“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” said Alice.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the cat. “We’re all mad here.”
One of my favorite books of all time is “Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland”. What did Alice teach me? That some of the best people you’ll meet in life will be—in some ways—“mad”. And that when you see a rabbit hole that calls you,
you first take a deep inhale. And then you jump.
How did I find my new rabbit hole? I started my first software business (Applicake) when I was still in school in 2006 and grew it to a team of 35 exceptional individuals. Together with my partners, we built more amazing projects than one blog post can do justice to, and we organized madly engaging big developer events such as the European Rails Conference Railsberry. With Uzi Shmilovici and my then-Applicake partners, I co-founded Base CRM, now a fast growing SaaS company run by some of the most focused people I know. I’ve had the chance to live in Silicon Valley, graduate from Y Combinator, and even fail a company (hear me talk about it here). All the while, I was running the Polish startup community Hive and helping fuel the booming ecosystem there.
Looking back, it’s been quite an adventure.
Six years into being a full-time CEO, I moved to NYC, one of the world’s best ecosystems for early-stage tech companies. But no! You did not get it right — I was not lured here by the booming tech scene. I decided to clear my head and get perspective on what I wanted to do next while studying contemporary dance at one of New York’s dance schools. I used this sabbatical to roll on the floor of a dance studio while trying to wrap my mind around a problem: How to combine my fondness of tech startups, my operational experience, my European and U.S. networks, and my understanding of the tech scenes on both sides of the Atlantic? I must have spent a few months thinking about it!
Me, a venture capitalist?
Me, a notorious operator? I wasn’t ready for such a jump. At the time, I was discussing interesting opportunities with some NYC tech companies I really admire, and getting good offers… but something didn’t seem right. Joining a startup that was already on a successful trajectory seemed like an amazing opportunity, but lacked two things that drive me most — a sense of mission and the challenge of the Unknown.
The more I thought over joining Innovation Nest, the more I realized I had already been doing much of what the best VCs do — I’d been building startup ecosystems by running Hive and organizing big tech events. I’d been working with entrepreneurs to help them build their startup dreams with Applicake. I’d been building a network of amazing entrepreneurs and developers all that time.
Even more importantly, I realized I could use my diverse operational experience to help early stage teams and founders. I know B2B and B2D sales. I’m still involved in startup operations both in the U.S. and Europe. I know startup finance. I’ve been through the best tech accelerator in the world (Y Combinator). I’ve experienced the emotional roller coaster of running a startup and how to build a strong company culture to get through it. I’ve recruited and managed teams, and developed a great sense for people in doing so. I founded and built successful companies. I founded and failed a not-so-successful one. I know people. I could really add value. To my investor friends in the U.S. I could bring filtered access to a geography they know little of and I can also bring something sorely needed in VC: a strong, focused, non-apologetic female perspective.
So I made the jump. I’m an investor in New York City.
While my entrepreneurial spirit leads me to remain involved in one startup here in NYC, I just joined Innovation Nest as a partner. So now, apart from being an experienced entrepreneur and a intermediate contemporary dancer, I’m also a neophyte venture capitalist.
I really respect Innovation Nest’s vision of helping European tech flourish, and I like the idea of continuing what I started with Applicake and Hive — working with entrepreneurs with big visions and empowering founders to do more. I want to see more European startups go global, and I want a fund from my beloved hometown Kraków to lead the way.
After a longer break, it’s exciting to be back in the adventurous world of technology again, while also being able to look at things from a new perspective. I’ll try to log the details of the Innovation Nest adventure on this blog. In the meantime, wish me luck and send great founders my way.