Getting scrappy startups on the straight and narrow: meet Rob

Many of our Venture Associates have come to us from corporate backgrounds. Some come to us with startup experience. Rob Greco brings the best of both worlds.

Born and bred in Melbourne, Rob studied for a double degree in Commerce and Law at Monash University. He then interned at a commercial law firm where he learned he didn’t want to be a lawyer. He interned at a management consultancy firm where he realised he didn't want to be a consultant.

Leaving the corporate world behind (but not the learnings he picked up during those valuable experiences), Rob gravitated to the scrappier world of startups - a move sparked by his part time work for the online wine startup Vinomofo during his studies.

We chatted to Rob about the experiences that led him to startup life, his early experiences across the Pacific ocean, and how he found his way back to Australia and to Skalata.

You did some serious long distance! What was your next career move when you made it out to Canada?

My partner and I moved to Edmonton, Alberta, which is where her family is from. I found a job working at a startup called Yardly, which is a managed service marketplace for lawn care and snow removal. As you can imagine, snow removal is a pretty big deal in Canada! While I was there I worked mainly on operations, trying to glue all their processes together.

Then I started working for a different startup called Supercast, which is a platform that lets podcasters sell podcast subscriptions. Here I had a customer success role, working with some of the big name podcasters to make sure they were happy with the platform, and fielding their feature requests and suggestions on how to make the platform better.

What was your initial impression of startup life? Has it changed as you’ve gathered more experience?

Initially I imagined the classic picture of tech entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley - the cliche of a fast-paced environment where people are doing big things, creating billion dollar companies.

And what always interested me was the idea of creating something from nothing.

“But then you get into a startup, and in reality it’s a mess. Nothing works and you need to build processes from the ground up. It's very scrappy, very resourceful, as you’re often working without big budgets. I think the perception of startups based on the media doesn’t capture that reality.”

So how did you make the jump from startups to VC?

I’ve always had an interest in venture capital.

In both startup roles, the part I enjoyed the most was chatting with the founders about the big strategic questions of the company. Is our pricing right? Are we targeting the right customers? Are there other markets or verticals we should be entering? How can we test our thinking? These are the important questions every founder faces, and I always got a kick out of having these conversations with the founders I worked for.  

So naturally, I gravitated to VC, where you’re forced to assess the business strategy of potential investee companies, as well as that of your existing portfolio companies.  

Once I applied for Skalata, I could tell it would be a great fit for me. To be able to work for Skalata, with its unique venture support model, was a big draw.

Any advice for others in your shoes, considering making the switch from working in startups to VC? What kind of person do you think makes a great fit?

“First and foremost - being absolutely interested in startups. Whether you’re someone who works in startups or just listens to a lot of podcasts about startups. You'll have heard all the acronyms, all the anecdotes. Ask yourself if you have that natural edge for this, because it’s going to make your life so much easier if you do.”

I think the rest comes from having that natural curiosity. If you do, you're probably going to pick up things more easily.

One thing more experienced team members keep telling me is that you need to back yourself and go with your gut instinct. It does seem to be more of an art than a science. We have the selection criteria, we have all the questions we ask the founders, we have the investment mandate, but your gut feeling gets you 90% of the way there, in my opinion.

Even yesterday, we went to a selection meeting and two of the Venture Partners had completely different viewpoints. If it's purely objective, how would two obviously intelligent people with experience have differing opinions? It’s more subjective than I think people would let on.

Any tips for aspiring VCs to sign off with?

As I’m still figuring it out , I hesitate to give broad-sweeping advice. I still have a ton to learn. But what I would say is that even though you're starting out, you have value and a unique viewpoint to offer. Ask lots of questions when you're unsure, but you still need to back yourself in.

From a practical standpoint, it’s always good to keep on top of next steps. When I'm on a call, I'm always booking the next call or following up with next steps. These are the little tricks that you pick up through experience.