Gearóid O’Rourke is VP of Product Design at AngelList, where he has worked for the last 18 months. He’s passionate about all things design, tech, startups and hiking, and would love to take a year off to make his own wine.
Tell us more about what you do
I am the V.P. of product design at AngelList and focus mainly on new product development. I lead product design for the new products we’re launching, as well as working with the broader design team to facilitate them in doing good work. I’m pretty involved in strategy on the talent side of the business as well — where we should be going next in terms of verticals, geography, product etc. Because the company has such a flat structure, there are many different facets of my job, which is one of the many reasons I love it.
At the moment, I’m doing a lot of work in the talent side of the business where there’s been crazy growth recently. We saw more and more companies signing up with us organically, so we decided about 12 months ago to turn more of our efforts there and the same attention to building it as we did on the fundraising side and it has shown great return. We recently launched a new product called A-List for companies to help them better manage and find their candidates. We use algorithms to surface the right people with a little bit of human curation in the middle and that’s been going incredibly well. It’s a win-win all around: for the talent, they don’t really have to do anything because we can find them a great job, and the same goes for the companies.
Do you think there’s an angle for the Irish diaspora to work effectively to fund Irish firms on AngelList?
Absolutely. There’s an interesting trend towards niche or specific interests or specific angle funds happening on AngelList. We have a new product called Angel Funds which allows you to run a micro fund on the platform using our infrastructure to reduce management costs and to do discovery, but you still run the fund and make the fundraising decisions yourself.
The Irish diaspora in tech is essentially a network of people who have some common interests and cultural similarities, there’s a connection there, they understand each other. If you’re a really great Irish entrepreneur, you might be able to spot another great Irish entrepreneur sooner than someone from a different background.
However, I think what people want to avoid is investing in companies just because they’re Irish, there also needs to be an outstanding quality apart from that. The Irish angle is your lens for finding these people but there still needs to be an outstanding founder or team. Investors will still want that level of rigor.
One other thing I think is worth pointing out, there are a lot of very impressive Irish people in tech who are a level below founder — some very senior people in Google or Facebook for example. I think if you’re an Irish investor right now looking to put the smart money somewhere, they should be looking to build relationships with those people, because they are eventually going to go and do their own thing. They’ve been senior enough previously that they have a good network, though they might not have been as visible as the actual founders. Smart money will go there I think.
How would you like to help the Irish community?
I would love to see more ambition on a global scale. I think sometimes Irish startups get a bit too fixated on the domestic market. While being a success at home is fantastic, it’s a small market in global terms. The U.S. should definitely be the next stop, you should be coming to New York or San Francisco. It’s a huge market, it’s English speaking and friendly to Irish entrepreneurs. There are a lot of Irish entrepreneurs in both cities already, myself included, who would be only too happy to help.
I would also love to figure out how we can direct more of the design talent coming out of Ireland into startups. Obviously design is my passion. A lot of people who graduate from design degrees in Ireland, they go into more traditional branding work or agencies. Startups are a fantastic place to learn your trade as a designer. You get a lot of responsibility and a larger canvas to play with, a lot of people will see your work. But I don’t know if it’s a path that Irish designers necessarily think about.
Let’s put it this way, IBM, Facebook and Google between them want to hire something like 6,000 designers in the next three years. Those people do not exist right now, there are not enough of them. If you’re smart and you’re thinking, in 3 years I want to be working for IBM or Google and you’re just graduating right now from design school, then you should try to find a startup to work in for one or two years and then go into one of these places where you will learn an incredible amount from incredible people.
What do you enjoy most about your current role?
The thing I’m really finding interesting right now, is a lot of the work I’m doing isn’t specifically design work at all, I find myself being a facilitator, moderator, editor, etc. within lots of different product teams in the company. Or I try to help them figure out what they should be building, how they should go about it and try to set them up for success and then send them on their way. The value I’m bringing to the company isn’t necessarily in design work any more but it’s helping the other teams achieve and helping them do design work without me being involved, or helping them think about projects from a very user-centric point of view. That’s really interesting to me because I feel like I’m actually able to leverage my experience and share it in an educational way.
What are your passions outside of work?
I love to hike, one of the reasons I was excited about moving to the U.S. was all the opportunities for hiking. I’ve only done the East Coast so far but it’s been amazing. I’ll probably spend a month out in California in the spring and do a bunch of national parks because it’s just such a stunning countryside.
I’m also really into natural wines and that whole scene which was just happening in London when I was living there. It’s so interesting, as there are lots of young people making wine in garages almost like punk music. It’s not the stuffy wine people or scene that we might have been used to, it’s more like people in their 20s renting small spaces and making their own wine. That’s happening in New York now too. There’s definitely a community around it, there are restaurants who stock it and stores who exclusively sell it. I just find it fascinating, it’s a creative pursuit but not one I really understand the actual nuts and bolts of yet.
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