1. Curiosity is critical; in the sales, the work ethic, the relationships that you build… everything. Bring an appetite to learn everywhere you go and you will go far.
2. People want to help you. People enjoy giving back and lifting others, especially if they’ve been in your shoes. Just find a way to bring value with an ask and make it worth their time.
3. Find what you love. When you discover what it is you’re passionate about, never stop chasing it. All it takes is one moment for your path to change …
“People want to help you. Just find a way to make it worth their time.”
BRYAN WISH: Tell us about your One Away moment.
FRANCIS DONOHUE: It started my senior year of college. I started this entrepreneurship club on campus because there was no entrepreneurship club. Basically, I just got, what I thought at the time, were my smartest friends in a room and we started teaching ourselves these topics. As part of that, we organized the speaker series. We had a couple of high school entrepreneurs come present their business to us. One of their fathers is actually a venture partner at a firm in D.C. called Growth Tech Ventures.
After I graduated, I had a full-time job. I was working at a consulting company called Booz Allen. It was one of those jobs where 35-40 hours a week, pretty predictable. I actually decided I was going to take up a part-time internship, at 22. Graduated but wanted to work my way into this industry. That venture partner I met, I went over to their office and met with the team and I have a funny story on that. The son told me, “Be super casual. You’ll meet with my dad for coffee and talk about whatever.” Turns out, I walked into their board room. It was the entire venture firm, all 10 people, with my resume sitting in front of them. I was super happy I didn’t listen to him and I dressed up for that. My current colleague and boss now, Bobby Ocampo, was an associate, at that board room table that day seven years ago. I met Bobby then and did a bunch of stuff since then. That was sort of that One Away moment.
BRYAN WISH: When you walked in and they all had your resume out, what did that feel like?
FRANCIS DONOHUE: I figured I’d come in, talk to a partner, and he’d pass it to another partner. When I walked into the board room and they were already sitting down, resume in front of each of them printed out, and lunch was there too; it was one of those, “Okay, here we go.” I played basketball and sports growing up. It was kind of one of those moments where you felt you were stepping on the court and you’re like, “Alright, you prepared for this. Give it everything you’ve got and see how it goes.”
BRYAN WISH: What happened after that?
FRANCIS DONOHUE: I remember one of the comments from the managing director at the time. He commented 30 minutes in that I didn’t even tough my lunch. I hadn’t even taken a bite out of my sandwich. Had the meeting with them, followed up with all of them and I supported Bobby for a few months. He sent me to a few demo days, local D.C. kind of events. I’d take notes of the companies and follow them back to him. After a few months of that, I was working full-time and there wasn’t a ton of value I could really provide as a support role for him. He was great and happy to help. He introduced me to somebody in D.C., Dan Mindus. He runs NextGen Venture Partners.
Back then, it was NextGen Angels. It was just an angel group of investors. It was jut getting started at the time. He set met up with a phone call with Dan and Dan was basically looking for a utility player; someone that could help him that wasn’t going to ask to get paid, that could do a lot of different stuff. I ended up managing their WordPress website which I had no idea how to do WordPress. It was a kind of thing where Dan would ask me something and I’d say, “Yeah, I’ll do it,” but I had no idea how many hours it would take.
WordPress, social media, event management; all the stuff no one wanted to do. I did that for three years and what was cool for me there is I got to go to the pitch meetings. I’ve got to meet the investors in D.C. and I actually got a few more mentors and friends from those meetings. That was kind of next step.
BRYAN WISH: You put your eyes on venture early. When I was meeting with you a couple years ago, you told me how you were really wanting to get into this space. Where did that come from? When you really figured out this was a path you wanted to pursue, what were your next steps?
FRANCIS DONOHUE: It wasn’t clear to me until maybe 1 ½-2 years ago that I really wanted to do venture specifically. It came from before I graduated. Before my senior year, I had this internship at a PR firm. It wasn’t paid either, but it was one of those internships where you walk into a cube farm and you’re 21 and you’re like, “Dang, so this is it. This is what it’s going to be.” I didn’t like that. I started listening to podcasts every day at work. The one I listened to was Stanford eCorner. They bring all these big executives and investors. I liked listening to it.
I kept listening to it. I followed my nose with that. I went to school and stated that club. I had these two paths in mind; either start a company one day. I loved the autonomy of that. I love technology. Have some ownership. Or if I don’t start a company, maybe go the route of the investor and be able to sit in the boards and help the tech companies grow and learn about new technologies. I just sort of chased my nose. The whole time I was exploring that interest. I worked at software companies. I worked at venture firms. I ended up here.
BRYAN WISH: What did you like about Bobby, as an individual, that said to you, “If I followed him a bit further, that would help me?” How did that relationship unravel where it got to the point where he said, “Francis, come work with us out in California?”
FRANCIS DONOHUE: All of the folks I met in D.C., Bobby worked at the best firms in D.C. and he seemed like the guy that had the best head on his shoulders with how he thought about investments. He was super easy to be around. For a guy that worked at those companies, truly humble, kind of guy who always offered to get your lunch, even if you insisted you were going to get it for him.
After he and I worked together, we probably got lunch every quarter for like six years. That turned into I would work on his Angel portfolio. I would do customer calls for him. I would do competitor calls; whatever he needed. Fast forward, I worked at a software company for about 4 ½ years and was on their sales team there. That company was merging and I was ready for a new opportunity. I connected with Bobby. He actually brought me through the entire interview process of his old firm, which I went very far in.
At the end of it, he told me, “Hey, good news/bad news. Bad news, they need someone with X skillset. Good news, I’m starting my own company and I think you’d be a good fit for it.” That’s how I found out about Blueprint and how I found out about San Diego, which is where I am now.
BRYAN WISH: You walked into venture. You’d gotten experience but you came into a role full-time off of a sales role, which you crushed. What was the transition like? How’s this path been different? How have you used your skills, that you’ve built from the other experiences, into this role?
FRANCIS DONOHUE: Different is the topics I have to learn. I have to learn different terminology. I have to learn different types of calculations and all this different kind of material. You have to spend time digesting and knowing because it’s important to the executives, that you work with, that you do certain things. The stuff is the same. The curiosity that’s critical in sales, the work ethic, the relationships that you build; all that stuff is the same. I brought an appetite to learn and I apply that to a different knowledge set here. It’s one of those things where you don’t know how long it’s going to take you but you know you can do it. That’s kind of my mental framework.
BRYAN WISH: What has surprised you about working with Bobby that you weren’t expecting more of a day-to-basis versus meeting with him ever three-quarters?
FRANCIS DONOHUE: He’s so competitive. It’s great. He played hockey growing up which I didn’t know. He wants to win. He wants to get with the best companies. He’ll do whatever it takes to get in those companies. I wasn’t aware of how competitive he is which is great because I grew up that way. I played sports all my life. To have that kind of mentality around me, someone who wants to win, will do whatever it takes to win, that’s what I didn’t know about him, but it’s been a great surprise to be around that.
BRYAN WISH: As you look back and the road and journey you’re on today, what lessons would you like to leave with someone who is in your shoes 3, 4, 5 years ago?
FRANCIS DONOHUE: People want to help you. Just find a way to make it worth their time. People that have gone ahead of you, from my experience, they like to give back and they like to work with people and help people that they can connect with. The trick for a junior person, which I am, is how do I make sure that the time that they give me is not just philanthropic time?
Whether it’s doing small things with them like customer calls or competitive calls or helping on their companies or how do you add value to them? The biggest thing I think is people do want to help you. They remember how hard it was to get in. They look for people that are potentially like them, that share similar attributes and traits. People move mountains to help people behind them to get ahead.
BRYAN WISH: Ask for help. Remember who helped you. You’ve done such a good job. Your personality and who you are is you’re always giving back and looking to help the person on the other side. I think remembering who those people are in your life, who helped you get there, I think it’s one of the most important things we can do or it’s going to be a lonely journey if you don’t. Where can people connect with you?
FRANCIS DONOHUE: Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.