Bloomberg | November 24, 2021
How to leave Big Tech
I met Richard Chen this week, a former Facebook engineer who left the company earlier this year with hopes of starting his own business.
The problem was he didn’t really know where to start. He didn’t have a roster of mentors, or know how to fundraise, or know the perfect go-to-market strategy. While at Facebook, the company now rechristened Meta Platforms Inc., Chen was part of an internal employee group focused on angel investing. He realized that there were a lot of people like him—big tech workers who were also aspiring entrepreneurs without a great idea for how to get started.
So Chen started Iterative Venture, an “entrepreneurial community” of former Facebookers looking to build the next big thing. The Slack group he created has more than 800 members, all of them looking to either build startups, invest in startups, or somehow work with startups founded by their old colleagues.
Chen has set up networking and speaking events for the group’s members–a few, he says, have been sponsored by Silicon Valley Bank–and he’s now flooded with recommendations from old colleagues about which startups he should work with and invest in.
In many ways, the concept behind Iterative Venture is as old as Silicon Valley itself. Often the best way for entrepreneurs to get funding or mentorship is to leverage their networks, which tend to be full of old colleagues. Silicon Valley venture capital firms are littered with former Meta executives, many of whom can write very big checks. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know, right?
But Chen says that Iterative Venture is particularly helpful for people without an A-list rolodex, usually junior- or senior-level engineers, who have ideas to promote and money to invest. Former Google staffers, or “Xooglers,” have started a similar organization for “helping ex-Google entrepreneurs.” But “there doesn’t seem to be a group for us,” Chen says.
Anya Cheng, a former product lead at Facebook, says Iterative Venture has indeed been helpful as she builds a commerce startup called Taelor. She connected with a former Facebook colleague through Iterative Venture who did commerce partnerships, and who offered helpful advice about a side of the business she hadn’t experienced.
The fact that everyone in the group worked at Meta helps, too, as it gives people a common language when talking about products, she added. Many people are more than happy to share their expertise. “You probably saw [Hermione Granger] from Harry Potter – the smart girl who always raised her hand and loved to answer questions,” Cheng says. “There are so many people like that at Facebook.”
Eventually, Chen hopes to turn Iterative Venture into an actual venture capital fund that will invest exclusively in startups founded by former Facebookers and their friends. “Fundraising,” he says, “is going to be our North Star.” —Kurt Wagner
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