Jenny Fielding was the MD at Techstars NYC. She's also a GP at The Fund, a first-check fund that invests in local entrepreneurs. To date, she invested in more than 140 tech-enabled businesses like Latch and Chainalysis Inc. And as if this wasn't enough, Jenny is also a Professor at Columbia University and a Kauffman Fellow.
She's an incredible investor, entrepreneur, and operator, and has been a great mentor from Prediko's inception.
In our conversation, she shares stories about the early days of her career, her entrepreneurial journey, and her life as an investor.
Where do you come from and what led you to NYC?
I was born and raised in New York, and, today, I live on the same block that I grew up on. I have lived all around the world, traveled to many places, and ended up living on the same block as my family.
I went to Columbia university and started a very traditional career — I went to law school and ended up in Finance as many people do in NY. And then, in 2000 I had an idea for a startup, so I left my career in finance to follow my passion of starting a tech company.
Can you tell us a little bit about the early days of your career and what got you to start your first company?
I think I am the traditional n-path founder, like solving a problem that I experienced and was bothering me so much I had to solve it. In 2007, while working I had a problem making international calls.
At the time, I didn’t really care about building a business, I just wanted to solve a pain point that myself and other people people in NY had. That’s kind of how I started.
Did you feel any anxiety in setting up your first business, Switch-Mobile, or did it almost feel like destiny?
In terms of being nervous, I’d say “no” because both my parents work for themselves, so, the model of growing up was “Own your destiny, Work for yourself”.
What was that company about?
The first company was in the mobile voice over a key space, we were solving the problem of making international calls from your mobile phone, which, at the time, were quite expensive.
So, we developed a very simple app that ended up having a large reach in a big market.
Since then, I have started other companies, some too early, some too late in terms of market timing which is so important. Today, I consider myself more than an just an investor — someone that loves building things.
What were the best and worst times you went through while building your business?
Not having a great foundation, and being able to build a world-class team was quite hard. At that time, I didn’t have a lot of experience in hiring and managing other people. Everything was new to figure out.
The things that we benefited from was that there was a big market, people really wanted the product. So, even if sometimes your company is a bit of a mess, you can have some success because there's an appetite for your product. Lots of it turns out to be some “luck” in terms of we were able to hit the right market, at the right time.
You’re now an angel investor in 100s of startups, the MD of Techstars NYC, and the founder of The Fund, a community-powered venture fund. What got you in the investment space and what excites you about it?
After I sold my company, I ended up at the BBC, actually running their digital innovation group. There, I was thinking a lot about building new models for innovation, that was everything from investing to incubating new business and I created the first corporate accelerator in Europe, called BBC Labs. I based it on the model that I saw working in the US, and really tried to lean-on helping early-stage companies in a more co-work-based formalised way and I loved it. I was there for several years, and then, one day, I got a call from David Cohen, the founder of TechStars, who was looking for someone to kind of build out a program in NY.
The real story is that the first time he asked me, I said no. Then, I started mentoring at the program that he wanted me to run. I loved it, especially the culture, and when he called me again, I said yes and ended up joining TechStars in 2014. I’ve been an MD ever since, have been super lucky to invest in incredible companies with wonderful founders, and have learned a ton about early stages investing by getting to know so many companies. So, it’s been really fun, and I consider myself a little bit more of a pre-seed whisperer than I do as an investor. I love to get in early and be kind of a founding partner with the founders, be that first call when things are going well and when things go wrong as well.
Is there anything you don’t like about being an investor?
I think at the early-stage, you are really on the same side as the founder and that's an incredible moment because you can have a lot of trust with the founder, a lot of openness, and a lot of sharing.
At some point, when portfolio companies are growing, you realise as an investor that your fund is an actual business and there are times where you have to make tough decisions. I do find that challenging as I become closer with founders — we become friends and part of each other’s communities. There are also moments where you have disagreements or potential friction in the relationship, and I do find that hard too.
You’ve got quite a lot on your plate. Can you walk us through what’s a typical day for you and share any tips you’ve got on time management.
The model that I saw growing up was a few things. First, you have to love your work as much as anything else, and many people in this world don’t have this opportunity because they have financial issues, family issues, have to put money on the table, etc...
If you find a life that works for you, where you love your work, it stops feeling like work and it just feels integrated into your lifestyle. And, after many years of hard work, I’ve settled into a career where my life and my work are really one. The balance isn’t about “am I working, am I not working right now?”, it’s like “Have I figured out a way to melt those both into something harmonious?”.
I love spending time with founders. If that means working on products or if it means having a fun lunch with them, it’s all the same for me. And my work really feeds me and my satisfaction as well. I feel super lucky and grateful because many people are not in that position.
If you can find a work that is meaningful for you and if you can figure out a way to integrate it into your lifestyle, I feel like you just have endless capacities.
What got you interested in inventory planning and ultimately to invest in Prediko?
My parents are entrepreneurs and, growing up, I saw a lot of excel spreadsheets running big businesses. Things haven't really changed over the years... Especially legacy industries are still run on such minimal technologies, and, these industries are super exciting to me.
We’ve recently seen many platforms that are there to provide automation, insights, and predictions to the health and e-commerce sectors that are still running on legacy architecture.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone who is just starting their entrepreneurial journey?
I do find that a lot of entrepreneurs are seeing interesting opportunities. But, just as I said, "my work becomes my passion". You are going to be at this for at least 10 years and you’ve got to make sure the problem that you are solving and the people that you are working with are in it for the long hall. This is not a 2/3 years run and you are done. You are lucky if something happens in 10 years, within that time frame you really need to be passionate about the work itself.
Finally, where do you see yourself in the next 10 years?
On one hand, I feel like I will be doing the exact same thing and, on the other hand, I have always been someone to reinvent myself, so we’ll see.
If I really had to answer that, in 10 years, I think that I will be building another company!