This year we connected current M&Ts with alumni in our “Where are They Now?” series. As part of the series, Nova Guo (M&T, ’20) had the chance to talk with Connor Theilmann (M&T, ’15). She shared her insights from the conversation below.
Where is Connor now?
At Penn, Connor Theilmann (M&T, ’15) majored in computer science and concentrated in finance and accounting. Now he’s at Accel Partners, a venture capital fund focused on early-stage start-ups. Connor’s favorite part of his job is the diversity of experience. Over the past four years, he has worked with technology companies in all sectors, including The Zebra (think Kayak for car insurance), DJI (the world’s largest drone manufacturer), ServiceChannel (a facilities and contractors management platform), and ForgeRock (an identity management platform).
Connor told me the M&T Program was perfect preparation for his current work. As an investor and mentor for portfolio companies, he needs to see investments from multiple perspectives. When evaluating a company, his finance and accounting background allows him to see things from a CFO’s perspective. At the same time, his engineering experience helps him see the technical reasoning and viability of a company’s products.
The companies Connor works with are also extremely diverse geographically. He has invested in businesses based in the US, France, China, and India, giving him a broad perspective on how businesses operate in each country. When I asked Connor about the “typical challenges” in his work, he laughed and said there is nothing typical in his job. “Every one of these companies presents a unique opportunity,” he said, “It all boils down to creative problem-solving.”
How did Connor break into the VC industry?
Connor told me there is no straightforward way to get into the VC industry. He advised students to go into VC only if they have a genuine interest in technology and investment. “Follow your passion and immerse yourself completely in the entrepreneurial world,” he said, “Read everything you can to keep up with the latest trends. Meet every local entrepreneur, investor, and professor doing something that interests you. And, actively participate in related clubs on campus.”
Connor warned students might think they’re short on functional skills when first trying to break into the industry. But, Connor said those skills can be learned and suggested students offer to work for free or start with basic tasks. He advises those interested in the industry to be constantly aware of the changes in the ecology so their data and network can be a valuable resource.
What advice did Connor have for M&Ts preparing for their future careers?
Looking back to college life, Connor would advised M&T students to take more classes out of their comfort zones. He took college classes on the economics of cities, sat in on law classes, and took eHealth classes out of the nursing school. Though these choices might seem random for his major (or could potentially hurt this GPA), those were the classes he enjoyed the most and found most valuable.
“After college, you’ll rarely have the opportunity to learn something completely different,” Connor said, “It’s tough to convince your boss you need to spend three months on something new, purely for interest.” Connor also strongly recommend the Wharton Senior Capstone course, where students get to compete in a business simulation under the watch of Professor Peter Fader.
In the end, Connor encouraged current M&T students to reach out and get to know more M&T alumni: “The M&T Community is always going to be your strongest support and valuable resource. Use it!”
Connor Theilmann (M&T, ’15) holds a B.A.S. in computer science and a B.A. in economics, concentrating in finance and accounting, from the University of Pennsylvania. He now lives and works in the Bay Area for venture capital firm Accel Partners.
The interviewer, Qiaochu “Nova” Guo, is a member of the Class of 2020 majoring in computer science and concentrating in finance and statistics. After graduation, she plans to pursue data science. Her favorite thing about the M&T Program is the diversity of interests and experiences found in the M&T Community.