Alex Salzman ’07 and I first met before a speech he gave at Career Services a couple of weeks before my Princeternship. As it turns out, he lived in the room next door to mine when he was a freshman; looking back, something as little as this helps engrain in my mind that entrepreneurship and our career paths start right here, right now.
Alex’s newest project is Visionary, an offshoot of a company he co-founded called Visionary Capital, an investment firm for the media and technology sectors. There wasn’t much structure to the Princeternship, but that reflects the way Alex works—he is spontaneous, and in this way he is successful. What Visionary does is establish a network of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and other investors or figures seeking relationships, especially, but not exclusively, in broad “green” or social entrepreneurship sectors. It’s what Alex calls “eHarmony for business.” Before the Princeternship, I tried my best to help collect contact information for small angel and venture capital groups or campus entrepreneurship groups through the region and e-mail some over to Alex. Then on the first day, Lauren and I entered and updated contact names and organizations in Visionary’s online network, such that an employee (another alum) could call invitees of Alex’s networking cocktail event the next day, had they not already been called. We also listened in to Alex’s conversations with figures in industry to learn about how he sets up meetings and establishes connections. Later on the first night we were supposed to attend a networking event to help promote Visionary, but there was a business conflict between Visionary and the CEO of the company sponsoring the event. That fell through; while it was disappointing, Alex looked at it as a lesson learned about decisions, relationships, success, and failure in general. On Tuesday, we listened in on interviews Alex held for entrepreneurial speakers at the Wall Street Green Summit (WSGS), so we were able to learn about their services and interests throughout the morning and early afternoon. During and after lunch, we spoke to entrepreneurs and speakers on break and introduced them to Visionary, its goals, and its networking event later that night. I wasn’t exactly prepared to be an advocate for the company and introduce myself and Visionary to attendees of the WSGS, and I didn’t know what exactly I was going to be doing beforehand, but to me it was interesting and an opportunity to be assertive. Finally, in the evening we worked at check-in for Alex’s cocktail networking event down the street from where the WSGS was held. A couple of the businessmen at the event stopped to talk to me about what they do, which was really cool..
What I learned the most from this Princeternship experience was neither about entrepreneurship nor venture capital, but about business in general. I was able to see both sides of Alex’s pursuits: his successes and his failures. On one hand, the conflict that he had with the CEO of the company hosting the WSGS on Monday night resulted in a lengthy but respectful discussion outside the event, so I could see firsthand that things rarely go as planned and interests so often conflict. I also saw firsthand how difficult it is to “make a name for yourself” in entrepreneurship and the business world because spreading the word about Visionary was not easy; sometimes the best way to stand out is to physically introduce yourself and make a sort of pitch. On the other hand, Alex’s networking event was very successful and the attendance was far higher than he had expected. At dinner after the event and throughout both days, Alex told us about his struggles and his successes. We also had the chance to learn about the unique experiences of other Princeton graduates working for him. To me, learning about how Alex and his employees acted when things didn’t go as planned and how they made decisions was the most valuable function of the Princeternship. Although I am still not totally sure about my future plans and whether they will include entrepreneurship, this experience solidified that whatever path I take will include many successes and many failures; we simply have to learn from both.
I would certainly recommend this Princeternship to others in the sense that through it, you will learn about successes and failures in the real world. This specific program will likely not be the same in the future because so much of it was on the spot, but if you are spontaneous and at all interested in venture capital, this is an awesome way to spend two days in New York. I even had the chance to walk through the city for a little over an hour and meet up with friends. As someone who hasn’t spent much time in the city, this was also pretty exciting.
For any Princeternship, I would emphasize that communication with your alum is most valuable. From learning about their stories, maybe you will learn about yourself. At the very least, I saw that some decisions don’t work, but they must be made and their effects serve to teach.