Sreya Parakala on consulting vs. VC

Sreya Parakala, a Northwestern University student from Australia, joined the DRF New York team as a Midwest representative. This summer, she leads Female Investor Track. Reach her at sparakala@dormroomfund.com

How do you differentiate venture capital and consulting?

There’s a perception that they’re mutually exclusive, but I personally don’t agree with that. There are a lot of skills that you can transfer. 

The greatest part about VC is that you’re high impact all the time because you’re talking to startups, sourcing and in the weeds of the growth of that startup. There’s more autonomy to carve your own trajectory. The not so nice part of VC is that it’s completely network driven. Breaking in, surviving, and thriving in that space is based solely on the relationships you have. 

For consulting, you can experience any industry you want. You get all the training you need and have strong mentorship. The difference, however, comes mainly from how you are trained to think. You are learning client communication, slide making and Excel instead of talking to founders and sourcing. You start from the bottom and work your way up. Though it’s not as network driven as VC, you do have to earn your place. 

The part that stands out in consulting is the skills I’m learning in McKinsey — talking to clients, working under their pressure, switching gears quickly, understanding an industry in a week, engaging on multiple parts of a project, and seeing the big picture. Those are all skills that transfer into VC. 

Vice versa, VC teaches you about finding the enablers of your company to help it grow, understanding the market or talking to founders and building conviction. Those are skills that are definitely useful in consulting as well. 

Have you considered pursuing venture capital after joining DRF?

In my opinion, DRF is the best version of VC you are going to get. I love the space but I think the greatest value add to the industry can come from doing things outside the space before.

I wanted to spend at least two years at McKinsey to gain valuable experience in relevant industries. I want to be strong in soft skills and get the industry training that is characteristic of consulting.

After two years, I would like to explore how I can support the startup ecosystem better as I know that McKinsey is very encouraging of such endeavours.

Currently, I love helping startups because as a startup founder I learned a lot. I empathize with founders and would like to assist with my new acquired skills. 

How did you get into entrepreneurship?

I changed my degree a bunch of times, but they were all in engineering. I love math and science, and I love combining that with more analytical, big picture thinking. My freshman year, I stumbled upon The Garage, Northwestern’s student incubator space. Then my freshman summer, I worked for an employee recognition startup run by two MBA students. That’s when I learned what a startup meant because Australia at that point had a very nascent startup space. I realized that I loved the people and the pace, and I wanted to build something of my own. Then I got more deeply involved in the incubator space, and I built my own edtech startup- Iris Education. It’s a platform to help international high school students learn more about U.S. college culture, stemming from a personal pain point. I built a team of 15 people, and we beta tested 4 versions of our platform with 350 students. It was a great way to understand the mechanics of being an operator. 

In my sophomore year, I interned in the startup sector of an energy company. I was telling my manager how much I like the startup space, and she recommended VC. I was like, oh, this sounds cool. But how do I get involved? She said there’s this thing called the Dorm Room Fund. They don’t hire from the Midwest, but they’re student run. It was in the back of my head, then the pandemic struck, and DRF opened up nationally. I went through the interview process but was still unsure about what venture capital really was.

During the interview process, I fell in love with the people and was lucky enough to get a spot on DRF. I was talking with amazing founders and making investments. Months after I started, I launched over Female Investor Track. That accelerated my growth because suddenly I was able to build something from scratch and create a program that I wish I had. 

I recognized that I had previously struggled to understand what venture capital was. The industry seemed really opaque and closed off. When I joined Dorm Room Fund, I was able to actually understand what it meant to be an investor. However, I recognized that not everyone had the same opportunity to enter the space and for those that don’t, VC can be an extremely difficult journey. That’s why I started Female Investor track. It shouldn’t be this hard to learn about what it means to be an investor. 

What do you value in DRF?

The community. I did the interview blind, and DRF totally blew my mind. These are probably the best people I’ve ever met in my life. They’re so humble, but they’re so so well versed in VC and topics outside of VC. They’re so enigmatic and energetic. The level of relationship building you see in this community, you don’t see anywhere else. It was virtual from the moment I joined, but my closest friends are in this community. I never thought that I could go to any city in the USA one and have a house to stay in. 

What’s the best advice you’ve received from a Female Investor Track mentor?

Boundary setting. I had a mentor who told me it is more important to think about what you do when you’re not working than when you’re working. VC is a difficult industry. If you don’t know how to set your boundaries and manage your pace, that’s when you crack. 

What hobby have you developed recently?

I’m a big pandemic runner. Chicago has awful winters, but I started running in the middle of the winter and loved it so much. My eyelashes would freeze, but it was so fun and exhilarating that I kept doing it. Now I run for my mental health.  I also do sunrise runs, which is nice in the summer by the lake. It’s my time to totally cut off.  


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