Work-Bench Spotlight: Priyanka Somrah On Learning The Technical Side of Investing

Dec 14, 2023
Work-Bench Spotlight: Priyanka Somrah On Learning The Technical Side of Investing
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Priyanka is an Investor at Work-Bench where she sources and evaluates investments in cloud-native infrastructure and developer tooling. She is the author of The Data Source, a newsletter that focuses on investment research and trends in the aforementioned categories.

We chatted with Priyanka to get the inside scoop on how she leans into technical deals, her journey to VC (it stretches all the way from Africa!) and what she’s most excited about in her day to day. Check it out:

Can you share your story of coming to the US? What was your biggest fear? What were you most excited about? 

I grew up in Mauritius, an island off the east coast of Africa and have always dreamt of life beyond the motherland. From a young age, books have fascinated me. From The Lord of the Rings trilogy to The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, to Jane Austen’s Emma, reading gave me a lot of joy and fueled my quest for different experiences. By the time I was getting ready to apply for colleges, I knew it had to be in the far West, and in the city of dreams, New York City.

Going to school at NYU felt like a blank slate. There was so much I wanted to experience and so much I wanted to do. Fierce ambition was one of the main things that drove me as a college student and one that continues to drive me today. My biggest fear, perhaps, was for things not going on as planned. But as I put my head down and learned to make the most of every single opportunity, I let go of that fear.

At NYU, I took a liking to Economics as it offered real-world case studies of how markets are structured and companies operate. But I didn’t necessarily know what I wanted to do as a career. I had once contemplated going into academia, but the idea felt too limiting at the time. 

How I eventually broke into Venture Capital was a serendipitous journey. I never woke up and thought that I wanted to be an investor. I didn’t even know what being an investor meant at the time. But what I did know was that I had to step outside of my comfort zone and of the classroom to broaden my horizon. That led me to attend a NY Enterprise Tech Meetup hosted by the Work-Bench and months later, to a cold email asking for an internship! That internship helped shape my interests in investing and more broadly in the enterprise tech ecosystem. Once I graduated, I joined Work-Bench as a full-time investment analyst and as the fund’s first-ever hire right out of college.

How has your technical expertise helped you communicate, invest in, and support founders?

A Dr. Seuss quote comes to mind: "The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

While I don’t come from the engineering world myself, I find that the technical knowledge that I’ve accumulated over the past ~5 years is the result of my constant learning on the job. I realized very early on in my career as an enterprise VC that if you want to invest in technical categories, you need to be able to speak the language. But more importantly, you have to familiarize yourself with the different types of developer workflows to truly empathize with the developer mind. 

To learn that language, I dove head first into research. I subscribed to technical blogs and podcasts, attended developer meetups and conferences to learn first hand the concepts and topics that mattered the most to the ecosystem. From a theme generation standpoint, I make it a point to meet as many subject matter experts as possible. While chatting with individual developers is helpful to uncover pain points, my conversations with enterprise executives enable me to understand what’s top of mind for the buyer and highlight areas that are primed for innovation.

On the startup operating side, I’ve been intentional about spending time with GTM-oriented folks across seed- and late-stage companies to pair down learnings for our own early-stage founders. This also translates into how I help support our portfolio companies. By building relationships with developers, enterprise buyers as well as GTM advisors, I’m able to foster highly curated and relevant intros for our portfolio.  

To demonstrate the power of the technical community we’ve built here in NYC, we recently put together a DevOps & SRE Happy Hour. For context, we were chasing a highly-competitive deal in the incident remediation space, who targets DevOps and SRE practitioners across the SMB and enterprise verticals. So what we did was tap into our existing network to “bear hug” the founders with a highly-curated group of DevOps and SRE leaders within their ICPs. This eventually led to some incredible connections and a term sheet from Work-Bench!

What excites you the most today?

The thing about being hyper-focused on investing in cloud-native infrastructure and developer tools is that there will always be new shiny tech to keep track of. But what’s keeping me on my toes these days is revisiting legacy software categories and sussing out meaningful opportunities for these categories to be displaced. What’s most exciting to me is identifying broken workflows across the developer stack that could potentially be re-imagined with more superior tech and then finding the teams that are best poised to do so.

What’s one thing people might not know about what you do as an investor?

Investing is a people-driven job! If I wasn't actively meeting and learning from smarter people than myself, I wouldn’t be able to grok new tech or source my next investment. Venture is what you make of it, or in my case the people I seek and choose to surround myself with. 

What are your favorite blogs/podcasts/etc.?

The ones I follow regularly are the Data Engineering Podcast and Software Engineering Daily Newsletter

What’s one fun fact about you?

I love K-dramas and have a running tab of shows to watch. Ask me for recs. 

‍‍If you’re an early-stage enterprise founder / operator or a corporate executive — connect with us directly to chat about anything GTM or check out our events page to stay in the loop on all things happening in the Work-Bench community. ‍

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