Vern Howard’s story is remarkable. Vern was a math prodigy, who left high school early, when he tested into Virginia Commonwealth University to study Computer Science and Math. He paid his way through school by teaching math and serving as a janitor on campus.
He went on to sell men’s suits, which taught him the art of selling. After joining Capital One – whose signing bonus he used to rebuild an Alpha Romeo – he built Capital One’s first mobile banking application. He also built out the Application Security Team at Capital One, before, naturally, becoming a securities trader.
Hang on, we’re not done yet. He became an entrepreneur. He sent a book to Steve Case’s partner at Revolution and….well, listen to find out what happens!
On Getting Started as an Entrepreneur
“So two people I met accelerated everything. Ted Leonsis kind of introduced me to this network of people. Mike Lincoln over at Cooley was like, “Yeah, everyone is raving about you. You didn’t go to an Ivy League school, you’re not from this background. But you’re just like going into all these office and people are saying: Who’s this kid? Vern, right.” So they got me started and did our legal work for free.”
On Why Employers are So Focused on “Top Colleges”
“So I think it’s a two pronged problem. One is, these are businesses, right? So there’s budget, and once you start talking about like numbers and budgets you start looking at ROI. And every recruiter says, OK, great. If we spend one hundred thousand dollars to go to thirty one schools this season, what’s the ROI now? If we go to Stanford or we go to Michigan, we kind of know what we get there, because some of our current engineers went to school there. So we know their level of output is XYZ, as far as coding goes.
But if we take a risk and go with something we’ve haven’t done before, like going to Sweetbriar College, which is an all-women’s college in Virginia, (the founder of TaskRabbit went there). We may want to take a risk, by going there. We might spend fifty thousand dollars and have no ROI to show. So the best play, much like VC culture, is we go to Stanford, we get 3 students –great.
But what happens is the competition, right? If your brand isn’t as big as you think it is as a company, your recruiting line is nonexistent. Everyone went over to the Robinhood line.”
On Black Founders Being “Over-Mentored”
One thing I see amongst the Black founder community is a ton of mentors. And I think Black founders are over-mentored and under-funded. I don’t know who coined that term, but a ton of people DO want to mentor. That’s funny. I have people fill my inbox from the top VCs in the nation and just say, hey, Vern, let me be your mentor. And, you know, I’m always greatly appreciative, I like the advice. But I’d also like to get funded”
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