Today’s guest is Nicole Bentz. Nicole started her career in risk assurance with PwC and now works in venture capital. Enjoy the read!
I went to the University of Kansas. I studied accounting in undergrad and got a master's in accounting. When I started at KU, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I had always enjoyed biology, history and politics, both in school and in my free time. I tried my hand at those, but quickly realized they were not subjects that I wanted to make a career out of. My mom is an accountant and she knew I had always had an interest in business. She suggested that I try accounting as a major. So I did and found that I really excelled at it. Accounting really became the best thing for me. I got really involved in the business school. I was on the student governing board and became a TA for a class. A few professors took me under their wing, exposing me to career possibilities that I wasn’t aware of.
I was super lucky and did multiple internships during college, both in public accounting and private industry. My first internship was in a tax role at a publicly-traded agribusiness company. It was a great experience, but I quickly learned that tax wasn’t for me. I also interned at CBIZ, which is a regional public accounting firm. Their program is during busy season and a dual-internship. You spend half of your time in tax and the other half in audit. I also interned at PwC in their risk assurance practice, which is where I ended up after graduation.
I joined the risk assurance practice right at the beginning of their busy season, which runs from September to March. I had just finished the marathon of sitting for the CPA, so I was already in a super focused mindset. That transitioned nicely to working full-time, sometimes around the clock, during busy season. Starting off with a busy season is a great way to bond with your start class. You’re spending 12 hours every day with those people, so you can really cement those relationships.
Overall, I loved my time at PwC. It was a great place to start a career. It provides a great foundation in so many ways. PwC does an incredible job of investing in its people. They really push consistent coaching on technical skills, working with clients, communication skills, etc. That starts on day one and every two weeks you’re required to have some kind of formal feedback loop or coaching session. Public accounting is one of the few places that you start coaching others in your first year. It was great to play a small role in coaching and developing others that early, something that I’m grateful for still today. PwC also does a great job of holding formal professional development events. When I started I figured those were mostly reserved for more senior employees. But within my first year, I had an opportunity to attend. I had some eye opening experiences and was able to learn more about myself and my shortcomings, but also what I wanted out of a career long term.
It’s third party assurance around systems and controls. We were providing statements of assurance on the integrity of the data and reporting coming out of third party software systems. Risk assurance is also involved with a lot of Sarbanes-Oxley work assessing internal controls. So you work closely with the financial audit team. I chose risk assurance because I was interested in technology and working with technology clients. I thought it would give me the best opportunity to do so.
Compared to audit, it’s longer but less intense. From what I understand about audit busy season, it’s a three month sprint where you’re constantly at peak capacity. Risk assurance goes on for six months or so, but typically you max out at 70 hours a week. There are times you’re still super busy, but there are slower times too. You have multiple clients during busy season, so they have different priorities and different deadlines. But I certainly never envied my friends in audit! 😂
I left because I had the opportunity to work in venture capital with my current firm, Flyover Capital. I really enjoyed my time at PwC. But when I had the opportunity to join Flyover Capital, I knew that it was a really rare opportunity. There aren’t a ton of opportunities to work in venture in Kansas City, especially if you’re coming from a non-traditional route as I was. Also, I was not coming from a traditional venture capital route. It was definitely a tough decision. It was hard to say goodbye to the friends that I had met along the way. But ultimately I felt like I had to pursue this opportunity.
Flyover Capital is an early-stage venture capital firm based in KC. We invest in high growth technology companies, typically B2B SaaS companies, outside of the traditional tech hubs. A lot of our companies are based in the greater midwest, or “flyover country” as we often refer to it. One of the starkest differences between Flyover and PwC is just the size. PwC is either the largest or second largest professional services firm in the world - Flyover is a team of five and one of us is located in Champagne, IL. So definitely a big change from that perspective. Since we are a small team, I get exposed to a lot of work that would typically be reserved for someone who’s more experienced. I help out with deal flow, which involves meeting with entrepreneurs to understand their business and what they’re looking for in an investment partner. I also conduct research on emerging technologies and due diligence on potential investments. Then I help our current portfolio companies in various capacities and have some administrative responsibilities too. There’s never a dull moment, which I love.
Aside from being able to navigate a spreadsheet, there wasn’t a ton technically that transferred over. But as I mentioned, it gave me a really strong foundation. Public accounting prepares you to meet challenges head on and not get discouraged when you don’t figure something out on the first try. It gave me the opportunity to work on complex issues, which is applicable to not only venture but any industry. PwC gave me the mindset that there’s no challenge I can’t overcome or concept I can’t learn. It’s just a matter of putting in the time and hard work to figure it out.
I would encourage everyone to take courses outside of their major. I think everyone should have exposure to computer science. But also think about other courses like English or History. Even if they aren’t directly related to the career you’re pursuing, choose something that you find interesting and broadens your horizon. It will help you develop as a whole person.
Take the time to get to know your professors outside of the classroom. I would have never discovered what a career in venture could look like if I didn’t. Professors are a huge wealth of knowledge and great connectors to alumni.
Use your inexperience to your advantage. Nobody expects students to be super well versed in a niche topic within an industry. So be curious and ask questions. People love to meet with students and help them. I always found that professionals, especially alumni, are easy to get in touch with. They were always willing to have a chat and share a nugget of wisdom. All I had to do was ask them. It’s really easy to send an email. The worst thing that will happen is they’ll say no or ignore you. But that’s actually how I got one of my internships. I emailed the managing partner at CBIZ after he spoke on campus. Next thing I knew we were meeting for lunch and I eventually received an internship offer through that relationship. There are few times in your life where it’s easier to build a network than while you’re in school.
I have never been under the impression that I am the smartest person in a room. But I will work harder than most. Sometimes that simply means showing up and saying yes to opportunities. At least early in your career -- but eventually, you need to be very mindful of your calendar. But I love to solve problems, especially for others. Sometimes the best way to learn is to take something off the plate of someone above you.
Another thing, which is really small, but write thank you notes. It’s something that isn’t done very often in today’s world. I think people really appreciate the extra time and effort.
Finally, read as much as you can. Take good notes and consume as much quality content as possible.
It sounds silly, but I will punish myself for not reading an article. But I use Notion to organize my thoughts and notes. I’ll save articles that I want to get to, and then later go in and organize them by topic. Then instead of scrolling through my cell during the weekend, I’ll revisit the articles. This way I always have them to reference, it’s kind of like I’m building my own library. But I also try not to beat myself up about not reading something as much as I used to.
I love what I'm doing right now and hope to do it for the foreseeable future. What I enjoy most is helping entrepreneurs and early-stage companies succeed. A large portion of net new jobs come from new businesses. In my mind, there’s no better way to lift a local economy than through entrepreneurship. So hopefully at the end of my career, I can play a very tiny part in benefiting our region through new businesses and the efforts of entrepreneurs. No matter what I’m doing, I love helping people and solving problems for people. Luckily I get to do a lot of that with Flyover.