The Power of Language

In the venture capital industry, there are so many “buzzwords”. Almost all of them can be found on Twitter with a hashtag attached: #blockchain, #ai, #futureofwork. These shortcuts are helpful to manage the overwhelming amount of “new, exciting ideas.”

VCs try to put these buzzwords on products and ideas in order to group their thinking. If something is in a specific buzzword category, you can quickly come up to speed on the market, KPIs — basically, the things that matter. If something is outside of that category, it takes a more time to understand the entire diligence process.

This can lead to the known buzzword > the unknown unique idea.

This is disconcerting for a number of reasons — including the confirmation bias effect, and the creation of herd mentalities. Unfortunately, I have seen this trickle down to entrepreneurs who are looking to hire quickly and exclusively look at candidates who have previous experience in similar companies with buzzwords they can understand.

The biggest downside of doing this is you miss out on swaths of the population who could:

  1. Be uniquely qualified for these opportunities and,
  2. Bring with them a level of critical thinking that often comes with having perspectives across industries.

I wanted to create a thesaurus translating public sector experiences to private sector buzzwords

As a veteran of the public sector myself, I know that my transition to the private sector was made infinitely easier when I figured out how to talk about my past in language that private sector people understood.

The main audience for this includes:

1. Entrepreneurs who are looking at candidates and don’t know how to decipher their background.

2. Public sector candidates looking to make the switch and exploring ways to talk about their experiences

3. And, to help inform the public about how to interpret similar work done across industries who use different vernacular or “buzzwords”.

Development/Gifts (i.e. Chief Development Officer)

What does this mean? This person has a history in fundraising across multiple stakeholders — foundations, HNIs, and private companies.

How does it translate? Business development or growth hacking

Outreach (i.e. Public Outreach Associate)

What does this mean? This person has a history in managing a brand.

How does it translate? Marketing, product marketing or content strategy

Program (i.e. Program Assistant)

What does this mean? This person has a history in managing cross-functional teams.

How does it translate? Analyst, business operations, project management

Membership/Volunteer (i.e Membership Coordinator)

What does this mean? This person has a history of building communities.

How does it translate? Customer success

Social (i.e. Social Worker)

What does this mean? This person has a history in developing a deep understanding of their clients needs and providing them with support to address these needs.

How does it translate? Therapist, venture capitalist ( ?)

I hope this helps! Are there other experiences I should include? Let me know by leaving a note below or e-mailing me at

My First Mentor

I am still on cloud nine from meeting so many new friends after my last post: the List of Black Women in VC! Multiple women shared that it was inspiring to read about others who have come before them. You can’t be what you can’t see. And in that list, I showed them many versions of who they could become.

This got me thinking, who was that person for me? Who did I see as an investor who gave me the chutzpah to believe I could do it too?

It was my mom.

A masters-in-education-holding, eldest-daughter-of-12-siblings, born-and-raised-in-West-Virginia-in-the-60s black woman. She is the definition of grit before it was cool.

She is also an investor and founder of The Nicodemus Investment Club. What she intended to build is laid clear in the name.

Nicodemus is one of the last standing western communities in Kansas created by freed-slaves as a “Promise Land” after the end of the civil war.

She gathered other black parents in San Diego who were interested in investing and for over two decades, they have met the first Saturday of every month.

A few basic ground rules have kept it successful over the past 20 years:

Missing a meeting hits your pocketbook. $20/missed meeting!
Sell high. At the beginning of the meeting, they review the current portfolio. If any one stock has doubled since it’s original investment, they sell it.
Do your homework. Stock pitching is a critical part of each meeting. In advance of the meeting, one person is tasked with completing research on a stock and bringing their recommendation to the members.
Democracy Matters. During the meeting, they spend a lot of time debating the stock brought to the floor. If the majority of the members decide against purchasing the stock at the end of debate, it’s a no go.

Growing up, I attended these investment club meetings every month. From when I could barely read, to when I was babysitting the other kids in the group (we were not allowed to invest, just learn) to when I stopped by to say hello to the folks who helped raise me. I never realized that it would have such an impact on my career choice.

I’m so grateful that it did!

Sydney Paige Thomas