Our current students are always interested in learning from their alumni peers. In our “Where Are They Now?” series, we connected current students with alumni to interview them about life after the Jerome Fisher Program. Next up is Sakib Dadi (M&T, ’15) interviewed by Andrew Zhang (M&T, ’18).
Andrew: You submatriculated into a Master’s program while at Penn. What do you think is the value of gaining a Master’s degree?
Sakib: For me, I wanted to get a Master’s and I didn’t want to leave school and come back again. Looking back on it, I’m not sure I would do it again. I think I put too much value on saying “I have a Master’s degree.”
If I could go back, what I’d focused on instead is gaining skills in areas I didn’t necessarily get to learn about through my dual-degree education. Some of my favorite classes were completely unrelated to my degrees, like Art History. I think I would have focused less so on the credential and more on pure learning.
The “TLDR” advice is, as a Jerome Fisher M&T student, you don’t need a Master’s. However, if you want to spend some time doing an extra internship, studying abroad, or even just figuring out what you want to do, it’s definitely a solid option to extend for a year or two at Penn.
Andrew: You are currently working in venture capital (VC). What recommendations do you have for someone looking to get into that field?
Sakib: Venture capital firms, especially Bessemer, look for people who are smart and passionate about technology. The job almost every day is thinking about new, emerging businesses and whether we should invest in a company. Having that natural curiosity to explore different areas of technology and dig into what may make a company special is absolutely essential to the job.
Andrew: As a VC, your role is about finding and evaluating different investments. What skills did you need for a role like this?
Sakib: It takes a lot of soft skills. You very much learn how to think about and analyze cost/benefit. To break it down, you need to have:
- Curiosity – Expose yourself to different ways of thinking and technologies (i.e. developer platforms, gaming, edtech) so you can quickly understand something new.
- Judgment – Ability to identify the pros and cons of an investment, know how to weigh them against one another, and identify when to weigh certain things more than others.
- Empathy – Appreciate where an entrepreneur is coming from so you can help as they build a business and envision if/how customers/clients will use the product
- Vision – Understand the macro trends, how they might create major shifts in our economy, and how that would allow for new businesses to be built
Andrew: Tell me about a deal you worked on from start to finish.
Sakib: I spoke to a digitally native, vertically integrated e-commerce company I had heard of from a friend. I got on the phone with the founder and found out the business was doing really well. We had a very pleasant conversation without knowing when she may raise funds.
Six months later, a colleague at Bessemer was looking at vertically integrated e-commerce brands and I brought this one to his attention. We reached out to the founder, but she still wasn’t sure that she wanted to raise. But, through a couple different conversations, we were able to communicate the ways we could help the company throughout its growth and, fortunately for us, she was on board to work with us.
This was an interesting case study in how long a deal can take. A lot of the times you build a relationship that continues for weeks, months, even years. During that time you’re trying to demonstrate how you’ll add value as an investor compared to anyone else.
Andrew: That’s interesting. I can imagine there are lots of times when you happen across a company and think “This could be a great investment!” but they’re not even thinking of raising. I’d imagine this disconnect in timing exists in a number of engagements.
Sakib: Certainly, timing is a huge factor in venture, not only for when to invest in a company, but when certain businesses become viable.
Andrew: Speaking of timing, when did it feel it was the right time for you to move to a new role at Viagogo and why did you come back to Bessemer?
Sakib: When I started, I didn’t know if I wanted to stay in VC long-term but I liked it and felt I’d gained a lot of skills. The challenge for me – after interacting with so many intelligent, thoughtful entrepreneurs – was I began to feed off that energy and got the itch to build something myself. That led me to move to a role at Viagogo.
Often times at Bessemer, in a pitch deck I’d see a familiar growth curve; always smoothly up and to the right. Being at Viagogo, I got to know the bumps and curves along the way and how people approached and tackled them. Working on product, I got the chance to understand how to make data-driven decisions that affect users across the globe.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to work there and learned a lot. But, I also enjoyed working with so many different entrepreneurs and learning about a variety of different businesses. That drive ultimately led me back to Bessemer.
Andrew: Do you have the urge to pursue your own venture?
Sakib: Having the engineering background from M&T, I think there’s always going to be a bit of that urge, but I need a reason to act on it. Starting a company for the sake of starting a company seems like a bad way to do things. You really need to ask yourself “Why do I want to start a company? Where am I uniquely positioned to build a business?”
Creating and scaling a successful company is unbelievably difficult. Anybody who builds a company that lasts more than a few years is quite an anomaly. You need unwavering conviction, and many sleepless nights along the way, to be a success. You have to be ready to throw everything on the line for your company.
Too often people don’t appreciate that struggle. They think: “I’ll be my own boss, and I’ll set my own hours.” But once you become an entrepreneur, the reality is you have a lot more bosses! There’s investors, employees, customers: your time is rarely your own.
All that being said, I think starting something you’re passionate about is a worthy way to make an impact on the world. I am constantly energized by the entrepreneurs I get to work with on a daily basis and think they are some of the brightest people in the world. When I think of my life goal, in a broad sense, I want to add value in some way, first by helping entrepreneurs and one day potentially starting my own venture.
Andrew: What advice do you have for students interested in starting their own ventures?
Sakib: Don’t be afraid to take risks – especially early on. When you’re young, it’s easier to bounce back from mistakes. The reality is, having received an education from a prestigious program at a prestigious school, you can press the reset button relatively easily.
At the end of the day, how big is the risk? M&Ts are smart, hard-working individuals. So, take these risks early. Don’t be afraid to go beyond traditional paths even if it seems hard at the time.
Sakib graduated in 2015 with a Master’s in material science, BSE in material science, and a BA in economics with a concentration in management and entrepreneurship and innovation. Currently, he works in venture capital at Bessemer Venture Partners, where he began his career after graduation. In between stints at Bessemer, he worked in product management with Viagogo, a ticket marketplace startup.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER: Andrew Zhang is a member of the Class of 2018 and will graduate with a BSE in systems engineering and a BA in economics with a concentration in finance. After graduation, he will take on a role as a Program Manager at Microsoft.