than a leader taking their time to provide one-on-one professional development. I give special thanks to Bill, Joe, Tim and Brandon for not only extending their bandwidth to me for professional development, but also withstanding the barrage of questions, challenges and pushes for thought leadership.
I had the honor of planning, resourcing and executing Stadia’s Accelerator program. The capital that drives that program is the Stadia network that so graciously offers their time to not only meet Stadia founders, but help them broker deals in the Sports and Esports space that otherwise would take years to accomplish. To those Guest Speakers, Mentors, Mentor Team Members, thank you for making that program successful. Without you, Stadia does not exist.
I now head to a new challenge in a familiar place. I’ll save that announcement for later as today is dedicated to celebrating Stadia Ventures.
My six pieces advice to those who are seeking to break into VC are as follows:
1. Know your Value: What do you have that a VC firm can use to improve? Know this well before your approach because at different times there will be different needs. If it all aligns, your chances are greater. I reached out to Stadia when I first moved to St. Louis, I never got my chance with them until a year later. Never give up.
2. Handle rejection with Class: You will hear 100 No’s before you get a Yes. You will be judged on how you navigate that rejection. The VC space is small, Sports Tech and Esports is even smaller. Maintain your class and your professionalism at all times, even if it doesn’t go your way.
3. Professional Development: As you educate yourself and take on volunteer opportunities to professionally improve, work on the following categories if you can: (1) Building Your Network (2) Helping Founders (3) Fundraising. At the highest levels of this industry, these categories matter and make a difference.
4. Pick a Lane and get after it: There are many avenues into the VC space and this ties directly into my advice about knowing your value. If your expertise is operations, engineering, legal, financial etc., you can find a home at an early-stage company, or with an Accelerator and even better is to start your own company. Learn the ups and downs of building something from scratch. Know what it is to Fail Forward. The path doesn’t always have to start or end with a VC shop. My foot in the door at Stadia was through the Accelerator that operates alongside of their fund.
5. Value Alignment and Fit: Whether its a VC, Accelerator, Incubator, Start-Up or somewhere in between, ensure you know what the Mission of the organization is. Know what their values are. Ensure that they align with your personal beliefs and values. I saw inclusion the first minute I walked in the door at Stadia. Find out what matters to you.
6. Hard Work will Always Win the Day: One attribute I always carry with me from my military days is that I will always be the first one in and the last to leave. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, just be the hardest working person in the room. Opportunities don’t find you on the easy path.