Charlie Kelly is the Managing Director of the Colorado Technology group at Silicon Valley Bank, where he leads a team focused on providing innovative financial services to high tech companies in the seed / series A through cash flow positive stages of development headquartered in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri. He started out at Duke University, after which he served as an officer in the Navy onboard Submarines for almost five years. After his military service, he earned his MBA at the University of Colorado Boulder. He then joined SVB, initially as an associate with the Private Equity Banking team, eventually leading SVB’s team in the Central U.S. He has worked at SVB for over 11 years now.
For those Veterans interested in Startups, Venture Capital, Private Equity, or Finance in general, Charlie is a wealth of knowledge. He also has a great perspective on how to evaluate graduate school after Active Duty.
- StoryBox - People trust each other more than advertising. StoryBox provides the tools and supports businesses need to take the best things customers say about them, and use them to drive more sales and referrals. StoryBox offers a 10% discount to companies employing veterans of the US Armed Forces.
- Audible is offering one FREE audio book to Beyond the Uniform listeners. You can claim this offer here, and see a list of books recommended by my guests at BeyondTheUniform.io/books
- The Foundry Group - a series of 4-5 books describing core skills necessary for the startup world or venture capital world, as well as an overview of the startup lifestyle. Their blog (here) is also a great resource.
Transcript & Time Stamps:
Joining me today from Broomfield, CO is Charlie Kelly. Charlie is the Managing Director of the Colorado Technology Group at Silicon Valley Bank. He leads a team focused on providing innovative financial services to companies in the seed and Series A through cash flow positive stages of development. They invest specifically in companies in Missouri, Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, and Nebraska. Charlie graduated from the Duke University and then served in the Navy for 5 years. He earned his MBA from the University of Colorado at Boulder and then joined SVB as an associate with the private equity banking team. He has now worked at SVB for over 11 years.
How would you explain what you do as Managing Director of Colorado Technology Group?
SVB plays a really unique role in this industry. True to its name SVB is a commercial bank that happens to be focused on innovation in the economy. We focus our resources on technology such as consumer electronics and software. We work with science organizations such as biotech as well as the equity communities including venture capital organizations. We help companies manage cash and deploy their cash and capital. What’s really unique is that over the past 35 years, we’ve developed an incredible network that we turn back towards our customers to help them reach success.
In my role, I serve as a quarterback for the bank in our region. We tend to be very geographically focused. Things change quite quickly so we found that we can be most impactful when we are on the ground with our client. So I’m the quarterback for SVB on the tech side of the house.
I manage teams that help advise our clients on all those different elements I mentioned that are included in banking relationships. So I’m out in the community helping our clients find the best ways to deploy their money and providing feedback to help them grow more quickly. A lot of my time is spent talking with our customer’s board members as well as company executives.
Am I correct in saying that you started your career from a private equity standpoint and are now in a more venture capital type role?
Right -- I’ll walk through my career path at SVB. The private equity part of our bank is set up to cater to capital providers in the broader economy. So we think about private equity as a set of funds that gets deployed into private companies. These funds are being invested along a continuum of development. Venture capital is usually focused on early stage companies. It’s high risk and there is often a lot of discovery in day-to-day operations. The investors at this stage are people that you hear about having large windfalls from investing in these companies at an early stage.
Further up the continuum, there are investors that are more focused on scaling companies. They want less risk from a technical standpoint and are more focused on growth and scaling these companies.
Then beyond that there are more established companies. Usually they are looking for more flexible forms of capital. We help them explore new markets or different platforms they can acquire to help them grow their business.
So that’s the whole continuum as we see private equity. In my first role at SVB, I was in a global fund banking group. We tried to find ways to optimize how the funds themselves do business. SVB business models are focused on concentric circles. At the middle is the operating company and then the next ring out is the capital providers. So my job in this role was to support venture capital fund managers and help them better invest their money. At SVB this gives us information and insight about new, cutting edge technology and how smart investors are thinking about picking winners in the market. So this was a great introduction to innovation banking for me. I was able to make a lot of connections in those early years with people that I still work with today.
Is this something you always knew you wanted to do?
I was never intending to go into the financial services world. For me, there was a notion of entrepreneurship and innovation. I came from a family of small business owners. The challenge of creating something was really intriguing. I found myself incredibly focused during the time in the Navy - it was high op temp and lots of time out to sea. Because I was so focused, I kind of lost sign of what opportunities were available in the job market.
For me the transition point out of active duty was business school. I chose the University of Colorado because their program has a reputation for having lots of technology innovation and entrepreneurship. When I was finishing up my MBA program, I wasn’t as sure about the idea of wanting to start my own business. Although I was really interested in innovation, it felt like a better fit to find a more established platform. And that’s how I found SVB. For me it was a bridge between an established company and a startup and I was able to enjoy the best aspects of both.
Over the past decade, I’ve had a lot of interesting opportunities. Our client profiles also change enough that I’m constantly learning about new business and industries - it continues to be very engaging position for me.
The startup world can be extremely risky for some people because you’re putting a lot of your eggs in one basket. I love that you’ve found a way to still be in the world without actually working for a startup. You’re able to hedge a lot of the risk in that way.
Yes that’s exactly it. When I joined SVB, I knew there was still a lot I needed to learn. For me, it was appealing to me to be part of a community of people I respected and be in a place where I could constantly continue to grow.
How much do you think having your MBA helped you to get into this field?
An MBA is definitely a commitment of time and money. In my experience, I wasn’t exactly sure where I would end up at the end of it. But for me, it was the transition that I needed. A number of my junior officer colleagues did a shore tour as their last tour. They used that tour to figure out what they wanted to do after they left the military. In my case, the timing was such that it made more sense to make the transition earlier and the MBA allowed me to make a smooth transition.
If you do want to go the MBA route, I would advise enrolling in a program in a geographic area where you can see yourself long term. The other piece to keep in mind is that if you have a specific desire to go into a specific industry make sure the school you go to will help you reach those goals.
If you don’t get an MBA, a lot of banks do have accession programs that will allow you to get your foot in the door with a bank. For me, SVB didn’t have that program at the time I was leaving business school although they do now. It’s a great program that gives people in the program the fundamentals of various aspects of banking.
There are also a lot of financial service companies that directly recruit veterans. Banking is a regulated industry and military members are used to being in that kind of environment. Veterans take a team approach to solving issues and have great leadership skills. There are also programs that are outside of the traditional paths that will give you exposure to startups. One that I’ve been involved with over the past few years is Patriot Boot Camp. in this program, participants will get exposure to investors and receive feedback on their business. Patriot Boot Camp has produced some really interesting results. I’ve seen many veterans come to Patriot Boot Camp with an idea that they have now turned into a business.
For listeners looking for more information about Patriot Boot Camp, check out Episode #137 with Charlotte Creech. She runs the program and shared a lot of valuable information.
What does your day to day usually look like?
My day is unpredictable, it does not fit the stereotype of a banker’s schedule. My clients are working constantly to grow their businesses. We have an office in Broomfield but a lot of my time is spent in the offices of my clients. I also spend a lot of time in the community in order to learn about what’s going on in various industries.
On any given day, I’m on the phone with investors talking to them about what kinds of companies they’re interested in investing in. I also talk with the company themselves to talk about how they’re progressing and how they might need to adjust their plans.
Without a doubt for the startup world, it takes a village to support a company. Here in Colorado it’s a very supportive environment. Sometimes I need with various community members to talk about how we can better support startups in the area.
I also spend a time during my day handling the administrative side of our various agreements. We have over 2400 people at SVB and we’re a relatively flat organization so we’re constantly sharing information across departments and offices.
I also like to act as a mentor for various people on my team and across the company and help them reach their career goals. The average tenure at SVB is over ten years and I think a lot of that is that the company really cares about your professional development.
What are signs that this industry would be a good fit for someone?
If you are going to work in this environment you need to be comfortable with frequent shifts and changes in operational direction. It’s not a great fit for folks that want a very scripted and scheduled day. For me, no day turns out the way I thought it would. If I can cross one thing off my proverbial to-do list each day, that’s an accomplishment.
Because things do change very quickly, it an be a stressful environment, it’s like running drills on a ship. Every is running on all cylinders. We’re constantly really working hard to make sure our clients have a positive experience.
For people that have been interested in the startup or tech industries, I would also encourage people to check out Patriot Boot Camp and Bunker Labs. There are also some great groups on LinkedIn. Really leverage your network.
Are there any other resources you would recommend?
The Foundry Group book series
Is there anything else you would like to share with listeners?
I want to re-emphasize how important having a network is. The transition can be difficult so it can be a great tool to reach out to people that are working in the industries that you might be interested in.
For folks that haven’t had any direct experience with the military, I think there are often misperceptions about what the military experience entails. So it does take some explaining to translate your experience into something that make sense to civilian employers. Don’t shy away from playing up your experience and your skills but just know that folks may need some additional context to understand your experience.