Meet Steph Flamen, a Corporate Development professional at ASG who sources, evaluates and executes investments.
Steph received her Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees from Stanford in Management Science & Engineering (Go Card!), and interned at innovative companies such as So-Fi, Pivotal (now VMWare), and BlackRock before starting her career working at Alpine Investors where she worked closely with ASG. She has since transitioned to ASG full-time to live her passion of working directly with founders.
After 2 years on the job, we sat down with Steph to hear her reflections on her journey, learnings and advice for folks who are just entering the workforce.
How were you introduced to finance and how did you make your way to private market investing?
I was first introduced to the world of finance in New York when participating in a work-study program during the Winter of 2017. All program participants were 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 market investing and join Corporate Development?
While I loved my internships, I did not like that when investing in public markets, I felt “distant” from the companies the firms were investing in – I did not and would not 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 from Day 1. I knew I wanted to learn how companies are 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, 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 corporate development role met these criteria.
How did you end up at Alpine Investors and then ASG?
I found Alpine on Handshake, a job board similar to Indeed or Glassdoor, but primarily 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 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 Corporate Development space and overall VC/PE industry is male-dominant, did you feel welcomed and accepted when first entering the space?
Although I have certainly received a few ‘Hello Stephen’s in response to emails that I signed “Best, Steph,” I’ve been extremely fortunate to work at such a welcoming company that encourages diversity and inclusivity (D&I), and I’ve found that many software founders and executives embrace diversity as well.
I have never felt unwelcome here, and I think it’s because of the environment ASG has intentionally created. Our COO, Bess Yount, is an incredible leader, one of our largest verticals is run by 3 amazing women and 50% of all of our CEOs are women (like Katelyn Sorensen). Of course, this is far from the norm – most due diligence service providers and founders are men, so most people on my calls are male. I noticed this trend during the hiring process 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.
Do you have any advice for those pursuing a Corporate Development (or broader 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 Googling 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.