Getting a job in corporate VC with Matt Miller and Zach Winn (JetBlue Technology Ventures)
JTV, the venture arm of JetBlue, incubates and invests in early stage startups at the intersection of tech and travel. JTV’s portfolio includes a range of companies aiming to improve the travel experience — from Miles (a loyalty program for ground transportation) to Betterez (next-gen reservation and ticketing) and Joby Aviation (electric aircraft manufacturer).
Before joining JTV, Matt graduated from Santa Clara University with a B.S. in Finance, and interned at Ellation, Centaur Partners, and Oracle.
Zach graduated with a B.S. in Finance from Miami University. He worked at Deloitte for two years as a business analyst after graduation, and interned at Priceline and JetBlue Airways.
How did you get interested in VC, and what made you interested in a career at a corporate VC?
Zach: Venture wasn’t initially on my radar when I graduated from school. I spent some time in consulting, and got to work on a project with a life sciences incubator. A state government was investing some money in super early stage drug targets, enabling those projects to advance — otherwise, they would have had no funding. It was my first exposure to venture.
When I wanted to move on from consulting, I reflected back on that experience and decided to pursue venture full-time. I’m what they call a “Bluemerang” — I interned at JetBlue Airways when in college. At that time, Bonny [Simi, the president of JTV] was at the airline, but JTV hadn’t been started yet. She certainly made a good impression on me. When I decided I was ready for something new career-wise, JetBlue was a logical place to look. By this point, JTV had been established, so it was a really nice fit. It was a bit of coming home, and a bit of something new.
What was appealing to you about the corporate VC job versus a traditional VC role?
Zach: In the case of JTV, because JetBlue thinks of itself as more than an airline, we have a broad perspective on the travel industry. We aren’t just looking at plane tech. When you are joining a CVC, you don’t want to be pigeonholed, and here it’s the opposite of that. Wherever a startup is in the travel ecosystem, we can find an opportunity for a potential relationship with JetBlue, or where the knowledge JetBlue has can be helpful to them.
CVCs are uniquely positioned to be valuable investors because we bring a strategic element. It’s more than just a pathway to procurement. If your only goal is to sell into JetBlue, there are other ways to do that. JetBlue Ventures offers a lot more.
Matt: One of the biggest things that attracted me to the role at JTV is that we have such a lean team — everyone can have an impact on what the fund will look like in the next five to ten years. Zach and I are always going to meet founders and CEOs and taking the lead on different investments, and the ability to get that exposure at a relatively young age is great.
How do you think about the thesis of the fund, and how that ties into JetBlue’s mission more broadly?
Matt: We invest in a few different areas, the first being companies that could help JetBlue in the near term. This includes things like predictive maintenance platforms or new ways of thinking about revenue and distribution — anything that can optimize airline operations. The second area is anything game-changing in the broader travel industry. This includes things like the electrification of aircraft, urban air mobility, and drones. We’ll invest in anything that we think could be disruptive to travel or customer service.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Matt: It’s a mix of a couple things. Number one is sourcing new investments — talking to companies, finding deals, meeting with other investors to explain what we do. The other part is diligence on deals — we’ll help with that entire process from writing the investment memo to going deep into the technical, legal, or financial diligence. We also help with looking at different KPIs for the fund and deal flow updates.
Our team really emphasizes getting out there and being present at events with industry partners. We do a lot of meetings with executives at hospitality brands, other airlines, and other ground transport providers to get insights into the kinds of things they are interested in. JTV also does 12-week innovation sprints with different teams at JetBlue, where we help them think about the future of their work. The last one we did is in tech operations — the people who fix and maintain the aircraft. We talk with them about potential companies that could help them, from setting up a demo day to matching them with startups that can work on strategic initiatives.
The innovation sprints are a great pipeline for new investments — Gladly, an omnichannel communication platforms, is a portfolio company that came from one of those sprints. An optimal outcome is to find a company that JetBlue loves and can be a customer of, and that we can also invest in.
What are the most rewarding and challenging parts of your job?
Zach: A lot of the value that JTV brings goes beyond the investment — it’s about the perspective we’re able to bring to the company. We’re constantly exposed to the cutting edge of the travel space, which is a really neat thing to come to work to every day. That’s my favorite part of the job.
The most challenging thing isn’t specific to JTV, but is just the nature of venture — you have to say no a lot. Founders might have a really solid idea, but it might not be the right fit for the fund. We have to say no to people who have invested their time and money into an idea they really believe in. To do that in a constructive way is a challenging but super important part of the job.
Do you have any advice for other young people looking to get into venture?
Zach: In terms of preparing yourself as a candidate, whatever you can do to understand the entrepreneurial experience and build an investor mindset is really helpful. A VC fund is at its best when it is in service of its portfolio, so the more you can be helpful and be able to understand what the companies are going through, the better.
Matt: The other thing you can do is start meeting people early on, and build some strong relationships. The more people you know, the better, especially in VC. It’s one thing to meet someone at a conference and say hello, but it’s another thing to have a real mentor and person you can rely on.
You can learn more about the work that Zach and Matt do by subscribing to JTV’s newsletter here!
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