There is no standard path to a venture capital job. Many venture capitalists have industry experience, combined with a MBA from a top business school. However, there are many VC’s that did not follow this route. If you are looking to find a venture capital career opportunity, consider the following tips.
Launching a venture capital career depends upon your luck – and you need to make your own luck. According to Praveen Sahay, a Kauffman Fellow, “Ask any venture capitalist how they became one and most will say, ‘I was in the right place at the right time.’” Network intelligently in the VC world, and you create your own good luck.
“Show me the upside”
Venture capital partners value the ability to execute. If you have started your own business, grown the company, and negotiated a successful merger or acquisition, then you have what it takes to be successful in a venture capital job.
According to George Zachary, partner at the Silicon Valley VC firm Mohr Davidow, the advice for getting in venture capital is “Go start a successful company. Then we’ll talk.” Often times, we hear how an entrepreneur’s greatest business lessons were learned in their failures. Although that may be true, it doesn’t change how a VC partner makes hiring decisions. Nothing speaks louder than a story of how you achieved great upside.
Get involved with a start-up company
If founding a company isn’t your speed, then go to work for a start-up organization. The hands-on experience you get in a start-up gives you insight into what works – and doesn’t work – in the early stages. According to Seth Levine from VC firms Mobius and Foundry, working for a start-up is extremely helpful in developing the experience you need to be a successful venture capitalist. Keep in mind that each VC firm looks for different industry expertise. Align your industry passion with your career choice to ensure the greatest long-term benefit from your experiences.
Remember, the strength of your network makes a large difference in your venture capital career, and working for the right start-up builds that network.
Attend business school at Harvard, Stanford, MIT, or Berkeley – or not
While having a MBA is helpful, do not expect to land a venture capital job based upon the merit of your MBA alone – especially if it is not from a top 10 school. According to Levine, “I know of several firms that simply won’t even consider associate candidates that haven’t attended a very short list of topic schools. In fact, going to a non-top 10 business school could actually hurt your chances vs. not going at all.”
If you will not be graduating from a top tier business school, then spend those two years instead garnering successful business experience, preferably in early stage organizations.
The Job Search Digest Private Equity Venture Capital Compensation Report revealed that the pay difference for MBAs is not all that significant. MBAs usually earn higher in base salary, but a smaller bonus – which results in a minor difference in total pay. Considering the two years of lost experience and the cost of the MBA itself, it may not be the best move for your venture capital career.
Win a coveted Kauffman Fellowship
If you already have your MBA, consider applying for the Kauffman Fellowship, which has placed many young venture capitalists in prestigious VC firms. It is a highly competitive program and worth the application effort.
Each year, there are only 12 fellows placed in VC firms. This stint lasts for two years, with the Kauffman Fellowship paying an annual salary of $80,000. Upon the successful completion of the fellowship, your venture capital career is essentially put on the right track.
Invest in your Rolodex
The value of networking in landing a venture capital job cannot be emphasized enough. For example, a general partner of Polaris, Kevin Bitterman, completed his PhD in the laboratory of David Sinclair, who was the co-founder of a company funded by Polaris.
Keep in mind that many job opportunities in venture capital are never advertised. For example, Flagship Ventures offers a summer internship which is never advertised, but rather, they “ask people if they know anyone who would work.” This may not be a wide net they are casting, but it reflects the reality of how some VC hiring is done.
From your professional contacts to your academic mentors, continue to maintain your network. Remember, just one phone call from your former professor or a CEO can open the door to the beginning of your venture capital career.
Brush up on your people skills
In today’s competitive and fairly closed VC industry, having stellar communication and people skills are important. Dick Kramlich of New Enterprise Associates, one of the first venture capitalists in the Silicon Valley, quips “Venture capital doesn’t necessarily take a lot of technical talent. I mean, it doesn’t hurt, but it’s more about people skills and the ability to assess whether there’s a market for something.”
You need to be able to strike up a conversation that keeps the interest of the other person and create a reason to follow up. As basic as this sounds, many people don’t see opportunities because they haven’t mastered this skill. This has little to do with investing knowledge and much to do with your people skills, which are critical to long term success in a venture capital job.
The secret of getting a job in venture capital involves demonstrating the characteristics that VC firms seek – and getting in front of the right people. There are no shortcuts to a venture capital career. VC firms are always looking for talented individuals, but the competition for those positions is steep. Network intelligently, showcase your hands-on experience, and your ability to execute, and you will be well positioned for a venture capital job opportunity.