Sachin Shah

Investing in and telling the stories of Australia’s most ambitious founders

What was your journey to joining your current company?

My journey into the “startup” world started pretty early. My Dad has constantly been trying to start businesses from as early as I can remember. I also worked at a couple of startups whilst studying at Uni.

I always had a hypothesis that I wanted to make a social impact (I even thought about becoming a human rights lawyer). I ended up working with a few startups to validate this - I helped my dad start a disability tech business, and then started a tech podcast with my best mate.

When I had finished studying, I had done an internship with Deloitte digital, making VR headsets for kids in rural areas. I actually really enjoyed this experience, and the culture was really different to what I expected - I was inspired by the people here and so I thought I’d stay a little longer.

I’m now at AirTree as an Investor and you could say I kind of fell into it by luck. We (my best mate and I) had built a relationship with one of the partners at AirTree who we were potentially bringing on as an advisor to our angel investing syndicate. At the time, AirTree was also recruiting for an investor role.

There were definitely aspects of consulting I was frustrated with so I went into this with a pretty open mind. I was frustrated by how slow you progress in consulting (I don’t like hierarchies) and I liked how in investing, you could bring your own flair to the role. That’s the kind of autonomy I wanted.

I also liked how AirTree cared about what interesting things you’ve done outside of work and what broader perspectives you bring to the table. In my time I haven’t seen a lot of employers seriously consider this and so I thought this was special.

What about it makes it your dream company?

AirTree has the most high performing culture I’ve seen. But what makes it special is that it has a mix of extremely intelligent and passionate people, who ultimately know how to switch off and have interesting lives outside of work. 

It’s a place where you can grow really fast, but at a pace that is actually sustainable overtime, and where you don’t have to pick one or the other.

The work is insanely interesting – I thought I could only talk to interesting people through my podcast but now I’m doing this day in and day out in my role. From meeting founders sending satellites to space to researchers finding better ways to identify cancerous cells. 

There’s also a strong focus on community – e.g., women founders, the next generation of entrepreneurs.

It’s definitely a special company at a special time in Australia’s startup history.

What stands out the most about the culture? 

If I’m comparing it to my past life in consulting – it has to be that everyone has time for you. Previously, I felt like people were busy all the time. And whilst people work really hard at AirTree, something I’ve loved is that every Tuesday we have a team lunch and everyone is present. Thursday is also a fun day where we spend time as a team to celebrate weekly wins.

I think it comes down to the fact that the commodity isn’t the employee’s time. In investing, the commodity is the capital invested. Things are more “scalable” than what you can do in consulting, which is typically billed by a person’s hourly rate.

We could be making decisions of $40m cheques that ultimately last for 8 years, so you have to be intentional with your decisions.

How would you describe your role to a 5 year old?

We give money to really interesting Tech companies in Australia, so they can grow bigger and do more amazing things. Then, when those companies make more money, we give some of it back to the people who gave us the money in the first place. 

What does your day-to-day look like? 

Particularly as an associate – you’ll be spending your time across 4 categories: 

  1. Sourcing deals (talking to lots of different founders)
  2. Picking companies for due diligence (market research, modelling)
  3. Providing portfolio support 
  4. Doing internal brand/ community building.

I’d probably spend 50% of my time in #1, 30% of my time in #2 and the rest in #4.

What does career progression/promotion look like for you?

At AirTree, most of us are “investment managers” and the pathway is to get to Principal. But, there are no hierarchies along the way – the levelling is less important for us. It’s more about having skills, personal brand and confidence to lead a deal by yourself from start to finish by the time you’re a Principal.

As a rule of thumb, it might take about 2-4 years to get to Principal. 

What advice do you have for someone thinking about joining a VC fund?

  • Be prepared for a steep growth trajectory. You’ll always feel like you’re underwater but you’ll need to learn to be comfortable with this.
  • Be prepared for a lot of autonomy. It may feel awkward especially if you’re coming from consulting, but use autonomy to bring your own flare, flavour and zone of genius.
  • Be prepared to be part of a great community. There are meetups every night, lots of parties in Tech. So compared to other careers, it can be all encompassing but there’s also a beauty to it

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