Stories from The Fellowship - Lucy Wark, Winter20 Fellow

Sophia Witherington
July 9, 2020
Stories from The Fellowship - Lucy Wark, Winter20 Fellow

Hear from Lucy Wark from our last cohort on her Fellowship experience.

Lucy joined The Fellowship as she was excited by growing startups with game-changing social impacts, and hoped to be able to wear many hats (founder, early joiner & VC) over a long career. She created a media startup while studying social science and business at Cambridge and UChicago; she also gained experience as a radio presenter, standup comic and freelance journalist. Lucy started her career as a Business Analyst at McKinsey, working on large projects in strategy, operations and org transformation. She then spent a year working in early stage startups and freelance consulting, before joining the Fellowship. During The Fellowship, she worked on growth and strategy with the digital health startup Mindset Health, and helped out founder Alice Williams on eliminating period pain at Ovira. Lucy joined healthtech startup Eucalyptus in August 2020 as General Manager of their fourth brand (stay tuned!), and is stoked to be able to challenge stigmas and improve experiences in an area she's passionate about.

What is the Fellowship to you?

The Fellowship is a fantastic opportunity to work with high-growth companies and hear from talented operators through the AMA program, but I think what I will look back on and be most grateful for is the Startmate network.

You're never more than one degree of separation from the best founders & investors in the country; if you're proactive and deliberate, you can cram a couple of decades' worth of learning into twelve weeks (not to mention meet your heroes & convince them to hire you!).

I also see Startmate (and the people who support it as mentors and funders) walking the walk in a huge way by investing in women's careers, and that makes me excited for the future of the industry in Australia.

The Fellowship has three basic components - internships, AMAs with operators and introductions - which you can engage with to achieve your goals. I've been lucky to have the time and financial capacity to do all three.

Would you recommend it to others?

Yes, absolutely - it's undeniably the single best entry point to the Australia/New Zealand startup community. No amount of LinkedIn perusing, cold-emailing, podcast-listening or even working in startups could introduce you as effectively and as quickly as Startmate.

Tell us about your journey throughout the Fellowship

For me, the decision to leave my corporate job was a pretty easy one. Once I had built the consulting skillset, I wanted to spend those 80-hour weeks working on topics that (with all due respect to telco operating models) I felt more passionate about!

But finding the right place to do that from can be easier said than done.

Back in university, it was professional services firms who did the most effective on-campus recruiting, and even after a stint at McKinsey, it was recruiters from corporate strategy and private equity who were calling - the mission-driven startups and VC funds weren't beating down my door, and I wasn't clear on how to get myself in front of them.

Like many of the Fellows, my path from secure corporate employment to Startmate wasn't a straight line; it ran through a difficult startup experience, a lot of pro bono strategy advice, a period of independent consulting and even writing about the Australian startup scene for a subscription reporting service!

One thing I can definitely say is that when you spend a long time looking for the door, you really appreciate it when you're finally inside the room - and that's what Startmate feels like.

Working with the outstanding founders at Ovira and Mindset Health to change healthcare delivery has left me feeling challenged and energised in a profound way - I am truly excited to show up for work every day, even during a global pandemic. And having candid conversations with top investors and founders has helped me to understand the space more deeply and refine my vision for my career.

What lessons did you learn from The Fellowship?

As we come to the end of the Fellowship, I can now see all of the 'unknown unknowns' I had at the beginning, and I feel extremely grateful to be making a really well-informed decision about where I go next.

Something I particularly love about the dedicated Startmate team is that they encourage and facilitate that process without trying to do it for you; it's still your journey.

My biggest lesson from this process is that in many ways, the startup industry is extremely different to other professions - I think even more so than most people realise from the outside. Obviously there is more autonomy, less bureaucracy and more space to try new things - not to mention more table tennis and bean bags!

But when you get past that shift from slow-moving, traditional professional cultures to this one, I think there's a deeper realisation around what it means to take ownership of your career in an unstructured field.  

In VC and startups, your pathway is not laid out with set professional development requirements or promotion criteria (for example, jobs at VC funds usually come up when new capital is raised - not when the graduate cohort hit a given milestone and make their case for promotion!).

Trust-based networks replace the credentials, job titles and formal structures of authority; your reputation and track record really are your calling card. Contrarianism replaces conventional wisdom. It is by definition high risk; most startups fail, and a lot of VC funds lose money.

It can be a scary thing to trust your career to an industry which is always changing. It is not always glamorous, it's rarely easy and it's really not for everyone!  For many people looking at a secure career path climbing the corporate ladder, the rewards may not always feel worth the risks. But for those who can embrace the ambiguity, the opportunities are unlimited in a way that few other pathways can offer; you can actually chase the dreams that excite you and work with some of the most inspiring people you've ever met.

Lucy - you are a superstar. Your energy, charisma, sense of humour, wit and intelligence was so wonderful to have on board. We can’t wait for you to announce your next role and know that you are going to leave a massive mark on the startup community with your ideas and stories!

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