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Erica Amatori: One Generalist Upbringing Away from Finding a Place Where She Belongs

If there’s one person who has worked at the intersection of investing and marketing, it’s Erica Amatori. She is a leader in the technology space and is in a lot of neat things, right now she serves as the head of marketing at Corigin Ventures, she is founder of the of the Perpetua Project, she had a bitcoin or blockchain newsletter called “The Bit Daily”, she worked with NextGen Venture Partners.

Erica’s had a very interesting career to date, and it’s no surprise when you listen to the episode what’s pushed her and propelled her at such a young age and the influences that she’s had. I am super excited for you guys to listen to her, meet her, and have her share with you all the things that make a difference in your own career.

Takeaways:

  1. Being a generalist is ok.
  2. At the end of the day, it’s about the people. If you have some really good people building an amazing service or product or whatever it may be, you have a good shot.
  3. Lean into your insecurities more. Life is all about showing the world what you’re thinking, what you’ve got, and no one else can replicate that.

Transcript:

BRYAN WISH: Tell us your One Away Moment.

ERICA AMATORI: I think my One Away moment is just learning that you don’t have to just be interested in one thing in life. It’s good to be a niche in specific areas but it’s also good to be a generalist at the end of the day. I think when I was younger, I was so concentrated on just finding that one thing I was good at. I went through the visual arts phase. I went through the music phase. I went through the sports phase. I played competitive athletics, published songs on Spotify and iTunes, and tried to find my niche always.

Then I found marketing and growth and that’s where it kind of took off. I headed up marketing for two popular direct to consumer companies. Burrow and Otherland as well as started a software company back when I was in college. It felt like it was my One Away moment. Like finally a place where I belong. In reality, the place where I belong is a little bit everywhere.

I still love art and music. I still love sports to death. Marketing growth might be my brand but at the end of the day, I’m more than a generalist than a specialist. It’s really hard to lean into that sometimes because I feel like people criticize others for being scatterbrained, for not just looking at one thing or being one thing. To me, that’s a talent. If you lean into it, more and more over time, you’ll realize that. That’s how I’m kind of where I’m at today.

Right now, I head up marketing for a venture capital firm called Alpaca VC, formerly known as Corigin Ventures. We’ve invested in Compass and Perfect Foods. We’re a generalist fund. It’s pretty perfect for me. We invest in fintech and consumer and a bunch of other places. It gives me the ability to straddle so many different areas and sectors without getting bored. It really is the perfect role but it took a long time to get there and realize that.

BRYAN WISH: It sounds like growing up, you put this pressure on yourself to figure it all out. Where did it come from?

ERICA AMATORI: I’d definitely credit it to my parents. They’re very supportive people. My mom is an artist and my dad is an engineer in finance. Very different roles there. They kind of brought both to my attention at a young age. Although they were supportive, they’re like any parent that hands you a career book or says, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” In fact, they gave me a career book that was 1,000 pages long and made me read through it. At first, I remembered I picked a designer.

BRYAN WISH: How old were you?

ERICA AMATORI: I was in middle school. I remember this very vividly.

BRYAN WISH: Was that intimidating at the time?

ERICA AMATORI: At the time, yeah. It was a big book. It was bigger than the Harry Potter books. They were very driven parents as well to make sure their kids were successful. I appreciate it but it’s also hard because it’s pressure. All you want to do is play with your friends at that age. I picked designer because I thought it was a good cross between tech, computers, which was all the rage during that time, as well as art which I loved. In high school, I started interning and shadowed a designer at an agency and figured out this is nowhere near what I want to do but I love it. It’s just not what I want to do. In high school, I was a competitive runner. I ended up running in college as well.

At a meet, I started printing gear, shirts, totes, hats, etc., with witty, ironic phrases on them because I hated all of the Nike and classic Adidas wear out there and wanted to be a little funny. I started selling that at meets and started making a business out of it. Believe me, it broke even. We didn’t make any profit. I was a high school student. My parents invested in me and definitely saw no return but it taught me a lot. It taught me, wow, this is something I’m interested in which is building something and being a creator. I will give it to them that they spurred that. Thank you, parents.

BRYAN WISH: It’s interesting the people we become and how our parents influenced that. Just on my end, my parents were more supportive of whatever I wanted to do but they never really pushed me down the track either. When I think about your parents, I think this book is an interesting point because it forced you, at the time, you picked a design, and you kind of went down that path at an early age. Most people don’t start interning until they’re in college. You got the experience in high school and then you applied it to your track. It sounds like they really cared and allowed you to do some professional development a bit earlier than most. Where did you grow up? Was it a very competitive area?

ERICA AMATORI: I grew up in Montreal, Canada. I ended up moving to the states when I was around 11 where I went to a good school, but it wasn’t a hotty totty private school or anything. I also think it’s the personality that you have internally. I’m a very work hard, play hard type of person. I’ve always been very driven to try new things. I’ve always been totally not risk-averse. I risk it all. It’s a good thing and it’s a bad thing at the end of the day. You really have to innately have that drive inside of you to really make things happen, I believe.

BRYAN WISH: What are things outside of work where you say you’ll risk it all and you’ll do things that are adventurous and go out of your way?

ERICA AMATORI: It goes back to being a generalist. I traveled a lot. I spontaneously bought a puppy. All those things are very minute but for example, crypto was really hot in 2016. I didn’t know a lot about it. I’m not an extremely techy coder. I’m not that mindset. However, I saw the opportunity, thought it looked amazing. I understood the implications and invested what was a lot of money for me. Did it pay off? Yeah. Could it not have paid off? Yeah. It’s having that constant want to be on the pulse and that interest in how do things work.

How do they impact each other? How can I impact this thing that I think will impact another? It’s a long chain of thought but once you end up going through it, you kind of realize how everything connects in the world. That’s why being a specialist and the niche mentality of you should really be good at one thing is something that shouldn’t be taught.

BRYAN WISH: I completely agree with you. Being an entrepreneurial kind of type, you wear so many different hats. That teaches you so much because you don’t fit yourself into one box and force yourself into one area. It sounds like you learned early that it wasn’t for you. You were more than a designer or this box you picked for yourself. How does this generalist mentality apply to your career?

ERICA AMATORI: I can start in college since that’s usually the most formative years of a person. The most valuable asset a person can give is time. That can be in college since at that moment you’re really not making any money or that can be when you’re 40 years old and time is virtuous because you have a family.

For me, and this ties back to being risky, it’s really deep-diving into subjects that interest you in trying it out. Back on that blockchain kind of riff, because of that, I started something with a friend called The Bit Daily. It was basically this skim AKA newsletter that summarizes all news in the crypto space for people who weren’t tech-oriented or coders. In layman’s terms, it gave news updates every second day. That grew really fast. There was a time where I was like, “This could be a business.” It also couldn’t have been. It took a lot of guts to desert that, especially with how much time and energy we put into it.

Then it was kind of onto the next thing from there. We had something come to our college called 3-day startup which is basically where you get into cohorts of groups and create companies, do market research, create the business plan, start building it. I and three others had this idea for a software company. It was a cloud-based hotel management system. That took off. After we won that very, very small and a nonsense award from our college, we started applying to YC TechStars Dreamit Ventures and got into a tech accelerator. Eventually, that really propelled me into what I’m doing now which is the overall startup space which is a very risky space.

BRYAN WISH: I wouldn’t say it’s that risky. It is from a general sense but for someone like you, it gives you freedom of choice to apply the things you’re interested in in a lot of different ways and with a lot of different industries. How did you know when something felt right?

ERICA AMATORI: I think it’s about a couple of things. It’s about your general passion for the topic. Can you see yourself really building a brand in this area? It’s about your teammates and whoever you’re working with because they’re going to be complementary to anything that you do. They should be complementary to anything you bring to the table at the end of the day in order to build something that’s truly going to succeed. It’s about the overall market, the potential of growth in whatever space or sector or area that idea is in. There’s a right time and place for everything. It really is about the people at the end of the day. If you have some really good people building an amazing service or product or whatever it may be, you have a good shot.

BRYAN WISH: For people in college or right out of college, I think it can be really hard to trust that inner feeling to take a step further as you’ve talked about to actually dive into the things that interest them because they are so confined to what they signed up for with their major. You went to William & Mary and I know the way they do majors there is a little looser. How did you think about your path and generalist mentality when you were in college and how that led you to different opportunities? How did college kind of create your formative mind with the things you’re pursuing today?

ERICA AMATORI: I don’t think college truly formed me. That’s a Bachelor of Arts education similar to a lot of schools but really formed me was starting something with people I thought were brilliant, taking a risk and applying ourselves, putting ourselves out there to these tech accelerators, getting accepted, invested, and by one, putting off school to actually build a business. We were in New York City for a while building it and we returned to school probably 4-6 months out and all of us just realized we just learned what we learned in 3-4 years at school in three months in the real world.

Actually putting ourselves out there, getting investment, building a company, talking to our advisors, working with legal teams, finding customers, putting out fires day after day. When we all returned back, two of them dropped out. I finished it online. This is not bashing William & Mary by any means. Amazing school. Brilliant people. I think once you truly find who you want to be and what you want to do and make those connections to make the next milestone in your life, there are some things such as the time you should give up in order to do something else you love.

BRYAN WISH: I completely relate to that. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to this whole education model and everything you’re saying relates to me. At Georgia, there were maybe two classes I remember. I think what college did for me was put me in an environment where I could explore. The more and more I’ve been reflecting on it, I could have done it without the university system. Although it did build a lot of essential skills for me. I think there are ways to get those skills faster and kind of learning. I do resonate with you. When you figured out you’re not the most normal student and you’re going to go after these things that interest you outside the classroom, how did you go about finding your people and your friends?

ERICA AMATORI: It kind of ties back to personality. For me, I’m an extrovert. I maybe have a 20% introvert in me. At the end of the day, I will walk up to you if you’re random and say hello and probe you with a bunch of questions. Putting yourself out there for sure leads to more connections. The quantity will maybe not be as good but the quality of some of those people, maybe 5 out of 100, will be amazing. You’ll want to stay in touch with them for the long-term or the short-term if it’s something that’s on your mind project wise or just relationship-wise.

The top quality I look for in a person, maybe two, is confidence because I think that emanates everywhere you go, as well as something I call roots and wings. Roots and wings mean this person can be a rock. They’re brilliant. They’re vulnerable but they also have wings meaning they like freedom. They like trying new things. They’re not afraid to put themselves out there. Those type of people that have that mentality of I’m going to stick with what I know but also go out on a limb here and try new things, I think are the people that move faster in life.

BRYAN WISH: I love what you said about roots and wings. I am very rooted in my own systems and ways and sometimes I am scared to go take the wings and apply them outside of work. It’s a really evocative analogy. Also, just in the way you find your people and think about who is a good person for me in my life? Love that analogy. What’s your career look like today and how have you used that mentality to move through different opportunities?

ERICA AMATORI: Currently, I’m in New York City. I head up marketing for a venture capital fund called Alpaca. The whole brand behind that is all of our partners, they weren’t just investment professionals. They were all previous founders. They’re going to be on the ups and the downs of the journey with you every step of the way. Before going into the venture, I headed up marketing for direct to consumer companies. As everybody knows, direct to consumer companies such as Casper, Away, Quip, all have these beautiful and wonderful brands.

At the end of the day, they want to sell you a product that you probably already have. You just want to level up. I grew Burrow’s brand which is direct to the consumer furniture company, Otherland’s which was a fragrance company. I noticed VC firms, don’t care about the brand but why don’t they care about the brand? At the end of the day, they’re trying to get the best deal flow to invest in some of the best companies in the world. They’re also trying to raise money for their fund. We’re going out to raise our funds very shortly. To get dollars from LPs, you need to have a good investment portfolio in returns obviously, but also you have to be known in this space and have those connections.

My goal was to bring that direct to consumer mentality to VC and create a brand for a VC firm that feels like a consumer brand and kind of is a consumer brand and markets a VC firm like a consumer brand. I joined in June, around six months ago now, and we just launched our new brand last week and are getting pretty overwhelming responses because it’s something that doesn’t get done in the industry very often.

Why I like it so much, why I made the switch pretty recently is I get to advise our portfolio companies in marketing and growth across an array of different industries whether that’s fintech or marketplaces or consumers or B2B or PropTech. You’re never bored and you always stay on the pulse of things and get to see new strategies, different unit economics which is so rare and unique. It is good that some funds out there concentrate on one thing or two things.

We have three partners and each one actually does specialize in 2 or 3 areas. I don’t expect anyone to be knowledgeable in eight different sectors but it’s from working with them that I’m kind of gathering, “Wow, I get to see all of this knowledge across these different sectors.” That’s what makes my career most interesting to me, as well as goes along with not being fit in the box.

BRYAN WISH: When you showed me the new website, it felt like a startup. You designed your brand to appeal to your consumer base, to the types of companies you invest in. It was brilliant, easy, and fun to follow. It felt like you were one of them and that’s what you want. As you said, we’re in this together. Have you ever done a rebrand from scratch?

ERICA AMATORI: I’ve done rebranding before with the company that we started. We had to go through that whole branding process. I was a part of Burrow’s branding process and the same branding agency we used for Burrow, we actually used for Otherland called Red Antler which they’re one of the best branding agencies in the U.S. Seeing how they worked and how they really facilitated and launched the new brand helped me to kind of learn what the right steps to create a new brand presence, a new visual identity, and a name that will stick in people’s minds. Don’t get me wrong.

We definitely worked with a branding agency for this as well. I am one person and cannot do it all. If you are going to do something, talk to others in the space that is more specialist than you, and learn if you do want to become a specialist in that area. I would say I’m a specialist in marketing and growth. That is my bread and butter. That’s what I’ve done for most of my life but having interests in other areas and really probing yourself to go deeper into them is such an important skill to have. I definitely recommend everyone to do it.

BRYAN WISH: It can be great to be a generalist in a specific area. Marketing for you but within marketing, you’re a specialist within a specific function of that. Is that something I’m hearing?

ERICA AMATORI: Totally. You hit the nail on the head there. That’s exactly what I believe. I love the Kairos guys. They’re all really awesome. They’re starting a new fund as well. We’re raising a second fund and they’re rebranding. You’re going to be seeing a lot more VC firms as well as financial firms rebranding to create a personality for their firm. The head of marketing role or head of the platform role, head of operations, it can go three different ways, is a very new role in this space. It kind of came to fruition over the last two years but it’s something that you’ll see more and more. It’s super interesting.

BRYAN WISH: If you could go back and talk to your younger self and think of your younger self as a million other ambitious kids in college who maybe are a little different – what are some things you would tell yourself?

ERICA AMATORI: A piece of advice I’d give my younger self is to lean into insecurities more. Whether that’s insecurity about your age because you’re doing something that much older people do or whether that’s insecurity about publicizing something or making it public, it’s not about that. It’s about showing the world what you’re thinking, what you’ve got, and no one else can replicate that.

Everybody else is unique. Just because someone is doing it who might be three times smarter on paper or four times older, it doesn’t matter. That shouldn’t ever hold you back. That used to be something I was always concerned with. When I was going through the tech accelerator in New York City, I was 19. When I was talking to investors or advisors, I would not want to tell them my age. I’d say lean into your insecurities more because it’s only impressive and it’s fine. This is how the world works. In terms of how to grow, I think it’s being comfortable with being uncomfortable. I know that’s a super common phrase nowadays but I believe it 100%.

BRYAN WISH: To overcome those early so they don’t permeate the rest of your life and you kind of overcome those, huge wins at a young age. That’s really good advice. I love the conversation. Where can people find you and get in touch?

ERICA AMATORI: It’s my name @ericaamatori on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram. The same handle all around. If anybody wants to email me, it’s ericaamatori@gmail.com.

One Away Podcast
Leah Walsh

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