Venture For America Fellow Experience

23 Year Old Developer Shares Astounding Success Story in Juicy Tell All!

My job in the insurance industry gave me stability, but it wasn't fulfilling or exciting. Through VFA, I found a job that enabled me to work on cool stuff and contribute in ways that actually matter.

Vishal Cherian

Picture this. It's a glum October day in Philadelphia. Rain slides against the planes of Two Liberty Place, a glass and steel structure housing cubicle farms that grow nothing but broken dreams. The hum of three blue light monitors sounds faint through my noise cancelling headphones. Last night was happy hour at Applebee’s, and the mild hangover has me reeling. Sitting back in a chair designed to be just ergonomic enough to keep me reluctantly seated, but no more, I take a deep breath. 

The smell of insurance. 

I look over at my plant. Once a bright and towering presence, a lack of water and sunlight had left it looking a little wilted, the characteristic yellow-to-brown crusty lining on the edges of its leaves; half-alive, half dead. I feel you buddy.  

End scene. On a serious note, my last job wasn’t that bad. It paid the bills and then some, I had coworkers I could uncomfortably smile at as I warmed up spaghetti in the kitchen. Hell, I even had a Roth 401k.  It was the kind of job that made me want to bolt to the rooftops and scream: “I HAVE STABILITY!!”

It was fine. And that was the problem.

Fast forward two years and I’m working at a startup where I get to build things with other people who build things. Where the decisions I make matter. Where we get to put our money where our mouths are and drive this whole IoT revolution forward, one LPWAN sensor at a time.

How did I get here, you ask? How did I go from a job at an insurance company that I was once told “sounds boring,” to working at a company on the cutting edge of IoT?

Great question. But first, a word from my sponsor.

Venture for America is a non profit organization dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship and Innovation to cities that could use a little help. Not the New Yorks or the San Franciscos of the tech world, where “coastal elites” with fair trade coffee flowing through their veins build the futuristic technology shaping the world of tomorrow ( “oh, it’s like Uber meets AirBnb, but for food? That sounds necessary!” ). 

But rather, the Pittsburghs, the Birminghams, and the Baltimores, where an under-appreciated but hard working cohort of technologists, designers, and innovators are spending inordinate amounts of time building the nation’s next hottest startups.

I found out about VFA through a chance encounter with a fellow I met at a party.  As all great party conversations go, we talked about work. He mentioned the startup he worked for and my ears perked up. His story was familiar–he worked at an engineering firm shortly after graduating, decided it wasn’t for him, and left to join VFA. 

After an intensive process called Match, he began working for a startup whose work his own personal mission aligned with. Not only that, but he was surrounded by entrepreneurs and corporate misfits who also wanted something different out of their careers. I was ecstatic.

After doing the research and making sure this wasn’t a well marketed pyramid scheme. I put in an application. After several rounds of applications and interviews, I accepted an offer to join the 2020 class of VFA.

As the pandemic entered the fray, things got complicated. Our training camp, which was supposed to be a one month event in Detroit filled with talks and ideation challenges where all the fellows get to meet each other, became virtual. Our class did its best to stay connected, with fellows hosting everything from virtual paint nights to speed dating and staying up late on Zoom calls to catch up. There is no greater feeling than expressing your biggest aspirations and struggles to a Zoom breakout room, just to find out you were on mute the whole time. 

While it wasn’t perfect, we did the best with what we were given. It was a subtle reminder of the importance of adaptability, and how rarely things go as you plan them.

That was especially true during Match, VFA’s job search process. Having lived in Philadelphia for nearly a year now, I was convinced I’d stay in that city. If not Philly, then Miami or San Antonio. But as I continued conversations with several companies, I was drawn more and more to Leverege—a company in Baltimore of all places. I recall getting the offer, and asking my friends and family to help me decide what to do. Ultimately, as with all decisions involving your career, it was a choice I had to make myself.

Looking back, I can confidently say I made the right one. Now, when people ask me what I do for work, I proudly say “I work for Leverege, a B2B PaaS IoT startup specializing in asset management solutions involving LPWAN sensors and…”. You can just imagine how fun I’ll be at parties! 

But more importantly, I’m working on some really cool stuff in an industry that is on the cusp of a breakthrough, with other people who want to make something special happen. Sure, it may not have the stability and easygoing pace of a corporate job, but truth be told, that’s the best part about it.

Vishal Cherian

Software Engineer I

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