Sunday, June 12, 2016

How to Get a Job In Venture Capital

In a 2014 post* I introduced the writer thusly:
And now Mr. Turck (*"Partner at FirstMark Capital. Previously, Managing Director at Bloomberg Ventures and before that, co-founder of TripleHop Technologies, acquired by Oracle....")
In this first paragraph of a post from last September I don't think he was talking specifically about Marc Andreessen but...

Playing “fake VC” (or the portfolio approach to getting a job in venture capital)
How does one get a VC job?
Method 1:  Start a tech company, drive it a multi-billion dollar success. Drop a few bon mots on Twitter to your robust group of followers, make visionary statements during your TechCrunch Disrupt fireside chat, and build a reputation as a helpful mentor to entrepreneurs.  Then wait by your phone as major firms call you with General Partner offers.  Or start your own firm.
Here's the rest of Mr. Turck's post:
Method 2: Welcome to the long hard slog.  And read on.

The good news is that it’s a great time to get into venture capital.  While venture capital remains a small industry with comparatively few openings, many VC firms have raised a lot of money lately, so they need more people to help them deploy it.  A number of investment analyst/associate positions are advertised (or were recently) – for example, we just posted a new opening at FirstMark, see here.  I’m also aware of several General Partner-level searches being conducted right now.

Ok, but how do you get those jobs?  Ask any VC, and they will tell you that they get that question all the time, and I’m no exception — in fact, I’m not-so-secretly hoping that this (long) blog post will help cover 80% or so of the content discussed in the frequent conversations I have on the topic, so I can focus on the 20% that’s specific to each person’s circumstances.

It’s not just the odds that make the topic complicated – it’s also that that there’s no single or sure-fire path to the job.

Structured vs unstructured
First key thing to understand:  the startup world is very unstructured. This makes things often befuddling to people looking for a clear, structured path to a VC job.   In the professional services world, the right college and major gets you the right analyst job that gets you to the right MBA that gets you the right associate or VP job.  There are recruiting seasons, classes, reviews, “up or out” policies, defined paths to “making partner”.

Much less so in the VC world.  There’s all sorts of variations.  At the junior level, some firms (not many) hire right after college  while others hire candidates with 1-4 years of experience.  Some VC firms have 2-3 year analyst/associate programs (upon completion of which people tend to join portfolio companies, start their own company or go to grad school), while others will promote to higher levels like principal, leading eventually to partner opportunities.  Most firms recruit on an as-needed basis, and there’s no “recruiting season”, which means that you should be on the lookout throughout the year for new position openings, as those may happen at any time.

If you’re at a more senior level (principal or partner), it’s even trickier because there’s generally no public application process (although some firms have tried that approach) – you typically get recruited or co-opted.  So a lot has to do with having an appropriate professional background, positioning yourself adequately… and then “hanging around the hoop”, hoping someone will pass you the ball.  More on this positioning exercise in a minute.

Covering the basics
The fact that there is no structured path to VC doesn’t mean that there is no “common core” of things that VC firms like.   All firms basically look for indicators of overall excellence and relevant experience.

For more junior positions (analyst/associate), as for many other jobs, great grades and/or a great school will certainly help, everything else being equal.  In terms of majors, VC firms increasingly like candidates with computer science, engineering or design degrees, although my guess is that the vast majority of analysts and associates have an economics or liberal arts background still.  In terms of professional experience, there’s a wide range of criteria depending on the firm, but one thing is clear:  every firm loves a candidate who has worked at a startup (particularly a recognizable name) at one point or another, at a minimum as an internship.  So… go work for a startup.  On top of that, there’s again a fairly wide variation of preferences, depending on the firm.  At FirstMark, for our associates, we tend to like (but certainly not require) a couple of years after college in a top bank, consulting firm or equivalent — the main benefit from our perspective being that candidates have been thoroughly “professionally trained” and come equipped with the right level of work ethic, reliability and thoroughness.  Note that there’s one big thing missing from the list: an MBA.  It’s a topic for another blog post, but in my opinion the MBA has gone from being an absolute must in venture capital 10-15 years ago (especially Harvard, Stanford and Wharton) to being on the verge of irrelevance (at least as an entry point into VC)....MORE
*Can the Bloomberg Terminal be “Toppled”?