Oct 13

So, You Want to Roll a Boulder Uphill? or Getting a Job in VC as an MBA

uphillEvery year a number of MBA students reach out to me asking about getting a job in VC. I end up telling them all a similar set of ideas. I thought I’d try to answer this here so that I could save a bit of time. Skip this section if you just want advice.

My Story

Very briefly: I was involved in 3 start-ups, all of which were bought. I have a CS background and went from a penetration tester, someone who breaks into computers to test their security, to the tech lead for Symantec’s NY Office. This was in 2006 when I decided I wanted to go into VC.

To begin my journey, I met with David Strohm of Greylock to get input on how to get into the venture business. His advice, which I have heard countless times since, ‘Don’t bother, VC is a tough business.’ To his credit, he saw the upcoming shrinkage of the industry and tried to point me to PE, which was about to have a boom. Then he admitted to me that, if I couldn’t be swayed, it might be worth it to go to business school. I decided to do that, and 18 months later I was in school again.

In B-school, people commonly do internships during the summer between the first and second year of the program. Most people lock these up in the first quarter of the year, it is a rare and stressful case to be two weeks before the start of summer break without anything lined up. About a week before summer internships started, when all my classmates had internship offers and were partying, I finally got an offer for the summer from the firm US Venture Partners in Menlo Park. The team there taught me a ton, and I really owe them all a lot.

At the end of school I again was one once again one of the minority to not have a job offer in hand. I moved out to California, without a paying gig, to find work. The folks at US Venture Partners were nice enough to let me use an office while I looked. They had recently promoted two of their principals to partner and thus made it clear that they weren’t hiring so I would have to look elsewhere.

After doing consulting work for six months or so I took a job at Adobe, but I kept my eyes peeled for venture opportunities. After more than a year at Adobe I was introduced to the team at Gotham ventures for the first time. I met with them 4-5 times over the next 6 months before getting an offer. Total time to find a role in VC: 3-4 years.

Things that worked

Finding a job in venture is all about networking; I spoke to every alumni who was in VC.

  • Start with the junior people in your network, while they can’t offer you a job they can answer more basic questions and help you figure out who might be hiring. By the time you speak with partners you need to know the business.
  • Find firms that have recently closed a new fund; new money means the ability to hire new people. Another possibility is to look for associates or principals that have recently left a firm; they may have left an open spot you can fill.
  • Don’t ask for a job. ‘If you want advice ask for money; if you want money ask for advice.’ If a firm has an opening they will tell you when you’re asking advice about finding roles in venture.
  • Create work product: I created a 40 page document on investing in computer security. Find your niche and make something of value that you can give away.
  • See if a firm will offer you a desk: It isn’t a job, but it is something you can tell people you’re doing after graduation. Find a firm that will let you work and network out of their offices, it will keep you in the flow and get you out of your apartment.
  • Most importantly: be ready to wait. You will likely graduate without a position, that can be tough. Don’t hang out with people that are freaking out about not having a job, instead find others in your class who are doing non-traditional paths.

The road to a job in venture is mostly likely to be one with many twists and turns. One really needs to be ready to wait and to be creative while trying to find that first job. Since every firm is different they will each be looking for different things, but some common refrains are:

  • Operating experience: having spent time in a startup is really important, it gives you the ability to empathize with founders.
  • A good network: having knowledge of the local startup ecosystem (or the one in which you want to get a job) is a big plus. While you’re going to be junior and probably not expected to have a great network on day one, being plugged in is really attractive to firms.
  • Expertise: having an area that you know cold and where founders will seek you out for advice is a great place to be. While knowing how to prepare a pitch deck or model is nice, it isn’t a big differentiator. To to find domain knowledge that can’t be easily replicated.

Many people told me not to try to get a role in venture since it was so difficult to do; this made me want to prove them wrong. Instead, let me leave you with this: If there is anything else other than a job in VC that will make you happy, do that. It will be easier to get started and you won’t have as much headwind to fight.

A good friend of mine read a draft of this post and pointed out that nowhere did I say how much fun it is working in a startup. He is completely right. Before my switch I worked in several startups, and they were a blast. You’ll learn more in a year at a startup than in 5 years of b-school. Also, if you can make several million dollars at a startup then getting a job in venture will be easy; so I recommend doing that.

Feb 09

Talk the walk

I had to create a talk for class on VC Lingo and ways in which early stage investors protect themselves in transactions. I thought I'd post the slides here in case anyone was interested.
Basics of VC Securities

View more presentations from artimage. (tags: vc venture)

Jan 09

VC Internship Interviews

So this blog is not going to be a how-to on VC internships, but I've gotten a few questions after my last post on the interview process. I figure if one person is asking, then others must be wondering.

The VC interview process is not structured like many other B School interviews; you won't have to do public math, nor do you normally have to pitch a company (Though having a few ideas of startup companies you like can't hurt.) Instead you'll generally have to walk the person through your resume, and then tell them why you'll be good at VC, and how you can add value. Some guys will come right out and ask tough questions like "Why would an entrepreneur listen to you?" while others will be far more subtle. Either way, you've got to sell them on a couple things:

  • You know the business well enough that you won't waste their time.
  • You can add value. (Either you know a sector they like, or you have operating skills their companies can use.)
  • You're really excited about venture.

The last one seems obvious, but given how short the summer is and how little structure their is inside most firms, you're going to have to be self motivated. If it is just a job to you then (unlike banking) they won't get any good work from you. Remember, most VC's view internships as a waste , you really need to show that you aren't going to use up their most valuable resource: time.

So be ready to tell your story, show some passion, and go out there and get a job. 🙂

Jan 09

Finding a VC Internship

The Career Development Office sent a number of students who are interested in finding an internship in VC to speak with me. I think I've gotten my spiel down pretty well by now, so I thought I'd put it up here. 

  • Figure out your story. Just like the process for getting into B-School you need to have a story arc that logically ends with you getting the position you want, in this case a job in VC. In my case the story revolves around the three startups I worked at, my changing interest from technology to business and markets, and from being an individual contributor to more of a mentor. Obviously your resume should be written to reflect your story.
  • Be an expert. If you're not already an expert in an area that receives venture investment find one that you can become an expert in. Recently many students have looked into clean tech and the energy fields, but there are plenty of technologies
  • Make a list of alumni. You're going to want to make a list of firms that are the size and style that interests you, then cross reference that with alumni lists. When I first started I only looked at Tuck alumni, but over time I've found that alumni from my college as well as general Dartmouth alumni have been very receptive as well. Start with the more junior people, early on you'll be asking basic questions and it's best to get those answered by people who won't mind helping to educate you. Also, don't start with your top firm, you'll get better at the phone calls as you go, so save the best for last.
  • Learn the land mines. Early on you'll discover common questions about your background and why you think you should be a VC. Start to determine which answers resonate with people, and how to cut off avenues that are not flattering to you. For instance, most early stage VC's want to see that you have some operating experience. If you started a successful startup then this is easy, but if not you'll want to tell them earlier (before they ask) about some relevant operating experience and how you believe it has given you the necessary skills. Getting out in front of tough questions can keep you from having to go on the defensive about some aspect of your skill set.
  • Cast a wide net. I ended up meeting the firm I worked for over the summer because I mentioned to a family friend what I was looking to do. She replied that "Oh, I know a person that works in venture, would you like to speak with him." That turned out to be the connection that finally did it. So tell everyone in your network what you're looking to do, you never know when it will pay off.
  • Do free work. Show how you can add value by doing some due diligence for free. Obviously you should  offer to do work in the area in which you are an expert.
  • Be prepared to wait. Everyone will tell you that VC's wait until the end of the process to make decisions. It is a simple selection filter for a VC firm, if you're not willing to wait then you're not dedicated enough; it is also a way of not having to say no. My advice, stay focused and don't apply to jobs that would force you to make an early decision (such as consulting) since they'll just add stress when you have to turn them down. It is smart to have a Plan B, just make sure that you've exhausted your options before you have to pull the trigger.  
  • Stay up on VC news. PE Hub has a great mailing list that will give you a quick view of the news of the day. VentureBeat and TechCrunch are also excellent for staying abreast of what is going on in the world of Venture.  

Those are the things that worked for me, I hope they work for others.