ITSM Professionals with enterprise expertise can offer valuable insights as mentors or advisors to B2B SaaS founders. That might be the beginning of something new and that is completely yours.
On the 29th Episode of our IT podcast, Ticket Volume, Aprill Allen told her journey of transitioning careers and how her previous knowledge played a crucial role in her current position. She also provides advice for couples interested in investing together.
Five years ago, Allen transitioned from ITSM professional to venture Capital COO with her husband. She is now the co-founder and COO of Tractor Ventures, bringing with her 13 years of experience in Customer Service and Network Operations, as well as over 10 years as a specialist consultant in Knowledge Management for customer and internal IT teams.
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How to go from ITSM professional to venture Capital COO
Allen explained that she started investing in tech with her husband, Matt Allen, when they put money into the Initial Public Offering (IPO) of Xero, an accounting platform. They used their self-managed super fund to invest in the dual listing of Xero on the Australian and New Zealand stock exchanges. At this early stage, they continued investing with the cash they received from the Xero listing.
She told Beran how she was more risk-averse compared to her husband, who had a background in startups. However, her due diligence involved evaluating her husband, and the most important takeaway was that learning is a simple concept that can lead to opportunities for successful businesses, especially if it comes in the form of non-dilutive capital because it allows businesses to take action and improve in specific areas.
And just like that, Allen transitioned from IT Service Management (ITSM) to venture capital, and Tractor Ventures was born. It was then time to apply her knowledge to her role as a COO.
The COO's role involves connecting service management principles with the growth and direction of the company. Initially, there was uncertainty about where she would fit in the company, but they started by advising portfolio founders on customer service at scale.
So they split their time between Knowledge Bird and Tractor, trying to figure out where they belonged. They played a role in decision-making for Tractor's team while advising portfolio founders on customer service.
Leveraging Service Management expertise was easier for them. Allen used their expertise in ITSM and Knowledge Management to advise startups and smaller teams. The great thing about it is that startups are able to implement fundamentals quickly without the need for extensive frameworks.
"I've always loved advising startups or smaller teams because they take the fundamentals of what you give them, (...) say go and do it and they get it done and they see the impact straight away. There's none of these months and months of procuring and training and you know all of the jazz that we know so well in service management at Enterprise scale so I knew that I'd be able to give some impact that way."
Once that was in motion, the rest of the company’s processes fell into place naturally and they knew what worked best:
Impactful behind-the-scenes work made more sense: In the last six months, she found her place behind the scenes, focusing on important tasks like capturing contracts and information. This is because they noticed patterns that could be improved upon and made decisions similar to those of a COO.
Being a COO felt like applying Knowledge Management on steroids: she believes that knowledge managers should work their way up to leadership positions. So they enable the leadership team to work effectively and efficiently.
Start big with small by consulting for small startups: she offers consulting services to small businesses, helping them become more effective and powerful. Allen knows many startups don't realize the need for operational maturity, but she provides this service as a partner. She now knows to look for opportunities to become a mentor or advisor in startup accelerators and incubators.
A salary cut that seems to be worth it: ITSM professionals transitioning into startups should be prepared for a salary cut but excited about making a big impact. For her, Service Management skills are valuable in startups, especially in service delivery roles where customer support is crucial. Her advice was to consider the potential for equity and the long-term impact on the company's value.
"Because you've got expertise in Enterprises and there are so many startup accelerators and incubators out there, you can look for opportunities to become a mentor or an advisor (particularly to B2B SAS Founders). (...) You've got some real opportunity to get in on the ground floor there and help some founders to earn advisor equity, so you know that's another way you can get in on investing yourself."
The nitty-gritty of keeping a financial services company afloat
Allen admitted they lacked expertise in-house when it first launched. They started with six or eight loans, which had founder-friendly terms but caused problems as they grew. Now they have a credit team and more expertise to run the financial services company effectively. Also, initially, there were six people in the company, but now they have grown to 16 with an open 17th role.
They also have a community team led by Olivia Doherty, who connects portfolio founders with knowledge and resources from master classes, podcasts, and their network of investors. So much so, the investors are highly motivated to help the founders succeed on their alternate path. Olivia and the entrepreneur in residence work together to connect the dots for founders.
The marketing team includes individuals who handle LinkedIn content. The New Zealand team consists of people with expertise in people and culture, product engineering, and other areas necessary to support portfolio founders. They used to run advisory through team calls with all early members discussing challenges faced by founders.
Hard conversations and working with a spouse
Founder couples find it appealing to work together on their own terms and maintain control of their equity, especially if they already have a career in the same industry.
In their case, her husband is the visionary, while she handles the operational execution. Regardless, they still needed someone else to tap into their shoulder when they needed to find compromise in their expectations. This is where Jodie Imam comes in. As the cofounder and Co-CEO, she has experience working with married couples and helping them navigate complex dynamics.
They established a foundation for having hard chats and disagreements within the founding team. Allen could express her opinions without being "tone policed" by her husband, thanks to Jodi's support.
She said to be good at compartmentalizing work and personal life since it would be too hard if everything bled into each other, especially when working remotely. She can’t deny personal challenges can bleed into work though, but they have a fantastic leadership team to help navigate differences of opinion.
As the COO, she prioritizes what's best for the whole team and is willing to have hard chats with her husband for the benefit of the team. She couldn’t stress enough how much it was worth it in the end.
Now you know that becoming involved in the startup ecosystem can provide networking opportunities and potential advisor equity. But, this is just a summary of Ticket Volume's episode featuring Aprill Allen, but there's a lot more to discover in the recording. Be sure to listen to the full conversation with Matt Beran to learn how to go from ITSM professional to venture capital COO, and the hard conversations you could have when working with your spouse.
You can find the full episode on popular platforms like Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, or any other podcast platform you prefer. Remember to subscribe if you're interested in joining the monthly live recordings!