One little black mark with the US authorities and you can end up… at Rockaway perhaps! Investment manager David Swaim, who has both Slovak and American blood in his veins, has an interesting career path behind…
There are usually two types of university students. There are those who try to fly through their semesters as quickly as possible and give a wide berth to anything else university-related, and then there are those who take advantage of every opportunity their studies offer them. Anna Zbirovská, who has been working for Rockaway since January as an Investment Associate, was without a doubt the second type – and about ten times over. But, as she says, work terms, competitions, Erasmus programmes, and other opportunities gradually opened doors to the world of investment. Today, at the age of 28, Anna is responsible for helping Rockaway find and analyze new start-ups that have market-changing potential.
“At the University of Economics in Prague, I studied international trade because I was interested in the essence of an education in economics, its international aspects, and economics as a science, as well as how companies work,” says Anna. On top of that, in her fourth year she also started taking law courses. “I liked the fact that there we delved into history and politics, and that I was able to get to know new people. But I didn’t want to spread myself too thin, so after one semester I stopped.”
Thanks to her excellent results in student competitions put on by McKinsey or Ernst&Young, for example, Anna attended several summer schools and work terms abroad, where she gradually gained experience in the area of M&A. Another important programme for her was Erasmus, in which she participated both during her bachelor’s and her master’s studies: “Right from first year I focused on getting into the University of Edinburgh, which is one of the best schools. Then, when I was doing my Master’s degree, I actually didn’t have to participate in another one – I ‘boned up’ on all the subjects in advance and was prepared to study law, plus at that time I was already working full time at EY in mergers and acquisitions. But I did it anyway,” she smiles. At the Erasmus School of Economics in Rotterdam she thus started exploring the technological part of the business and also had the opportunity to participate in several start-up summits abroad, such as the START Summit put on by the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland.
Soon she was offered a job at Swiss start-up Viso.ai, where for several months she was able to work closely with both founders. She then returned to Prague to join the investment banking team at WOOD & Company as an analyst. “It was a higher goal for me than EY, because we were taking companies to the stock market. They’re transactions with greater orders of magnitude, and I was thus able to get to know another transaction banking spectrum,” she says.
After some time, however, Anna felt the desire to move on, and when at last year’s Forbes Next Big Thing conference she heard the keynote speech given by Rockaway investment partner Dušan Zábrodský, her mind was made up. “I realized that this was exactly what I wanted. I wrote the team, saying that I had experience they might find useful. I then had several meetings with Andrea Lauren (note: a Rockaway investment partner) and other members of the team, and that was that.”
Today, as one of Rockaway’s Investment Associates, Anna ensures the team knows about opportunities on the market they should pay closer attention to and that it will understand well, analyzes new start-ups, and explores their potential. In her view, it’s also one of the greatest challenges for anyone in the ventures field: to find relevant opportunities quickly and at the right time. “Working at Rockaway Ventures doesn’t mean ending at 5 p.m. You basically have to rub shoulders with founders, attend events and conferences, and desktop research is important too, where you need to investigate various regulatory changes, read through various technical documents, and contact the right companies that are doing fund-raising,” she explains.
Taking care of investments as a never-ending process
Fresh proof of Anna’s hard work and talent, and of the whole team, is the recent investment into Spotawheel, a Greek platform for buying and selling used cars that last year the Financial Times ranked as one of the fastest-growing specialized shops in Europe.
In addition, Anna manages the whole investment process, from the initial stage of getting to know the founder to the investment as such, and any subsequent help with growth or additional rounds of fund-raising. “It’s basically a never-ending process,” she laughs. But this ventures team member says that there’s always great support to be had. “The Rockaway team is incredibly varied, and everyone has various experiences and skills – from London banks, private equity, or from building their own companies. And you won’t find a similar digital portfolio anywhere in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, or Poland. As opposed to the world of transaction consulting, here the dominant mindset is that of company builders and business drive, but there’s also a friendly atmosphere. And I’m really glad that I can be a part of it all.