My Ethos: A Growth Story
After three and a half years at Hyde Park Angels as Director of Platform, I’m realizing my dream: to become one of the entrepreneurs I’ve worked so hard to support. I’m launching Ethos, a talent strategy firm for tech companies.
Before I share more about Ethos, or my deep-seated gratitude for all the opportunity and challenge HPA has afforded me, or my sincere thanks to the community that led me here, I want to pay homage to my industry.
In venture capital, we focus on growth stories. Today, I’m going to tell you mine.
Becoming a People Person
The first word I ever spoke was “más.” It’s a word that has characterized and defined my life at every stage. I’ve always wanted more, and despite grappling with my status as a Hispanic woman who is expected to want less, I’ve wanted to achieve more because of that status. To be seen exactly as I am.
My deep-seated desire to be seen in my full complexity triggered my evolution into a People Person from a very early age.
As a child, I needed to be seen so badly that I developed an intense and acute ability to see others, too. I learned to give so that I could receive.
I moved eleven times with my family across the country throughout my childhood.
In each new place, I learned to develop relationships quickly by seeing and understanding people. Seeing them made me care about them more, which sparked an overwhelming need to help them to be better, just as I was pushing myself to do the same.
In middle school, my intense love of listening to those around me and trying to solve their personal crises manifested in a desire to become a psychiatrist. That rapidly snowballed into head of a psychiatric hospital. Even in my daydreams, I always demanded more for myself.
While I ultimately nixed that goal for more humanities-driven pursuits, my interest in people continued to fuel my reading, writing, and conversation. I remained curious about how others thought, what motivated them, what held them back, and what moved them forward.
Finding My People and a New Purpose
I got into the University of Chicago at sixteen, with an application that among other things featured an essay called “The Fun-Killer” about how I was the kind of person that wished Ferris Bueller had just gone to school (an opinion I still strongly hold) and how I therefore belonged at the place “Where Fun Goes to Die.”
I did belong there. I met my husband and my two best friends in line to move into our dorm on the first day of orientation week. We were alike in many ways, but different in the most interesting ones. I felt kinship everywhere.
If I was a People Person before, UChicago transformed me into the community-obsessed, serial empathizer I am today. Before college, I found people to love and care about, but they often didn’t really understand me or appreciate my near pathological obsession with knowledge acquisition.
I felt the limitlessness of opportunity. Everything I wanted, UChicago could give me and more.
Scholarship in the humanities? How about an interdisciplinary law major made up of ten other majors, on top of a major in English Language and Literature and a minor in Romance Languages. Internships? How about six of them, at the same time. Student organizations? How about the funding and support to found and run three. Honors? How about the chance to earn them on both theses, in both majors, and for academic and extracurricular excellence.
Undoubtedly, I learned what it truly meant to be overwhelmed at UChicago. I also learned what freedom to explore meant in its most tangible form. The trade was more than worthwhile.
There was one problem, though. As much as I loved my literary studies — and I loved them — I knew they were impractical and unlikely to pay my bills after college. That’s why I took my scholarly interest in law and pursued it rigorously.
I majored in Law, Letters, and Society, started and edited the Undergraduate Law Review, worked at the Law School Law Review, did research for two different law professors, and secured both non-profit and private legal internships. And I didn’t even like law!
Then, my third year of college, a car hit me while I was crossing the street, shattering my right side. The damage was so great that Northwestern Memorial Hospital asked permission to use x-rays of my shoulder to teach medical students. My right arm is still held together with a metal plate and eight long screws.
Lying in my hospital bed in excruciating pain before my surgery, my surgeon and my parents urged me to take a three-month leave of absence.
I went back to school five days later, in the dead of winter. I had fractures in my ankle, fibula, and hip, along with a reconstructed shoulder. It was the best decision I ever made.
UChicago was my greatest source of energy. I recovered faster and better than anyone predicted because I was in the right environment.
But I didn’t go back to my legal internship. I knew, if I had needed to go back to it, I would have taken that three-month leave of absence instead. That’s what led me to leap off my structured path toward Law School and into entrepreneurship. And ultimately, what led me to HPA.
From Entrepreneurship to HPA
Serendipitously, my accident coincided with the emergence of undergraduate entrepreneurship at UChicago. While students had previously found ways to start companies and support one another along the way, the college was now seriously investing in resources for entrepreneurial students. I walked into the office and declared I wanted to start my own company. My advisor sagely recommended I go work at a startup first.
I had the unique privilege of entering my startup career when doors opened at 1871, before it was the world-renowned behemoth incubator and co-working space it is today.
I started as an intern at a social shopping startup, and three weeks later was their Head of Marketing and Communications. I immediately learned the importance of developing a network, building a cadre of mentors, and solving problems on the fly. I also learned how little most entrepreneurs know about funding, especially getting access to venture capitalists.
While the company itself shut down, the relationships I developed and questions I had about funding didn’t. I went back to UChicago my senior year and co-founded the student entrepreneurship organization, modeled in its first year after Techstars. I was responsible for exposing our students to community and investing.
While running the accelerator, an opportunity to join the Hyde Park Angels team as a Junior Associate opened up, and I was lucky enough to secure a role on the Consumer Products and Services team. After a year, I was enamored with the work; specifically, with the idea of meaningfully helping entrepreneurs grow their companies.
That’s why, a year after graduating, I left a leadership-track role at a major corporation to rejoin HPA under the new Managing Director Pete Wilkins.
My HPA Story
I came into the HPA team — then a team of two, Pete and Michael Sachaj — in a catch-all role that loosely involved managing our investors, partners, and community. We faced significant challenges in an undifferentiated investment market with a varied investor base and limited team resources.
We were also given tremendous opportunity to chase big goals and reach for greater and greater challenges.
Charged with building a strong reputation for the group that would drive both internal and external positive outcomes, I built a comprehensive three-year communications strategy which I measured with a data-based reputation score.
I took on the role of Program Manager, and became a digital marketer, HR professional, director of operations, and business development representative.
Entrepreneurs felt our investors didn’t understand them, so I spent years collaborating with my team and leadership to build a group made up of investors who had started, scaled, and sold their own companies or headed them up.
Entrepreneurs wanted to raise capital from the people they aspired to be, so I initiated a thoughtful and intentional recruiting campaign and architected a diversity and inclusion program that increased gender parity.
Our brand didn’t stand out in a competitive market, so I learned to build brands from scratch, developed our core messages, wrote over 150 blogs, produced 20 videos, developed and launched a podcast, developed over 700 earned PR placements, and grew audience reach to 500,000 entrepreneurs a month across platforms.
I worked so much, so hard, all the time. But I deeply believed in what we were building, and I was rewarded for my efforts with a level of freedom unprecedented even in startups.
I was given the space to pursue my aspirations and grow my role so that I could come closer to finding my life purpose.
Consequently, my role evolved into Director of Platform, where I managed investors, partnerships, brand, and most importantly, organizational development and portfolio company growth.
But the greatest gift I ever received at HPA, apart from the mentors there who helped shape me into the person I aspired to be, was the responsibility to manage my own team and develop talent both inside and outside of my organization.
Whether helping my analyst, Stephen Ross, build out a clear career path and structure performance milestones, or bringing my intern Bess Goodfellow onto the team full-time as an analyst, or working with Michael to envision not just a greater future for the organization, but for himself, I never felt more fulfilled or satisfied than when shaping their collective genius.
Unquestionably, working at HPA over the last three and a half years helped me find my life purpose faster than I ever expected. I have always believed it’s everyone’s personal responsibility to make the world more beautiful. I struggled to find my own unique way to fulfill that responsibility.
After working with my forty-five active portfolio companies and seeing that 90% of the challenges they face stem from people problems, along with discovering with my unadulterated love for solving those exact problems, I found it.
I want to make the world more beautiful by helping people be kinder, smarter, and better in work and on teams.
And that’s why I’m founding Ethos.
At Ethos, we drive company performance by shaping culture and developing talent.
Put simply, we fix people problems. And we do it with growth in mind. By focusing on diversity, hiring practices, vision and values, and career pathing, we support and develop the teams that fuel rocket ship companies.
I am so lucky to have a partner in founding Ethos. Kaleb Dumot is joining me for this exciting and challenging new opportunity to bring real solutions to the tech companies who need them to chart their paths to success.
I’ll officially be leaving HPA in April, which means I’ll also officially launch Ethos then, too.
“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” –African Proverb
Everything I have is because of the people who supported me and believed in me.
Without my family and friends, I would not have the strength, stamina, and stability to pursue the biggest goal I’ve ever set.
Without Pete, Michael, Stephen, and Bess at HPA, I would not have the self-knowledge or skills I need to realize my dream of becoming a founder.
Without my HPA investors, partners, and portfolio companies, I wouldn’t have the experience or working knowledge to grow high-performing teams or solve complex problems.
Without you, my community, I wouldn’t have the confidence or conviction to go out into the world and work for the equity, diversity, and inclusion that you deserve.
I will not forget what you’ve done for me, and I will dedicate myself to giving back to you in all the ways I can. Thank you.
Alida Miranda-Wolff is the Founder and CEO of Ethos, a talent strategy firm for tech companies focused on driving company performance by shaping talent and developing culture. Follow her work on Twitter and VentureBeat.