Max Palko: “At Rockaway one experiences a constant steep learning curve.”
A professional soccer player, an actuary, a consulting manager. Max Palko could have become all of these, but – luckily for the Rockaway team – life led him elsewhere and finally led him to the position of investment manager with us. “In my current position, I’m learning something new every day and have the desire to improve constantly. For the time being I’m not stagnating – and I like that,” says Max, who has been part of the ventures team for almost five years now, and is giving a good name to not only the investment company, but also to the Rockaway Academy programme for graduates, which he was part of a couple of years back.
“I like numbers, I feel very strong and comfortable working with them,” he says when we talk about not only his work with the Rockaway Ventures team, but also about what interests he had when he was still a teenager. In high school he liked soccer a lot, but at the same time knew that university interested him much more. And he didn’t aim low: he submitted applications both in Prague and to several prestigious universities in Great Britain. “I’m from Bratislava, but I didn’t want to stay there – I was accepted at King’s College in London, but for many different reasons I finally chose the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics at Charles University in Prague. And I can’t say that it was an easy school – in many ways the material was just as hard as at British universities.
From consulting to ventures investments
And paradoxically, thanks to this interest he came even closer to Rockaway. In the Club 307 student consulting club he met classmate Michaela Kulíšková, who told him about a summer term at the Rockaway Academy, which gives students interested in technology and business a chance. “It wasn’t completely consulting, which I’d already been thinking about for some time, but work in a ventures team enticed me,” recalls Max. He just missed getting the job, though he got excellent feedback from Viktor Fischer, who was in charge of the team back then. “In the end it didn’t matter, because I got accepted for a work term at Košík, which is in the portfolio. And it was really worth it – not only did I utilize my skills from Sandoz, but was able to try out a bunch of new things. Because we deal with business intelligence a lot, we used to go to the warehouse to verify the efficiency of various processes in the field. We also tried out delivery, which was an absolutely unforgettable experience,” he recalls.
Max remained at the Academy and spent the second year of his work term at Rockaway Ventures. Back then Viktor Fischer had started to put together the blockchain fund, so Max could work with the team manager at the time, Martin Konopa. And to this day, Max appreciates two specific things about both Rockaway and the Academy: “Basically, they throw you in the water and you have to swim. But you don’t have to be afraid, because you learn a ton of new things really quickly and watch yourself progressing – aha, I couldn’t even have imagined this recently, now I even know this. And it’s a great feeling,” he says. And because new exciting challenges had appeared in the investment team, Max decided to start working for Rockaway full time. “If in the end I’d decided for consulting, Viktor promised to give me a good recommendation – but in the end I stayed, I knew that I could learn a lot at Rockaway.”
And precisely because Max sees meaning in his work and really enjoys it is the main reason why for the time being he has no desire to work for a competitor or for example a major consulting company. In his own words, he has neither the time nor the opportunity to stagnate – every day he finds out something new and takes another step forward. The bulk of Max’s work consists of searching for and finding suitable investments. But it depends, of course, on whether you’re new in the team or if you already have some experience. Rookies can quickly become part of the process (as those who have absolved the Rockaway Academy can attest), but the more experience a team member has the greater “portion” of the entire process he or she can handle. “When I was still in Rockaway Academy, I very quickly got to attend meetings where I spoke with founders. Now, a couple of years later, I’m able to handle the entire process from A to Z and I deal with most ventures investments.
And not only Max, but his colleagues in the ventures team also have to really work through the entire process. “It’s of course the best when you already have your network and know the founder personally. Then we negotiate a term sheet and basic conditions, perform due diligence, check whether everything is correct financially and legally, and discuss the transaction documentation… And then when the company is in the portfolio, we actively work with them and help them in areas where we ourselves are strong,” explains Max. It is this interaction with the founder, almost a “courtship” between the founder and investor, that is one of Max’s skills where he is most pleased at his own progress: “Once I got some feedback that it’s perhaps one of my weaknesses – and that’s why I enjoy working on this aspect of myself. I meet new people and at the same time I also get to learn about new business models.”
And he adds that’s actually the best thing about the whole Rockaway team – learning by doing and the great amount of responsibility each member has. “It’s of course very subjective, but in a large corporation one person doesn’t have a major influence on things – at Rockaway you can take on a fairly large project and work on it yourself. You don’t stagnate. And it’ll be hard to leave such an environment one day,” he smiles.