September 6, 2021
7
 min read
Fellowship Showcase

How On Deck Catalyst Helped Me Build a Multi-Faceted Tech Career

Authors

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Maria Gilfoyle
Co-Founder of 4P Ventures
,
Founder of thepowerthread.com
The post originally appeared on MikeWilner.com. It was republished with permission.

Authors

Avatar icon
Maria Gilfoyle
Co-Founder of 4P Ventures
,
Founder of thepowerthread.com

Avatar icon
Maria Gilfoyle
Co-Founder of 4P Ventures
,
Founder of thepowerthread.com

Investors

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Maria Gilfoyle came to On Deck Catalyst at a crossroads. After leaving her job at Gap Inc. and pursuing a fellowship at a VC fund, she had to decide what her future should hold. Through the program, she explored her startup ideas, expanded her venture community, found a life-long community of peer mentors, and decided her next move would be to join a VC firm. Here is her story.

Investor's note

Finding On Deck Catalyst

I first heard about On Deck on Twitter. When I researched it, I was immediately excited by many of the programs, but I felt that there wasn’t a specific program that I would be a very strong fit for — that is, until I saw the launch of On Deck Catalyst. The program was positioned as a combination of the aspects I was drawn to in the other Fellowships, notably On Deck Founders and On Deck First 50, but was specifically aimed at the exact career stage I was at. Still early in my career, I was making a sharp departure from a traditional path to pursue a multi-pronged career in tech and venture capital.

When I joined On Deck Catalyst, I had just left my job at Gap, perhaps one of the most iconic American clothing retailers. I had joined the company after graduating from Washington University in St. Louis, and spent three years in a rotational management program they offered, which was an incredible learning experience.

During this time, I was also devoting to two major side projects. Since college, I have published a content blog and multimedia platform called The Power Thread where I featured interviews with womxn founders and creators. I had also co-founded a venture syndicate group, 4P Ventures, with Rani Kubersky (also an ODC1 alum), which focuses on pre-seed investments that are making life better for people and the planet. We have invested in consumer-related climate tech, CPG (like Dirty Labs bio laundry detergents), community-driven brands, commerce software (like Brij), and Femtech (like ODF6 alum Madison Campbell’s company Leda Health).

Even with multiple side hustles and ideas, I still had to decide what my next career steps should be. I was seeking a space where I could find that clarity, and that was primarily what attracted me to On Deck Catalyst.


Finding like-minded ambitious peers

I was so excited about the peer mentorship that On Deck Catalyst offered. My experience running The Power Thread proved that being a solo founder could be pretty isolating at times. Having a co-founder for 4P Ventures showed me how much of an impact having a partner could make, from brainstorming to navigating solutions. I craved that same support on a larger scale from a community of like-minded people, and Catalyst exceeded my wildest expectations.

Everyone in the program has a job and a blog, or they are launching a podcast, and maybe also founding a startup, and they’re investing. That sense of ambition is contagious. It’s powerful to be around a community that has a different approach to their own career strategy than the straight and narrow conventional path.

When I decided to leave Gap for a short-term fellowship opportunity at a VC, lots of people in my life worried that it was too risky. But my peers in Catalyst viewed the move as a normal and logical thing to do. It was validating to be surrounded by people that view risk-taking as something that will pay off in the long term. Everyone is driven to learn and make an impact through their career.

I also wanted to continue building my network in order to pursue some of my goals in the early-stage investment ecosystem. My ultimate goal is to help more young people learn how to invest and access early-stage market opportunities. I wanted to meet more people that could invest in our syndicates, but also find startups and people close to my age that I could invest in. I knew Catalyst would be the place for both of those goals.I connected with multiple ODC members in the VC community and have since collaborated with Aashna Kumar, Matias Lopez-Therese, Shaad Khan, and Paige Doherty (an ODC Founding Fellow who built her own early-stage fund).

The most memorable part of the program for me was definitely ODC Build Weekend - On Deck Catalyst’s internal version of a hackathon. One of my goals coming into the program was to explore a few start-up ideas further and I was able to do that within the condensed time frame (four days) of Build Weekend.

Together with a team I assembled of On Deck Catalyst Fellows, we were able to bring one of those start-up ideas to fruition, and fast. I have always been passionate about the future of commerce, creator economy, and curation, so we built a demo of a product called Curate.By that allows creators to curate their own personal shops. Our team won second place in Build Weekend! I was lucky to work with an amazing team of engineers, UX designers, and operators that all contributed to building the base of this product. Shout out to Amy Zheng, Emily Hancock, Kassen Qian, Ruban Rengaraju!

It was really great to have that experience of building rapidly, and to validate whether it makes sense to continue building within that space.

It also highlighted to me one of the most valuable aspects of the program: the network. We stayed in touch with a few of the judges and set up additional meetings with Brent Liang, the Venture Judge for Build Weekend, who gave us invaluable advice in terms of strategizing the business-model and adjusting our frameworks accordingly.


Pursuing a multi-faceted career

Apart from the network and invaluable progress on my startup and syndicate, the program has left me with valuable lessons and takeaways for my career.

The biggest learning for me personally has been that a diverse set of experiences are extremely valuable to career growth. People often ask me if I would prefer to start my own VC fund or build a company, and I always say both. Careers are long and I can see myself doing both in the future. On Deck Catalyst is the kind of place that fosters this kind of thinking: where we view our skill sets as expansive, believe in risks, and set our sights to tackle huge problems in the world.

My next steps

My focus since ODC1 has been building out the venture syndicate community, making it bigger and increasing its presence.

I am currently looking for my next full time role in early-stage investing and am in the interview process for some exciting new opportunities. I see continuing benefits to learnings from other experienced fund managers.

I also remain committed to exploring the project that we ranked with at Build Weekend — keeping my foot on the gas of my entrepreneurial efforts alongside my full-time job. This looks like further testing of the product and conducting ongoing market research.

I've left ODC with a handful of incredible peer mentors and collaborators including Ruban Rengaraju (who was on my Build Weekend team), Vivek Pandit, and Emily Herrera  — all people that were at a similar stage in their career as me, and who found one another through the Fellowship.  

My message to those considering joining

A few days ago, I was on a call with a founder who was taking me through his pitch. At the end of the call, I started telling him about Catalyst and encouraged him to apply.

I told him that it’s filled with young people who are starting companies, investing or doing extraordinary things and that he will be surrounded by the most entrepreneurial young people he could ever dream of meeting in one consolidated space.

I would tell anyone on the fence that whatever your goal might be, you can make it happen through On Deck Catalyst. Anything you want help with, or want to figure out, someone will be able to help you. The best way to make things happen is in community, surrounded by other entrepreneurial people.

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To apply for On Deck Catalyst, an eight-week remote program for young leaders who want to solve the world’s most pressing problems, click here. Applications close on August 24, 2021.

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