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I'm a banker and I want to work at a startup. What should I do?

I’m Dora and I work on the Partnerships team at Earnest, a fintech startup. Previously, I did Business Development at Doorman, a package-delivery startup.

But before I submerged myself into the startup world, I spent close to 6 years in investment banking in New York. Transitioning from high grade loan originations at a 250,000+ person global organization to working at a 10-person logistics startup was certainly challenging and a steep learning curve. But that’s a post for another time.

I’m here to tell you 5 roles you can parlay your banking skills into at a startup:

1) Business Development

Description: Simply put, Business Development / Partnerships teams work on deals that allow their product or service to reach a broader audience through another company and distribute their product to those users.

Example: Spotify partnered with Uber to allow Uber riders to listen to Spotify. Spotify gained access to Uber’s audience and Uber provided a better experience for their riders along the way.

Skills you’ll have: As a former banker, you’ve interacted with clients, listened to their needs and suggested solutions. Similarly, a lot of partnerships’ work is about building relationships, creating mutually beneficial deals, negotiating terms and continuously following up to make sure the deal is implemented.

Skills you’ll need: At a startup, you have to work hard to get prospects’ attention and convince them that your company can bring them value, which is different than working at a large bank leveraging a global brand and decades of strong reputation and results. If you’ve worked on a side project or started your own (small) business, be sure to highlight it and talk about your hustle, grit, failures and drive to get back up again and keep trying. There will be a lot of that at a startup!

Click here to learn more about business development roles.


2) Marketing Analytics

Description: Companies spend a ton of time analyzing the traffic that comes to their website and what those users do on their site. Additionally, they think about the ROI of various demand generation campaigns such as direct mail, Facebook campaigns, email outreach, or SEO.

Example: Understand customer acquisition cost by analyzing conversion rate when a customer signs up on the website or if they purchase a product or service.

Skills you’ll have: Even with no marketing experience, if you have a solid background in analytics, familiarity with numbers and excel, this could be a good fit for you.

Skills you’ll need: You’ll have to be comfortable analyzing a lot of data, frequently from various sources and coming up with actionable recommendations to improve conversion rate and reduce customer acquisition cost. Often you won’t know what you’re looking for until you start digging into the data. If there were projects that you worked on with a lot of ambiguity and data to discover patterns and taken those findings to change action, then those will definitely be relevant to bring up.

Click here to learn more about marketing analytics roles.


3) Finance

Description: The Finance team deals with the day-to-day accounting and cash flow of the business. At a fintech company like Earnest, we have more payments than your standard startup, as our business is about refinancing and originating loans. Additionally, the finance team also manages financial planning and forecasting.

Example: Build an operational model that forecasts head count across the organization as well as projects sales target and expected revenue.

Skills you’ll have: As a banker, you’re familiar with financial statements, revenues, costs and cash flow. However, financial statements of a startup don’t resemble your standard 10K of a public company.

Skills you’ll need: Now you’re on the operations side of the business and you’ll be in the weeds of projecting out the business’s growth, costs and cash flow burn. You have to be able to work with all the teams responsible for the growth of the company in order to come up with ambitious, but realistic revenue targets and annual plans. Being able to plug into the fundraising process always give you a leg up as well.

Click here to learn more about finance roles at startups.


4) Business Operations

Description: I’ll be honest, it took me about 2 years of being in Silicon Valley to figure out what Business Operations (BizOps) actually does. It varies vastly at each company, but think of it more as the company’s internal consulting team. Clear as mud?

Example: At Earnest, our BizOps team does a few things:

  1. Think strategically about how to improve internal processes

  2. Work on external relations efforts (from Board presentations to fundraising)

  3. Help set the company vision by working on product strategy and metrics for success

Skills you’ll have: With prior experience at an investment bank, you have worked with different teams across the organization, have strong analytical skills and you know how to get things done under tight deadlines. You’re unfazed by senior people texting you at 10pm or calling you with one-off requests and ad hoc projects that needed to be done like yesterday.

Skills you’ll need: You gotta be willing to jump right into whatever task you’re asked to do -- no matter how big or small. You can’t possibly be “above it” because you’ll be working on a lean team, sometimes as the sole BizOps person. Things will change all. the. time. Projects will be put on hold one day and will need to go full-steam-ahead the next day. Projections will be updated, new products launched, business lines created, etc. You’ll be responsible for making sure everything works seamlessly and all the parts of the organization are marching to the same drum. You have to be comfortable with ambiguity.

Click here to learn more about the role biz-ops have at startups.


5) Customer Success

Description: Customer Success is NOT Customer Support. The role of a Customer Success Manager is to retain and expand high-value relationships with existing enterprise clients. In most large companies, Sales professionals are responsible for getting new business clients in the door; the Customer Success team is responsible for managing those on-going relationships and ensuring that the client sees the value in the service.

Example: Work with the General Manager of a Business Unit at Macy's and communicate how your retail analytics platform saves $$ on their supply chain and how they could be using the platform more effectively.

Skills you’ll have: You’ve consistently interacted with C-level clients, educated them about different financial products and have come up with creative solutions to (sometimes unreasonable) client requests. Maintaining ongoing dialogue with senior executives and pro-actively anticipating their needs was a key part of being a banker.

Skills you’ll need: You’ll need to be the trusted advisor for clients and have a technical, in-depth understanding of the product your company sells. It is critical to interface with the product team to translate client wish-lists into actionable product features. You’ll need to be highly quantitative to measure the value you deliver and closely monitor metrics to help your clients get the most out of your product. If your company is providing a product/service with a fair amount of competition in the market, you will need to work hard to retain your clients and consistently add value to them.

Click here to learn more about the role of customer success groups.


Dora Matheidesz works on the Partnerships team at Earnest. Prior to relocating to San Francisco, Dora was an investment banker at J.P. Morgan in New York.

In her free time, she enjoys getting involved with local politics and playing amateur photographer around the Bay Area. Dora is also the founder of Ladies Launch SF, an organization dedicated to connecting and advancing women in the professional world.

Interested in being a writing contributor or know someone who might be? Send us a note here and we will get back to you.

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