Throughout his career, Jeremiah Brazeau, Distinguished Engineer at Shopify, has been lucky to have had several great sponsors. “That sponsorship is what’s helped me grow as rapidly as I have in my career,” he says. Now, he tries to sponsor his own team, providing opportunities where he can. “You have to understand where people’s interests are, and look for ways to build a support system around them,” he says.
This is just one of many reasons Underscore is thrilled to have him as a Core Partner to not one but two Underscore portfolio companies, Apploi and Hi Marley.
What’s a Core Partner? Core Partners work closely with Underscore VC to help source investment opportunities and/or advise portfolio companies. In return, Core Partners receive “Core Allocations,” a portion of Underscore’s returns on the company via an interest grant in our Core Fund. That means incentives are aligned for productive relationships—at zero cost to our founders.
These partners are tremendously valuable. In this brief Q&A, Jeremiah shares insights from his many years of technical leadership.
Focus and Iterate
Q: What’s one of the hardest lessons you’ve learned about building technical teams?
A: Early on, I would try to tackle too many issues concurrently. At best, this gets “just ok” results. You either end up like a deer in headlights, overwhelmed without taking action. Or you run around without focus, making a little progress, but not enough to drive momentum.
Don’t turn an entire city into a construction zone.
You have to find ways to take a bold vision and narrow it down to concrete steps, so technical teams can all swim in one direction. It might not be the right one, but you’ll at least make enough tangible progress to determine your next move.
The Value of Sponsors
Q: What has been one of the most important factors in the success of your career?
A: I’ve been lucky to find great sponsors—folks who have taken an active role in looking for opportunities that have allowed me to grow. Through these sponsors, I have had the opportunity to go back to school, was promoted to new leadership roles, and more.
To sponsor others, ask: “What’s something you want to achieve that I can help you with?” That doesn’t necessarily have to be a promotion; it could be anything inside or outside work. Understand where people’s interests are, and look for ways to build a support system around them—whether that’s through bringing in a coach, helping them learn a new skill outside of their core role, or bringing someone to a meeting or discussion to learn and grow.
Stay Agile and Learn as You Go
Q: What’s one thing all startup founders should understand?
A: It’s important to realize that you won’t know everything up front—and you don’t need to. Once you identify the problem you’re solving, have conviction in your mission—but don’t get too hung up on your approach. Instead, continuously seek to learn, and be open to both criticism and advice.
When I worked at Kiva Systems, we wanted to improve the way warehouse employees moved, increasing efficiency and employee comfort while reducing workplace injuries. Our first attempt helped employees move faster, but it placed a greater cognitive burden on them. So how would we reduce this cognitive load? There was no clear way to know. By changing how information was presented? Adjusting the environment around them? We had to remain agile and stay open to new ideas.
A Highlight as a Core Partner
Q: What drew you to Apploi and Hi Marley?
A: Apploi and Hi Marley both target inherently human pain points. They build connective tissue between two parties, reducing friction, anxiety, and fear. For Apploi, that’s during stressful job interviews or while a manager is under pressure to make good hires quickly. For Hi Marley, that’s during the tense moments dealing with an insurance company after a car accident. I’ve always been interested in human connections and touchpoints.
On a personal note, I’m interested in starting my own company at some point down the road, so seeing the challenges that early-stage leaders go through has been very informative.
Interested in our Core Partner program? Learn more about the Underscore Core and our programs here.