Does Silicon Valley need more AI PhD’s? Or could some seriously operationally-savvy generalists, say … people trained to deal with existential uncertainty and practiced in keeping cool in the midst of often unrelenting chaos, fill a meaningful role in tech startup?
That was the question on our minds as we developed this year’s first Frontier Innovators Quarterly for CalFounders. On April 3rd, we brought together Bee Founders andmembers of CalFounders, BearX, and SkyDeck with Elite Meet, a national group of military veterans transitioning to the workforce. The goal: Learn how hiring military veterans can benefit early-stage startups.
And while being grateful to anyone in military service, I should make clear that these aren’t rank-and-file military. Elite Meet members have served in special forces like the Navy SEALS, Army Rangers, Marines MARSOC, and in the Air Force as fighter pilots and members of AFSOC. Hence the “elite,” a well-deserved acknowledgement of their rank and achievements.
Tim likes to say Elite Meet members casually walk through walls. That might not have been exactly what Bee Founder Rosanna Myers of Carbon Robotics was looking for when she first interviewed Elite Meet member and Navy SEAL Zach Marshall, but she was able to see his no-nonsense potential at their first interview.
Zach and Rosanna participated in a panel I led along with Bee Founder Rachel Olney of Geosite and Joel Tolbirt of the Elite Meet management team.
In the panel and later in smaller sessions in the CalFounders’ tradition, Zach recalled how he pitched himself in their interview, particularly how he proved his readiness to engage with the business aspects of Carbon by completing some writing tasks on request, and how he was completely upfront about not being knowledgeable about robotics. His honesty appealed to Rosanna more than any preconceived industry notions he might have had.
The panel and discussion sessions also addressed what jobs might be appropriate for generalists like Elite Meet members. Early-stage companies are hungry for employees who can figure “it” out even if they don’t know what “it” is, and they crave horizontal generalists with independent, can-do attitudes. This often manifests, as it did with Zach at Carbon, in a chief of staff or business operations role, managing long-tail tasks with very little oversight.
Our upcoming Frontier Innovators Quarterly events will certainly vary in topics while keeping the hallmark CalFounder small-group sessions. Next up, we’re sponsoring StEP, co-founded by Bee spring intern and Cal MPH / Haas MBA candidate Santiago Freyria Dueńas. Stay tuned for dates and details. We hope to see you there.