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Transitioning from Product and Growth to Venture Capital

Fatima Husain

Get to know Fatima Husain, one of our newest investors

Exceptional builders from unicorn startups are known to disperse onto new adventures. Fatima Husain is one of them. Fatima joins the Comcast Ventures team as one of our newest Principals.

As a senior Growth Product Manager and early team member at Airbnb, Fatima led teams, driving strategy and execution of global user acquisition, developing tech and data infrastructure powering those programs, and managing millions in ad spend for the past 5 years. She will tap into this unique startup experience in her role evaluating investment opportunities, identifying top entrepreneurs, and helping them build marketplaces, consumer products, and health technology.

Before her time at Airbnb, Fatima started her career at Bain & Company where she concentrated on Healthcare, Retail, CPG, Media, Education, and Private Equity. Diving into strategy and planning within diverse sectors fostered a never-ending curiosity and an appetite for growing companies making a social impact.

Tell us about your journey?

My journey is unconventional. I moved to the United States from India for my undergrad; I studied Biology at Yale and stuck around for an extra year to do an accelerated Master’s in Public Health. Most of my family are physicians deeply ingrained in healthcare, so it was a natural and intuitive decision for me.

From there, I transitioned into consulting and worked at Bain and Company. This was the perfect way to kickstart my career and set the foundations of strategic thinking, problem solving and analytics. After 3 years there I became curious, and somewhat impatient, to fold up my sleeves and learn what it means to be accountable for not just formulating strategies and plans, but actually implementing them. It’s only when you are executing that you can be energized by your wins and learn how to celebrate your losses to continue iterating, measuring, moving, and growing.

That opportunity came in 2014 when I joined Airbnb to ramp up the New York office and operations. Back then it was three of us, a couch, a bag of bananas, and a whole lot of complexity for a hyper-growth company that my parents thought was essentially a travel agency. We started off focused on balancing the demand and supply of the largest city for Airbnb’s marketplace and proactively participating in shaping home-sharing regulations (and getting subpoenaed multiple times!). When I started looking at global markets, there was too much to do, so I focused on managing the supply side of growth, product development, and operations. It’s exciting to sell the castles and the treehouses but it’s so much more challenging (and satisfying) to sell the concept of letting strangers into your home and benefitting from that financially. For 5 years I was neck deep in growth marketing, internal conversions, ad tech development, data infrastructure and platform optimizations. The teams and channels I led grew from incubation to full scale and were driving more than 20x YoY growth for the supply-side of Airbnb. Yes, that’s 20x, and yes, I did have to spend multiple meetings with leadership explaining how that was not a data error. It was a wild ride and I’m grateful that I could be a part of that journey.

What inspired you to join the Comcast Ventures team? What are your focus areas?

I had always been curious to pursue a career in venture, but hadn’t come across an opportunity, and more importantly, a team that I thought was a good fit. I was introduced to the opportunity at Comcast Ventures through a personal connection and was surprised to learn that the team is made up of individuals with diverse backgrounds, many of whom have a similar entrepreneurial streak and value the experience I had at Airbnb.

As I learnt about the opportunity at Comcast Ventures, my thoughts were consumed by a world of possibilities — “I can scale what I learnt at Airbnb to help grow mission-driven companies”, “I can meet and work alongside brilliant entrepreneurs solving problems in a multitude of industries” and “I can work at a fund led by an inspirational woman, something we don’t see often in venture!” I found myself getting really excited about the idea of bringing all that I had learnt at a growing unicorn company to other entrepreneurs that are early in their growth journeys and be an empathetic partner to them.

At Comcast Ventures, I will be looking at early-stage consumer companies, whether it’s related to products, services, or technology. And given my expertise and interests I will be focusing on marketplaces and healthcare. While I am based in the San Francisco office, it’s been fun racking up miles meeting founders across the country from Chicago, NY, Philadelphia, and LA.

How do you plan to work with startups that you invest in? How do you plan to work with your CEOs to achieve growth targets?

There is no shortage of investors or capital these days, and as we’ve all heard “it’s a great time to be an entrepreneur” — in fact, that challenge to differentiate yourself in this market is an added element of spice to joining the investing world.

I’ve had more than 50 conversations with different entrepreneurs in my first month as an investor, and the recurring need I hear is that people are looking for investors with operational experience so that they can be empathetic partners and sound strategic advisors who know what it takes to hustle.

In every industry, venture included, it’s important to play to your strengths. Having lived through the entrepreneur’s growth journey, I know the challenges they are grappling with and understand the time, effort, resilience, and approach it takes to be successful. And as a team lead for years, I have learnt the overriding value of listening and nurturing relationships to make sure I am a trusted advisor. Those are some of the learnings and values I aim to bring to the table.

I’m also quickly learning the unique advantage that Comcast Ventures has of tapping into the resources across Comcast, NBCUniversal and Sky. Many of our portfolio companies that I am working with have benefited greatly from these unique partnerships that would be difficult for other startups to lock down.

As an investor, you will work with founders in good and challenging times. What key advice will you always come back to?

There are 3 main pieces of advice I’d give founders:

First and foremost: don’t be afraid to fail. In fact make sure you celebrate failures — now you know what doesn’t work! If you have a list of 10 things that you’re working on, almost certainly 9 of them won’t work. But 1 will and you will continue to push that forward and iterate on it and find 10 new things to test and learn about. This process goes on over and over until you find the things that win. It’s challenging and requires resilience, and you can grow fast as you add up all those little wins.

The next important piece of advice that I learnt from my mentors repeatedly is to dream big and never forget that larger vision. Often entrepreneurs get caught up in the long list of never ending tasks, projects, programs, lofty OKRs, or stakeholder pleasing and they forget that larger vision. You chose this path for a reason. Remember what it is that you’re striving to achieve so you can identify (and push aside) noise, celebrate all the mini milestones, and keep your eyes on that larger vision.

And finally, never forget to have fun. A culture of respect, authenticity, inclusion, and fun is what gets you and everyone else excited to be at work every day. It’s critical to protect that.

When you look back at your career ten years from now, what do you hope to be able to say?

I’d like to be able to look back and say that I invested in companies and supported founders with a mission and purpose to help people live and work better. I want to introduce the friend I’m having coffee with as a founder I invested in and was on a wild roller coaster of a hyper-growth ride with. I want to be able to say that I learnt a lot, fed my curiosity, and helped grow companies with large visions while I grew as a person.

Follow Fatima on Twitter!

Transitioning from Product and Growth to Venture Capital was originally published in The Forecast on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.