Geoff Donaker: From Consulting to Kick Starting Startups
Geoff Donaker manages Burst Capital through which he invests in and advises tech start-ups. He graduated from Stanford University with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and subsequently began his career as a Consultant at Oliver Wyman. Starting in the late 90s, Geoff worked on Web 1.0 companies including eBay, Excite, and Voter.com. He is currently a board member at Yelp, which he joined as their 10th employee in 2005, served as their COO and helped take public in 2012.
What skills did you acquire at Oliver Wyman that have helped you throughout your career?
Consulting taught me to easily context-switch between the big picture "forest" and detailed "trees" in a way that few non-consultants can do. I was challenged to spend hours doing very detailed work on a financial model or research report, then to immediately change gears and discuss company-wide implications with senior clients. I've found this skill to be a tremendous advantage in my last twenty years in the tech industry, as most of my colleagues have excelled at either their detailed functional work (sales, engineering, product design, etc.) or company-wide administration (finance, HR, general management, etc.), but are rarely comfortable in both settings.
What was one of your most important experiences at Oliver Wyman?During one of the first client meetings I ever hosted, a senior executive from the client company burst into the room and read us the riot act about our project. I don't remember what she was unhappy about, but I do remember that she was unhappy and our small team of two consultants and three clients were looking at me with wide eyes. In the spirit of "the client comes first," I did my best to listen, back-pedal, and ensure that we would follow up on her concerns. Somehow, she left satisfied and later became a (grudging) supporter of our work. That experience, and others like it, taught me important lessons in diplomacy that I've gone back to regularly since then.
What are you reading?
I like to read a fairly wide range of publications. As a friend likes to say: "You're the same person tomorrow that you are today, except for the people you meet and the books you read." Recently, my two favorite books have been Bear Town (fiction) and Americana: a 400 Year History of American Capitalism (non-fiction).