Honored by Forbes '30 Under 30' list, alumna says she's just getting started
Caitlin Strandberg '10 has great fondness for the faculty and staff who helped her start Slope Media as an undergrad. She also has great fondness for the professors who didn't allow her to slack off in class just because she was spending so much time with Slope Media.
"Barry Strauss [the Bryce and Edith M. Bowmar Professor in Humanistic Studies in history] didn't let me get away with anything," says Strandberg, who was a history major. "I was working so hard on Slope, staying up until 3 a.m., and when I wasn't giving my all during class, he pushed me on it. He challenged me to always give 100 percent academically."
And for that push, Strandberg says, she's forever grateful.
This month, she was honored on the Forbes "30 under 30" list in the venture capital category for her work with Flybridge Capital, and more recently, with FirstMark Capital, the venture fund she joined after graduating from Harvard Business School this past May. Caitlin says her interest in business creation began when she and friends created Slope Media, a student-run internet media group that produces magazine, photography, music and television content.
"I was really into music, so I took a leave of absence during my junior year and worked for a music magazine called Paste, then later for Sirius XM," she says. "I realized that I loved music from the creative side, but I became disillusioned because the business side wasn't what I expected."
Coming back to school, Strandberg met with Deborah Streeter, the Bruce F. Failing Sr., Professor of Personal Enterprise in the Dyson School in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, who encouraged her to think about pursuing work in startups and small companies.
After graduation from Cornell, she took a job at Behance, a startup founded by Scott Belsky '02 that was acquired by Adobe in 2012. "The company was a great match for my learning and motivational style," Strandberg says. "I was learning a ton, and pushing myself really hard. I could go as fast as my capacity."
She then took a position at LearnVest, another successful startup focused on personal finance (acquired by Northwestern Mutual), before deciding to move to the investing side first with Flybridge Capital Partners, and now with FirstMark.
"It's such a gift to have a front-row seat watching and supporting world-changing companies as they grow and evolve," she says. "I'm inspired by the entrepreneurs who are going all in on their ideas. I get a lot of fulfillment from helping them in any way, shape or form that I can, and then being along for the ride."
As a senior associate, Strandberg sources deals, reviews potential investments and advises portfolio companies.
"It's a very creative time because you can take this small kernel of an idea and go a lot of different ways with it," she says of the process. "You also get to play a bit of fortune teller" by trying to predict whether a company's technology will be needed or catch on.
She has found that other skills that have proven helpful in her current role were forged during her time as an Arts and Sciences student. Strandberg says she was constantly challenged to read about moments in history from various perspectives and then form her own evidence-based view of the event.
"In a startup, there's no predetermined way of how to do things, so you have to be able to piece together all of these pieces of disparate information," she says. "It is not about being right, but more about expanding the narrative -- suggesting other ideas as a way to level up in the conversation. 'Are we going to the depth we need to?' 'Are we thinking about everything we need to be thinking about?' I want make sure we're making a well-rounded decision."
She also appreciates the diverse array of courses she took and the benefits of being able to take classes outside her college.
Although the Forbes honor is a great one, Strandberg says the person she was most happy to have impressed was her mom.
"I think the list is great and it's cool to be recognized, but I'm in the very early stages of my career and very much still in learning mode," Strandberg says. "I don't want to signal that I've made it in any way. I'm just getting started in my career."