Name: Brian Dixon
Hometown: Amityville, NY
Current Title: Partner
Industry: Kapor Capital
Professional Experience: 7 years at Kapor Capital, 2 years at Education First, 2 years at Citigroup
Education: Kauffman Fellows Class 21, MBA at Babson College, B.S., Computer Information Science at Northeastern
What is the most important professional lesson you've learned to date?
One of the most important professional lessons I’ve learned is to build relationships both at and outside of work. Doing the job at hand is important, but relationships, internally and externally, will open up so many more doors in your career.
What has been your biggest professional failure to date and what have you learned from that experience?
My first job out of undergrad was my toughest professional challenge. I had a hard time adjusting from being a student to a young professional and the workload was considerably harder than school work. As a newly minted software developer, I struggled with work-life balance and having a very well-defined job. I missed the flexibility of a varied course load. Also, the company I worked for did not have many people of color. I later found out that the engineering manager was a person of color and in hindsight, I wish I would have done a better job of engaging him and having him as a mentor. I would also recommend recent graduates to build a support network outside of the office place. This external network will allow you to share best practices across different companies with your peers along with potential new opportunities in the future.
What issues have you dealt with being a erson o color in corporate America? How have you overcome these challenges?
Less than 2% of Venture Capitalist are African Americans (Source) and less than 1% are Latinx. As an African American in venture, you are statistically underrepresented and are not likely to see many folks in the industry who identify as a person of color. This lack of diversity presents itself in many apparent and non-apparent ways. For example, I have been mistaken at a Tech conference as an staff servicing the event instead of an attendee. As you may know, the tech industry and venture is highly dependent on who is in your network. This is a huge challenge if you are an outsider to Silicon Valley like myself who didn’t go to an Ivy League school or have a lineage of folks to help navigate this industry. I have spent the last 7 years trying to overcome these challenges and doing my best to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. Everyday is an opportunity to learn, meet new folks and perfect the craft.
What resources, professional or personal, have you leveraged to ensure your career is progressing?
Network, network, network. I cannot overstate how important it is to go out of your way to build relationships with other people who are both on your level and even a few levels ahead. Everyone knows something or someone that you don’t, so the best thing you can do is build a strong relationship, so you can begin accessing the things and people you need to in order to help your career advance. That said, don’t forget that it is a two way street and you shouldn’t just look people in your network to serve you.
Do you have mentor? If so, how did you select this person or people?
Yes, I’ve been very fortunate to have great mentors who have helped me navigate my career. These mentors have often been official and unofficial, but all have been great at helping me think about and navigate my career. My advice to the next generation would be having multiple mentors, instead of just focusing on one. For example, when I was starting a tech company, I had a mentor that was focused on fundraising and really helped to show me the ropes. Another mentor helped me level-up as a CEO and pushed me to focus on building a strong culture at my startup. These mentors both served different purposes, but ultimately helped shape me as a founder and leader. Most recently, I have been blessed to have mentors at Kapor Capital show me the VC ropes, along with external VCs who have taught me valuable lessons about the industry. My approach to finding mentors is to build a genuine relationship at the start and see if it’s a good fit for both parties.
What advice would you give a young adult who is about to start their first job post-college?
My advice to a young adult starting their career would be to pursue a career they are passionate about after graduating. Students graduating shouldn’t be afraid to change their minds if their interests change. As a recent grad, there is a lot of pressure to take the first job offer you get and to not change jobs because you are employed. My advice is to optimize for jobs that allow you to learn things you’re interested in, even if that means a lower salary in the short-run.
Why did you decide to go back to graduate school and what are you hoping it will enable you to do next?
My intention for going to graduate school was to switch careers from a technical role into an investing role. The MBA was a clear choice for me, since I wanted to round out my skill set by adding more business classes to my toolbelt. I chose Babson’s MBA program since it was focused on entrepreneurial learning, along with the standard MBA coursework. Babson also had a west coast campus which was key to taking courses in the heart of Silicon Valley.