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Pursue an adventurous career by saying 'yes': Advice from Folklore VC's Hannah Field

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August 4, 2021
The pursuit of adventure

At first glance, it can seem hard to piece together Hannah Field’s career journey. 

You wonder how she went from International Relations student and semi-professional violinist in Boston, to eventually landing at her current role as Partner at Folklore Ventures in Sydney. 

Speaking to Startmate’s Student Fellowship cohort, Hannah offered insight into her unconventional journey, which has included building a record label, as well as successful stints at Pandora, Dropbox and Canva. 

As students on the cusp of making some career-defining decisions, it can often feel like walking blindly into the unknown. While a select few may have decided at the age of 5 what career they want to pursue, the reality is that most of us are just figuring it out along the way. Personally, I am having trouble deciding what I want for dinner tonight, let alone where I want to be in 10 years. 

Graduating in her early 20s without a clear path ahead, Hannah reflected on a similar sense of uncertainty, coupled with a strong desire to make an impact. This is a feeling many students are intimately familiar with.

"I had this burning desire to do something different with my life, and felt like I had the potential to do something bigger, but I didn't know what that was," Hannah said.

And so, she packed everything in her car and left Boston for San Francisco to work at Pandora, and later, Dropbox, which at the time had only 100 employees.

This experience opened her eyes to the tech environment and what it really meant to work in the fast-paced nature of startups. 

"It was intoxicating to work for companies like Pandora and Dropbox, where people knew what these companies were. They're household brand names," Hannah said.

"There's nothing more exciting than to be a contributor to something that touches so many people and seeing that impact ricochet at a global level. Your work becomes much more tangible."

The pursuit of adventure

Dropbox’s trajectory of hyper-growth meant they were seeking to expand internationally. And fast. 

Given just three days to decide whether to relocate to Dublin, Hannah immediately said yes and embraced the opportunity.

"Reflecting on a lot of my choices in life and the pivots I've made, they've often been in pursuit of personal experience and adventure," she said.

"My motto in life is to be led first by your own exploration of what you think is interesting, rather than being led by a checklist of things that tell you it's okay and that you should go for the opportunity."

Hannah’s strong internal drive for new experiences, coupled with her ability to compound meaningful relationships over time, have been essential factors in guiding her throughout her journey. 

"In every city I've lived in and every job I've had, I’ve focused on having really positive interactions with every person I've met, being open to meeting interesting people, and saying yes to conversations because I never know where that conversation is going to lead … and those conversations have led to new opportunities."

Knowing when to pivot

"My natural inclination as a person is to constantly reassess myself, what am I learning, do I feel like I've stagnated, what's new and challenging for me," Hannah explained.

"That's what's urged me to think outside of the confines of that current job rather than to say, well I'm bored but I'm not going to do anything about it."

Responding to a question on entering the startup industry without a technical background, Hannah observed that "sometimes I see a binary perception — 'if I’m non-technical, then I have no relevant skills, therefore I don't belong' — but that is simply not the case". 

Companies are built by a diverse group of people who possess a wide range of skills catering to different parts of commercialising and scaling a product.

This binary perspective speaks to a broader tendency to fall into the trap of thinking about the world in black and white, because it’s easier, and it fits into a neat logical framework we build for ourselves. 

To purely define oneself as technical or non-technical, a lawyer or an engineer, a violinist or venture capitalist, is no longer as relevant a distinction as it may have been 20 years ago.  

What is important is the ability to adapt, to learn, and to navigate through the grey area to find a path forward in the fast-paced nature of the world today.

In this way, the Student Fellowship has been a perfect vehicle for exploring different opportunities and making connections to figure out how to approach the exciting journey ahead. 

Rather than fretting over the impending cliff of uncertainty, or simply pursuing a career path pre-defined by the nature of your degree, in a weird way, there’s actually a sense of comfort in delving headfirst into the space between the black and white; it opens the door to a much broader landscape of possibilities. 

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