While ‘M&A Associate’ or ‘Investment Associate’ are job titles you’ll see frequently at private equity firms and investment banks, life on the job can vary wildly depending on the type and size of deals you’re working on, what the firm’s plans are for the companies it acquires, and team and company culture.
So what is life like as an Investing Associate at ASG? We asked Steph Flamen, a Senior Associate on our Investing team who’s been on our team for 3+ years to share a bit about her work, her own career path and learnings, and what advice she has for young professionals considering a career in investing.
Meet Steph Flamen, an investment professional at ASG who evaluates and leads deals to acquire new software companies for ASG.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
I received my Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees from Stanford in Management Science & Engineering (Go Card!), and interned at companies like So-Fi, Pivotal (now VMWare), and BlackRock before starting my career working at Alpine Investors, where I worked closely with ASG. When a full-time opportunity at ASG came up, I jumped — I loved working directly with founders, and that’s a huge part of the job here. Outside of work, I enjoy spending as much time outdoors as possible; skiing, biking, hiking, and my newest hobby, surfing (would give myself a 2 out of 10 in terms of ability there).
How did you get introduced to finance and investing?
I was first introduced to the world of finance in New York when participating in a work-study program in 2017. Everyone in the program was matched with a financial institution. I was studying engineering at the time, and as a result, I walked into my internship having never taken an accounting or finance course and quickly realized how much I had to learn.
That same year, I worked at a different financial institution to learn about another facet of investing in the public markets.
Although both experiences were in the investment management space, they were quite unique. I learned a lot from both about evaluating potential investments and managing trading risks, but my most valuable learnings were more intangible — the importance of being a team player and being team-oriented, asking for help when needed, sharing my opinions, and being creative.
What made you decide to move over to private equity and software investing?
While I loved my internships, I didn’t like that when investing in public markets, I felt distant from the companies the firms were investing in – I did not and would not ever have a chance to meet the teams and learn the nitty gritty of how the businesses operated, and it was unlikely that my role would be client-facing.
I knew I wanted to learn how companies are actually run (what works and what does not), and realized the best way to do that would be to work closely with founders and participate in deep due diligence, which is more characteristic of private equity deal processes. I also knew that I wanted to work in an environment where I would constantly be challenged and work with people who were smarter than me. The investing role checked all of those boxes.
How did you end up at Alpine Investors and then ASG?
I found Alpine on Handshake, a job board for college students. I followed up on my application with a note to the recruiter and went through the interview process from there. Spoiler alert, I got the internship and I ultimately decided to return to Alpine full-time after that because of the incredible people I met and had the chance to work with, the amount of responsibility they gave people early in their careers, and because of how much I knew I could learn being there. At Alpine, I was fortunately paired with ASG at the beginning and eventually transitioned full-time to ASG.
The broad investing industry still has a lot of room for growth when it comes to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. How has your experience been with ASG, and what are your thoughts on DEI in the industry?
Although I have certainly received a few emails that started out 'Hello Stephen’ in response to messages I signed “Best, Steph,” I’ve been extremely fortunate to work at such a welcoming company that puts a huge emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion, and I’ve found that many software founders and executives embrace DEI as well.
I have never felt unwelcome here, and I think it’s because of the environment ASG has intentionally created. I work closely with Haley Beck, a board member at ASG who’s deeply involved in our investing strategy, and Alice Song, our President and Head of M&A — they are both incredible leaders. Two of our largest software verticals are run by amazing women and more than half of all of our CEOs are women.
The industry at large is still male dominated — most of the due diligence service providers and founders I talk to are men. I noticed this trend as we sought to grow our M&A team as well, and realized we needed to be more proactive, thoughtful, and intentional about how we interest a more diverse group of individuals in what we do. Without more effort, the hiring pipeline could easily continue being male-dominant. I’m really proud of where our M&A team is today because we’ve made that effort.
Do you have any advice for those pursuing an investing role?
This is general interviewing and pursuing-a-new-career advice, but it is especially important in the finance world. Listen to the questions that interviewers ask you because those questions are a reflection of the firm’s values.
Then, think about whether those values resonate with you. Be prepared to work hard, and seek out opportunities to work with and learn from a variety of interesting and intelligent people who will challenge you to improve every day.
Investing is a great stepping stone to any career because of how much you learn about how businesses operate and what a successful business looks like (hint: they come in many shapes and sizes!).
What have been some of the biggest learnings and challenges in your professional development, how did you overcome them?
Here are three things I’ve learned so far in my career:
- You will face a steep learning curve. Regardless of career path, there is always a lot to learn at the start (and hopefully there continues to be a lot to learn!). What helped me get up to speed was 1) asking the “dumb” questions and Google-ing all that was Google-able, 2) stepping back from the day-to-day and taking time to recognize where I needed to put in the most work, and subsequently doing so by proactively asking for additional reps in those areas, and 3) soliciting feedback from everyone I worked with on what they viewed as the areas I needed to spend the most time on.
At the end of the day, it comes down to you wanting to learn and making that happen for yourself, but I cannot understate how much it helps to have great managers and teammates supporting you as you navigate this process.
- You will make mistakes! With growth comes growing pains, and I have certainly made mistakes along my journey. As cheesy as it sounds, you will learn the most from your pitfalls, and if you work in an environment where you are given the space to make mistakes, seek out new challenges and uncomfortable situations. While you should acknowledge the pitfall and consider how it could have been avoided, you should not dwell on mistakes. I have learned that taking the time to learn from these mistakes, move forward and not make the same mistakes again was far more beneficial for my development, productivity, and mental well-being.
- You can be your authentic self. Just because it’s work does not mean there can't be lightheartedness, nor does it mean you have to be closed off. I learned that it is okay to be myself and let colleagues into my world outside of the office, and would encourage everyone to do the same. After all, you will spend many of your waking hours with these people – getting to know them in a more informal context will help your working relationship.