How does a woman who already has had one career make the change to the world of tech startups in New York City?
Here is the path that Jill Simeone took from a 20 year corporate law job to a promising startup. What strikes me about this story is that not only was Jill able to network effectively, but she was able to add value to a number of entrepreneur’s companies because of her years of corporate experience. Women with long corporate careers have most likely survived in a male dominated field. They know how to get things done and to persevere. These women know how to navigate the emotional roller coaster of a start-up because they have experience. They have a stable of real-life professional experiences to draw on for guidance and perspective. What’s the most valuable asset your startup can have? In a word: Maturity.
I came to the NYC tech startup scene from a 20 year career in law. About a year ago, I left my job as North America General Counsel for CEMEX, a company that grew from a regional Mexican cement manufacturer into a publicly traded multinational conglomerate during my tenure.
I wanted my next role to focus on growth and strategy. For a while, I considered an executive MBA to help me make the shift. But instead of sitting indoors and hearing people talk about growth and strategy, I decided to pursue a “guerrilla MBA” in the NYC tech startup scene.
Transition into Tech
To transition into the tech space, I pursued two tracks simultaneously: 1) working on my own tech project, and 2) seeking advisory relationships with growing startups. This is my journey from old-economy board rooms into the New York City startup world …
To get my feet wet in the tech scene, I launched Cozy Owl, an early-childhood education blog, with the goal of turning the content into learning apps for children. This gave me project to talk about as I took startup seminars, networked and met people for coffee during my transition. Through growing Cozy Owl, I built my own web site and got to know the startup community. By the time I’d wireframed a prototype, a colleague introduced me to a professor who was looking for gaming projects for his graduate students to design and build. Now the alpha of my app is being built as a class project by his students.
As Cozy Owl gave me meaningful access to the NYC tech community, I began to establish relationships with a lot of other founders, and recognized that every startup needs “big picture” help. I started advising startups in the enterprise, mobile marketing and retail sectors on business development and strategy. I’ve been able to leverage my corporate law experience and my big company skills to help startups grow wisely.
Serendipity comes to those who give.
Although I have a home office, when I was invited into the WeWork Labs coworking space in SOHO, I accepted. I saw the value of working shoulder to shoulder every day with other entrepreneurs. This was perhaps the most important decision I have made on this journey. There is no way to quantify the synergies that happen in a vibrant community. I made myself available to help Labbers on strategy, legal matters — anywhere I could add value. In response, people started lending me a hand, too.
By offering help to other startups, you get to really know teams and products; you quickly learn the qualities that make a good fit for you. In this way, I connected with several of the companies I’m advising. It’s ultimately how I came to join the Superpowered team in a General Counsel and operational capacity. I’m now helping them scale their innovative workplace collaboration product for the enterprise world.
Mentor and be mentored.
All of these steps would have taken a lot longer if I had insisted on going it alone. Throughout my career, I have sought out mentors so I wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel, and they have all saved me a ton of time and ultimately they have become lifelong friends. I also make it a point to mentor others who ask for help. Bottom line: get out of your own head and be open to giving and receiving influence.
What’s next? A lot…
I will be testing the Cozy Owl educational app this summer. Send me a note if you’d like to be included in the testing. I’m continuing to look for new opportunities to advise startups in growth. If that sounds like something your company needs, let’s grab coffee!