Take the Leap with Jackie Vullinghs

Sophia Witherington
October 8, 2020
Jackie Vullinghs

The Startmate Fellowship works to create pathways for talented women to find their sweet spot in a rocketship startup.

For Fellows, the program fast tracks your knowledge, network and presence in the startup world. The Fellowship connects you to a powerful network, works with you to translate your skills and experience into startups, and helps you land your dream job.

By showcasing women who had taken leaps and risks in their career — from corporate to startup, or from one career into something seemingly unrelated — we hope to have inspired our broader community to join our Fellowship program.

Let’s hear directly from women in the ecosystem who took the leap, before anything like The Fellowship existed...

Jackie Vullinghs started her career in equities at Citigroup. She climbed the corporate ladder, eventually being promoted to VP in Equity Derivative Sales at Merrill Lynch.

She then decided to jump into a role with no title at a startup where she worked her way up to Chief of Staff, and is now a Principal at AirTree Ventures.

What was attractive about climbing the corporate ladder? What do you miss?

The sense of certainty was attractive — I knew if I continued to outperform there was a well-trodden path to more seniority and higher compensation.

It’s hard to walk away when you work decent hours, earn far more than is reasonable for a 26 year old, and are very good at what you do.

My parents thought I was crazy (and probably still do).

At what point did you decide to panic quit? Was there a last straw?

I hadn’t enjoyed the day-to-day work for a long time, and asked to move to a different role internally. Eight months later that move was still “in process”.

After a weekend spent cataloguing everything that could go wrong if I left, and working out what I’d do if each of them happened, I realised I could handle any of the potential outcomes and resigned the day my bonus hit the account.

How have your career goals evolved throughout your career?

When I left university I didn’t really have career goals, I just landed in a career and started running as fast as I could along that path. Early promotions and big bonuses were what “success” looked like.

Today my goals are much more focussed around improving my craft — I intend to do this for decades and VC is an apprenticeship business, so I want to continually improve at the different elements that make an investor the first choice for both founders and LPs.

How did you build a network out of corporate and land the startup job?

I can talk all day about the power of cold emails. I never had a network, cold emails are responsible for every job I’ve had since I left banking.

When I wanted to work at a startup, I researched a selection of companies, picked the ones with missions I believed in, then got in touch directly saying who I was, what I’d done, and what I could help with.

I was lucky that the first company I reached out to was still in the stage of needing smart generalists who could help solve problems, and I loved the rest of the team, so it was an easy decision.

“I never had a network, cold emails are responsible for every job I’ve had since I left banking.”

Who have been your mentors?

I had a wonderful mentor in my first job, who taught me everything about how to operate in business. I will always be grateful she forced me to practise cold calls with her. Once you get used to the feeling of fear rising up inside you and taking over, then slowly losing its power with repetition, you realise everything that’s terrifying today will feel normal once you’ve done it a few times.

I’ve been very lucky with mentors since I arrived in Australia. In my first year as a VC I met every two months with Stephen Thompson, the founding partner of Brandon Capital, and he gave me invaluable advice as I made decisions about the next steps in my career. We still catch up regularly and it’s wonderful to talk to someone who’s an expert at your craft, but isn’t at your company.

My role models today are all at AirTree — the team has such a rare mix of complementary skills, and I’m continually learning from them every day.

I intend to work hard to improve my craft so that in the future I can become a role model for other young women who want to pursue their dream of investing and know it’s possible because other women have done it before.

What is your advice to people wanting to make a career change?

Write out a list of the elements of your work that you really enjoy (e.g. small teams vs large teams, working in a group on projects vs self-directed, depth in one area vs breadth across many areas). Then research what types of role involve that style of work, and try to find that role in a company whose mission aligns with your values.

Write down all the possible things that could go wrong as a result of you leaving your role. Then address how you would tackle each one if it happened. You’ll realise how every one of these terrifying futures is manageable if it happens, and it very rarely will.

Take the leap. The fear will fade as you progress step by step. It may take time before you find the right fit, but over time you’ll find yourself doing work you enjoy, with the sense of meaning and purpose you’ve craved for so long.

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