The road to the top isn't always a smooth or easy one, but is certainly one most aspire to reach. We spoke to Judith Dada, Partner at La Famiglia, where she shared with us her journey to becoming a rising star in VC, her key motto in life, and why it is important to expose yourself to "0 or 1 opportunities" in life.
What’s your definition of a rising star?
I would define a rising star as somebody working to advance their field, driven by fearless ambition, a strong will to improve the status quo, and a sense of devotion to the teams and stakeholders they serve. This definition is less focused on the individual and what inherent qualities might make them a star, but rather includes the surrounding ecosystem as the ultimate measure of impact.
In my case, I work hard to leave a mark on the ecosystem that Europe is today and the kind of Europe I would like my children to grow up in. This includes building bridges between the established industry and new ventures, supporting founders in building the next breakout company, as well as delivering financial returns for LPs. By bringing all these goals together, I wish to show that societal impact and economic benefit are inherently tied, and crucial for a future in which we can all thrive.
You perhaps didn’t follow the traditional routes into the industry with your role at Facebook and your internships early in your career – has this been an asset in your progression?
You’re right in that my profile is different from what is unfortunately still considered the classic VC background (ex I-Banking/ ex-Founder / ex-Consultant). I think the fact that such a streamlined ideal still exists in people’s minds is one of the reasons our industry has been struggling to attract and promote diverse talent, for example overlooking former operators. Great VCs can come from all walks of life, and in my view, the most important assets are endless curiosity, an eagerness to learn and adapt to change, the ability to think critically and analytically, an ability to listen, as well as the skill of taking risky yet calculated decisions. There is no one career profile that teaches you such skills.
Rather than having to optimise for advancement on a fixed career ladder, as was often the case two decades ago, I had the privilege of being able to follow my interests and explore different subjects and fields, always believing that this openness and authentic drive would let me excel and lead to career progression. In my case, this included studying a multitude of subjects, at the intersection of social science and technology, working in different areas, from sales, to consulting and tech, in different countries, and always embracing an inner force in me to explore seemingly complex and new areas, convinced that when an opportunity presents itself and you grasp it fearlessly, something beautiful will come of it, not despite, but because you were navigating at the intersection of fields. I had the luck of this leading to my current job, which I love and now intend to stay in for a very long time.
Is your career best served by moving up the ladder internally or does it pay to be on the lookout for opportunities elsewhere?
I am a fan of the motto: explore until it sticks. The Generation Y, which I am part of, is often criticised for moving jobs too quickly. I believe that part of that criticism is correct: you need a certain amount of time in a job to develop and drive impact, yet people of my generation often think about career progression too much in terms of immediate gratification, when it is actually more like a muscle that you build – which is painful and exhausting. Nevertheless, for many well-educated members of Gen Y, today’s world offers the opportunity to explore, letting us figure out what it is we want to do in life, not in theory, but by actually giving it a try, switching industries and roles until we have found something that sticks, a field where we’re ready to build some superstar muscles and push through the challenges.
On top of that, I’m a big believer in 0 or 1 opportunities, moments in life when you decide to go left or right, leave your job or stay, apply for something or not, found that business or stay in your high-paid employee role. I can point to several such situations in my life (when I decided to apply for a selective tech management study program without knowing a whole lot about tech, afterwards Oxford, when I applied for a job at Facebook I was too junior for on paper, when I decided to leave a great tech company and join a small new VC fund, etc.). All of those decisions took courage, because they often involved going down a path none of my peers were taking. I even had people say to me “you’re crazy to leave and eventually you’ll learn why the hard way.” Had I listened, I wouldn’t be here today, having raised a seed fund and supporting incredible founders. So, while it might not always work out this way, I always recommend people to expose themselves to 0 or 1 opportunities in life.
Has a mentor helped you along the way?
Less mentors but more sponsors – people who saw potential in me and opened doors. Being a fierce believer in talent and a growth mindset, the Founding Partner of my fund La Famiglia, Jeannette zu Fürstenberg, has been my most important sponsor so far and I am grateful for the productive and trustful relationship we have built every day.
Have you pursued any professional development opportunities outside of work?
I am drawn towards the subjects of education and storytelling and try to widen the impact I can have outside of my day-to-day work as a VC. During the General Election in Germany, I created a “get out and vote”-video to boost voter turnout among young people, which reached millions of people. That was pretty cool and lots of fun. In my free time, I’m currently writing a novel that critically examines the impact of technology on society. I’m hoping to create a storyline that people might find more accessible than the standard tech write-up and thereby help to widening the discussion around technology. I also simply love creative writing, which helps me relax and structure the content I absorb on a daily basis. On top of that I mentor 15-17-year-old pupils, encouraging them to study STEM and ML-related subjects, as well as consider entrepreneurship as a viable career path.
Can the industry do more to support and promote diversity, particularly when it comes to leadership roles? What benefits will firms see?
I believe that the next decade is going to put vast societal, economic, and environmental change at the centre of everybody’s attention, no matter what country you live in or what job you work in. The skill set needed to navigate this changing landscape is one marked by tenacity, creativity and mental adaptability. I not only believe such qualities are fostered by diversity, I believe these challenges can only be mastered if we embrace diverse thinking and backgrounds, since we otherwise risk for society to fall into chaos and upheaval.
We’re beyond proving that diversity is good for the bottom line – we should now embrace the understanding that diversity is crucial for human survival. It takes unconventional approaches and exposure to the benefits of diversity at leadership levels to achieve that. More concretely, we need to look where nobody’s looked before to find talent, evolve our understanding of what it takes to be successful at a certain job, all the while pushing through the challenges we will undoubtedly encounter along the way, working hard to build the muscle needed to move us forward.