Next move for startup: SWE / PM / Growth equity

Hi everyone - I am in the middle of my 2+2 at a PE MF and am interested in co-founding a startup. Wondering what the best move next would be to gain some relevant skills & experiences: (1) Becoming a SWE at a small company to become more technical, (2) Joining a startup in a PM / Ops role, or (3) Doing growth equity / VC investing. 
For some context, I have a double major in finance and computer science, and I know how to code up an MVP for a basic web / iOS product.   

I am concerned that not being sufficiently technical would constrain my ability to effectively execute on a startup idea and feel that the "business side of things" is easily learnable / doable given my existing finance background. 


Option 2 makes the most sense.

I'd ask, do you want to co-found a startup because its the new, sexy thing to do? Or do you have an actual idea for a problem that you believe you can solve and scale as a real business?

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Maybe not the piece of advice you want to hear - but if you want to start a start-up... just start one.

You're not really gonna increase your capabilities that much plodding along into another job. There's a strong component of whether you're built for it or you're not. Going into some other job to "increase your readiness" is really just delaying the whole process.

An alternative way to look at it would be that if you want to found a start-up in 2 years, add another option to your list: fail at founding your own start-up. Do you think you'd learn more from 2 years in GE or 2 years trying (and potentially failing) at a start-up before founding another one in (say) 2026? Kinda corny advice but I'm 100% sure all start-up founders would point you to the latter. What's the opportunity cost - maybe ~$150k post-tax? Practically nothing.

Life's obligations only stack higher and higher as you grow older - the longer you delay the higher you push your chances of just never bothering at all.

Start-ups aren't like the typical "employee route" we follow from banking to PE to HFs etc. It's more like being a musician / artist - the people who succeed have the feeling that this is what they HAVE TO DO.... a near-irrational second drive to scratch some deep itch..... not because they take a measured slow approach to building up their skillsets until they're ready and well-rounded etc. If you have the urge - chase it


I agree to a certain extent, but I don't want to jump into it without a solid idea and a solid skillset. I also think that my experience so far in finance doesn't really provide the best foundation for startup success. So I want to spend some time further developing in order to maximize chances of success. Also, given what is happening with AI, I want to take some time to observe how the market will shake out before jumping into the fray prematurely. 


If you haven't already. read zero to one, paul graham, and antifragile. Crank them out in a week and revisit the question.

The skillset for founding cannot be taught, it can only be learned through repeated banging your head on the wall & failures. Finance, MBAs, strategy, growth roles at startups all teach you about what to do after product market fit, after you have successfully started something, but completely fail to teach you anything about actually starting something.

I don't know a single founder that would advise otherwise. At best you can maybe pick up some technical skills (programming) since you'll be able to move faster.

Just don't confuse the map for the territory.


read Founder's Dilemma. These are valid points, you will need to get comfortable with the social, financial, and knowledge/skill capital that you will need and how to counterbalance any deficits.


While I completely agreement with the sentiment, and there is no better time to start something than yesterday, I do want to offer a bit of perspective. First, OP has spent the past 3 years (at least) in finance jobs, which is great if OP wants to build something that sells to banks or a fintech product or build a consumer product. I’d argue that if OP wants to build something that they should go with option 1 or 2. Without facing a problem first hand, you’re taking on extra market risk, which could be negated if OP starts something while doing a repetitive task for the nth time. Further, without any real sales experience or building software since graduating uni, it could be tough to get someone to bet on you without a really strong co-founder.

I obviously agree with the poster above, if you have the itch, scratch it. But there’s also a lot you can learn (both about startups and for generating ideas), by working in industry and not looking at things from 30k feet as you might as an investor/banker.


Something like 90% of unicorn founders worked in or founded a previous unicorn. Some self-selection bias, but clearly important. Having business experience was far less common - mainly technical experience followed by startup experience.


I would go with #2, or founding something as others mentioned. I would not try to switch to the tech side. Despite the degree, it will be an uphill battle, compared to just working with/hiring professionals.
I was at a late stage startup/post-acquisition for 5 years on the tech side. Tech is rarely, if ever, the limiting factor. There is so much talent and solutions out there, it’s solvable problems. The limiting factor will be the ideas and people to sell them. The sales/BD/founders (whatever you want to call them) do not need to be technical. Bring a tech person to the meeting if needed. They need to be good at selling. No clients/no growth/no nothing. And a huge part of sales is connections, and then perceived prestige.
“I was in PE where I evaluated a bajillion companies and know people all over the industry, and I noticed this gap in the market I could solve, so I founded X with my SWE/PhD/data science co-founder” is so much better than “let me being up the crappy dash app I built to display the basic functionality”.
Honestly, and I’m only partially joking, the less technical the founders the better. “I’m a smart businessman, and even I barely understand what our mad scientists are cooking up back there, but it works great!” People don’t want to be sold from some tech genius on high where it boils down to “if you don’t understand our product and buy it then you’re stupid”.
And people can point to “founder of X was technical”. Maybe they came from a technical background, but once they hired a few people they pretty much stopped coding and started selling. They just happened to be good at both. But I really don’t believe any meaningfully successful startup is successful because the cofounder was technical, its because they were good as a founder. Its a spurious correlation. The only exception would be a very, very small, very niche, technical company. I can think of a few, where the founder is mildly involved in coding. But even there they have actual engineers actually running things. Even a less than 10 person company.
You should be able to run off spreadsheets and powerpoints and sweat and fear and bullshit for the first six months. If you need a cloud backend to show people the idea, you are lost. Literally draw it in crayon. If its good, people will see it. More often than anything, they’ll tell you company X already does that. And you shouldn’t need more than an inkling of the tech to come up with those ideas. Just assume if you can think of it, someone can implement it.


Data from YC’s most recent batch says that 99% of companies had at least 1 technical co-founded, up from 80% in 2020. So having a technical co-founder is definitely key, but it doesn’t need to be you. Some markets require really strong GTM to win (Zip, Uber, Doordash, etc). I’d argue that early days a strong product focused/technical founder triumphs when building a marketable MVP (pre-seed/seed, maybe this repeats as you build out other products), however, in order iterate on a product, scale effectively, win in adjacent markets, GTM triumphs every time (seed+). There is no shame in being a non-technical founder, you’ll be as instrumental (if not more) to the success of the business in the long run.


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