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Money on My Mind w/ Saad Siddiqui



Karen Mangia

Today on Success from Anywhere, we'll meet a serial success who's got his mind on the money and money on his mind. Having deployed over $100 million in venture capital across a dozen companies, he's as generous with his time as he is with his money, according to former President Barack Obama, who honored him with the Volunteer Service Award. Please join me in welcoming Saad Siddiqui, general partner at Telstra Ventures.

Saad Siddiqui

Thanks, Karen. Excited to be here.

Karen Mangia

Before we dive into the show, everyone will want to know: How did you win an award from a former president? And what was it like to keep the company of a former president?

Saad Siddiqui

It's an interesting story. Part of it is from my past. When I migrated to the United States, I was fortunate enough to have a lot of incredible mentors, being an immigrant, being someone who didn't know anything about what a career would look like. So, given the guidance of a lot of these great mentors, I was able to find my path through the career that I'm in today. To give back, we started a handful of nonprofits, one of which was America Needs You. And through that work, I ended up getting an award from the President. The main goal was to find incredible, first-generation college students and provide them with mentoring through a two-year program. Then, in that two-year program, helping them find jobs and set them up for their careers for the long run.

Karen Mangia

What an awesome opportunity to make an impact and really contribute to better workforces, better workplaces, and more access to opportunity.

One question I like to ask everyone during their interview, because we talk about work, is: What was your first paying job and how did that job inform or inspire your career trajectory?

Saad Siddiqui

My first job was actually painting my uncle's house, which was one of his rental properties. I worked all summer and ended up making a couple hundred dollars. I started realizing at that moment in time that working with my hands is just not my thing. It kind of made me kind of go down the more white collar path.

Karen Mangia

Work with your mind, not with your hands is what you took away from your experience. Take us through your career path, because many readers are people in finance or investing and you have had this passion for making an impact play out in a variety of ways throughout your career. Take us through some of those monumental moments and share a little bit more about what you're doing today.

Saad Siddiqui

I started my career at an interesting juncture. I graduated from college in 2008. The goal was to try to head towards the financial services industry as an investment banker. It was probably not one of the best times in history to go into finance, given that all these different banks were shutting down and stuff like that. I had an offer from a couple of banks, unfortunately all of which are no longer there and ended up at Merrill Lynch initially, which a month after I joined ended up getting bought by Bank of America.

And during that time, it was tumultuous. We saw people that had decades of experience getting laid off, right in the same firm. From an observation perspective, I saw my generation starting to realize that, unlike our parents and grandparents, careers of staying with a specific company weren’t being rewarded anymore. Many of those services that people spent decades providing just weren’t being awarded. My generation saw this transition to switching to a different job every two or three years start coming more into light. So, after my time at a BofA, I continued down the financial path to work at RBC as an investment banker as well. I found my way to our alma mater at Cisco, where I worked on the acquisition, M&A side of things and did a lot of cool work around tech infrastructure. I thought finance was hard until I got into tech. I felt that this was where all the smart people are, and learned some incredible stuff from some of our old colleagues.

After a few years there, I moved to a company called Informatica where I ran M&A partnerships, product strategy, and a bunch of other things. After some time there, I started realizing I just missed working with younger companies—from that exposure I had from Cisco—and moved over to Telstra about seven years ago. Today, I'm looking at interesting companies; everything from enterprise infrastructure, networking infrastructure, to next gen applications that are changing how we work, and have made some interesting investments in all those areas.

Karen Mangia

From country shifts to company shifts, it seems like you specialize in change and have probably some great guiding principles we could all learn from about how to accept, embrace, and make the most of change. What have you discovered that might be useful for all of our readers?

Saad Siddiqui

The way I think about change is that the only thing that one can control is themselves. You have to do the best that you can, at any given point in time—just be observant about how the world is changing. In my short career, I've seen some massive shifts. When I started my career, BlackBerry was the only form of mobile communication. Five years before that, it wasn't even a thing. Now people work from home.

Consider the recent Apple announcement around VR and AR—things are changing in a massive way. Be observant as you're in this world. Rather than rejecting everything that comes up, be open to some of that change that is coming your way, because the pace of change is accelerating rather than staying the same. That applies to the way we work in a massive way. COVID, for example, had this massive impact on how everyone lived their lives and the way they worked.

Karen Mangia

You mentioned a moment ago, and you referenced it again, a significant number of shifts in not only where and when we work, but also in how we work. Part of your specialization is scanning the market. Share with us some disruptors that you're observing that will change how we work.

Saad Siddiqui

The world is a very interesting place from an employment perspective. I think it's probably important for us to maybe go through a little bit of the past to see where we are today and recognize the trends that are impacting today. Up until 2000, it felt like everything was on a linear trajectory. We had mobile phones; we could work from home—people worked from home, not everyone, but a decent amount of people worked from home on Fridays. That was the best that you could do from a hybrid work perspective. There were obviously a bunch of functions like sales that were constantly on the road, that didn't change.


In 2020, when COVID hit, everyone was working from home and we had this massive shift of everything—everyone needs a Zoom account, everyone needs a better office setup at home, you name it. Everyone needed to think about virtual work and collaboration. In that time, we saw a massive boom in collaboration software, video conferencing, and the ability to work from home. The world is coming back, COVID is over, and people are coming back to work; people are trying to figure out if they can continue working from home. We know some of the upsides of working from home and also some of the downsides. People need some time to context switch. It’s hard for folks to stay in the same place for 24 hours a day—not having human interaction was a big challenge. Interacting with their colleagues was helpful for many people. And so, we've seen a rise in hybrid work in a more concerted way where people are asking folks to come back to the office and so that has happened.

Then we just got hit in the face with this whole generative AI shift as well, where people are starting to use a lot of these tools to become more productive.

So, these are a couple of shifts that have happened over the last few years. We can start talking about a handful of companies that are beneficiaries of this as people are starting to work with these tools. The big ones are Zoom and collaboration tools like Monday.com and Asana. What we're starting to see is a next generation of software applications that are coming up for collaboration, both on a remote basis and hybrid basis. We're starting to see a lot of really interesting generative AI tools, both from the legacy companies like Microsoft and Adobe as well as some of the really interesting startups, that are making employees much more productive than they've been. That's a broader silhouette of like areas that I'm personally excited about.

Karen Mangia

Explain generative AI to our readers in a way that my soon-to-be 100-year-old grandfather could understand.

Saad Siddiqui

The best way to think about generative AI is, on a very basic level, it’s a computer system that can answer your questions in the kind of language that you want to have that question answered, rather than you searching for those answers. That's the textual context. Over time, what we're also seeing is it can perform actions as well, not just answering questions. So, that's a super high level of thinking about how generative AI works.

Karen Mangia

I almost heard you describe a lifecycle that sounded like: better questions, better answers, better context—am I oversimplifying?

Saad Siddiqui

No, that's a really good explanation. I think what happened is that, as we moved to a hybrid world, a lot of these systems have been capturing much more data than they did before. You can kind of break down generative AI in two components. One is the data set, the other is algorithms. The algorithm is important, but the data it is trained on is significantly more important. As we've captured a lot more data, the value of these chatbots or applications becomes significantly more valuable.


Karen Mangia

When we bring this into a practical context, what are some of the most interesting or compelling trends that employers and employees need to watch now, as they relate to the future of work?

Saad Siddiqui

I think it might be helpful for me to give examples. So as an example, people are starting to use generative AI tools like OpenAI to do proofreading. So, if you're a writer, you write some content and you put it into OpenAI, which spits out a proofread version of it. That's a very basic sort of example of the way people are using things.

Adobe recently launched Firefly, where you take a picture like a wedding photograph that someone photobombed. Now, you can replace that photobomber with a natural background. Those are things that are super helpful for a photographer. In the case of Microsoft, when they acquired GitHub, GitHub launched Copilot, which is basically automated code generation. So, you write the kind of code you're looking for and it spits out some line of code that is vetted, you don't need QA as it just works.

There's a couple of things that are coming up that are really fascinating that allow people to interact with computers in their natural language and make people a lot more productive than they've probably ever been before. I think it's going to be pervasive throughout the entire world of white collar work.

To kind of give you some examples from our portfolio, what we're seeing in one of the companies that we invested in, a company called Buildups, which is basically a workflow tool for the construction industry. They basically allow folks like electricians and plumbers to go out on site. They help them schedule their jobs, help them with invoicing their customers. Now what they're working on is, for example, you take a picture of an HVAC machine. It will pull up a record of everything that was ever done to the HVAC machine, all the maintenance that needs to be scheduled, what parts that are needed to maintain it, and the cost to the end customer. All of that is done in real time, at the customer site, where something like that could usually take weeks or months. That's an example of the everyday use of generative AI in the context of someone's job.

Karen Mangia

And who wants to pay for a repeat service call? I know I've been living in this just recently with my sprinkler system people. They came out, turned it on, did the maintenance, and I went to use it for the first time and it tells me a wire is shorted out in some zone. Now it won't work. And I thought to myself, “You were just here. How did you not know this?” They have to come back.


If the company you're working with already could extend into other aspects of home maintenance, I think everyone would be eternally grateful.

Saad Siddiqui

Definitely! That's the goal here.

Karen Mangia

We were talking about the importance of money and part of your role is to manage a portfolio and decide where to place venture capital investments. Is it a myth or misconception that venture capital is drying up? Just say more about the venture capital landscape in general, at this point.

Saad Siddiqui

I think over the last couple of years, the pace of investment has increased by a pretty significant margin. I think we probably got ahead of ourselves as an industry in terms of investing in some really incredible companies, but companies that were probably at a valuation that was higher than was warranted. What we're seeing in the venture capital industry today is a more measured approach. We've seen a slowing of the pace of investment. People are becoming a lot more cognizant of things like how much progress a company has actually made. We're not just investing in ideas; we're investing in businesses, and every time you invest, you raise the following round, there needs to be some progress made between the various levels of financing. So, I think we're moving back to normalcy and thoughtfulness, which is very warranted.


To your point: Has venture investing dried up? It’s slower, but it's not in a bad way. It's slower because it's working. All of us are taking a lot more time making sure that we're investing in the best founders and businesses that are building something that's iconic over time. We'd love to back the next Salesforce and ServiceNow and Cisco's of the world. Those companies aren't built overnight as they require a lot of work and discipline.

Karen Mangia

We have everyone from entrepreneurs to enterprise employees who read our blog. Whether or not a reader has to go pitch for venture capital, most people can relate to the experience of needing to build a business case to attract more budget, or stay flat on your budget, or try to navigate a potential budget cut. What makes for a compelling pitch? You listen to this all day long, what are some criteria or tips of things to think about that provide a compelling business case as it relates specifically to budget and getting the money or keeping the money you have?

Saad Siddiqui

To clarify, are you talking more from a startup perspective where founders are looking for capital?

Karen Mangia

In general! You’ve seen money from every perspective. At the end of the day, most of us—even if you’re a child asking your parents for money to go to a friend’s, or you're an employee asking an employer or a prospective investor, or maybe you're in sales—most of the time, we've all had an experience where we need to ask somebody for money and there are very few people who do it well. How would you coach us? Be our pitch coach about how to close the deal to get the money by building a compelling financial case.


What are some common core principles? Whether you're nagging your parents for money to go hang out with your friends, or you're a startup trying to get VC money, or you're inside of an enterprise and fending off the inevitable budget cut?

Saad Siddiqui

The one word I think about in this answer is ROI. Return on Investment.


If you're asking for more marketing dollars, as an example, you need to deliver an ROI. You need to say, “I need this amount of money to generate this number of deals that would yield this number of sales down the line.”


If you're a salesperson or a sales executive, it’s, “I need this amount of headcount. This is the number of reps I'm going to hire. This is the revenue that will get our product person.

These are the features we do not have, but these are the features we can build.”


We're going back to the nitty gritty of, prove to me that you deserve that money. If you kind of think about ROI from a customer's perspective, they need to justify buying someone's products, so that you need to be delivering an ROI to your customers. I think that is becoming more important than ever before. Because, if you're not delivering ROI, those are the products that are getting cut the fastest and those are the budgets that are getting cut the fastest. In the shortest way possible, that is the thing that I think about the most.

Karen Mangia

Measurements matter. It's one thing to build a great story. It's another thing to be able to tie it to actual metrics and measurements. Everyone wants to know that and I would take what you're saying a step further and pose the sanity test to those ROI metrics as well.


I mean, when you look at this, does this seem reasonable and real? Can you get to these outcomes? I'm sure you've done this—I have as well, judging the student competitions and the pitch contest—you look at some of the metrics and you ask yourself, Does this seem true to you? I mean, there needs to be some kind of reasonably supported market logic behind what you're saying.

Saad Siddiqui

Definitely. The best way to do that is by historical success. For example, “You need to give me more budget dollars because I've done these things in the past and if you give me more dollars, we can continue building on these successes.”


As long as that's grounded in reality, rather than, “Hey, we're going to triple revenue on 10% more investment.” It’s important to be able to show how that happens.

Karen Mangia

What is one piece of advice you would give to every entrepreneur or intrapreneur, listening to the show right now.

Saad Siddiqui

For new entrepreneurs, what we recommend is to try to find a problem that they're passionate about. Make sure that you're delivering value to the customers that you're passionate about helping.

The best benefits and experiences I've ever gotten from my career is actually working with great people. To solve these problems, build a team around you that you're proud of and that you can see yourself working with for the rest of your life. Because, if you can solve an important problem, that is incredibly rewarding, but if you can build a tribe of people that are very passionate and as driven as you are as an entrepreneur, the benefits of this compound in a way that very few organizations or very few things in life can.

Karen Mangia

Find a problem you are passionate to solve and invite others who are passionate about that problem to solve it with you—well said.


And this is a challenge I think all technology and all employers are trying to solve, which is replicating the experience of being around a water cooler—this social experience that we say we all miss about gathering. That's why we have a segment of our interview that is a virtual water cooler. I'm going to ask you five questions and you just say the first thing that comes to mind; it's as if we bumped into each other in the break room and everyone else gets to listen in.


Are you ready?

Saad Siddiqui

Let's see what I get asked.

Karen Mangia

What time of day do you do your best creative work?

Saad Siddiqui

10:30 AM.

Karen Mangia

Speaking of time, if every day now had 25 hours rather than 24, what are you going to do with your extra hour?

Saad Siddiqui

Get more sleep.

Karen Mangia

Awesome! If you had to eat one meal every day for the rest of your life, what would that meal be?

Saad Siddiqui

I would imagine it's probably something healthy like chicken and rice or chicken and broccoli? Because if I can eat cake, I would not be living a very long life in that case.

Karen Mangia

Food as fuel, good guiding principle there. Now, the zombie apocalypse is coming. Who are the three people on your team?

Saad Siddiqui

Who are the three people on my team? Let's go with David Goggins, who is an author and a former Navy SEAL who's just like mentally super tough. He ran something like 200 miles on a broken leg and placed second in this ultra marathon. So, he's just mentally really tough.


Let's see, I need a good strategist. I think President Obama would be a really good strategist, in terms of being a leader and just thinking things through.


And who else do I need? I think I need a kick-ass marine or something. Like a Jocko Willink, someone like that who can just protect me. I'll be like the worker bee, I guess.

Karen Mangia

You'll take orders. It's not a bad strategy, given the people you chose. How can listeners stay in touch with you and the work you're doing?

Saad Siddiqui

Yes, so you can connect with me on LinkedIn or my email is Saad@Telstraventures.com. So, if you're working on something interesting, send me a note!

Karen Mangia

Awesome. Thanks to Saad Siddiqui, general partner at Telstra Ventures. for joining us today on Success from Anywhere. Because success is not a destination. Success is not a location. Success is available to anyone, anytime, anywhere.


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