MARCH 29, 2017 | BY EKIM BUYUK AND MARIELLE RODGERS
Cong Ding is a 2012 Duke graduate with a B.S. in Economics. While at Duke, she was President of BOW, VP of Membership of Duke Business Society, and President of Big Brothers Big Sisters. Following summer internships at Goldman during her undergraduate career at Duke, Cong’s journey eventually took her on a cross country move from NYC to San Francisco and a transition from “traditional finance to technology.” She currently works at Comcast Ventures and is proud to serve as co-chair member of the SF One Love Foundation.
What was an unexpected skill or resource you gained from being a part of BOW?
An unexpected resource I gained from being a part of BOW is the network of friends and mentors that has stayed with me years after graduating. As I progressed in my career, I encountered bigger picture decisions on both personal and professional dimensions that were often unrelated to my day-to-day tasks. For example - a cross country move from New York City to San Francisco, and a transition from traditional finance to technology. Some of my oldest friends from BOW continue to be trusted sources of advice and support through these types of changes and opportunities.
How did your summer internships at Goldman influence your career path?
My summer internships were definitely formative and helped me to understand some of my career preferences. One example is my affinity for being in a fast paced and dynamic environment. I think I've always preferred to be active and nimble, which are the qualities that excited me about being an intern on the trading floor. The Goldman Sales & Trading internship was also great training to develop my own opinions and voice my perspective with confidence, which is a foundation that has been important for my investment jobs. Lastly, I think my internships set a high standard for working collaboratively and tackling problems with passion and grit. Case in point: the Goldman Sachs Open Meeting.
Could you share some insight into the differences between working at an investment bank versus working at a venture capital firm?
One of the biggest differences between investment banking and venture capital is the stage of companies. At an investment bank, companies are often mature and are focused on long-term growth. In contrast, most venture capital firms focus on investing in early stage companies that are still figuring out their business models. At the seed stage, it might even be a founder with just an idea and nothing else. Due to this distinction, venture capital associates often do hands-on strategic and operational projects with companies in addition to traditional investment work.
Another big distinction is that the clients of an investment bank often have longstanding relationships with senior bankers. The bankers might still have to pitch to participate in certain deals, but most of the time, the analyst comes into the job knowing exactly who the client is. On the venture side, a big part of an associate's job will be sourcing and building a strong network. This is because associates are often expected to generate his or her own dealflow, bringing in companies that need financing and would be attractive investment targets. Sourcing leverages a different skillset from making presentations or excel spreadsheets and is a big part of the VC job.
What is the most difficult obstacle you have faced in your career?
The most difficult obstacle for me has been breaking into venture capital and the technology sector. Some early work experiences are naturally more aligned with other opportunities, which can either be really convenient or more challenging if your aspirations are not immediately related to your current role. For example, because I never worked with tech companies when I was at an investment bank, I had to build up expertise and credibility outside of my day job in order to break into tech. I think the best way to navigate this situation is to set small goals, develop skills that support your interest and most importantly network and learn from those with experience.
What is one piece of advice you have for current BOW members trying to navigate their career interests in finance and entrepreneurship?
I think it's become increasingly important for young people to cultivate different passions and build varied skillsets. The amount of resources available to students on campus on entrepreneurship and technology has expanded so much since I was on campus that I wish I could go back and do it again! When I was a student, I was very focused on one career path that my classes, activities and hobbies were all somewhat intertwined. I would encourage current BOW members to feel confident and comfortable trying both finance and entrepreneurship and pursue what is most exciting and rewarding. The array of opportunities available for students continues to expand so definitely make the most of it!
What influenced you to become a co-chair member of the SF One Love Foundation Young Professionals' Council?
When I was a senior at Duke, I took a seminar class called Women Leadership taught by Duke alum Katie Hood. This was an amazing experience and Katie was a teacher, role model and friend rolled into one, so I stayed in touch with her after graduation. Katie ultimately became the CEO of the One Love Foundation, founded to honor Yeardley Love and to bring an end to relationship violence by educating, empowering and activating campus communities. When I moved to San Francisco, One Love had grown significantly across the east coast and was looking to expand on the west coast. I had been a friend to the organization for a few years, but felt motivated to contribute in a more meaningful way. One Love is an incredible organization with strong ties to Duke and Virginia, and it's been an honor to be a part of the organization.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I'm open to whatever comes my way... but would love to be living and working in a different country!