Fall fundraising season is in full swing. You want to raise money, you think you're ready to take on venture capital, you're networking your way to some introductions... and have no idea what the title on the business card means.
Venture capital partnerships are confusing even to those on the inside. Different firms use the same title in different ways, or titles you recognize from another industry, which can make it challenging to determine how much influence someone really has over an investment decision.
While the politics and partnership dynamics of each fund will be different, you should be able to determine a firm's basic hierarchy, or at least who you need on your side through each phase of the process. If it's not clear, ask - who can actually write a check?
The people who put their own money in, raise the rest of the capital, manage the fund, make investment decision, get the management fees and the vast majority of the carried interest (the "2 and 20.") They hold the fiduciary and legal liability for the fund. If Managing is in the title, they likely hold most of the operational and administrative responsibility as well. Can write checks.
Investors who provided the rest of the capital for the fund, but who have no management or day to day role or involvement. Think pension funds, insurance companies, family offices and high net worth individuals. Can't write checks.
Often used in corporate venture structures where traditional partnerships aren't present, but similar responsibility to a General Partner. Can write checks.
Someone who may be full or part time but is usually only responsible for sourcing investments and managing those they do. May get some salary, but more often just gets a portion of the carried interest related specifically to their deals. Can also be a junior partner, but either way someone not usually involved in the management of the fund. May or may not work with the fund for it's entire life, so if the title you see only says partner, clarify if it's general or venture. Can write checks.
Experienced through junior roles or operating experience, looking to move up to partner. They run their own deals and may get a small percentage of the carried interest. May also be called a Vice President, particularly in a corporate environment, though that could also be someone very senior depending on the corporate. (Confused yet?) Can't write checks, but has a lot of influence.
Senior Associate / Associate
Usually post-MBA, eager to get some venture experience and responsible for helping with sourcing, screening and diligence as well as portfolio companies. Apprentice with and provide support for the partners and principals. Similar to the same titled role in the broader finance and banking world. Your earliest interactions with a firm may well be someone at this level, and they're the ones who will advocate for you up the chain. Don't discount them! Can't write checks.
The most junior investments team role. Pre-MBA, often there for a couple of years before moving on to graduate school or another job. They usually do a lot of the research and diligence work, so often know competitive landscapes and markets and are great to talk to for insight. Can't write checks.
Most of the above titles can also be combined with non-investment roles like platform, operating or communications, but those individuals likely interact with the investments team and may participate in discussions. Can't write checks.
Disclaimer: Every fund, traditional or corporate, is different, so all, some or none of the above may apply. When in doubt, ask other entrepreneurs, a portfolio company or even a more junior team member for the inside scoop.