From PhD in biogeochemistry from Berkeley to Director of Product at Addepar. I'm Dr. Claudia Jones.Featured

Hello, Elpha. I’m Claudia Jones, Director of Product at Addepar. We’re building a new operating system for advisors & investors to make better informed decisions. I’ve had a slightly atypical path to product & tech. I started out in academia, getting an M.Sc. in geochemistry from UPenn & a Ph.D. in biogeochemistry from Berkeley. While I really enjoyed research - being surrounded by & collaborating with brilliant people, having complete freedom to identify the most interesting problem & the autonomy to define the solution - I ultimately decided I wanted to apply the skills I’d built in the broader context of the business world. The driver was, and still is, to have a positive impact on the lives of others. Following that passion led me first to management consulting for the Boston Consulting Group, working primarily with banks & wealth managers in Australia, India, Sri Lanka and parts of SE Asia. It was fascinating to uncover the universal problems facing small business owners: access to financing, growing a business & using the proceeds to improve the fortunes of the owner’s family. After that, I joined Intuit’s corporate strategy team, and later moved into product management, to do what I could to help solve these problems. Subsequently, I joined Addepar to help improve the financial system for all players, and to grow my management skill set.I’ve found one of the most satisfying parts of my role to be coaching my team - not only does it act as an impact multiplier (together, we can do A LOT more!), but it’s also amazing to watch my colleagues grow as professionals and as people. It also keeps me focused on my own growth path. Outside of work, I’m an RYT 200 certified yoga teacher, and I do endurance riding (horses, not bikes), so personal growth - and supporting others on their path - is very important to me. Ask me anything about switching careers, being the only woman in the room, transitioning from IC to management, transitioning from bigger companies to startups, swapping countries, or anything else :)
Thanks so much for joining us this week, Claudia!Claudia will be answering your questions before the end of the week, and be sure to upvote the ones you most want her to answer with emojis.
Hi Claudia!I'm curious about your pivot from having a rich background in academic and research to pursuing management consulting. Can you tell me more about what sparked the idea of changing careers, how you were able to identify business, and specifically, management consulting as the next path forward? Overall, I'd love to learn more about what that transitional period like for you.Thanks so much!
Also have these questions! Also just curious how to closed the skill gap (if there was one) between your academic background and what BCG looks for in consultants. I’m sure many of your skills transferred over, but how did you convince them of that fact?
Hi Sandra - At the time, BCG had just started actively recruiting folks from graduate level, non-MBA backgrounds. In my intake cohort, there was 1 JD, a few MDs, and 1 other STEM post-doc. They put us through a 'management consulting bootcamp' - 2 weeks in a seaside hotel just outside Barcelona. It was AWESOME - we learned a lot during the day, and had lots of fun dancing, hanging out & exploring the city in the evenings (plus they laid on some amazing dinners). Of course, to pass the interviews, I did have to prep. I practiced all the example cases on BCG's website (as well as those on Bain's and McKinsey's), and googled 'consulting case studies', reading everything I could find. I found it to be a fairly natural transition, since a case is really "read through what's available, ask some questions, create a hypothesis, collect data, then assess validity of hypothesis. If valid - case closed. If invalid - scrap it, come up w/ new hypothesis, rinse, repeat". Not so different from the scientific method :)
Hi Teresa - thanks for asking! As I progressed through my PhD and was able to observe the daily life of post docs and professors, I realized that the things I loved about STEM - research (learning what others had done & coming up w/ my own ideas), field work, lab work, teaching - actually made up a very small proportion of their time. Most of their time was spent on departmental meetings, grant applications, and review committees. To top it off, they were paid extremely poorly for this work. As that wasn't my idea of fun, I decided to explore careers outside of academia. I was very fortunate in that Berkeley - specifically the Graduate Student Assembly - realizes that many of their soon-to-be PhDs will leave academia, and holds informational sessions where companies come to campus and talk about what they do, and how your skills can translate to their industry.When BCG came to campus, they flashed up a map of all their offices around the world. I commented that I was surprised they had an office in Canberra (which was shown un-labeled on the map) - they were surprised I knew where Canberra was! I mentioned that I was doing lab work there, at ANU, and they asked whether I'd be interested in interviewing when next I was in town. Between meeting them at the informational session & interviewing in Canberra several months later, I did explore other options - but none seemed as intriguing. I like working on & learning about different things, while surrounded by smart people - and consulting was perfect for me in that sense.
Thanks for responding to the question above. I'm currently a soon be PhD and your comments and feelings towards academia really resonate with me!
I'd love to hear about how you pick the opportunities after your time at BCG. There are lots of great companies out there – what made you decide on Intuit and Addepar afterward?
Hi Kuan - you're right, there are lots of great companies! Funnily enough, during the offer considerations stage for Intuit, and then for Addepar, each time I had 3 other competing offers from great companies. Those were tough choices! In the end, it's come down to gut-feel. Of course, as a type-A analytical person, I make fairly obsessive spreadsheets w/ conditional formulas and comparative weightings for every single dimension of the market, the company, and the offer. But when you're weighing equally strong, but different options - at some point, you just make a decision. I ended up flipping a coin on my top 2, each time. If the result felt fine in that moment, then I knew it was the right decision. If I wanted to flip again - that gave me my answer, too.
Oo, I like how you use the coin as a gut check – will borrow that in the future. Thank you for sharing!
I just want to say well done on your remarkable transition journey and for making positive impact on the lives of others. I found your story quite interesting and inspiring because we have a similar background (MSc. Petroleum Geosciences and PhD Geological Sciences both with core geochemistry). I enjoy research, but what I love most in being an entrepreneur. During my PhD, I realised the wide gap between scientific projects, products and technology transfer in the industry. I set out to solve some these problems, but with my background; I didn't take the right step to understand the best business model, so it’s been challenging. I approached our start-up like an academia with research and collaboration mindset; I’m now taking some time off to learn new skills (data science and entrepreneurship), reset my personal goals and start all over again on my own. How did you switch your mindset from academia to business and then monetising your skill set? Do you have any regret or miss working in the lab? Thank you for your time, Dr Claudia!
Thanks Munira - agree, there is a shift in mindset that has to take place. You have to go from exploratory to goal-focused. However, I think lots of great science is done that way too - when the goal is "I'm trying to disprove my hypothesis as quickly & completely as possible, b/c the longer I drag this out, the more it costs in time & grant $$." (Many people think the goal is to prove the hypothesis - this is wrong. Hypothesis is assumed true unless and until it can be falsified - and ideally you're the one to falsify - else you wind up w/ egg on your face!). I think the key shift is to get really comfortable - and quantitative - w/ the idea that your time has concrete value, and opportunity cost is a thing. Also, get comfortable asking more questions - many times in the lab, I was doing something completely new (never before documented) - so there was no one to ask. I had to learn by trial & error. It's effective - but it takes longer. In business, most things have been done in some way before - and there aren't any prizes for re-inventing the wheel. Just opportunity cost. So - if you don't know and can't find out w/ ~10 mins of googling & reading - ask!While I do sometimes miss field work and lab work - and focused time to write - I love building products & teams, and wouldn't trade it. Best of luck in your transition - you can do this!
Hi Claudia,It is wonderful to hear about your journey. I relate and also chose to apply knowledge as a CFO, which has been fulfilling even though there are many unknowns which has me steeped in personal growth work to stay grounded. Let's connect via Linkedin. Go Bears!