Harris Mahmood: ‘Climbing the Mountain’ of startup careers

5 Minute Read

We chat with Jumpstart Alum Harris Mahmood about his whirlwind startup journey, from starting his own business, to joining a pre-seed startup, to smashing it as a Founder Associate at Series A startup Robin AI.

Hey Harris – great to catchup with you today! For those who don’t know you – could you start by giving us a quick run-down of your startup journey? 

“Sure – I graduated in 2020 from Glasgow university, where I did a law degree – but I realised pretty quickly that I didn’t see myself in law long-term. I discovered what the inside of a law firm actually looked like, and it was not for me. 

I was on the lookout for something a little less monotonous, and really a role that excited me. So in the year after graduation, I decided to use my time to reset and understand what it meant to me to have a fulfilling work life. I made just enough money to get by through a tutoring business I started, and spent the rest of my time reading books, watching podcasts, and speaking to lots of people about anything that interested me. In the end, I realised that the tech startup industry was the best fit for me. 

So I found Jumpstart, applied, and joined the Generalist programme in February 2022. And my first role I ended up in was a Founder Associate role at Versadex.”

Versadex was one of the first Web 3.0 Adtech companies for programmatic advertising in the Metaverse, connecting creators and brands in virtual worlds. They were a pre-seed stage startup, which means they were very early stage, and had secured just enough funding to get the idea off the ground.

“I chose Versadex because I felt I needed a challenge – it was the only pre-seed company on the cohort, they had zero customers, and barely a product (just a great idea)! And I really wanted to get stuck in and help build the company from scratch.”

“Genuinely, Jumpstart changed my life.”

Harris Mahmood, FA at Robin
Amazing! And what did a Founder Associate role at such an early-stage company look like? 

“It was all about building the business and validating their idea. And starting basically from scratch – I onboarded and learned everything I needed to know about the company in a weekend!

I’m actually surprised in hindsight that I got the Founder Associate role – I didn’t really have professional experience, but I had built up enough industry knowledge and skills in the past year that I was able to stand out enough in front of the founder to land the role. 

After 8 months at Versadex, I decided to make the move to a slightly more established, Series A company through Jumpstart – and I’m now Founder Associate at Robin AI.”

Robin AI is a Legaltech company re-thinking how contracts are drafted, negotiated, and used. Using a combination of software, AI, and machine learning, they make contracts simple by automating contract management. They’re a Series A startup – which means they have established more market traction, and have secured a higher level of funding from Venture Capital firms to further fuel their growth.

Really interesting! You’ve told us a little about what it meant to be a Founder Associate at a pre-seed company – are there any changes in the role you’ve noticed at a Series A company like Robin?

One thing I’ve found, is I’ve had to work a little harder to find my niche in the company. There was definitely flexibility with my role to stay a complete generalist and get stuck into tons of stuff forever, but I wanted to focus on owning something in the company and making my mark. 

And with more processes established and in place, this was a little trickier than at Versadex – finding my niche has taken about 6 months. But I’ve now found it, and my role is all about software implementation and onboarding; taking clients all the way from pre-sale demos of the product to post-sale implementations. I’m basically overseeing the whole client process!

It’s also been great to see the company grow so quickly. When I joined, we were a team of 50, and we’re now close to hitting 100 which is really exciting.”

That IS exciting – onwards and upwards! Looking back across your two Founder Associate roles, what would you say is the biggest skill you’ve developed? 

“The biggest thing is the mental skill of being able to take ownership over things. There’s this thing I call a ‘Founder mindset’, basically the idea that if I don’t do it, no-one else will. This is a vital skill to develop for wannabe founders, and I try to apply that mindset to everything I do. 

Since a Founder Associate role is so generalist, it is easy to hide, but you shouldn’t do that. A successful Founder Associate takes ownership and responsibility for things getting or not getting done.”

Amazing! Thanks so much for giving us an insight into your startup journey. Delving a bit further back in time, we were wondering if you had any reflections on the Jumpstart programme – any highlights?

“I’d just say Jumpstart has massively impacted my career. Coming from a background with no Oxbridge education, no connections in the startup industry, plus being the only Scottish person on my cohort, it felt like a mountain to climb to get into tech startups in London.

I spent a year of focus and graft to try and break into this industry, and when it’s not working out for you, it really starts to weigh on you. 

But joining Jumpstart changed my life. I remember during the process, they even paid for my ticket so I could come down to London for a community social, and even attend some interviews in person. And when I interviewed with Versadex, I was pretty much offered the role right on the spot.

That moment really stands out to me. Genuinely, Jumpstart changed my life.”

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