SKALATA STORIES
Meet Wahid

Wahid Tashkandi came to Skalata from the thick of startup experience, having spent four years helping the UK’s latest unicorn, Paddle, scale from under 30 employees to over 200. But he was always destined for the Patagonia vest…

Tell us a little about your background. Did you always want to get into venture capital?

Funny story that. As a kid, I didn't know what the word for it [VC] was. I just knew that Bruce Wayne did it…and he seemed to have a lot going for him. I literally wanted to be Bruce Wayne…without the whole dead parents thing of course… so I guess Batman was my influence.

After studying economics at uni, I really wanted to dive into the innovation space. I looked at firms like York Butter Factory (RIP) and saw what the culture and working environment was like. I loved it, but knew I couldn’t just walk straight in. So that's when I started meeting with as many different people as possible – VCs, angels, startup founders. I even jumped on a plane to Singapore because there was a bigger VC scene there. I loved what they were doing in terms of bringing academia to the startup scene, as well as the long-term vision of building that ecosystem. It was something I thought Australia was progressing towards but hadn’t quite hacked yet.

In the end, there were three startup ecosystems I was really interested in: Singapore, New York and London. Singapore had already been massively educational. I knew I couldn't get couldn't get a visa for New York. So that left London…

What was your first taste of startup life like?

After arriving in London, I landed a role in sales at a little startup called Paddle, which helped companies manage their revenue across the globe. This role very quickly turned into Account Executive just three days after I arrived. That’s startups for you, I guess!

At Paddle, I worked closely with hundreds of global SaaS companies, developing their go-to-market strategies, and saw many grow ARR from $0–10 million+ while working with them. Essentially, I was working at a startup that was working with other startups, so I had multiple reference points for growth.

Sounds like a great gig. Why did you leave?

Four years into working with Paddle, I decided to move back to Australia. The plan was to continue working remotely, but I started thinking really hard about my future… “Is it time for me to leave or not?” “Am I having an impact on Paddle?” “Is Paddle helping me develop?”.

I always knew VC was the endgame, and this was the time to make the leap. Bringing my experience from Paddle, I knew I could bring a lot of value to early-stage companies.

And why did you apply for Skalata?

With Skalata you’re not just looking at a pitch deck, doing a bit of DD and then onto the next one. You’re with that company for months, years…you’re working intensely with founders for a much longer period of time. I can be the first point of contact and still be supporting them a year down the track when they’ve scaled to 20+ employees. That continuity is really important to me.

I knew of Roh and Max from what they achieved with MAP (Melbourne Accelerator Program), and reached out for a chat. I think I interviewed them, more than the other way around! Skalata’s ambition to invest in 50 companies/year really struck a chord. I was in.

What’s your day-to-day like as a Skalata associate?

In a single day, I could be running a pricing experiment, helping a founder pitch to a later-stage investor, conducting an advisory board meeting, or talking someone down when they're freaking out about how their new enterprise deal is going to go!

I work hand in hand with our coaches who are typically ex-founders, so I’m learning a lot from their experience. I guess I’m the Robin to their Batman…? *rolls eyes*

At the end of the day, I'm there to give founders a high-level perspective and ensure that they work on their ‘business stack’ as well as their day-to-day operations. I mean sure, you’ve got GitHub set up and your CRM and all of that stuff, but what about the rest of your business? Is your vision and mission written on paper? Do you have a hiring plan for the future?

Founders are really capable – they don’t need me day in, day out. They just need a launchpad. And then for me to check in when they need specific help.

How has your background helped you succeed?

The fundamentals between my roles at Paddle and Skalata are very similar. A lot of it is just centred around clarity. Clarity in terms of what problem the [startup’s] client is trying to solve, and clarity in terms of the path ahead.

At Paddle, because we handled everyone's revenue for four years, I've got thousands of case studies on what worked and what didn't work – across hundreds of business models and different product verticals. There's a lot of pattern matching that goes into it. I’ve learned to break down businesses into different building blocks and build them back up again.

I also know how difficult the journey is. There’s multiple stages in any startup’s trajectory – I’ll use a bouldering metaphor here – you've got your starting hold, you've got the crux, you've got topping it out. Seeing companies progress through every stage [at Paddle] has given me so much insight into what is really essential at each.

I can also put my sales experience to work – identifying high-quality investment opportunities and often following the founders (not physically!) for months. We like to immerse ourselves fully within a business before we even issue a term sheet.

I think over the years, I’ve needed to learn quickly. And that’s also helped me immensely at Skalata. On the flipside, it’s made me impatient. Not so much impatient with others, but with myself. It’s frustrating when things don’t happen as quickly as I’d like them to.

You’ve spent time in Singapore, London, China… how does the Aussie startup ecosystem compare?

The future is bright for the Aussie startup ecosystem, as long as we can get past this period of brain drain. I think in Australia our generation is still developing. We're starting to see the first generation of that talent flywheel, but we're still waiting for all the talent that left to the Valley and to Europe to come back.

Australian businesses are constantly told to think global from day one, but not many embody it. It's an education and experience thing. In New Zealand, there's a big campaign around the ‘incubation nation’. NZ incubates companies and they go and spread their wings overseas because they have to – the NZ market is too small. The Australian market is in that awkward space of being big enough for you to double down on in the early days, but not big enough for you to hit the valuation goals or the revenue goals that you really want (or VCs want!).

It's obviously very comfortable just to think about your local market, but founders need to get out of their comfort zones much quicker.

Who should apply to be an associate at Skalata?

Up until a year ago, the general background for VC associates was lawyer/banker/management consultant. Now there’s this understanding that we also need operators – people who have grown with companies. People who have seen the ups and downs and have gotten their hands dirty.

If you can bring a unique skill-set that perhaps someone else in the team doesn’t have – that’s super valuable! If you look at me and Justine, I've got that go-to-market product experience. I can talk with companies all day about their strategy. Whereas with her financial and legal background, she's been able to do some amazing stuff with companies on cash flow and commercial agreements, for example.

I think Skalata attracts 2 groups of people – those looking to make a shift in their career and figure out what’s next. And those wanting to get a leg up. Essentially, you can become an associate at any VC firm. But you're not going to get the breadth of knowledge that you would at Skalata, where the hands-on experience is invaluable and the team is purposefully trying to level you up in multiple areas. There aren’t many opportunities like that internationally, let alone Australia.

Any tips for new associates?

Like we tell our founders, you should never hesitate to ask for help – there are so many great minds around you who are so generous with their time. Embrace being a sponge! It’s also important to have a sense of self-awareness about how much you don’t know. It’s a different world with many transferable skills, but there is a learning curve.

You should also know where you want to go – do you want to found your own startup, continue working in VC, go back into industry, find a portfolio company that really interests you and go work there? Or perhaps you want to climb the ladder at Skalata? It may change over time, but if you have a goal in mind, you can really shape your experience towards it.

Interesting in joining our Associate Program? Apply here.
“No two days are the same...for me. This is the perfect springboard into the venture capital.”
Meet Justine

Justine Lum arrived at Skalata after a high-flying early career in the legal and finance sectors. But after years in the banking and corporate world, she pulled the rip-cord in search of the next challenge…