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The Graduate: Ryan Piela  6 min read

Ryan currently works for the Estée Lauder Companies on their New Incubation Ventures team. The team sources investments and incubation targets globally in the luxury and prestige beauty space. In this role, Ryan looks to partner with new and emerging brands, as well as the associated technologies that enable the creation of new brands.

Ryan, who is originally from Seattle, was living there prior to his acceptance and attendance at NYU. Before Stern, he spent 5 years in consulting roles. Ryan worked three of those years at BroderickHaight Consulting L.L.C. where he helped start and run the business from the ground up. The company works with both domestic non-profits and international development actors to help them with comprehensive international strategic services.

After BroderickHaight, Ryan spent the next two years at Slalom Consulting, a business and technology consulting firm. He found consulting work rewarding, but knew that he wanted to experiment and pursue other career paths. Originally, he was unsure which direction to go, or the options available. After some due diligence, Ryan decided that attending business school would provide him the opportunity to test new ideas and discover new passions. 

“I wanted to do something different but didn’t know what. I actually discovered Venture Capital at NYU through different clubs, classes, and an internship.” 

While at NYU, Ryan participated in a semester-long internship with a company called Quake Capital Partners. He assisted the firm’s portfolio companies and sourced potential deals. Through these activities he realized that venture capital was a great fit for his goals. 

After Ryan graduated from the full-time MBA in 2018, he did one more year in consulting looking to use his operator and entrepreneurial predilections to build out a new consulting arm from scratch. After the year, he decided to switch to venture capital full-time. 

“I started consulting again when I graduated but got tired of the role pretty quickly. For VC, I love the entrepreneurial aspect of the business. Building, supporting founders, and getting a lot of diversity.”

After a year and a half at a startup accelerator, Ryan joined the Estée Lauder Companies in March of 2021 as an Executive Director on the New Incubation Ventures team. The team is one of the more nascent teams within Estee Lauder. Ryan explained that the team was started and is led by Shana Randhava, who had previously led Estee’s M&A arm. Shana, Ryan, and another team member, Lauren, have built out a capability designed to invest in and incubate early-stage prestige and luxury beauty brands. The team utilizes its VC dollars to incubate and partner with innovative startups earlier in their life cycles. Ryan emphasized that of the Estée Lauder Companies’ current 25+ brands, some have been built internally, while others like the Ordinary, have grown through acquisitions. Knowing that growth can be achieved by various means, Ryan helps the team mimic VCs so that Estee Lauder can support founders and join in their journey. Ryan pointed out that working on a strategically focused corporate venture capital team is inherently different from VC because the end goal is to eventually have the brands join the company, which gives him a longer time horizon compared to traditional shops. 

Recently, Ryan has spent time looking at startups abroad – recently returning from running a program in India called Beauty&You Awards – and at how brands can leverage the new digital innovations. Key areas of interest have been Web3, loyalty/retention tools, and methods of linking physical and digital space. 

Ryan said that working with innovative founders and helping them realize their goals while building disruptive businesses are what he enjoys most about venture and his current role. 

“I love building and creating, so the ability to both develop and define this new investing capability within the beauty industry is exciting. The other thing that drives me is enabling founders and helping them scale their businesses to reach customers.”

On a more personal note, Ryan shared that a large challenge he has faced while developing his career has been managing external expectations as to what we should be doing and how we should be conducting our careers. Ultimately, his main advice to students is to find a career that makes them feel happy and fulfilled on a daily basis. 

“There is definitely a lot of pressure to be a banker or a consultant coming out of the MBA. Sometimes, for a lot of reasons, this is driven by societal or monetary expectations. I learned this later on, but everyone just needs to find something that makes them happy on a day-to-day basis. This can be scary, but this attitude has served me very well over my career.” 

For aspiring VCs, he made clear that “there is no linear path to this work”, adding to the uncertainty of the career. Ryan stated that being able to make connections and drawing threads between people and ideas is vital. Bringing two founders together or connecting a startup team with an expert can lead to breakthroughs. Additionally, these skills help VCs also connect causal relationships between trends and data to develop a distinct viewpoint of the future and investment theses.

Ryan was also keen to provide advice to students on building their brand and personal direction. He believes this will help them stand out in interviews, pitch sessions, and on the actual job. 

“What I heard many times at Stern was ‘Build your brand’. I had a hard time really understanding what that meant in practice. A rephrase of the question that finally worked for me was ‘What will someone remember about you professionally after a 30 minute intro call?’ Is it specific skills, subject expertise, superpowers, or a combination? I speak to many aspiring VCs and professionals that are open to every option or role to break into the industry. This over-choice makes it hard to build a brand – nobody can be known for everything. So my biggest suggestion for people pursuing similar careers is to deliberately pick a brand & personal direction and start doing! Then walk the walk once you’ve decided.”

When I asked Ryan about his greatest accomplishments to date, he responded with a practical and holistic personal mission statement. Basically, Ryan wants to leave the world a better place than he found it by helping others achieve their goals. 

“My goal in life is to leave the world a better place. I look to do this by enabling others to achieve their astronomical and positive goals, which means my greatest accomplishments are helping others succeed.”  

A more tangible accomplishment that Ryan described being proud of was his work with Haeckels, a sustainable beauty brand.  

“I am so so proud of this brand’s recent announcement, which included launching fully home-compostable packaging, and innovating on raw ingredients for superb and sustainable products! If successful across the industry, we can make a lasting dent in the millions of pounds of plastic that hits the ocean every year and create more sustainably created goops and juices.”

In Ryan’s free time, he advises at a few accelerators in the city and supports a small handful of founders as an advisor. You can also frequently find Ryan on the pitch as he plays competitive soccer year-round. When Ryan isn’t helping startups or playing soccer, he loves to travel for both personal and professional reasons (he has been to 40+ countries). Ryan also wants to learn how to play guitar and is currently taking lessons. 

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