Lead(H)er: Stephanie Manning, Director of Platform at Lerer Hippeau
Stephanie Manning had an “aha” moment the first time she walked into the offices of AppNexus, a cloud-based software company that was recently purchased by AT&T for over $1B. After interviewing at investment banks and other large companies during her senior year of college, there was a bright, colorful space with not a suit in sight.
“You felt this energy around you,” Manning said. “During my interviews, I felt like these were really smart people who are passionate about what they’re doing, who are super into learning and teaching, and I know there’s going to be a big learning curve here. This is where I should start my career.”
Manning had gone into her freshman year at Colgate University expecting that she would eventually become a lawyer. After taking several internships with nonprofits, though, she chose instead to pursue a career in that space until she realized she would likely need a master’s degree to qualify for her ideal nonprofit job.
Instead of getting a second degree that she wasn’t entirely sure she wanted, Manning began applying to any company, bank, marketing agency, and consulting firm that looked interesting—about 100 in total, by her estimation.
“I really had to hustle for that first job, and I wish I knew how many applications I had to send because it would be a funny number to look at now,” she said.
Finally, in June 2013, 3 weeks after graduation, Manning arrived at those AppNexus offices, beginning her career in the startup world as a campus recruiter. After about two years there, she began considering her next move, revisiting the possibility of graduate school before deciding against it again. “What I loved so much about all of those [nonprofit] internship experiences were the small teams and working with lean companies, and what I learned at AppNexus and what I know now is that those qualities are also true of the startup world,” she said.
Manning found a role at Work-Bench, an enterprise technology venture capital fund that perfectly mapped to the campus recruiting work she was doing at AppNexus at the time. Instead of going through the lengthy application process, Manning took the bullet points in the posting that described the experience in program management, event planning, and talent necessary for the job and sent an email to the hiring manager explaining exactly how her current work related to those points. She was hired at Work-Bench in November 2015.
By continuing to expand her network within venture capital, Manning ultimately landed in her current role as Director of Platform at Lerer Hippeau, the most active early-stage investor in New York City, where she has been since April 2017.
Manning’s goal at Lerer Hippeau is to create a community around the firm’s more than 250 portfolio companies, a broad directive that can manifest differently for each venture capital group.
“For Lerer Hippeau, it’s rooted in community and knowledge sharing among our founders,” Manning said. “How do you forge relationships? How do you create a true community of founders and provide them with what they need to be successful to go and build their companies?”
Manning is looking forward to building an even more robust platform that supports companies after they receive investments from Lerer Hippeau, though nothing is out of the question for her future. There’s a possibility that she could ultimately jump into an operating role at a startup herself if she truly believed in the team and message.
“Consumers have so many options that companies need to be thoughtful about why they’re building their company and what it stands for and having that be part of their internal values and external values, whether it’s about their employees or their customer,” she said.
It’s less of a trend, she continued, and more of a necessity: a thoughtful focus on people, values, and how to bring the two together in a company’s mission is simply essential. It’s a strategy that has worked out well for Manning herself.
What do you like to do in your free time?
It definitely depends on the season. Right now, I love spending time outside as long as it’s not 90% humidity in New York City. There’s always something new to do, there’s always a new place to go or something to explore. I like being a tourist in my own city when I can. I’m lucky enough to have a lot of my friends from both college and my hometown here in New York, so I like spending time with them, especially as people start to grow in their own lives and their own networks. I’m able to spend time with friends, friends of friends, their significant others, things like that.
What’s your favorite spot in the New York City area?
It’s so hard! It depends on what I want to do. Whenever someone is coming to New York, especially our companies from San Francisco, I ask, “What do you want to do? I’ll plan an itinerary for you.” I love Central Park. I am lucky enough to live near the park—it’s such a special place. It’s amazing that that much open greenery exists inside what everyone knows as a concrete jungle. There are restaurants there, there are food stands, there are amazing running paths. Whenever I feel like I need to be in openness and greenery, I walk up to the park, and it’s one of my favorite places.
How do you typically handle stress?
Exercise is definitely one of them. Making time for exercise has played a role in my mental wellbeing. I believe it’s important to always carve out that time for yourself whether it’s running or yoga or classes. Having that time for myself helps me deal with any kind of stress throughout the week.
If there’s anything that’s super stressful, taking a step back and getting perspective has been one of the most helpful things for me. When I started out in my career, I used to get so stressed about the smallest things. Women tend to overthink things, that’s another thing I’ve learned, so don’t overthink things because you’re going to stress yourself out even more. When you are stressed, take a step back and put things in perspective. Things will get done, you will figure it out, stressing isn’t going to help anything. Looking at the big picture and where this fits in the grand scheme of things in your life, your career, and the world is a helpful exercise to go through.
How many cups of coffee do you drink in a day?
I used to have three cups a day, and it was too much for me. Now I try to stick to one. Right now, it’s an iced coffee in the morning, and then I’ll usually have one cup of green tea in the afternoon.
What’s one of your greatest accomplishments?
I ran the New York City marathon in 2016. What I loved so much about it was that it was something that I did for me and I was the only person involved in it. It wasn’t a work thing, it wasn’t a family thing, it wasn’t a friends thing. I had to motivate myself to stick to a training schedule, to run and finish the race. It’s such a mental thing, and it was a great sense of accomplishment. I got to raise money for one of my favorite charities doing it, so it’s definitely something I want to do again and rank on the list of one of my greatest accomplishments.
Is this where you saw yourself 10 years ago?
Ten years ago it was the summer going into my senior year of high school. I was getting ready to apply to all of these colleges, and at that time I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. I was going to go to college and go to law school. Legally Blonde was a favorite movie of mine and my 17-year-old self felt empowered. I thought that’s what I was going to do. I didn’t know about startups or even tech beyond the hardware products I had, like my Apple computer and my cell phone. My parents set the precedent that I could do whatever I wanted to do as long as I put my mind to it, so in that sense I knew I’d be someone who had a serious career, who got to do all of those things, I just didn’t know what that career would be.
What’s your advice for recent college graduates?
I love this question, especially because I miss working in campus recruiting and working with students! It’s one of the most important transition times. Students are moving from the schooling—what they did for the past 16 years of their lives—to this completely new part of their life. For people on the job search I would say, do not stress about your first job. Focus on, are you joining a place where you can learn, be developed, be managed well? If you get those foundational things, you can pivot into so many different careers, so don’t stress about what the day to day of the job is. Look more so for mentorship, management, and a steep learning curve.
For people starting their first job, learn as much as you can. Meet with as many people as you can, because you never know where those people are going to end up or how you can help them, how they can help you later on. Take advantage of all those types of things that companies may offer, whether it’s coffee chats or mentorship programs. I took advantage of it to some extent but maybe could have done even more to take time to get coffee with someone and learn about what they’re interested in. Those relationships are going to stay with you for the rest of your life.