The second most frequently asked question to VCs is invariably "How do I get a job in Venture Capital?" I was incredibly lucky to get into this business without looking for a VC position; I would, however, recommend a more focused job search for readers interested in venture investing. Here's my reply to this question:
- Know what you want from Venture Capital: is this a long-term career move, potentially for the rest of your working life? Or do you want to spend a few years getting an overview of the tech entrepreneurship landscape and then go of to business school or a role in a portfolio company? Returns, and financial rewards, take many years and many investing cycles in this business. If your VC gig is to be for more than just the experience, take a partner or partner-track position in a firm where you will have the flexibility to look at the entire lifecycle of a deal: sourcing, diligence, board involvement and exit. Firms with 2 years and out tracks for non-partners aren't ideal for this.
- Define yourself: VC firms don't have set recruiting goals or policies, unlike at a consultancy or investment bank. Hiring decisions are based on a combination of personal and professional fit, and on the relevance of your skill-set to the firm's investment theses. If you're a semiconductor jock with deep technical skills, you'll never fit into an expansion stage consumer- and software-oriented firm that adds value by leveraging the sales and marketing backgrounds of its partnership. But an early-stage hard technology firm that prides itself on identifying promising technologies early might be just right. So: create a personal and professional brand for yourself, one that is true to your beliefs and skills, pretend like you're stumping for elected office, and stay on message.
- Find a deal: There's no better way to get attention from a VC than to pitch them a deal. A good deal, of course. So go out and scout for deals; meet entrepreneurs, read blogs and industry newsletters, analyze and extrapolate trends in your fields of interest, try to formulate an investment thesis ... you'll be doing all this as a VC anyway. Not only might you find an interesting investment to recommend to a VC, but you'll probably meet a lot of VCs flocking around the same entrepreneurs you're meeting.
- Carve a niche: Is VC activity heating up in Vietnam? Are you from there, or do you have work experience there, and are you prepared to fly there or move there? If so, you might fit nicely into a firm expanding into the Vietnamese market, and you'll certainly stand out from all the other really smart, polished and accomplished candidates. You can carve a niche by geography - India, China, Vietnam, Russia - or by technology sector - clean tech, mobile media, medical devices ...
- Aim high: moving between VC firms can be as hard as, or harder than, getting into VC in the first place. Shoot for the best firm fitting your profile; too often, people are seduced by the supposed glamor of Venture Capital, take the first VC job they find, and end up misfits in their firms. Limited Partners evaluate VC firms on returns, longevity, partnership dynamics, culture, investment process and strategy - you should too!
- Network like crazy: this doesn't mean glad-handing virtual strangers at crowded conferences; such contacts rarely lead to a follow-up. Instead, develop a focused networking strategy; I'm no expert, but Keith Ferrazzi is, and so is Harvey Mackay, and either book can help you craft a winning approach to networking. In a nutshell, though - don't just be a supplicant, try to add value to the interaction for all parties, and, above all, don't try too hard! Your likelihood of becoming a VC is somewhat proportional to your network; your likelihood of succeeding as a VC, though, is directly proportional to your network.
Oh, and the single most frequently asked question to VCs? "What's hot, and what are you investing in right now?"