Q&A with FirstMark’s Julia Rudlin

Julia Rudlin is on the Platform team at FirstMark Capital, based in NYC. Prior to FirstMark, she was responsible for launching & growing international products as well as audiences at Vine (acq. Twitter) & Gilt Groupe.

What attracted you to venture capital and working with startups? What skills did you bring to this position from previous roles?

My career started in international product and operations for Gilt before joining the strategy and growth team at Vine. What attracted me to VC was the ability to work with different startups from consumer-facing tech to B2B companies. I’m interested in how companies grow and scale. I wanted to know what makes a successful team and how that powers a company’s success. I was looking for a role that would allow me to partner with incredible founders and CEOs as they think through these problems. In venture, you’re constantly meeting smart and driven individuals solving complex problems. I’m drawn to that energy.

I’m also based in New York — I’m bullish on New York tech. We’re still underdogs compared to the West Coast. I love this challenge and knew I wanted to be a part of this accelerating NY tech ecosystem.

Why FirstMark?

I was looking to join a smaller venture capital firm. When I joined Vine, the team was around 40 people but it was also backed by Twitter, which has about 4,000 employees. I wanted to apply the skills I developed in product and growth at a smaller scale: I was really looking for a 5-people-in-a-closet type of startup. And I came to realize through conversations with startups that they really rely on their investors, at least when it comes to scaling their business. I hadn’t considered venture capital before that.

Once I started meeting with a few VCs, I gained a better understanding of different firm theses and approaches, and I liked how FirstMark operated. Since FirstMark is a small team with over 70+ active portfolio companies, they focus on building scalable products/processes to support their companies. I liked this technical approach along with their focus on early-stage startups in the New York market.

What is the day-to-day like in your role?

Platform is part of this interesting trend in post-investment support. As great startups pop up and venture firms face competition to back them, VCs have to offer something more than funding. Platform teams help their portfolio companies with everything from finding great talent, creating sales leads, helping them navigate people/HR operations, developing key corporate development relationships, and so much more.

Because platform has broad responsibilities and all firms take a different approach to platform, my job has evolved over time. My role is to understand how those needs change and be there, day to day, for the founders.

What sort of background do you need for venture capital?

Some firms are strict about what background they’re looking for. If you know you want to be in venture, you should make sure your major/degree tracks to that path. Join those entrepreneurship groups or investing clubs on campus. It’s competitive and if you aren’t doing it, your peers definitely are.

VCs looking for investment professionals sometimes desire candidates from banking and consulting backgrounds. If that’s what you want to do, make sure you join at a top bank or intern at a major consulting firm. You should also look at analysts and associates at the VC firms that interest you. Check LinkedIn and see where they came from. Then look at what you need to have on your resume to align with those roles. I also encourage you to cold reach out. Try and set up coffee or lunch to learn more about their careers.

What kind of guidance and support do you receive from female analysts, associates, partners, and mentors?

I was almost jaded about women in the workplace because I’ve been surrounded by inspiring, hardworking female leaders. My mentors at Gilt and Vine really cared about my personal and professional growth. It’s super important for any professional to have people who care about your success like that.

Venture is small, and obviously male-dominated, so I was lucky to have met Caitlin Strandberg who is a Vice President at FirstMark. With her experience and guidance, she has helped me evolve in VC. She plugged me into various female networks and empowerment groups. Whether it’s for career mapping or ideation or deal discussion, I have a sounding board made up of strong, successful women.

How is the overall culture at your firm? How do you build an inclusive community at FirstMark and beyond?

FirstMark has always supported and welcomed diverse people and viewpoints. It starts with hiring and making sure your firm isn’t falling into the trap of unconscious bias. The more diversity you have on your team, the more likely you are to cultivate inclusivity at your company.

Have you faced major challenges in the VC space and how did you overcome it?

I actually think being young and looking young has been a problem for me. When I walk into a meeting and can sense I’m the youngest person in the room, then it definitely feels like it’s much harder for me to be taken seriously.

It’s been pivotal having managers vouch for me. In meetings when a question is asked, it’s common for people to expect the answer to come from my more senior counterparts. I’ve had my colleagues serve me up and say “Actually, Julia will take the next question.” Managers like that are hard to find. If this is an area that you’re struggling with, you need to talk to your managers and mentors about teeing up opportunities like that. Whether it’s an age or gender concern, you should have the confidence to speak to your manager about it.

Speaking of confidence, you need to be articulate and present in the room. You can often preempt some meeting questions; be prepared to answer them before they come up. Maybe even rehearse those answers if that makes it easier to feel comfortable. You want to build that reputation of always being on top your game.

Prep five times harder and think 3 steps ahead. It’s worth it.

What advice do you have for young women who want to enter VC  — whether on the investing, operations, or platform side?

I really do attribute my career success to mentorship and strong role models. Many of those mentors are now friends. But the reality is that some amazing people just don’t have the time or resources to coach you. So if you can’t find that great mentor, try to identify someone who will be your advocate. That might just mean someone who keeps an eye out for you — whether they affirm your points during meetings or send job descriptions your way. There’s a difference between being a mentor and an advocate, but at the very least, having an advocate is important and necessary for your career progression.