- 🙅🏼♀️ The 'Class of Covid'
- 💫 The Circles of Life
- 🤹🏻♀️ Caught in a Juggling Act
- 🤯 Four Job Offers in Four Weeks?!
- 🙌 "One Team, One Dream"
- 🚀 A Look Beyond 2020
🙅🏼♀️ The 'Class of Covid'
It was eight weeks until finals, the 'final sprint'. The fifth floor of Bath University's library was silent yet overflowing with caffeine-fuelled final year students, each one working diligently through last night's hangover to meet tonight's last-minute deadline.
After four years of hard work, the pinnacle of their academic careers was finally within reach and for every graduating student across the UK, adrenaline and excitement had set in with the countdown to freedom...
Holly read the cold email once, then twice more, hoping desperately that the welling in her eyes was warping her vision. But with one glance around the room, her eyes met every other students', each exchanging a shared sense of disbelief at the email they'd just received. The silence broke into a wavering outburst.
They had seen it coming... the news around coronavirus had been gaining momentum for weeks. The ongoing murmurings of a 'nationwide lockdown' had grown almost as loud as the voices of concerned parents inviting their children home. And yet, in that moment, the words plastered across Holly's computer screen still felt deeply incomprehensible.
Pulled from the depths of her coursework, Holly's thoughts spiralled to bleak employment prospects, virtual graduations, cancelled travel plans and uncelebrated successes. Her priorities immediately readjusted from 'work hard, play hard and get a first class degree' to 'pack up, say goodbye and get home'. In an almost militaristic movement she bid farewell to her closest friends as they boarded trains and planes to different corners of the world. Everyone was drawn from the mad rush to the safety of their families with such urgency it were as though they'd been planning this moment for the past four years. Then, once the rush passed, Bath's university library and city fell silent once more.
💫 The Circles of Life
No doubt each person’s story is unique, it always is. But for a snapshot in time and for the first time in Holly's lifetime, 2020 saw people from around the world and from all walks of life face a common struggle. Struck by a global pandemic, they spent the year collectively navigating crisis. And, like the virus itself, every single person's circle of concern grew, rapidly and uncontrollably.
Having always held a particularly strong locus of control, Holly initially found it hard to fathom that an unanticipated factor like Covid could "just waltz in here" and interfere with everything she'd worked so hard to achieve. But we're all creatures of habit, there's no denying that, and soon enough the daily Coronavirus briefings subconsciously fell into Holly's daily routine. Hand-in-hand with online lectures and zoom calls, Holly steadily restored the structure in her life and refocused her energy into her studies once more. Fuelled by a potent mix of frustration, aspiration and (of course) a hint of caffeine, her confidence and circle of control steadily regrew.
It was now just five weeks until finals. The roads had fallen quiet and every plan had been dropped. Locked down in her family home, Holly found herself with ample time on her hands, something she'd always yearned so desperately for. She finally had the chance to pause, to reflect on her 15 years in education and to piece together each part of her puzzle, architecting the path she'd take out of her childhood bedroom and into the 'adult world of work'.
Determined to emerge from the UK lockdown as a front-runner in the graduate race to employment, Holly used her time to relentlessly improve. She embraced creativity, dusting off the acrylic sets that had rested at the back of her wardrobe for a decade. She used the time to learn, completing certifications in Social Innovation, Business Growth, Funding Fundamentals and Growth Mindset. She used the time to give back, volunteering for Gather Hub, a charity working to improve global sanitation infrastructure. Then, fearful of the rumoured job market stagnation, Holly turned her hands to networking.
Throughout University, Holly had witnessed the passion, self-discipline and resilience shared by entrepreneurs from all walks of life. She'd supported inspiring innovators in building lean startups out of remote dwellings in Sub-Saharan Africa and had overseen serial entrepreneurs growing the next ‘unicorn’ out of Rocket Internet’s Berlin hub. Ultimately, Holly clutches a burning desire to start a venture of her own one day, but in this chapter of her life, she holds a yearning to learn and absorb as many insights as possible from those with more experience. What did she want to obtain from networking? Meaningful connections? Mentorship? A graduate job? All of the above.
And so, recalling her former training in business development (BD), Holly began drafting a LinkedIn message. "Set the scene, keep it concise and create just enough value for the reader to want to learn more", it read:
26 responses flew into Holly's inbox, but there was one company that stood out:
In all honesty, Holly hadn't a clue what a 'Venture Catalyst' was when she stumbled upon Raj's profile. A startup consultant? A growth partner? All she knew with certainty was that (a) this team loved overusing emojis yet (b) she felt impelled to learn more.
Two days later, on an initial call with Raj, Holly learned that twenty--twenty position themselves at the heart of the UK's thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem and at the intersection of VCs and startups. Questioning if there would be any better place to learn the ropes of entrepreneurship, Holly was quickly overcome with excitement. She was captivated by the prospect of bringing her experience from both spaces into their small, but clearly well-versed team and even more so by their current project with Perfocal, a VC-backed photography startup.
Rarely does one have the opportunity to deeply consider their previous work experience, but Holly's second interview with Pete was designed to facilitate such reflection. They collectively flew through the 20 traction channels, ranking and justifying Holly's competency on each dimension. The activity triggered Holly, she was hit with the realisation "Yes, I'm young, with a whole lot to learn and a long journey ahead of me. And yet, my skillset has evolved with each and every opportunity I've embraced to date. I've built strong foundations here, now I need to leverage those to prove my potential and propel my growth."
Holly's strengths were laid out on a spreadsheet and she was invited to join twenty--twenty as a content writer, supporting Perfocal on a part-time basis once her finals were complete. Holly's mind rested more at ease, "perhaps things won't be quite so tough for the class of Covid after all" she thought.
🤹🏻♀️ Caught in a Juggling Act
So, days after her final university exam, Holly hit the ground running, fast. Not only with twenty--twenty and Perfocal but with three other startups which emerged from her networking efforts. Spanning different industries and stages of growth each company demanded Holly's time, expertise and energy in varying capacity. Holly had planned for this, diligently, crafting what she believed to be a recipe for success.
However, as lockdown eased, the 'ample time' Holly had been relying on was disappearing with it and she suddenly found herself juggling more balls than ever before. With a relentless desire to embrace work opportunity and belated celebrations in Bath, Holly spent her time bouncing between the university's deserted library and the city's overflowing parks. Mornings were reserved for business calls and afternoons for soaking up the sun with friends. Had she bounded into things too hastily? Maybe. But was she thriving off the challenge? Absolutely.
Through Holly's eyes, twenty--twenty were quickly breaking away from the crowd. Not only was she making significant headway on the Perfocal project, but Co-Founders Raj and Pete had left her impressed from the earliest of interactions. As a contractor, Holly half-expected to enter Perfocal’s team meetings feeling like an outsider, however she was left in awe after discovering that Raj and Pete had paved the way for her seamless integration into the startup. Every morning she'd watch the duo inject a new vibrancy into Perfocal's team meetings and at an eminently critical time for the startup, their presence and impact was felt by all in attendance.
In admiring their work, Holly soon came to learn that 'a Venture Catalyst is someone who holds a strong growth mindset, an elevating energy and a great ability to execute'. But most notably, behind every Catalyst, is a team of Catalysts and so, Holly knew she would never be tackling this challenge alone.
At this stage, Holly wanted nothing more than to own this Catalyst title. Closely observing Raj and Pete's interactions, she suspected their inclination to scale up her involvement. And so, simultaneously, she'd been preparing for the shift in her work, turning freelance work away and finalising existing projects.
When Raj asked if Holly would "scale up involvement to full time?" "act like the co-founder of a £4.3 million company?" and "handle the challenge?" of leading Business Development, Content Creation and Marketing at Perfocal, there wasn't an ounce of hesitation.
🤯 Four Job Offers in Four Weeks?!
A couple of months had passed since that conversation with Raj and as requested, Holly had steadily scaled up her capacity with twenty--twenty. Despite battling imposter syndrome for years, in those moments Holly was forced to move her anxieties aside. Stepping beyond her comfort zone freed Holly to embrace management roles and responsibilities that far exceeded even her greatest expectations and she welcomes anyone who finds themselves in a similar position to reach out for encouragement. She was making astounding progress in her quest to become a Venture Catalyst and with it, was exceeding Raj and Pete's expectations too. It was clear that they were edging towards a job offer, though it turned out that they weren't the only ones...
As the saying goes, 'you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone' and in modern dating style, as Holly began to show more interest in a long term relationship with twenty--twenty, the more determined other startups were to turn her head. In September, three other entrepreneurs decided to take their chances in offering Holly more permanent positions at their startups. Declining each in favour of twenty--twenty, Holly faced a surge of escalating counter-offers:
And, in spite of trying to defend her loyalty to twenty--twenty, Holly's rationale was being persistently challenged by these other founders:
Quite frankly, the combined generosity in the offerings and truth in their words left Holly feeling incredibly overwhelmed. But, notwithstanding her uncomfortable familiarity with the risk of work in startups, Holly couldn’t help but think 'these people have it so wrong'. Despite only starting six months ago, still searching for their product-market fit and being uncertain of their business’s future, Holly saw twenty--twenty taking a far greater risk, in investing fully in her.
Honouring twenty--twenty's core value of 'radical truth and transparency', Holly told Raj and Pete of each offer that had been laid on her table. Naturally drawing attention to those that tempted her the most, Holly told the pair about NEF and how, with a strong alumni referral, she might be able to secure an interview for their 2020/21 programme. NEF is the UK’s leading entrepreneur development programme; it's known for developing the 'entrepreneurial leaders of tomorrow' and Holly had witnessed first-hand the influence of its thriving network, so was enthralled by the idea of joining. The problem? It came with a hefty price tag, a need for employer sponsorship and a competitive application process... oh, and the programme launched in four days’ time.
So, as any 22 year old does when faced with a quandary, Holly turned to her mum for help. She advised that, given twenty--twenty's infancy and that Holly was their first (very junior) hire, it was a huge ask. Holly knew she was right -- as mums usually are -- and was concerned that raising this to Raj and Pete would trigger a hurdle in negotiations, or worse, a rift in their relationship. The complexity in this decision made it all the more gratifying when Raj and Pete said, “If you can make a case for why it’s a worthy training investment, we’ll see what we can do”. Holly took the hint and rapidly constructed a mini-proposal, presenting a cost-benefit analysis to the pair. Lo and behold, four days, one cover letter, one interview and one online assessment later, she received a formal acceptance from The Centre for Entrepreneurs -- hand-in-hand with the fourth and final job offer, from twenty--twenty.
It became clear that twenty--twenty were prepared to invest in their team and their clients, in equal measure and Holly was quickly reassured that the other entrepreneurs really did 'have it so wrong'. The risk in her relationship with twenty--twenty was shared and the final offer was worth the wait.
🙌 "One Team, One Dream"
What comes hand in hand with job offers? Negotiations. Despite the initial excitement that surrounded this offer, it definitely didn't come without its complications.
Problem one? twenty--twenty were demanding Holly's commitment in full and free from distraction. They had made it clear that, should she wish to continue working for them, she needed to discard any side-hustles where there was a conflict of interest, either in time or training.
Having relished her months as a multi-hyphenate, this transition would come at more than just a financial cost for Holly. She took great pride in her ability to execute in multiple roles simultaneously and the independence had been adding a layer of fulfilment to her work each day.
What's more, is deep down, Holly knew that her proactivity and comparative experience had always given her a cutting-edge against other candidates. In fact, she knew full well that without it, she wouldn't have even secured the offer from twenty--twenty. So why was she being told to give something up, when it got her the job in the first place?
Raj and Pete argued burnout, misaligned focus and misallocation of resources. But Holly resisted as the startups in question also filled a sizeable purpose shaped hole in her daily work with twenty--twenty. Having always held an affinity for startups driving social impact, Holly wasn't prepared to drop the roles with any immediacy.
What did this mean? That she had to a) prove there was no overlap between her work at twenty--twenty and the startup in question or b) move her contract with the startup under twenty--twenty's name, serving them as a client.
For one startup, the conflict of interest was clear. Holly's work mirrored the BD activities she completed each day for Perfocal and this company were reaping huge benefit from twenty--twenty's investment into Holly's training. Holly was left with no choice but to propose her freelance work was redirected through twenty--twenty's entity.
This took time, energy and many a difficult conversation. The startup's Founder and advisory board were resisting, challenging twenty--twenty's business model and worse, questioning whether Raj and Pete were truly acting in Holly's best interest. They were unfamiliar with twenty--twenty's approach to hiring, encouraged the side hustle culture in their organisation and even offered Holly an equity stake to seal the deal of a longer term 'side' collaboration. The startup was on a strong growth trajectory, so the offer was appealing, but deep down Holly knew that this was a crucial moment where she needed to prove her long-term commitment to twenty--twenty.
After weeks of heated back-and-forth discussions Holly leveraged her influence within the startup to stand her ground. Declaring that 'behind every Catalyst is a team of Catalysts' she made her intentions clear. Holly stated that she would not be accepting the offer of equity and would only offer ongoing support if she was contracted through twenty--twenty. The startup agreed, albeit reluctantly and Holly was able to progress in her negotiations with twenty--twenty under this premise.
Problem two? Upon reviewing the intricacies of her contract, Holly caught herself dwelling upon her substantial drop in salary. Providing her lifestyle isn't severely compromised, Holly's risk appetite normally holds strong, but plans to move to London in the new year positioned Holly between a rock and a hard place.
This time round, the cry for help was sent in Dad's direction. Known for his seamless navigation around spreadsheets, Holly sat down with him one evening to break down the contract, 'crunch the numbers' and define her bottom line. Together, they compiled a series of questions for Raj and Pete, to understand the remuneration model and what Holly's future at the company might look like.
Despite being in Lisbon on a much needed break at the time, within 18 hours, the founders had shared a new contract and equivalent 'number crunch' with Holly. Her salary and holiday days had been adjusted and hand-in-hand with the contract came a 45-minute explainer video, deep-diving into the elements in question.
Holly watched the film in full, twice. She listened to the sleep-deprived founders as they sat describing their logic, amidst the shadows cast from Lisbon's early morning sunrise. With each minute, Holly's clarity on the contract and respect for the pair, grew simultaneously.
No questions were left unanswered and moving through these challenging conversations together, bonded Raj, Pete and Holly by a strengthened trust.
Despite the long journey to get there, on 16th October 2020, Holly signed on the dotted line, coming aboard twenty--twenty as a Venture Catalyst with the note "one team, one dream".
🚀 A Look Beyond 2020
2020 was certainly a year to remember… People grieved the losses of loved ones, celebrated scientific discoveries, cheered on frontline workers, shared support for social movements and showed immense fortitude and stoicism as the world pressed pause on life as they knew it.
For Holly, finding twenty--twenty was the greatest thing to come of 2020. In an otherwise gloomy year, twenty--twenty offered her unparalleled opportunity for growth and the chance to work with teammates who are guided by the greatest values. She's forced to adapt and up-skill each time the business encounters fresh challenges and her learnings have been neither few nor far between. Holly is developing the skills, knowledge and network essential to becoming a better Venture Catalyst now and a better entrepreneur in the years to come, and she's loving every second of it.
When Holly told her late Grandad this story, he told her that she was “born under a lucky star” and now, 12-months into the journey she still can’t quite believe her luck. Holly's initial projects and time on the NEF+ programme are now coming to an end but her journey with twenty--twenty has only just begun!