Venture capitalists are the new rock stars. And discovering, then funding, the next massively disruptive technology startup--has become the "it" job based on the number of VC-job seeking email inquires which land in investor inboxes. As one VC said to me, people have this "wry notion that it [venture] means automatic fun, wealth and thrills, sorry...it's just not that way". But who wants to hear that venture requires the back-breaking hours as well as college degrees and analytical skills required to make it as a professional on Wall Street? Spoiler alert: VCs typically have a classic financial training background - an MBA, investment banker or similar background. Add on computer science or engineering pedigree, plus a startup or two and you've more than got your foot in the VC door.
However, if Marc Andreessen really is your career muse but you have yet to co-found a tech company or two (then successfully exit so you can start your own venture fund) what's the steep career path to land one of these coveted roles? Inquiring bright professional minds want to know, so I asked six venture capitalists for their insights on the career path to VC partner and compiled the consistency of their answers below. Even if you have a desired skill set, it's not easy to become a VC.
What is the most likely track record of a VC partner? What about a venture partner?
Answer: Preferably someone with an entrepreneurial background--even if those ventures failed. Successes are great (even if small) especially if the entrepreneur has built and sold a company in a domain that is the focus of a VC firm. The entrepreneurial route typically leads to becoming an EIR (Entrepreneur-in-Residence) that often takes on various roles from triage of deals, to board seats to becoming a GP in a firm.
The next best path is via an "Associate", "Principal" or "VP" role in a venture firm, but you better have deep financial and analytical capability backed by a strong work ethic.
As for the Venture Partner route: the ideal person for that role would typically have been in an operations role for many years.
Note: These roles are never advertised. Partner level hires, almost always are someone the partners in a VC firm already know (i.e. CEO of a former portfolio company).
What are the skills that one should demonstrate in order to be considered for a partner role?
Here's the necessary skills checklist:
- Being able to raise money.
- Solid networks of Limited Partners.
- Domain experience (and with any luck, in a sector the VC partners find exciting).
- Prior investing track record.
- Strong access to high quality deal flow.
- Relationships with seasoned, all-star serial entrepreneurs.
- Ability to help portfolio company founders with their biggest operational challenges.
- Understanding if a company has the ability to grow and scale given its team, the marketplace, the financial composition and the vision for the product or service.
- Commercial judgment and the ability to find an exit.
- Reputation in both the founder and investor communities.
- Long-term vision and ability to see opportunities and gaps in the market.
What past work experience is relevant? Startup? Corporate M&A or Innovation? Accelerator? Non-investor role with an Angel Group or Family Office?
Answer: Startup experience is definitely relevant.
Corporate or startup or accelerator experience could be relevant but it depends on the VC firm. Different firms have a different "lens" through which they would judge their interest in such work experience and some of it all depends on what "gaps" the partner team at a VC fund believe they need to fill. A non-investor role with angel group or family office is least relevant unless it's for an administrative position. Corporate roles are relevant only to later stage investors.
How can someone demonstrate they have transferable skills / experience?
Answer: If you're approached by a VC firm to help with some due diligence or to provide insights on a prospective deal, it may just be a road-test for an actual VC role.
Assuming you've got the desired skill set already, here are four suggestions on how to start demonstrating you've got the capability, gut and vision to be a VC:
- Secure an internship role with a VC firm (and those roles are not easy to come by) then, once in the door, make yourself irreplaceable.
- Create a track record by investing your own money in some angel deals.
- Sit on startup advisory boards and mentor entrepreneurs in a target space.
- Teach a class and blog regularly.
Knowing networks are important, how do you recommend someone demonstrate their ability to create deal flow or other opportunities?
Answer: Sending deals to VCs is an ideal way.
There is no way around the networking in tech. Having visibility in the startup community is essential whether it is by participating in accelerator programs, speaking at events, blogging, etc. or because you are already employed in a role where you have to be plugged into the tech ecosystem to be successful in your job (e.g., business development at a media or large tech company).
What type of resume makes you sit up and take notice?
Answer: Mostly none. It's not about the resume, it's about meeting and getting to know the person and of course, the personal intro which got the person into the office in the first place.
If however, you're relying on a resume to get you in the door, examples of a few skills and accomplishments that are vital in order to get noticed:
- Analytical and financial skills.
- Community building experience.
- Founding multiple successful (even if small) startups.
- Securing a significant strategic partnership that transformed a startup's business.
Answer: Consider the operator route. Instead of lusting after a VC role, gain operating experience in an early stage, venture backed company and leverage that experience later into a VC role (should that burning desire to be a VC remain!).