Meet the Team Putting the ‘Venture’ in Adventure at Cogo Labs
Starting a new career can feel like an arduous task — but it can also be an adventure.
Though job seekers might be unsure of exactly what they want, they can picture their ideal role. For many, it’s a job imbued with creative autonomy and surrounded by open-minded individuals who love asking and answering questions. The ability to build exciting, impactful projects from the ground up adds even more value.
This new career journey usually comes down to two paths.
There’s the familiar-looking path where each job seeker can stick to what they know. It seems safer, but there’s also less choice involved — not only in the projects to work on, but also in the balance and growth opportunities.
The other path is more uncertain, but it can cause a thrill to zip up each job seeker’s spine. In the distance, they might see waterfalls of data and new mentorships blossoming like rare flowers. There’s an air of innovation, a feeling of belonging. It leads to a place where new hires can pitch ideas, take big swings and run with ownership opportunities.
When a job seeker chooses a path with that sense of adventure, it might lead right to Cogo Labs, a venture accelerator and incubator company.
It was that very “choose your own adventure” style of opportunity that Ken Koldewyn saw in his first position at Cogo Labs, which gave him confidence he was in the right place. “I knew I would be able to get involved with all kinds of companies and have a lot of impact,” he said, recalling the celebratory and energetic atmosphere he experienced early on in his tenure. Today, Koldewyn is a senior systems engineer on the cloud information technology team at Cogo, helping carry out the company’s mission to launch startups through data analytics.
Through stories of culture, mentorship and growth, Koldewyn — alongside his teammates, Senior Analyst Angel Jehng and Senior Accountant Shannon Maguire — sat down with Built In to illustrate how much adventure and opportunity really lies within the employee experience at Cogo.
Beyond choosing your own adventure, how would you describe Cogo’s culture in a single word?
Maguire: Collaborative. Everyone is driven to accomplish their own goals, but at the same time, individual goals roll up into Cogo’s larger mission. Everything is very aligned, and you feel as though whatever you’re doing has a bigger purpose as well. You even see that reflected within everyone else’s goals. It’s also nice to see your contributions come up and get recognized across multiple areas in the company.
Koldewyn: Autonomous. You get to apply to different projects and choose what you’re going to work on every quarter. Nobody is micromanaged, and nobody is going to tell you exactly how to get the job done. You have the option to do what you find interesting and get from point A to point B in the best way possible.
Jehng: Elevated. Our structure is horizontal, and we are invested in every individual’s path. There’s a lot of support in getting people interested in what they’re doing. From a project standpoint, we have quarterly business plan meetings where leadership reviews and staffs all the potential projects. The process has been an ongoing iteration to make sure we’re shifting to hit our goals.
“You choose the direction you want to go and let your project guide you.”
What groups are you involved in outside of your role, and how do they improve your work experience at Cogo?
Koldewyn: We have a monthly engineering group that gets together and does talks, which we turned into a weekly Tech Talk series to explore the newer tech. Right now, we’re big into blockchain. I can see it being an avenue for people to nerd out and learn about new technology.
Maguire: Angel and I are part of the Women’s Collective, where all of the women at Cogo get together throughout the year for events held to bring us together, build each other up, get excited about being women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and keep more women coming into the field. We’ve done charcuterie and floral classes, and we do smaller events, too.
Jehng: There’s been an ongoing effort to make the Women’s Collective very strong. It’s provided a great way to meet people in a more casual environment. There’s been an effort to create safe spaces in that environment geared toward more difficult topics. I’m also part of the diversity, equity and belonging council at Cogo.
Angel, tell us about the DE&B Council. How does it foster a sense of belonging at Cogo?
Jehng: The council is made up of people from across the company. We meet every two weeks with the goal of strategizing how to foster belonging in the company through inclusive recruiting processes, training opportunities, events or community engagement. For example, a project called the Community Action program was born out of the council. People can apply to the project and say, “I really want to highlight this thing through a series or talk, and I need your support.” Then we help them do that. Because we’re such a data-driven company, we also collect survey data about gaps we see within our organization and try to bridge them through funding, recruiting or retention.
Something cool we’ve been doing this year is highlighting inclusive events or training every month. This past May, the council made an effort to touch on the intersection of Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage and mental health awareness. We had a personal training expert host an in-person event to teach us exercises, talk about his identity journey and experience being an Asian American business owner, and share how he got to where he is in the PT field.
“I like being a part of conversations that allow me to understand why certain decisions are being made or why we are pursuing a certain strategy.”
What is Cogo’s mentorship experience like?
Koldewyn: Finding a mentor is extremely easy because we have so many talented people who also have a growth mindset. Our CEO, Robert Fisher, started out as an analyst and is now running the company. He’s been a mentor for a lot of people at the company. My manager, who’s the Vice President of Engineering, has been an incredible mentor to me as well.
Jehng: It’s easy to reach out to people and set up coffee chats whenever you want to learn more about something. We also have a Donut app connected to our Slack, which is a great way to meet people. In terms of mentorship, direct managers have been the most impactful for me — including my current manager.
Maguire: Managing and finding a mentor has been so easy within the six short months I’ve been here. Everyone is always willing to lend a hand and give you the insight you need. My direct manager is fantastic. She’s been here a long time, like Ken, and she knows the ins and outs of the company.
Aside from mentorship, what other learning and development opportunities does Cogo let employees choose from?
Maguire: Employees get tuition reimbursement, book stipends and a variety of tools for anything we want to pursue or learn more about. Everyone can also join projects they are aligned with and want to grow with.
Koldewyn: Since we’re always incubating something new, we’re basically presented with a blank canvas. It’s up to the team manager or owner of the project to decide how they’re going to build it. That’s a big part of career growth at Cogo: You choose the direction you want to go and let your project guide you.
Jehng: Projects always present a learning curve, which keeps things interesting. More formally, we had an analytics-focused learning and development series where team members at every level could spend days learning how to develop the skills needed to grow in their career.
“You choose the direction you want to go and let your project guide you.”
Tell me about a recent or current project you’re excited about. How does it tie back into choosing your own career path?
Jehng: In the last nine months, I’ve been working on the financial advisor marketplace project. Seeing the project develop in real time — and how quickly we’re able to get the products, partnerships and analytical support to where they need to be — has been crazy. This bridges into Cogo’s mission in that we’re basically a startup team being run internally. I like being a part of conversations that allow me to understand why certain decisions are being made.
Maguire: Finance is also trying to build a rinse-and-repeat model. Our goal is to host 30 concurrent companies, which means 30 accounting books. We need a model that can be used again and again to get books ready and reported on so that once these companies are up and running, we can go without any question about how we record revenue. It’s super important we get this done to keep Cogo moving at the right pace.
Koldewyn: I work on what we call CogoCloud; it’s IT services for the platform. We’re truly supporting all of the incubating companies by automating and creating deployments that are fast and cause almost no friction for companies as they come on board. For example, zero touch laptop deployments and quick access to a full suite of web services, whether through Amazon or our own infrastructure. I’ve always loved working with tech and computers. For me, this is like a dream. I feel like I have a direct relationship with our mission.
What should new hires expect during their first few months on the team — and how can they best choose their own adventure when they get there?
Koldewyn: Expect to learn a lot in the first few months and take ownership right away. I would encourage new hires to stay in the growth mindset. If you have something you want to do, present it. If it’s approved, it’s yours; own it and run with it.
Jehng: New hires should expect a lot of fast-paced work and ambiguity. But that’s the whole point — to be a part of an initial conversation. From an analytics perspective, we’re focused on the whole incubation and origination process. We have a forum, called “big swing” day, where anyone can voice ideas they have. Even if someone doesn’t fully understand what Cogo is about yet, they can start to pursue any great ideas they have here.
Maguire: Expect everyone to be welcoming and ready to lend a hand. Once you go through launch week, be ready to hit the ground running and try to own as much as possible. As soon as you have something on your plate, take it as far as you possibly can. Don’t be afraid to voice your ideas and opinions; it will be taken as valuable insight. And continue to ask questions; that’s how you make an impact.