From military service, to a failed startup, to raising $20M for Ethena – this is my non-traditional path to techFeatured

iynna's profile thumbnail
Non-traditional is where it's at! Your background is so fascinating and I am so excited to see how you've applied each lesson learned along the way! We need to hear more stories like yours, especially from veterans who are often left out of the whole diversity equation.Cheers to your success and journey, it's only the start!
roxanne's profile thumbnail
Thanks for your kind words!
iynna's profile thumbnail
Also your background really reminded me of one of Bschool friends so I shared with him and tuns out you two worked together! It's David! He has spoken so so highly of you and did tell me that we should connect. I am so happy we did through Elpha :-)
roxanne's profile thumbnail
Such a small world! David is the best. So glad you're connected.
victoriamelnikova's profile thumbnail
I am super curious to hear all about how you transitioned from working at McKinsey to becoming a CEO of a startup? I am also doing to know about your first steps in the fundraising journey. Please tell us more!
roxanne's profile thumbnail
hi! re: transitioning from McKinsey to being the CEO of a startup, the jump was actually pretty easy because initially, I was the CEO of a 1 person startup :) The most important thing I did after that was find my incredibly co-founder, and then from there, we've grown our team to 50+ over the past 2 years. I suppose it's like that story about a frog slowly cooking in hot water-- the transition didn't feel so intense at first because I was leading a really small team, which isn't that different from what I did at McKinsey, and then the temperature has been consistently rising since then.re: fundraising, oh that's a longer answer! I recommend for first steps reading what YC puts out, since I think their stuff is very good, and then have conversations with other founders a few steps ahead of you. Don't talk to investors yet, since they aren't there to teach you, they're looking to invest, so there's no such thing as a casual, pick-your-brain convo between a founder and an investor, IMO.Hope that's a start!
victoriamelnikova's profile thumbnail
That's awesome, thank you!
BLACKAPPL's profile thumbnail
"...great leaders really just care (he said, “give a sh*t” but you get the idea).... That’s not the same as wanting to be liked – being a great leader is more like being a great parent. It’s caring enough to say the hard thing or watch someone fail." I cannot agree more. Asking myself whether I (still) CARE everyday and especially in situation when I feel "grey" about what I do has been transformational. It is the best guidance when interacting with people, who work for me. Thank you!
roxanne's profile thumbnail
Oh I'm so glad to hear that it resonated!
HHoang's profile thumbnail
Thanks for sharing @roxanne. Amazing jungle gym example and very inspiring!! I would love to hear more about how you managed to convince the investors after the failed startup . Did they drill on your 'execution capability'?
roxanne's profile thumbnail
Great question. Weirdly, early investors didn't ask me that much about my failed startup. IMO, there is a gendered component to whether failing at a startup is considered a positive or a negative. I know many men founders who failed at their first startup, and when investors talk about it, they say something like, "he learned what didn't work and is even more motivated to win. He's got a chip on his shoulder and won't let anything stand in his way, etc."Most women founders I know, myself included, don't talk about their failed startups for exactly the reason you identified. They don't want to draw attention to anything negative, since there are already so many biases.FWIW I don't think failing at a previous startup means someone has a problem executing, and if I were an investor, I'd much prefer a founder who knew when to fold, versus grinding it out for years. Sometimes, it's just the wrong idea, market, time, or team, and not the founding team's inability to execute.
KathleenGarvin's profile thumbnail
Thanks for sharing your story, Roxanne! As someone who's been more of a generalist in her career—lots of communications and marketing roles at startups and small businesses—it's refreshing to read your take on it. Continued success with Ethena, which I used at a past company and enjoyed :).
roxanne's profile thumbnail
Love to meet a fellow generalist and so glad to hear you've used Ethena. Always love hearing when folks have a good experience with the product!
Raabia's profile thumbnail
I love this! I often talk about the career jungle gym, too. Thanks for sharing your story! Long been a fan of Ethena! As a high-capacity generalist who also started off in national service (thank you for yours!), as I pivot to tech entrepreneurship, my generalist path that makes me such an asset has been discounted SO many times. The work we do in the public sector is high pressure, under resourced, and often comes with significant consequences for failure. Someone with the resilience to operate in that kind of environment should be an asset in a startup. But, when hiring and screening for early employees, startups still look for specialists, even though the generalist skillset will prove to be more valuable.Roxanne - I'm curious what you'd advise in those instances. How would you push back when the screener/recruiter has limited life experience to understand what value a generalist background brings? And, what companies do you know that actually walk the talk and hire folks with nontraditional backgrounds?
roxanne's profile thumbnail
I do have advice! First, look early stage (pre series A and ideally preseed). That’s when generalists are most needed. Our second hire was a generalist and she’s played basically every role at some point in our company’s history. Second, try to explain the skills you have in startup terms versus using the government language. That’ll help a team understand what you can bring yo the table. Hope that helps!
ericamarie's profile thumbnail
Your post is the reason I just joined Elpha. Anytime I see military-connected women in the start up space (even better, successfully) I get so excited. It’s rare. My cofounder and I (both military spouses) are closing up a Series A and your post here embodies so much of our experiences as well!! Keep it up and congrats.
roxanne's profile thumbnail
Oh that’s so great to hear! Fun fact, my cofounder is a military spouse. Glad to hear you’re closing your A. Huge congrats!!!
Sarabeth's profile thumbnail
I love hearing this non-traditional path - thank you so much for sharing!