The On Deck Access Fund launched in September of 2020. In the short time since, hundreds of Access Fund scholarship recipients have joined On Deck Fellowships and seized opportunities to learn and contribute as they build toward their vision of the future.
Many have returned as impassioned donors back to the Access Fund itself, which exemplifies the virtuous cycle embedded in the ‘pay-it-forward’ structure of the Access Fund. This fuels our belief in the impact of unlocking access, or as ODF6 Fellow Jeevahan Murugesu puts it, “the fund is a great equalizer...that has a touch of magic in it.”
Jeevahan (Jeeves) Murugesu is one such recipient who became a donor. He applied to the On Deck Founder Fellowship as a last ditch effort to create positive change in his life and stalled career prospects. For Jeeves, On Deck represented a place where he could “improve and get to the next level of understanding where [his] career could potentially go” while he was temporarily living with his parents under UK’s strict second lockdown.
Becoming an On Deck Founder’s Fellow gave Jeeves access to a program and community that helped him identify his strengths, which ultimately led him to wildly serendipitous career opportunities.
We caught up with Jeeves to hear about the transformative nine month period in his life which began with receiving a full scholarship admission to ODF6 in the fall of 2020, to where he is today: a proud Access Fund donor and valued member of the On Deck community.
You first came across On Deck through people discussing it on Twitter. Why did it interest you?
Jeeves: I had previous experiences at working at a VC fund where I was clued into community building. What struck me as different about On Deck beyond the curriculum was their community focus. I immediately resonated with the idea of founders helping each other get access to different pieces of knowledge, because everyone is at a different stage of the building journey. Based on what people were saying, it was a place to get to the next level of understanding where my career could potentially go by surrounding myself with ambitious and talented people.
What made you decide to submit your application to ODF6?
Jeeves: It was just one of those scenarios where I went for it. I truly wasn’t aware if they even accepted international Fellows until I did some research and found a map of the global distribution of participants. My personal situation had put me in a place where I just needed to make something happen.
I also had no idea until later in the application process that there was financial assistance. I knew I had no savings to pay for On Deck but still went for it because the opportunity seemed really good.
It was a moment that I now see as an inflection point. Getting in, taking on the responsibility, and emboldening my mindset to endure, to keep moving forward, and to ask for help.
Can you share a bit about your personal circumstances?
Jeeves: It was a really tough situation. After having success working in startups, media, and venture, I was burnt out and between jobs. I was not in a good place, both financially and healthwise, so I came home to my parents’ place as a rest stop. It was in the fall of 2020 as the UK had entered into a harsh second lockdown, which was incredibly challenging for my family’s business. The stress of trying to care for myself, support my family, and find a satisfying and solid next career move in the midst of a global pandemic was unbelievably hard to manage.
Because of this, when I started the fellowship, I was struggling financially and really unconfident. I was participating in ODF6 on a broken laptop with a shattered screen, which of course didn’t show to others in On Deck, but was a visible reminder to me of where I was and what I wanted to achieve. I stayed positive.
Can you describe your experience over the ten programmed weeks of ODF6?
Jeeves: Being in the fellowship was my first instance to actually understand, ‘Oh, this is how a community where people actually help each other that really works.’
One thing I learned was that everyone comes into the community because they have something [to offer], an implicit strength. When I joined, I had imposter syndrome. I didn't believe I had anything because of my circumstances.
But then, while I was going through the Fellowship, I realized that I have a specific skill. I have a very good performance marketing skill and a good generalist marketing skill. It is not something every founder has. I would jump in, and make myself available every time someone asked a marketing or growth question. I would jump on a call and help others, and I really enjoyed that teaching aspect and getting to share my expertise. It was incredibly energizing.
Those opportunities eventually led to more opportunities, because they built up my credibility and helped me engage with others from a spirit of service.
Have you emerged with a different definition of community since being active in On Deck?
Jeeves: I first understood community as a place where people feel like they can belong. Now, I have a deeper understanding that real community is a place where people belong and help each other succeed. And then the flywheel happens: you help other people succeed continuously, so as you climb, you bring others with you.
There is a second part of that when you are surrounded by other people on the same journey as you, not knowing all the answers or actively figuring things out with help from others, it allows you to be more vulnerable in public.
And then the last bit about participating in this community is that when someone wins, everyone wins. They share their knowledge, hiring updates, and recommendations directly to the community. It is especially satisfying when I've helped someone who shares a big win, knowing that I played a small part of their journey.”
Beyond rebuilding your confidence and helping find your superpower, did On Deck actually help you tangibly?
Jeeves: Through the On Deck community of Fellows and the Lean Hire contract-to-hire job site, (founded by another ODF6 fellow Peer Richelsen) I ended up getting offered short contract jobs while actively in the Fellowship. Five opportunities came my way, and out of necessity I took all five.
Maybe I'm an outlier. I don't know if this happens to every person, but it just happened so quickly and serendipitously. Opportunities came because there were so many people I'd helped that were willing to vouch for me and then refer me for contracts.
For every time I got paid, I put some money aside for savings, and some aside with the intention of donating back.
Only a short while later, one of my contract jobs resulted in a full time employment offer as the Head of Growth at Overflow. Once I accepted the position, I then donated all my earnings from remaining paid contracts to the Access Fund. It was such a gesture of celebration, to say: I'm done freelancing, I'm going full time now, I'm going to give it all back now to the Access Fund.
Why do you think the Access Fund is so powerful?
Jeeves: One thing I've really enjoyed about the Access Fund was that it could potentially become one of those great equalizers of opportunity for people that need it the most, especially for outsiders or people that have not taken the conventional path into tech.
The way it is set up is powered by generosity. Because those opportunities were created for me from someone else’s donation to the Access Fund, I just wanted to perpetuate it for the next person. And I think, the more you give, the more that comes back to you eventually, especially when I reflect on all that has happened to me.
What do you hope for as the Access Fund grows?
Jeeves: I want to see it grow into one of the greatest equalizers the world has ever seen. There's a lot of people that don't have the opportunity that they really deserve, because of circumstances they were born into, and they want to prove themselves. That’s why I believe in access. Recipients and donors alike know that if you work and come prepared and capture the opportunity, well, success eventually comes.