Lessons from a16z to Incorporate into Your Next Major Career Transition

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At some point in life, we all make a transition.

The key to a successful transition is finding the right resources to make the transition faster and better. The BreakLine Program is that resource for veterans transitioning into tech.

I have the good fortune to be part of the first BreakLine class. BreakLine is the innovative idea of Bethany Coates, an Assistant Dean at Stanford. As a leader at Stanford, she knows a great deal about teaching folks in intensive courses about innovation and business in the tech world. She developed BreakLine to provide similar training to veterans looking to transition into the technology industry.

We just wrapped up the first week, which was hosted at Andreessen Horowitz (a16z). Throughout the week, we had a mix of instruction from Stanford professors, a16z partners and employees, and tech executives in Bethany’s and a16z’s networks. Every speaker was impressive and excited to help teach a group of 24 military vets with wildly differing backgrounds.

Borkoski Diving 3I know I have a desire to get into tech, but I’m still learning the unique attributes of the tech industry. I’ve made a transition before – from Navy diver and bomb tech to COO of a company that provides government contract proposal writing services. Now I have a steep learning curve ahead of me to find out where my experience can fit into the tech world. BreakLine is bridging this gap.

Over the week, a16z gave us a peak into how they do business: they help their portfolio businesses grow so their investors get a great return on investment. It was easy for me to see how this mindset and the specific tools they use to help their businesses are directly applicable to anyone in a big career transition.

Here are some of the things I learned:

Cultivate Your Network

a16z consciously works to grow their network. No matter what the industry, networking should be your primary focus every morning if you really want to break into it. a16z lives this focus. Businesses are built by great people. The more great people you cultivate a relationship with, the better your chances are of working in their great businesses.

Hone Your Reverse Pitch

When we go into job interviews or pitches, we usually only think of our side of the meeting. Will they like me enough to hire me? Will they fund my idea? But a16z recognizes that the businesses coming to them are also deciding if a16z is the right VC firm to back them. To put that on a personal level, Ben Horowitz told us that when you go to work somewhere, you start to become your environment.

Think about what you need from the other side of the table to be successful in your future role. Do research on them, talk to people that know the people or the company, and find out what is important to them. Getting to this level of detail helps you know if you are applying to the right company. And it helps you couch your experience and ideas in the things that matter to the other side.

And finally, as Marc Andreessen said that when you pitch someone, find out what they thought so that you can improve the pitch for the next one.

Act

Every high-performing business founder and executive we heard from had one major thing in common – they consistently take action. Every day we run into people that say, “I have this idea…” What we don’t run into every day, are people that say, “And this is the solution I’ve developed and taken to market.”

Lars Dalgaard told us about a big career transition he made. At 26, he was CEO of a Unilever subsidiary, but he decided he wanted to transition into tech. So he went to Stanford for an MBA. At one point, he was told he needed to know about coding. So he bought the books for the Computer Science curriculum and he read them. He read them all. He went on to found SuccessFactors which was recently purchased by SAP. Ultimately, Lars identified where he wanted to go and took action to get there.

What are you going to do today to help your transition?

Ultimately, everyone transitions at some point. Startup founders transition from expert coders to business leaders, investment bankers transition to HR, and military veterans transition to product managers. The most successful ones build on the foundation they’ve built and find ways to get quickly up to speed in their new career.

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