The ultimate guide by Pietro Invernizzi (@pinverrr)
Getting a job in Venture Capital ("VC") is hard. The industry is small and very unstructured. Jobs are rarely advertised online and no one really knows where to start.
With more and more people looking to break in every day, you can't be like everybody else if you want a seat at the table:
"Venture Capitalists ("VCs") looking to hire you are searching for someone who can help them invest in companies that they otherwise would not have invested in without you." - Erik Torenberg
What will it take to be that someone and to stand out from the crowd? Since I broke in a few years ago, I get asked that question a lot.
While my LinkedIn shows a somewhat straightforward path (Investment Banking → Startup Advisory @ The Family → VC Investing @ Stride.VC), it hides a ton of questionable tweets I tried to write; a bunch of social media posts I obliged all my friends to 'like & share'; a couple of failed angel investments; and a massive pile of readings...
I was very lucky to have landed where I did - and what I did is not necessarily going to work for everyone - but here's what I've learned:
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As for every career choice, the first step is to figure out what you really want to do. Do you really want to work in VC? It is not for everybody.
"I'm always curious about the reasons behind WHY someone wants to go into VC. Many times, after digging deeper, it ends up just being that they want to be involved in startups but want none of the risk associated with it or the exclusivity associated with VC makes it seem high-status. Those reasons are not strong enough: teasing apart the core reasons why you want to go into VC specifically is important because often that will be challenged if you're interviewing for a role." - Nikhil Krishnan
"Implicit in the question 'How do I get a job in VC?' is the assumption that this job is easy. It’s been glorified through shows like Shark Tank. We aren’t sitting on our thrones entertaining pitches from incredible founders all day; we’re being inundated by requests, emails, event prep, flights, pitches, painful portfolio problems, our own operational issues, and new technologies that we have to stay on top of. We are wading through the mud to find the gold. And only very, very rarely do we find it. We are slaves to our calendars. Most of our days are spent in service to our portfolio companies and in fear of missing the next big thing. Do it for the right reasons. That doesn’t mean money or power, even if you may achieve those along the way. It’s the same for founders: if you’re doing it because you see dollar signs and your ego needs feeding, investors can see through that. A desire for money and power won’t keep you working when your startup feels like it’s failing. You need to care, deeply and legitimately, about what you’re building and the people with whom you’re in the trenches." - Sarah A. Downey
So, what's the good, the bad and the ugly of VC?
- Fun: You get to work on tons of different projects at the same time, which is extremely intellectually stimulating
- Good vibes: You work with people who are - by nature - extremely positive-minded and entrepreneurial
- Learning curve: You work with people who are often smarter than you, and can easily learn from them
- Freedom: You enjoy the perks of tremendous autonomy and a flexible work schedule
- Responsibility: You are in the privileged position of investing money for other people, who trust you enough to take risks on their behalf
- Network: You can build an incredible network of entrepreneurs, LPs, other VCs, and a bunch of other stakeholders (e.g. press, lawyers, universities, corporates etc.)
- Money: You can make very good money if you're working for or running one of the top-performing funds
- Status: It is generally a high-status job
- VCs mostly use soft skills: If you're someone who feels the need to set direction, to be building products and teams all the time, VC is not really about that. While - as a VC - you are effectively building a firm, hiring for it, fundraising for it etc., you will still mostly be using your soft skills
- Not owning it: You don't really own processes. Even if you sit on the board, it is the founder and their team who run the company. All you can do is guide, advise, and question. This is especially tough for former operators who are still used to "doing"
- Time scale: The feedback loops in venture are very, very, very long, and it may take you 10+ years to realise whether you're any good
- Pattern recognition: Even if you did well and learned valuable lessons from past bets, these were in the past. It is likely that technology and business models have evolved and what used to be good judgement is now nonsense
- Saying no: This may sound like a privileged problem, but rejecting hundreds of founders over the years can be a nightmare: you will have to turn down many types of people - sometimes nicer / smarter than you - always fearing they may be the next Brian Chesky
- Time management: The idea that 'VCs manage their own schedule' does not often hold. With plenty of calls / meetings to attend, hundreds of emails to process and hours of useful content / crucial news articles published every single day, it becomes easy to spread yourself thin
- FOMO: Because you don't want to miss the next Spotify and because everyone else is seeing great entrepreneurs, finding good deals will require lots of hustling. You will constantly feel the need to put in 30 more minutes, get on that extra call etc.
- Ego: a big thrill in venture investing is that people flatter you and beg you for your resources, making you feel powerful and respected. This can be intoxicating, make you arrogant or make you forget that it is the entrepreneur who is building their venture - not you
- Fundraising: Raising a fund for a VC is hard and very time consuming: The LP world isn’t very transparent (e.g. very little info out there about family offices) and you’re navigating new business relationships with little to no training or playbook to guide you
- Partnership dynamics: sharing a fund's upside & downside with a partnership comes with its challenges. For instance, as you progress, you may find yourself in disagreement with your Partners about the fund's investment thesis, about its direction long-term etc.
(More on "the life of a VC" in Further read 2 below)
While the pros & cons I've listed are very broad, you should also consider what type of firm you may want to join:
"The VC world is big and there are so many different types of firms / funds and roles. The best way to figure out what you want to do is understanding the nuances of the VC landscape and then start to narrow down what might be best for you." - Amy Cheetham
For instance, if you work at a seed VC fund, you will work with companies with undefined strategies and lots of company building to be done. If you work at a growth VC fund, you'll have a lot of data to base your decisions on and your entry price will matter a lot to your financial return. Some jobs in VC will favour the analytical, while others will favour the empathic: these are extremely distinct features and definitely worth some analysis (more on this in Further read 1 below).
Based on these considerations, is VC for you? Would you perhaps be better off career-wise as an operator? Or launching your own startup?
I found it extremely helpful and eye-opening for me to write a 'memo' about myself and why I wanted to be a VC, including my personality traits, every single thing I liked and didn't like in my previous "professional" life (school, university, previous jobs etc.) and then try to design my 'dream job' description based on those inputs. Different from just "thinking you'll like it", the process of writing it down will help you picture yourself in your future role and understand how well it suits you.
What skills will you need to acquire to become a VC? What boxes do we need to tick to get you your dream job? What will you need to prove to the VCs looking to hire you? You will need to show:
- 💪 A well-thought-out thesis and clear opinions about the world
- 🤔 Analytical thinking
- 👁 Mental plasticity and a broad peripheral vision
- 🧠 Relevant knowledge, education or work experience
- 🛍 Ability to source deals
- 💅 A likeable personal brand
- 🤝 Ability to sell and close
- 🕸 A great network of founders, investors and mentors
- 🤑 An investment track record
Bear in mind that these skills are just the beginning. They are about becoming a VC. After these, you'll have to learn how to be a good VC (e.g. how to be a good board member, how to manage a VC firm, how to make good returns, etc.), but there's plenty of time for that later ;) (see Further read 4 below)
To find a job in VC you will need to find ways to let the firms you're 'applying to' answer the following question positively: “Is this person going to help us to invest in companies that we otherwise would not have invested in without her/him?”
How to do this in a way that is unique to you? Observe what my friend & mentor Balthazar De Lavergne made me notice a few years ago:
Watch this video from 2010.
The two folks being interviewed are Fred Wilson & John Doerr, two of the most legendary Venture Capitalists from the US. You'll notice two things about them:
- they have incredibly clear opinions, about everything
- they are sometimes wrong
And that's exactly what makes them amazing VCs. In the same way their well-thought-out opinions sometimes end up being wrong, they sometimes end up being very right. And in VC being right once will make up for being wrong 100 times.
Fundamentally, the role of a VC is to decide where to put money. To do that, you'll need to have or develop clear and strong opinions about the world, and at the same time adopt the mind of a learner, accepting that you're wrong most of the time.
Starting to develop your well-thought-out, clear and interesting views of the world today will help you stand out amongst the other 1,000 individuals looking for the same thing as you (a job in VC).
Having clear opinions is easier than you think, because there is a ton of data out there to help you with it. Additionally, you're betting on the future, not the present. This means that - in the short-term - nothing you'll come up with as your 'view on the world' will be right or wrong. It will just be you. So, let's get to work!
One of the most important things for a VC is their investment thesis. Defined as "the strategy by which a Venture Capital professional (or fund) makes money for the fund investors", your thesis will be a guideline / set of principles that will drive your decisions as an investor. While many investors see their thesis as the 'group of industries or categories they are interested in', it doesn't need to be limited to that. Many VCs have theses about the types of founders they look for and their personalities, the types of business models they like or the geographies they believe are undervalued by other VCs. Having your own thesis (written or very clearly expressed verbally when questioned) can increase your chances of breaking into VC significantly.
You may never end up sending it to anyone as a written file, but I found that writing down your thesis is a fantastic exercise that forces you to dig much deeper into "why you love tech".
What would you be like as an investor? If you wanted to put money to work, how would you do it and why?
I suggest taking days to do it. Keep updating it every time you get new ideas and you come to new visions of the world as you master the following hacks. The format doesn't matter. It could be on Google Docs, on Notion, on your laptop's notes, handwritten in your diary or anywhere you want. What matters is that you make a conscious effort about it.
If you've not been a VC before, one of the most useful things you can do to break into VC is to show that you were able to invest in some interesting startups, or that you would be good if you were able to invest. Here are two ways to do that, depending on your access to capital:
If you have access to capital, I highly recommend you get your feet wet by making a couple of bets before (or during) your attempt at breaking into VC. The beauty of today's world is that:
- You can build an angel portfolio with a limited amount of liquidity: founders these days are open to letting people with small cheques into their rounds as long as they are good friends or bring value to the table.
- Platforms are emerging for more and more people to be able to invest. For instance, many people I know started investing in startups through AngelList or other crowdfunding platforms (See Further read 1 for more details). Additionally, anyone today can gain exposure to several startups at the same time by investing in someone else's fund as an LP through AngelList's rolling funds.
Whether you decide to invest directly into companies in your network (e.g. companies your friends start), or companies you can find on AngelList or other similar platforms, I suggest being as data-driven as possible, and writing detailed memos about each company you invest in and why you decided to invest in them..
An investor looking to hire you won't care about how many investments you've made or how much money you've invested. They will want to see how resourceful you've been at finding deals, how carefully / thoughtfully you took those decisions and how good you are at explaining them.
Here are a few resources I found helpful for structuring my memos:
- The investment memo by NextView
- Sequoia's Investment Memo on YouTube
- Memos by Bessemer Venture Partners
- Sword Health Investment Memo
Other than your memos, it makes sense to track your portfolio companies closely and keep tabs on their performance, follow-on funding rounds, etc. Airtable offers a very helpful template to do that.
Finally, you don't only learn from the companies you've invested in. You also learn from the ones you did not invest in. For instance, this method by William McQuillan can help you reduce VC learning cycles and learn from your anti-portfolio too.
While angel investing can be very helpful to show you have a network (of founders who would let you invest in them or of other investors who would share their deal flow with you), not everyone has the means to invest into startups in their free time. What I've seen work for some friends of mine is the building of a 'fake portfolio', or 'fantasy portfolio' of investments: essentially pretending to place bets into funding rounds you can read about in the press and then watching the results unfold over time.
Many people have done this publicly, in more & less detail (Examples here, here, here, here & here). Turner Novak's example is particularly noteworthy as it seems to have helped a lot.
Someone even came up with a website to facilitate the building and tracking of your fantasy portfolio, e.g. VC Flair, Merit, VC101 etc.
No matter what medium you want to use or how you decide to format it, I once again suggest being as data-driven as possible and writing strong memos about each company you end up "investing in" and why you decided to do so.
Most importantly, your fantasy portfolio will need to be non-obvious (e.g. not "I'd have invested in Tesla and Airbnb"). It will need to be made up of unique early-stage companies that didn't demonstrate much to date; undervalued companies that will trigger anyone's interest after you explain your reasoning about them.
The data points you'll be able to gather from public information (e.g. a TechCrunch article) will likely be scarce, but that shouldn't discourage you. All you need to get a somewhat acceptable level of accuracy in your fantasy portfolio tracking is:
- Company name
- Funding round date
- Round size
- Round valuation: this is not always disclosed but you can normally get a rough estimate of it by assuming that the company will have given away between 10% and 40% of their company for each financing round and back-solving from there. E.g. Company XYZ just raised a $3M Seed round → if you raise $3M and give away 10%-40% of your company, it means your company is worth between $7.5M and $30M. While this is far from precise, it doesn't matter for the purpose of this exercise, as all you want to know is whether the company will show a strong growth trajectory in future years (which can normally be inferred by press articles, i.e. about follow-on rounds of financing etc.) and whether therefore you've been a good picker or not.
A next step in building up your profile before becoming a VC is to develop your personal brand.
Although not strictly indispensable (as many great VCs are not particularly public people), developing your personal brand and thought leadership can significantly increase your chances of finding your dream VC job, as it will:
- make you more visible to VCs, who will be more likely to know about you
- make you more desirable in their eyes, since your brand will help them attract more founders and also positively impact their fund's brand
Today, building a personal brand in the startup world for someone who doesn't have any investing experience is mostly done through online content.
While creating content may seem scary at first - because you may think you have to find genius things to say or show - it shouldn't be: many people have became very visible online without adding many new ideas to the world, but just by enriching the content of other people (or democratising it) in intelligent ways.
Personal branding content can take many different shapes. The most important thing is to pick a medium that makes sense to you and that you can have fun with. You could be:
E.g. my colleague Harry Stebbings started a podcast called The 20 Minute VC from his bedroom when he was 18. Since then, it's become one of the most valuable media assets in the world of Venture Capital, with some 200,000 subscribers and 80 million downloads to date. It helped Harry build a name in the VC world, become friends with many of the top VCs in the world and launch not one, but two funds.
Here is an article to help you get started: How to Start a Successful Podcast (For Under $100).
E.g. Sarah Nöckel - now VC at Northzone - started Femstreet, a newsletter for women in tech and venture, back in 2017. It quickly grew to 9,000 free subscribers and recently started monetising. Similarly, Gonz Sanchez started Seedtable in 2019 as a weekly newsletter on European tech for himself and a few friends. It is now read by 12,000+ founders, investors and operators from all across Europe.
Here is an article to help you get started: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Online.
You don't necessarily need a weekly / monthly cadence to build your brand online. Many people have done so by writing a few, heavy-hitting articles or pieces of research that gave them huge visibility.
E.g. Paige Finn Doherty had a lot of success with an article laying out the foundation of getting into VC / startups. Similarly, Sarah McBride got a ton of visibility through a post about how startups can build an organic marketing engine à la Spotify Wrapped.
What both articles have in common is that they portray 'insider knowledge' to whoever reads them. What's great is that today you don't necessarily need to be an insider to make readers feel like that. Having read about a topic much more in-depth or for longer than them will do the trick.
E.g. Brianne Kimmel - now VC at Worklife - has been building a very strong brand through Twitter (amongst other channels), where she got a lot of visibility in the founder world through educational tweets about the founder journey and about fundraising such as these ones:
Similarly, Paige Finn Doherty has been on a roll recently following a similar approach, posting tweets that explain complex topics in simple words such as this one:
Here's a few articles that may help you get started:
Repeatedly writing about a certain topic and going very deep into it can have a massive impact.
E.g. Andreas Klinger has been tweeting and writing about remote work for 5-10 years:
On the back of that, and of other achievements, he became "Head of Remote" at AngelList and consequently launched his own fund, Remote First Capital.
Similarly, Ben Tossell has been constantly talking about "no-code" applications:
On the back of that, and of his no-code company Makerpad, he just raised his own makerpad.fund.
Choose a topic that you're interested in, or know a lot about, and become one of its masters.
As for myself, I've tried a mixture of the last three strategies above, which personally helped me a lot in moving from my role at The Family to my current role at Stride.VC. Firstly, I owe Twitter a lot:
- I was lucky that some of my Twitter threads did really well and gave me good visibility, plus an excuse to connect with lots of readers and strengthen my network
- I met both Harry Stebbings & Fred Destin - Stride.VC's founders - on Twitter for the first time
(I know a lot of people who found their jobs in similar ways.)
As I mentioned above, you don't need to introduce new-to-the-world ideas to do well: I had lots of fun writing Twitter threads listing other peoples' content I found interesting. Here's a few examples of threads I wrote which kickstarted interesting conversations:
Since I tagged a lot of people, and demonstrated to them that I had carefully read their linked articles / threads, they sometimes engaged by re-sharing my posts or by just replying to me and giving me visibility.
Secondly, I found a lot of value in using Medium. For instance, I wrote a mapping of startups & investors in the 'Future of Work' space, in which I included a LOT of players:
Mapping "The Future of Work" Startup & Investor ecosystem
As a bonus , I also included a couple of startup ideas here and there💡 I'd love for you to add your ideas to the mix! Throw them in the comments! 😃 A lot of companies are popping up each year to take on (or enhance) more established players like Slack & Microsoft Teams (chat) or Gmail & Outlook (email).
The ones I included were happy and re-shared the post; the ones I didn't include reached out to me to be part of the next one; and a lot of super interesting conversation followed.
On top of that "viral loop", my post did well because it was a very detailed piece of market research about a topic that most people cared about at the time (the beginning of the pandemic, where remote work was being widely discussed).
As a bonus, writing deep dives like this one can help you establish yourself as someone who is passionate and knowledgeable about a topic (e.g. the Future of Work), and will give you a lot of credibility in that space.
Mix things up your own way, and find your way to capture people's interest, whether it's through very detailed research, nicely structured summaries of books, unique Twitter threads etc.
You shouldn't worry about starting big. Content has incredible compounding effects: small steps lead to great outcomes. Even if you start with a very small following and nobody seems to be consuming your content, the process of creating it will build your muscle and knowledge. You can start with very small initiatives or pieces of content and a year later you may suddenly realise you have a blog or podcast. Start today.
If your content ends up not being particularly successful after all, the process behind it can still be extremely useful to:
- Stay updated about the startup world
- Connect with people you admire and see how they think (for free!)
- Learn in a more structured way (e.g. Writing is one of the best ways to show to yourself that you actually understood a concept)
Many people spend hours and hours on writing extremely thoughtful articles or Twitter threads or recording podcasts, and then - once those are "out in the real world" - they just wait for engagement to magically happen.
Unless you have dozens of thousands of followers, engagement doesn't happen that way.
You'll need to make an incredible effort and invest a huge amount of time in getting your articles / tweets seen by the audience you are targeting. Here is how I do it:
- I ask all my closest friends (even the ones that don't have much to do with the startup world) to engage with my content (like & comment on my LinkedIn posts, clap 50 times on my Medium articles, retweet my tweets etc.). I do it quite shortly after I post, as the first few minutes of a post's lifetime are the most crucial according to Twitter & LinkedIn's algorithms
- I text or email each article / tweet to every person in the industry who has written something about the same topic in the past; who is known to be interested in the topic; or who - in whatever way - inspired my writing
- I share it with every person I've mentioned in the article / tweet
Sometimes, these efforts literally take hours (e.g. personalising each message / email), but they are always 100% worth it.
Of all the assets you can have to break into VC, one of the most important ones is being referred to as 'someone very helpful' by entrepreneurs, other investors and peers.
In fact, "Let me know how I can be helpful" is a sentence that VCs use very often. So often that it's become the biggest meme in the history of VC:
If you don't do it hypocritically, and you actually do genuinely prove helpful to founders, they will remember you. It can become your superpower.
While it is one of the hardest assets to build, it is also one that generally requires no financial capital and is definitely worth trying out. Here's a few ways to do it (most of which I borrowed from Erik Torenberg):
Whether you have a lot of founders in your network (e.g. university friends, LinkedIn connections etc.) or you don't, you can always reach out to them (e.g. via cold emails) and find ways to make yourself helpful. Depending on your skills (whether you're good at sales, finance etc.), you could help founders:
- Close deals
- By making introductions to other investors
- Prepare their fundraising materials
- Train their pitch
- With specific tasks such as accounting
While this will help you learn all about the startup-specific issues they will be facing, it will also help you build a great reputation in the founder world. Win-win.
Another way to give VCs the idea that you'll be invaluable to founders is to build an asset or network that will give you an edge over others when it comes to helping. For instance, you could be:
- Working at an iconic tech company and running their alumni group or their angel syndicate (e.g. the folks running Pinterest's syndicate helped tons of ex Pinterest operators start their companies and raise funding)
- Running your university's startup society, accelerator or fund (e.g. Berkeley), and helping founders in the network
- Running an event series or a conference (e.g. many people from the Slush & Web Summit teams ended up becoming investors because of how valuable their networks are to founders)
- Running a community (e.g. "no-code" community → can help founders bootstrap their product without code)
- Running a media outlet that gives you an edge (e.g. The Twenty Minute VC → can help founders raise money; "The 20 min Blockchain Engineer" → can help founders recruit in that space)
- Being deep in a very local ecosystem (e.g. you ran lots of Hackathons in Oxford and therefore can help all founders in that area)
- Working at a company like Product Hunt or in tech journalism (can help founders with distribution / PR)
Whatever the approach you decide to take to help founders, the process will teach you about the importance of being able to sell yourself. Venture Capital is about seeing deals, picking deals and winning deals.
As obvious as that sounds - if you think about it - that is also the definition of a sales job.
While most people see VC as sitting comfortably on the 'right' side of the table and having amazing founders pitch to you all the time and just having to pick the ones you like, it very often ends up being the opposite.
Since the number of VC funds out there is on the rise every single year - and founders are increasingly becoming selective as to who they want to work with - staying relevant and having a seat at the table for top-tier deal flow is a very difficult game. It implies pitching your fund in unique ways in every single conversation you have, constantly building a brand, and hustling to get the best entrepreneurs to engage with you and love everything about you and your fund.
The best way to get a job in VC is not to ask VCs for a job.
Any top VC firm gets hundreds of hyper-qualified, super impressive CVs / applications sent to them every single month, and many of those end up forgotten because of such high volumes. Regardless of your background, you don't need to go the conventional route. There are many other ways in which you can stand out, and they all involve directly interacting with your target market, VCs.
During your interactions, the VC you want to work with should feel like you've already been working with them for years. As per Erik Torenberg's thread I mentioned earlier, it's all about bringing value to their table even before you actually work with them.
I saw this tweet the other day:
"How to get a dream job at your dream company: Research the company. Use the product. Find the CEO's email online. Write a personable and specific email relaying your experience. Suggest some ideas, report a bug, or include a small UX improvement."
While the tweet doesn't refer to VC, it perfectly applies to it. People underestimate the power a great and simple cold email can have in today's world.
Unless they're the biggest celebrity in the world, most VCs out there check their emails daily. This means that - if you are good enough at catching their attention, a conversation with any VC in the world is just one email away.
There's plenty of articles out there about how to write a good email. Here are some examples:
- A cold outreach workshop
- How to Cold Email Your Way into Your Dream Job
- A Twitter thread about cold emails
Most of the tips you can find online boil down to:
- Writing unique, original and professional emails
- Establishing credibility
- Personalising emails heavily to the person you are sending them to
- Keeping concise and going straight to the point
- Having a clear call-to-action
- Being good at following through
- Innovating on format / content delivery (more on this later)
The biggest secret, if you want to look great in the eyes of your dream VC fund, is knowing everything about them. This is becoming increasingly easy in today's world, where a fund's website is as detailed as ever, each of the fund's partners is tweeting their ideas to the world and releasing newsletters / podcasts at lightning speed. You can never know too much about the people you want to work with, so make sure you make your best effort at becoming smart about them and about what they like (even if that means reading their blog posts from 5 years ago 😉).
Finally, when evaluating two messages / posts you are about to send, always go for the crazier, bolder option that shows off your personality. Here’s one of the most unique messages I’ve received back when I was working at The Family:
As over-the-top as it was, it got my attention in a second and made me curious to meet the person who sent it. When sending a message, don’t be afraid of sounding different. As a matter of fact, that’s exactly how you want to sound: as I said above, startup investors are looking for exceptional outliers.
“It’s much less about “how” to find a VC job but more about “being” the kind of person who can get a VC job" - Rob Go
"Getting a job in Venture Capital is partly less about “who you know” and more about “who you’ve helped. Start creating a personal portfolio of projects that allow you to help others, especially around getting into deals, and you may break into VC." - Erik Torenberg
E.g. email the most interesting, under-the-radar startups you know of to your target VC every 3 weeks in a very short and nice-to-read format.
How to find good deals to send them? Have some asset that makes founders come to you - e.g. an event series, a valuable network, or domain expertise - and then send deals to others. The more good deals you send, the more you’ll receive.
How do you get access to customers in the first place? You could host an event (e.g. VP of Sales Gathering) once a quarter, or an event for another core buying audience.
How to access talent? You could start a job board site for engineers, or a regular happy hour for top designers.
...or any of the assets mentioned in previous chapters.
E.g. invite the VC you're interacting with to your podcast or to a super engaging fireside chat and show them a great time. They'll be likely to remember you for it.
People underestimate the power of format when communicating with the VC they'd like to work with. Format is in everything: in the tweets you write to capture their attention, in the Medium posts you write to gather your thoughts, in the cold emails you send to them, etc.
Having special ways to cut through the noise could make or break your 'job application' process. Here are some examples:
- If a VC asks you to send them your CV, you could just do that. However - since you know that they are used to consuming information in the form of slide decks - perhaps you could surprise them with a personal pitch deck: 10 slides about your life, your 'fantasy portfolio' and why you would be an amazing addition to their team.
- If - during a case study - they ask you to come up with a presentation about a company and about your investment thesis, you don't necessarily have to go with the boring PowerPoint / Keynote format that everyone would use. You could write an Amazon-style memo, or for instance write a memo on Notion in a similar format to that of this guide (where each chapter is a different section of your analysis: team, product, market, competition, etc.).
- If - during the interview process - they ask you some questions about yourself via email, you could answer by sending a Loom video where you answer their questions and maybe show some slides you've prepared to help your explanation.
While the above are just examples, any way you can think of to innovate on content delivery can have an enormous impact on how your dream employer will perceive you.
One great way to build a strong network or make yourself seen in the world of Venture is creating a small net of highly impactful mentors you can ask advice to and take inspiration from.
As we said before, you are one tweet or email away from anyone in the VC world and, if you are smart in the way you approach them, you may very well be able to start a conversation with them, bond with them and be able to ask them for advice whenever you (really) need it.
Your mentors don't necessarily need to be celebrity VCs or people with 20+ years of experience. If you're smart and lucky, you can find people who have a great deal of experience (e.g. 2-5 years in the industry) and are still undervalued in the VC space (i.e. not very well known, or not active on social media). These people will likely be very happy if you reach out to them and will have fantastic insider tips to share with you.
Having strong mentors can help you in many ways on your journey to finding your job in VC:
- They'll give you valuable tips (as long as you bear in mind that most advice is rooted in someone's personal experience and should only serve to give you more points of view)
- In some cases you can mention them to other VCs you may want to work with and that will make you look like you're going the extra mile by connecting with insiders before breaking in
- They may themselves know people who would be happy to work with you. Having their referral will likely make you look really good
The beauty of the VC world is that - while getting in is very difficult - once you're in, you're an insider and it will be very possible to work your way up to your dream job. There are so many great organisations through which VCs help companies grow, any of which will make you an insider and give you a perfect feel for how everything works in the startup world. Here are the various types of firms you could aim at joining to break in:
Startup Accelerators are generally fixed-term (e.g. 3-months), cohort-based programmes, that include mentorship and educational components and often culminate in a public pitch event or demo day where founders can pitch to angel investors and VCs for seed funding.
Some accelerators are free, while others take equity stakes in the company (e.g. 5%+) in exchange for their support and - in many cases - for $ investments into the company at various stages of the programme.
Startup Incubators are pretty much the same thing, except they generally include an aspect of providing workspace to startup founders and their early teams, on top of the usual mentorship and educational components and support with fundraising. They also often take equity in exchange for their services and support.
Examples: YCombinator, Techstars, The Family, 500 Startups, Boost VC, Startupbootcamp, etc.
Venture builders or studios are firms that normally come up with ideas and then find strong operators to turn those ideas into reality. Studios normally conduct internal research to validate promising concepts. They then bring these ideas to market, either by hiring external "founders" to build their company from scratch or by building an MVP and attracting first customers on their own, before bringing in outside talent. Once a venture builder has confidence in the viability of a project, it will generally fund the project or help the new founders raise outside capital from VCs or angel investors. In many instances, additional resources are provided, such as software developers and designers. By the end of the initial building and fundraising phase, a project's new founder may own anywhere between 10% and 75% of the company they run.
Examples: Atomic, Science, eFounders, Prehype, Rocket Internet, Betaworks, Human Ventures, Pioneer Square Labs, Launch Factory, etc.
Talent investors, talent accelerators or launchpads have recently emerged to capture talented individuals (engineers, PhDs, investment bankers or consultants, previous founders looking for their next adventure, strong operators looking to go more entrepreneurial etc.) and support them in building their future startup in exchange for an equity stake. These players normally structure themselves as x-months programmes aimed at finding your future co-founder and building a company together, supported by the programme's managers / mentors. At the end of the programme, talent accelerators typically have an option to invest in a financing round. Builders can expect terms of $100K for roughly 10% of their business at pre-seed, though there can be variation.
Examples: On Deck, Entrepreneur First, Antler, Zinc VC, etc.
One of the options that founders are reminded of more and more above and beyond VC and angel funding is Crowdfunding Platforms. These normally take two shapes:
Cash for Product Pre-Orders Platforms offer a way for any entrepreneur to market and promote their product before it is actually built (through beautiful marketing materials, e.g. videos) and raise money from the 'crowd' (literally from anyone) to help fund the pre-order of tech product inventory. On these platforms, your contributors provide cash in exchange for a promise or a pre-purchase of a product. (Examples: Kickstarter, Indiegogo, etc.)
Although they have lots in common with all of the above, Venture Capital Funds were the main focus of this guide. These are the most traditional form of support for startups: they invest $ into a company in exchange for an equity stake, often promising to add significant value (in the form of mentorship, connections and - in some cases - operational support) along the company's growth path.
VC firms are normally categorised based on the stage they usually invest at: Pre-seed, Seed, Series A, Series B, Series C, Growth. Depending on the stage you decide you are focusing on, your job will change dramatically.
While at the earlier stages (Pre-seed & Seed) a firm will invest anywhere from $100K to $5M into a company and generally be a company's first institutional investor with very scarce data to base your decision on, later stage firms are different and involve much more number crunching and analysis, since you're now looking at $5M+ investments into companies that have a decent amount of data to base your decision on. Both categories have their pros and cons and appeal to different types of people, and are worth exploring in detail before starting your job hunt.
Stage is not the only criteria according to which venture firms differ from each other and develop different cultures and modus operandi; there are dozens of other things you may want to look at, such as:
- Fund size & investment volume / velocity: fund sizes can vary hugely from firm to firm (from c. $5M to various $ billions per fund) and so can their investment volume: some firms invest in hundreds of startups a year whereas others only invest in a handful, with a more concentrated approach. Different sizes and approaches will attract different types of personalities / talents
- Team size & structure: some firms have 50+ people in their teams and split their teams according to hierarchies (e.g. Analyst, Associate, VP / Investment Manager, Principal, Partner), while others have 2 or 3 people and tend to be very horizontal in the way they operate
- Investor base: somewhat counter-intuitively, the investor base of a Venture Capital firm will be a big determining factor on how the firm operates. While many traditional funds are backed by institutional investors such as pension funds, universities, insurance companies, foundations and endowments, others are backed by high-net-worth individuals (e.g. Family Offices), by corporate entities (e.g. Google Ventures) or by 'the public' (Venture Capital Trusts). Depending on the funding source, a firm may be more or less structured and have more or less strict processes to follow when making investments
Examples: Accel, Andreessen Horowitz, Index Ventures, LocalGlobe, Point Nine, Sequoia Capital, Stride.VC
In recent decades there has been a proliferation of alternative funding providers in the startup world. Some of the most notable are:
Venture Debt Providers offer debt financing for Venture Capital backed startups for the purpose of accelerating growth in a way that’s minimally dilutive for shareholders (e.g. founders), and are increasingly becoming a valid complement to VC financing. (Examples: Silicon Valley Bank, Kreos Capital, Triplepoint Capital, etc.)
Revenue-based financing providers are another funding option for startups that doesn’t involve giving away equity. Such financing is generally a fixed sum that’s repaid over time based on incoming revenue. Founders receive money from an investor to spend on marketing or inventory, and with every sale they make, they repay a percentage of that loan. A company might receive €100k, and would then repay 5-20% of every future sale back to the investor until the amount is repaid in full - with a fixed fee on top. (Examples: Clearbanc, Uncapped, etc.)
Profitability-based investors are yet another new wave of players funding or acquiring companies whose founders are obsessed with building sustainable and profitable businesses from day one. They all have very unique and interesting models, so I recommend checking out their websites. (Examples: Tiny Capital, Indie.vc, Earnest Capital etc.)
If you work at ANY of the organisation types above, it is very likely you will be involved in finding ideas or startups to support, talking to founders or soon-to-be-founders to help your team assess whether they make sense for your firm and your firm makes sense for them, and helping founders with fundraising from angel investors, VCs and other funding providers, etc. Although they differ from firm to firm, all these can be extremely fun and intellectually-stimulating ways to spend your time.
Additionally, once you have your foot in the door - with the right amount of hustle and community building - you can get to meet the most amazing founders and investors anyone could ever wish to meet. As an insider, you now have an excuse to talk to ANYONE you may want to ask for advice, bounce ideas off or become friends with. This constant meeting new people could also mean that your next dream job is just around the corner.
Having a very clear idea of which type of organisation you want to work for, and why a certain firm type fits with your personality, is a crucial first step to finding your dream job in venture. Make sure you spend enough time digging into it and into why you are 100% sure you want to be in the venture investing / advising space (as opposed to - say - joining a startup as an employee, founding your own startup, or just doing something completely different).
There's plenty of articles out there about what a 'day in the life' of a VC looks like and also about what struggles VCs have to sometimes go through. Here's a couple that I found interesting:
- What is the day in the life like for a Venture Capitalist? - Quora (and part 2)
- Fear and loathing in Venture Capital
- Saying "no"
- A day in the life of a VC
- 5 Things About Careers (in VC) Nobody Told Me
- How has it been being a career VC?
- What the heck does a VC do all week anyway?
- This tweet and the original quoted tweet give a funny & fairly realistic picture of it too
- ...and many more
Other than the people who hacked their way in, what are the backgrounds of people who work in VC today? There's a multitude of different backgrounds out there, but here's a few worth noting:
- Having worked in a deeply analytical role (e.g. investment banking or consulting)
- Having worked at a fast growing startup
- Having launched and run your own startup (regardless of the outcome)
- Having worked in a very niche field, which will make you attractive to a sector-specific fund (e.g. rocket scientist → space tech VC)
- Having made some angel investments (as discussed above)
- Having made some investments as a scout
- Being the best writer in a certain category (e.g. crypto, or something even more specific like privacy coins...) (as discussed above)
- Breaking in straight out of university (ideally having studied something that will give you an edge)
- Having the reputation of someone who helped a lot of founders along their journeys (as discussed above)
We're lucky enough to live in an era where:
"Almost all [people] own a smartphone or a computer. Each device contains the library of Alexandria. The sum total of all world knowledge. You can learn anything. Why don't you?"
This is even more true in the world of VC, where everyone is a philosopher or thought leader, super active on Twitter, Medium and blogs, and where knowledge is 99% open source.
Use the content below to build your VC-specific knowledge (as introduced in point 1 of pre-read 2) (Note: this should not be read all in one go, but perhaps act as a knowledge base you can refer to at any later time)
Many VCs sadly love jargon. Play their game and try to learn the terms they like to use:
- Learn the Lingo of Private Equity Investing
- Learn terms like TVPI / DPI / IRR → How VCs Get Measured
- Learn the main terms you'll find in a term sheet:
- IRR IRL: What You Need to Know About Internal Rate of Return
- Cap Table
- MVP (Minimum Viable Product)
- Carry (Carried Interest)
- LOI (Letter of Intent)
- LP / GP (Limited Partner / General Partner)
- NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement)
...also have a quick look at this one for curiosity, but definitely don't try to learn all of them → Talk the talk (a tech glossary)
There are many companies which are mentioned almost on a daily basis in the startup world, from Tesla to Airbnb, to Snap and many others. Having a general idea about the most important ones could make you look very good in an interview process. In particular, I'd focus on knowing:
- Who they are
- What they do
- How they make (or don't make) money
- What their story is (in case it's iconic, e.g. Airbnb)
Most of the information above is public. In case it helps you get started, here is a very random selection of the most symbolic tech companies I know:
Sometimes you'll see this acronym on the news, or hear VCs mention it. It stands for:
Listing symbolic tech companies is extremely subjective. Here is a completely random selection of a few I've heard a lot about, that all have fairly unique business models and therefore would be interesting to know about:
- Babylon Health
- Credit Karma
- Epic Games
- Ripple, Coinbase, Robinhood
- Udemy & Coursera
It could also be helpful to know about the OGs, the older players who created the concept of the tech company:
- Sun Microsystems
Depending on what type of VC firm you want to work at, having a good technical knowledge base could help you a lot during (and after) your interview process:
- You should learn - conceptually - how a mobile app, website or web app is built → Who Does What in the Tech Industry?
- You should make yourself familiar with some of the concepts technologists deal with on a daily basis. Here are a few very random examples:
- What's an operating system?
- Cloud Computing
- DevOps (e.g. What's CI/CD?)
- Software Development Kit (e.g. What's an API)
- The JAMstack: It’s Pretty Sweet
- The JAMStack & the startups building it
- SQL for the rest of us
- Open Source (e.g. What's Open Source?; How open source works (or doesn't work))
- What's Docker, and what are containers?
- What's version control and Github?
- What's the internet?
- Pretty much ANY article from Justin Gage's Technically Newsletter
If you want to work for a VC firm that invests beyond the Series A stage, it will be necessary to make yourself familiar with the key metrics you will spend lots of time analysing during your future job:
- 16 Metrics by a16z
- 16 More Metrics
- 10 Factors to Consider When Evaluating Digital Marketplaces
- 10 Marketplace KPIs that matter
- Cohort Analysis
- What do metrics look like for large tech companies? → Public SaaS comparables
- The red flags and magic numbers that investors look for in your startup’s metrics
- Tomasz Tunguz' blog (e.g. Redpoint SaaS Startup Key Metrics Template)
- Reforge's blog
- Deconstructing VCs’ Decision Making Frameworks
There are new things happening every single day in the startup world. Being on top of all the main trends taking place could give you an edge:
...and be in the know about all the most important funding rounds taking place at any time:
To be a good VC, you'll have to know about the ins and outs of the life of a founder, given they'll be your first "clients".
- 1,000 true fans
- Founder as Victim, Founder as God
- How CEOs Think: 5 Mental Models to Shift from Founder to CEO
- Read about Fundraising:
- Don’t Freak Out, The Fundraising Bible is Here
- The ultimate guide to raising a Series A
There is a ton of amazing material about fundraising out there. Here's a couple of articles I found useful:
- How to Hire
- The Power of Performance Reviews: Use This System to Become a Better Manager
- How Does Your Leadership Team Rate?
- Warning: This Is Not Your Grandfather’s Talent Planning
- Radical Candor - The Surprising Secret to Being a Good Boss
- Lessons from Keith Rabois Essay 2: How to Interview an Executive
Even if you're potentially looking for a junior position, knowing how VCs at any level think, make decisions, and deal with the complexity of Fund Management (= building a company as opposed to merely 'investing') will make you stand out
- What are term sheets and how do they work
- Unpacking Alpha in Venture Capital
- The Playing Field
- Is a Venture Firm More Than the Sum of Its Partners?
- Shortening VC Learning cycles
- Venture Capital Fundamentals
- VC Funds 101: Understanding Venture Fund Structures, Team Compensation, Fund Metrics and Reporting
- How VC Economics work, explained simply
- How VCs get measured
- How VCs make decisions
- The Economics of VCs Recycling Management Fees
- Maximising Fund distributions
- Building a seed stage venture firm
- Persistence in Venture Capital Returns
- What you need to know before raising a Micro-VC today
- Going from a proof of concept fund to an “institutional” venture fund
- The Hard Questions Venture Capital GPs Need to Be Prepared For
- Reserves management 1.
- Reserves management 2.
- When Money Isn’t Enough: How to Distinguish Yourself as a VC in a Crowded Market
- Know a couple of the tools that VCs use: the VC tech stack
As we said before, to make a good impression you want to have strong opinions about the world.
One way to show this is by building a very strong knowledge in a sector you like. Writing about your favourite sector could be a great way to do it (as I did here). Reading about it in depth can be just as good!
My plan is to keep updating this guide on a regular basis so that it can become the go-to piece for everyone thinking of starting a career in VC. If you identify gaps in the content that you think everyone would like to see filled, please let me know!
If you found the guide useful, please tweet about it, share it anywhere or send it to any friends of yours who you think may find it handy on their journey towards breaking into VC 🙌
Thank you Fred Destin, Harry Stebbings, Gaby Goldberg, David Obwaller, Mario Gabriele, Erika Batista, Max Kufner, Lola Wajskop, Akash Bajwa & Clara Power for helping me structure my thoughts.