5 Things I Was Looking for - I Found Them All at Leverege

As a freshman entering Brown University, I was convinced that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. One of the most significant reasons for choosing Brown was their open curriculum; this approach allows students to choose their own path rather than be forced to...

Calum McClelland

Brown: Freshman-Junior Year

As a freshman entering Brown University, I was convinced that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. One of the most significant reasons for choosing Brown was their open curriculum; this approach allows students to choose their own path rather than be forced to take requirements that may not be relevant nor enjoyable. Similarly, I was enamored with the idea of starting my own company and controlling my own destiny rather than becoming a cog in a rigid machine. I must admit that I was also driven by the glamorous idea of quickly making millions. Thus, I decided that I would complete the Entrepreneurship and Technology track of BEO (Business, Entrepreneurship, and Organizations) to gain the necessary knowledge to start a company before I left Brown.

In my first semester I attempted to take Danny Warshay’s course, The Entrepreneurial Process: Innovation in Practice. To my disappointment, I learned that I could not take the course as a freshman and was unable to take it until my junior fall. Though I took several other courses related to business and entrepreneurship in the interim, when I was finally able to take Danny’s course it proved the most useful by far; it taught me what it means to be an entrepreneur. A significant element of the class is a semester-long team project to create a business plan and give a final pitch to VCs. I learned that this process is not as glamorous as I had imagined and that I had a long, long way to go before I’d feel prepared to start my own company.

More important than the material I’ve learned from him, Danny has also been an incredible mentor to me and pushed me to better understand myself. Though I had not yet heard of VFA, he echoed many of the same values during a lecture that’s come to be known as “The Rant.” To begin The Rant, Danny draws a line that divides into two paths on the board, one he labels McKinsey and the other Goldman Sachs. As silly as it might seem, he explains that many Brown students over the years have seen these as being their only options (or some other big company in consulting or on Wall Street). This is somewhat unsurprising given that such companies are quite prestigious, offer high starting salaries, and recruit heavily on campus. However, Danny’s most important point during The Rant is that we should take the time to understand ourselves and our passions, because he has seen too many students who follow the aforementioned paths only to find unhappiness.

I took his advice to heart and realized that perhaps I wanted to be an entrepreneur for the wrong reasons. So I asked myself, what do I actually want to do? I quickly found that this is no easy question to address, but after much thought and several conversations with Brown alumni I felt that I had arrived at an answer: I love games, both playing them and creating them. My entire life I’ve played sports, video games, boardgames, and every other kind of game imaginable while developing several of my own along the way. As such, in the summer before my final year at Brown, I explored this passion by working at a board game café and developing a board game with my brother on the side.

That summer brought another important realization, I love games but I don’t want game development to be my life’s work. Certainly a hobby, but I didn’t feel that it would fully engage my varied strengths and interests. Now back at square one, I began searching for other options. Yet again, Danny Warshay came to my rescue when, now as his teaching assistant, he asked me to pass along an opportunity to the class. That opportunity was VFA.

I’d never heard of VFA, but as soon as I looked into it I knew that it was perfect for me. An information session on campus and a chat with Victor Bartash only cemented my conviction.

So Why VFA?

  1. Although my perspective on and understanding of entrepreneurship had changed during my time at Brown, I still desire to one day start my own company. When it comes to preparing for such an endeavor, there is no opportunity that comes close to matching VFA. Through VFA I was trained for 5 weeks in everything related to entrepreneurship; I will spend 2+ years working at a start-up under people who have successfully started companies themselves; and I will be given access to an incredible network of capable individuals.
  2. In looking at potential career options, one of my greatest concerns was that I’d choose poorly and then be stuck in that career. At many big companies, one learns to do a very specific role and becomes an expert at it, but often does not learn skills that can be more broadly transferable. By working at a start-up, I will have the opportunity to work and grow in a multitude of capacities. Not only will this help me to be successful wherever my path may lead, but this will also be essential in helping me to understand what I like and what I do not.
  3. There is no better way to learn and grow than to surround oneself with highly capable individuals, and VFA allows me to do just that. At VFA Training Camp I was absolutely blown away by every person I met. The Fellows were all highly capable, driven, passionate, and extremely interesting as individuals. My VFA class has over 170 incredible people for me to learn from and who will push me to be better.
  4. I believe in VFA’s mission. It’s amazing to have the opportunity to enjoy the many benefits to my career mentioned above while simultaneously being able to give back and help to revitalize American cities.

The VFA Match Process

As I entered the VFA match process, here’s what I was looking for:

  1. Given my desire to gain exposure to a multitude of roles, I wanted to work at a smaller company.
  2. I sought a company whose leadership had experience successfully building companies so that I could gain mentors to teach and guide me.
  3. It was important to me that the leadership share my values and would thus be a good fit culturally for me.
  4. Though not essential, I hoped to find a company whose product/industry appealed to me.
  5. If the above conditions were met, I hoped to find a company in Baltimore as I’m from Maryland and would love to be close to my family and friends.

A few days before the process began I admitted to my Mom that I was worried. I was worried that I wouldn’t find the perfect company, that I would have to compromise on one of the criteria I’d set in my mind. In typical Mom fashion, she told me that she had every confidence that I would find somewhere that would be great for me.

As it turns out, her confidence was well placed and I was fortunate to find the perfect opportunity at Leverege. To this day I still cannot believe how perfect it is, every condition that I sought was met. I attribute much of it to luck, but I also believe that there were several things that Leverege and I did right during the process.

What Leverege and I did right during Match

The first thing that Leverege did right was in naming their opportunity “CEO in Training.” This title immediately leapt out to me since it appealed to my desire to one day start my own company and was so different from the opportunities posted by other organizations. In general, I’d advise companies to put some thought into the names of the opportunities they post on VFA Match as I found that many tended towards generic.

Due in part to the uniqueness of the name and my own proactivity, the first thing that I did right was to immediately reach out to Leverege. In fact, I’m told that I was the first to do so which led to me also being the first to speak with them over the phone. This proved to be a huge advantage as I immediately set the bar for all the fellows that followed. As such, my recommendation to future fellows is to be as proactive as possible and to begin reaching out to companies as soon as the match process opens up. Although this may seem daunting during the middle of one’s senior spring, this ended up saving me several weeks of work as I was able to accept an offer early in the process.

Despite how well the first conversation went, Leverege and I were both right to continue to explore other options. On my end, my talks with other companies only reinforced my conviction that Leverege was the perfect opportunity for me. For example, the representative of one particular company who I spoke to seemed bored, disinterested, and unprepared which strongly juxtaposed the energy and preparedness of Leverege. Though I can’t speak for Leverege, I imagine that their conversations with other fellows helped them to be confident in their decision to extend an offer to me. My general recommendation to fellows is to speak with as many companies as possible because it will help in identifying one’s values and what one finds important in a company.

Finally, another thing that Leverege did right was to be extremely transparent during the interview process. I found this very refreshing, and it encouraged me to be transparent in return. I told Leverege that they were easily my number one company, and that I would accept an offer immediately if they were to extend one to me. By being transparent, companies can help to alleviate some of the stress inherent in the match process, whether the feedback is good or bad. If it’s good, this alleviates the stress of worrying that one performed poorly during the interviews. If it’s bad, this allows the fellow to either take steps to address the concerns or to devote energy to matching with another company instead.

I’m so happy to be at Leverege

In retrospect, the match process seems almost like a fairy tale. Had I described the perfect company before the process began, that company would be Leverege.

  1. The company is small at fewer than 10 individuals.
  2. The leadership has extensive industry experience and the CEO Eric Conn has successfully built and sold multiple companies.
  3. My experiences with the guys at Leverege revealed a close matching of values; transparency as mentioned earlier and many others.
  4. The Internet of Things industry is fascinating to me and I believe that the industry will affect huge, positive changes in our lifetime.
  5. Leverege is extremely close to home. In fact, their office in Germantown is a mere 15 minute drive from where I grew up.

I know that my situation was somewhat unique, but from my conversations with other fellows I’ve found that the vast majority feel similarly that they’ve found incredible opportunities at their respective companies. I’m ecstatic to be a part of VFA and can’t wait for what’s to come these next few years.

Calum McClelland

Chief Operating Officer

Calum graduated from Brown University with a major in Philosophy. Striving to change himself and the world for the better, Calum values active living, life-long learning, and keeping an open mind.

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