September 6, 2021
8
 min read
Fellowship Showcase

How On Deck Helped Me Navigate an Unconventional Career Path from Food Innovation to EdTech

Authors

Avatar icon
Sam Wong
ODC1 & OD50-1 Fellow, Growth
,
Kunduz
The post originally appeared on MikeWilner.com. It was republished with permission.

Authors

Avatar icon
Sam Wong
ODC1 & OD50-1 Fellow, Growth
,
Kunduz

Kunduz

Avatar icon
Sam Wong
ODC1 & OD50-1 Fellow, Growth
,
Kunduz

Investors

No items found.
Sam Wong was working in Canada’s food innovation space for 2 years until he started itching for a complete transformation. Hungry to be surrounded by professionals who were also following unconventional career paths, Sam joined On Deck to pivot to an operator role in tech. With the help of a trusted peer network, Sam landed a dream job in an edtech seed-stage startup based out of Istanbul.

Investor's note

Navigating the Career Maze

To say my search for a career followed an unconventional route may be an understatement. Seeing where I began versus where I am now, it was quite a labyrinth. I started my career search by exploring the finance sector during my first year of undergrad before quickly realizing it wasn’t for me. The second year of university I shuffled over to consulting, but after eight interviews and eight rejections, I went back into the maze. In year three, I went to Tanzania to do some advisory building work with local governments and nonprofits.  

I then stumbled on RBI (Restaurant Brands International) and found myself drawn to food science. I ended up interning for Tim Hortons, Canada’s beloved coffee chain, before joining them full-time managing Innovation & Product Development for baked goods, coffee, beverages, and lunch foods. 

And for two years, that’s what I worked on. But I had interests beyond food science, like writing, improv comedy, wellness, and tech which started to pull at me. Around this time, I kept seeing On Deck mentioned on Twitter as a remote community where people were supercharging their careers, startups, and side hustles, and grew intrigued. 


How On Deck’s First 50 Fellowship Surfaced New Career Possibilities

After doing a little research on what On Deck had to offer, I decided to join On Deck’s First 50 Fellowship, which proved to be nothing short of sensational (and ultimately served as a gateway drug into more On Deck programs). 

Starting out, my main goal for OD50 was discovery as I was trying to make sense of the startup space with zero prior experience.

OD50 helped me do this in three key ways:

  1. Extremely high-quality 1:1's with job seekers and experienced professionals that approached the community with a "give first" mentality. The number of connections and referrals I got and was offered was insane. I had never experienced that kind of high-concentrated energy and hustle of people trying to land their dream job. It was infectious.
  1. Countless opportunities to interact and interview with talented startup founders —that I would have no business being a part of—from across the early-stage ecosystem. My favorite sessions were the "Talent Demo Days", where the OD50 team brought in 4-5 startups to pitch job opportunities to us each week, and these were themed. I got to interview with companies in wellness tech, passion economy, social impact, D2C, and venture capital spaces. This opportunity would've been unfathomable pre-OD50.
  1. An end-to-end uniquely crafted story to carry with me. Through the dedicated hours of prep sessions, 1:1's, and interactive job search workshops, I was able to evolve the way I communicated about my background. I could deliver a story about myself (personal, professional, purpose) in super crisp and concise ways.

I also came away with OD50 with two major learnings: 

  1. Even if I'm less than 2 years into my career, I've had a unique cocktail of experiences that enable me to slot into more places than I would've imagined.
  1. Showing value upfront, what I think of as "permissionless apprenticeship" can be one of the MOST effective ways to pitch yourself into a role or opportunity in the startup space. Do the job before you even get the job.

When I finished OD50, I had confirmed to myself that I was ready to make a career change. I also recognized that I should find a way to continue building compounding relationships with high-potential individuals, and hack on passion projects. 

That’s where On Deck Catalyst came in. 

Why I Joined On Deck Catalyst 

I joined ODC to jumpstart my formal dive in the early-stage startup world, with a soft target of landing a new job or opportunity before the program ended. 

You can’t wing this type of thing: It would require a strategy.

Utilize Weak Ties 

The people you spend the most time with all swim in the same pool of information. On Deck Catalyst was a bridge to friendly outsiders that could bring opportunities and knowledge outside of my immediate circle in finance, consulting, and brand management. On top of that, they were all selected for their big ambitions and fearlessness around risk-taking and navigating unconventional paths.

I decided to harness the power of weak ties and meet as many people as possible. I set up about 50 1:1 calls during the program with fellow members to see if anyone was in a similar situation or had done what I was looking to do.

From this strategy alone, I formed 10-15 close friendships with people who shared my interests in consumer-oriented startups in wellness, creators, and education. It even sparked a new interest in crypto after a bulk of passionate fellows began sharing their knowledge! 


Battle Imposter Syndrome 

I was pivoting into a completely new field. Imposter syndrome was going to hit hard unless I surrounded myself with folks who were also trying to shift into unconventional pathways or who had already made the leap and were willing to share their experience.  

On Deck Catalyst was perfect for this. The best way to fight imposter syndrome is to be surrounded by positive discussion and insight around developing confidence, self-knowledge, and storytelling chops that warrant stepping into new opportunities for which your prior experience doesn’t exactly fit ...yet! 


Building Environment 

Switching into a new career path isn’t impossible, but it helps to show some kind of evidence as to why you’re looking to transition. This means demonstrating enthusiasm and knowledge by building tangible projects such as building an app or having a portfolio of writing online that shows thought leadership. 

On Deck Catalyst is filled with ambitious and like-minded builders and operators and encourages us all to find one another and work together, so I knew I’d be able to collaborate with people to create new projects that could solidify my credentials. 


Tangible Benefits 

What you get out of the community is a reflection of what you give. I contributed extensively and got the following tools and support through the program that helped me navigate my career. These structures included:

  • Mastermind Weekly Sessions ODC hosted intimate mastermind groups where we could connect with high-potential peers, top founders, and investors. Another favorite was the “Making Moonshots” session, where we were encouraged to come up with the next Facebook. The “Dinner Discussions” hosted by the Catalyst Program Partner Anirudh were priceless too, as it was a fantastic way to engage with topics in deep tech through a future-forward lens. 
  • Building Out Projects. As I mentioned earlier, I was eager to join Catalyst so I could build alongside cohort members. I first built Adjourn, an SMS tool for self-awareness in the wellness tech space during the ODC Build Weekend. Two weeks after, in the On Deck Global Build Weekend, my team of 3 Fellows made it to the finals and won “Best Pitch” for building Lucid, the Yelp for personalized health solutions! Hacking on passion projects with other ODC fellows was one of my major highlights. 


 The landing page for Lucid, a passion project which landed us in the Final Showcase during On Deck Global Build Weekend


Partaking in the Forest 

This sounds wacky but bear with me for a second. 

ODC is like a forest. It’s a vibrant ecosystem with different moving parts and players. Like the deer, fish, and beavers, everyone here plays a different but contributing role. 

One person might only participate to give information on what they know. Others might try to throw themselves into the conversation as much as possible. Regardless, everyone does their part to build out the “broader” forest, which is the tech ecosystem around us. Whether that means joining an early-stage startup, founding a company or doing something completely different, we’re all connected through growth and participation. 


How I Found the Way Out of the Labyrinth 

A jump from food science to EdTech in a different country sounds crazy on paper. 

But joining On Deck gave me the confidence to apply and get hired at Kunduz, an education tech startup based in Turkey. 


Kunduz, a global EdTech startup aiming to make educational resources more accessible for everyone. (Image courtesy of Kunduz)


Before making the leap I had doubts. But once I joined ODC, this narrative completely switched. ODC fostered this rich environment of growth and self-confidence. By the end of it, my mindset went from “Is this a good idea?” to “How can I push the envelope even further?”

The interview process at Kunduz was seamless. The rigorous combination of my OD50 and ODC experiences taught me to be proactive and unconventional, so I went into my first interview by presenting a six-slide pitch deck that acted as “US expansion playbook” to demonstrate my research and thinking.  

This made me bet on myself in a way I never have before. Most importantly, it allowed me to catalyze my curiosities and passions to the fullest extent. To say On Deck Catalyst was correctly named, well, that would be an understatement.

Purple dot
Purple dot
Purple dot
Purple dot
Purple dot
Purple dot
Purple dot
Purple dot
Purple dot
Purple dot

More From On Deck Stories

How to Find a Co-Founder Through On Deck: Skritswap's Founder Playbook

Founder:

How katch Raised $4 Million to Help People Reclaim Their Time Through Better Meetings

katch
Founder: How katch raised $4M to help people reclaim their time through better meetings

I met a lot of amazing founders at On Deck, people that I still talk to this day about different things. One of them, Kyle Woumn, just raised his $10 million round with Overflow, and we talk all the time.

How Anthony Geranio left Software Engineering to raise $2 million for 1v1Me

Founder: Founder, 1v1Me

On Deck helped me raise $750k for my startup, 1v1Me, but then we raised an additional $1.25M a month or two later. Now, my foot is on the gas scaling 1v1Me 24/7. However, what I will say is I always make time for On Deck.

More from On Deck Stories

See more articles

How On Deck Helped Secureframe Find Early Customers

September 6, 2021
4
 min read
Natasja Nielsen
Co-Founder and CTO
Shrav Mehta
Founder and CEO

How Joining On Deck Clarified My Next Career Transition

September 6, 2021
5
 min read
Ann Ferracane
Investor and Advisor at Patch Ventures | Fmr. Head of Growth, Lyft

ODNC Fellow Showcase: Marcus Woxneryd

September 6, 2021
5
 min read
Marcus Woxneryd
Founder Venturism.io | Owner ustwo.com

How We Navigated Co-Founder Search to Start Stir

September 6, 2021
10
 min read
Kushal Byatnal
Co-Founder
Joseph Albanese
Co-Founder and CEO

How On Deck Served as a Catalyst for Me to Leave My Job

September 6, 2021
 min read
Luba Yudasina
Founder, Life of Luba | Fmr. PM/SWE at Airbnb

How to Find a Co-Founder Through On Deck: Skritswap's Founder Playbook

September 6, 2021
20
 min read
Melissa Kargiannakis
Co-Founder and CEO
Carolyne Pelletier
Co-founder and CTO
See more article

Ready to apply?

On Deck Catalyst
is a continuous community with a 4-week immersive onboarding to help you build lasting relationships from Day 1.