Want to break into the VC world, but not sure how to do it? There's no sure way, but here's a compilation of quotes on how some notable VCs got to where they are.
Becoming a venture capitalist is a dream job for many would-be tech and health investors, and getting there can be a long ride with many switchbacks, detours, and dead-ends. So how do you get started? We thought it would be useful to see how some experienced VCs, and newbies, did it and what they have to say on the matter. This is not a detailed how-to on becoming a venture capitalist. In fact, if there’s anything that these VCs agree on, it’s that there’s no single path or guaranteed way to become a VC.
Below is our compilation of quotes that describe ways VCs have gotten to where they are and their advice for others looking to do the same. They’re in no particular order and there is something to learn from each and every one of them.
1. Fred Wilson, Union Square Ventures
I always liked the intersection between finance and technology so I spent a bunch of time in the technology business early in my career. Went to MIT, got out, wrote a bunch of software for a while and then decided that I wanted to go to business school. While I was at business school, I got into finance and I think a lot of the … a lot of the fundamental skills that you need to be a good engineer are not that different than you need to be a good finance person. It’s very math oriented …
2. Guy Kawasaki, Garage Technology Ventures
Key Takeaway: An engineering or sales background is helpful for a VC.
The ideal venture capitalist has an engineering or a sales background. Engineering is useful because it helps you understand the technology that you’re investing in … Sales is useful because every entrepreneur has to introduce a product and sell it … Sales fixes everything.
3. Rich Wong, Accel Partners
To be a VC in this current era requires greater specialization and domain knowledge than in previous eras … the best way to be prepared, is ultimately to develop a deep area of expertise in a particular field, and become known for that distinctive knowledge. Obviously, it helps if that area becomes a hot area for investing … the key is to have the prescience to figure out what’s ‘hot’ or ‘impt’ 3-4 years from now.
4. Jerry Neumann, Neu Venture Capital
The main paths into VC are: founder … executive at a fast-growth company in a key industry … banker, lawyer, and journalist … very few investing partners worked their way up from an entry level job in VC; on the east coast Fred Wilson is the only one I can think of. The better question to ask is, if you were a venture capitalist what would you have to offer the people you invest in that’s so valuable? [What do you know] that nobody else knows? Do other startup folk seek you out for your advice and defer to your opinions?
5 and 6. Seth Levine, Foundry Group
Key Takeaway 1: Be realistic.
Step one: Assume you will not be able to land a job as a venture capitalist. This is the realistic outcome of trying to get a job as a VC. I imagine the market is a little bit better in places like Palo Alto, but here in Denver I can count on one hand the number of VC jobs that have opened up since I joined Mobius in 2001. Only a couple (I’m thinking about 2 at the moment, but there may be a few others) actually went to people who weren’t already in the industry. Even in larger VC markets (specifically the Bay Area and Boston) there are many more people who are actively looking to get into the VC world than there are positions open.
Key Takeaway 2: Read, learn, and contribute to the online VC conversation.
Your online activity can and should extend to reading and sometimes (thoughtfully) commenting on the blogs of the now vast list of VCs that write a blog. These sorts of interactions are just one way to start to engage in a conversation with people in the industry you might one day work with.
7. Gaurav Jain, Founder Collective
Key Takeaway: Add something new to the VC world (and show your work).
Create original research: another approach is to research an aspect of the startup world. It doesn’t really matter what the topic is, as long as it’s interesting, but this is a way to highlight two important skills: research and presentation … [create] a slide deck that slices and dices the market … trace the developments in the market [in your blog]. Bonus points if you can show a bunch of KOLs in the space tweeting out your posts. Double bonus points if you’ve been tracking a hot sector for years and correctly called the companies that would thrive and those that wouldn’t.
8. John Greathouse, Rincon Venture Partners
Key Takeaway: Become an angel.
Before I became a VC, I invested my own money in such companies as RightScale, Eucalyptus and AppFolio. This process helped me determine to what extent I enjoyed the transition from operator to investor. It also demonstrated my ability to identify and evaluate viable opportunities and add value to startups beyond giving them cash.
9. David Sze, Greylock Partners
Key Takeaway: Think for yourself.
The best opportunities are often ones where you’re being contrarian. That doesn’t mean being contrarian for contrarian’s sake, but it means you’re thoughtful about the risks of following the crowd.
10. Mark Suster, Upfront Ventures
The best training I ever got for running a company was as president of my fraternity. Leadership skills come from doing, not reading. I had to deal with everything from litigation to fundraising, to collecting dues, to accepting and kicking out members, to planning social events. Doing that at age 19 was the best training I ever had.
11. Edlyn Yuen, formerly of StarVest Partners
Key Takeaway: Develop and maintain a strong network.
Don’t be afraid to email and update people you’ve reached out to before for advice … In an industry like venture capital, where many internships and jobs aren’t disclosed to the general public, it also helps to stay at the top of a connection’s mind.
12. Nick Tomaino, Runa Capital, formerly of North Atlantic Capital
Be resourceful! There is so much information on venture capital and the early stage startup world on the internet, and there are so many people in this industry that are willing to talk to you via email and Twitter.
13. Edward Suh, Goodwater Capital
A good number of VCs (perhaps the majority) are former entrepreneurs. Their deep operational experience, established network of contacts in the entrepreneurial community, and domain expertise allow them to make a pretty smooth transition to venture capital … Besides former entrepreneurs, a number of VCs come from finance backgrounds (mostly ex-investment bankers) … The common thread that I’ve seen between VCs of any background is that they bring some useful combination of operational experience, domain expertise, and contacts.
14. Baiyin Zhou, OpenView Venture Partners
Pick one thing you are truly interested in, and learn everything there is to know about it. Whatever it is, commit an hour during lunch or an hour before/after each workday to reading and talking to people about it. Obsess over it. Think about it as a second job … Then, take it one step forward by formulating your own personal opinion about all of the above … Above all, VCs want to feel like they are speaking to somebody who is passionate, opinionated, thoughtful and interested … by the point you’ve achieved this ability, you’ll be naturally begin thinking like an investor. And VCs will be able to sense that.
15. Davidson Cheng, DCM Ventures
Key Takeaway: Start doing VC stuff (sourcing deals, etc.) right now.
You don’t need to work for a VC to start doing the work that an entry-level VC does. Start sourcing deals and drafting investment memos now … No VC is going to get mad at you if you expose them to deal flow. The worst case is that they just won’t respond. Most people have their e-mail addresses or Twitter accounts public now so … fire away.
16. Sachi Blue-Smith, Index Ventures
Often times, a VC firm may not even have an active search but an ongoing dialogue between a venture capitalist and an individual may evolve into a hiring relationship … respond to the outreach efforts of recruiters … who have a track record of placing individuals into the firms you are interested in … leverage web-based resources such as the VC firms’ websites (often, their blogs), LinkedIn, and countless others, which are sometimes used by the VC firms—and their recruiters—to source active candidates.
17. Bilal Zuberi, Lux Capital, formerly of General Catalyst Partners
Key Takeaway: Seasoned entrepreneurs often get asked to join VC firms.
They empathize with the founder’s journey and offer pragmatic, actionable, and genuine advice. You don’t have to be a founder of a billion-dollar success story to be hired into a VC. But you need to know what you are talking about.
18. Paul Jozefak, Liquid Labs, formerly of Neuhaus Partners and SAP Ventures
I followed what interested me and where I thought I’d enjoy spending my time as well as where I could push the needle … I didn’t necessarily map out my career but was definitely always open to opportunities. I was mostly driven by whom I’d work with as opposed to where and for how much. Luckily, I had some great mentors along the way who indirectly steered a lot of my decisions when it came to moving on.
19. Chris Sacca, Lowercase Capital
The number-one risk in business is starting to take yourself too seriously and starting to believe your own BS a little bit too much.
20. Joshua Kopelman, First Round Capital
The typical VC spends most of their time doing one of three things: SOURCING companies, PICKING companies or HELPING companies. While VCs probably spend less than 5% of their actual time on the picking, I believe the ‘pick’ creates well over 80% of the return. Good VCs are great pickers. The best VCs are great pickers and excellent mentors.
21. MG Siegler, Google Ventures
I’ve gotten very good at filtering. At TechCrunch, we would see hundreds of pitches a day — we could not do them all. We had to choose the best. Everyone has their own ways of doing that, but generally I would use my network to both vouch for certain entrepreneurs or just see what startups my friends were talking about. In terms of what I may have to “relearn”, I guess I’d say the difference between a “hot” company and a “good” company. That is to say, the difference between a company that will make for a good story, versus one that will make for a good business.
22. Danny Rimer, Index Ventures
I’m always thinking as an outsider, and I’m always mindful of whether a company can be impactful on a global basis. Frankly, I’m paranoid about anyone anywhere who could be a competitive threat.
23. Michael Moritz, Sequoia Capital
If you have been around the start of success it is far easier to recognize it again.
24. Roelof Botha, Sequoia Capital
Key Takeaway: Keep putting yourself out there.
I try getting in front of as many opportunities as possible, but in the late ’90s, I had no idea that I’d end up being CFO of a technology company. I’d no idea what venture capital was.
25. Jason Heltzer, Origin Ventures
Key Takeaway: Build your skills and take your time.
There are not many shortcuts to marinating a chicken breast. It just takes time. The same is true for becoming a Jack/Jill of all trades and a master at a couple. This is why most people who enter the VC industry do so not only after work experience and an MBA, but generally later in their careers. At that point, they have been exposed to range of challenges that allowed them to develop a wide range of skills.
26. Neal S. Lachman, NSL & Co.
I’d suggest you start off as an Angel, and then climb up the ladder to being a VC. It’s almost the same principles of investing, but the size and speed is different. Now you’d ask, ‘How can I become an Angel?’ I will assume that you have no big funds at your disposal, so I’d suggest that you: 1) figure out in which field you excel (life sciences, software, biotech, telecom, whatever); 2) research and analyze that particular field to death—become an authority (start a blog, write reports, found a group on Linkedin, etc.); 3) show family, friends, fools etc that you could help them make money if they only trust you with their money (borrow/raise a few 100K$), and voila, start up an Angel fund.
27. Douglas Leone, Sequoia Capital
Key Takeaway: Stay humble.
Our business is all about helping someone—a founder, a CEO—building a great business. It’s not about seeing our names in the press.
28. Jose Ferreira, formerly of Draper Atlantic
Key Takeaway: Learn to love risk.
If your business had no risk, you could go get a bank loan and call it a day. VCs like risks—without them, venture capital wouldn’t exist. But they need to be risks that VCs are good at assessing and managing.
29. Mike Volpi, Index Ventures
Relationships matter a great deal, and your ability to predict how technologies [and] business will interact is at the heart of this job. It’s sort of like chess, and you get to do it in multiple sectors and areas.
30. Navin Chaddha, Mayfield Fund
Key Takeaway: Be prepared to play the long game.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s extremely important to take a long-term view. Returns don’t get created in two to three years … and you can’t time markets. No human can time markets. So you adjust your strategy to not be a dinosaur, and be nimble, and don’t get carried away … Just because things look great today, investments will still exit in 7 to 10 years.
31. Alfred Lin, Sequoia
Key Takeaway: Go the entrepreneur route.
I joined Sequoia because I had worked with Sequoia partners for a long time as an operator, and almost all Sequoia partners have worked at companies, started companies, and been part of the management team at companies that have done extraordinary things.
32. David Berry, Flagship Ventures
We have one summer intern every year, but we don’t publicly advertise it. We ask people if they know anyone who would work.
33. Ping Li, Accel Partners
Key Takeaway: Mentors, mentors, mentors.
Seeking out mentors at every stage of your life, at every stage of your career, is such an important thing to do. I can now look back and point to mentors who gave me advice at very specific times in my career that really changed the direction of my career.
34. John Vrionis, Lightspeed Venture Partners
Key Takeaway: See your life in a big-picture way.
Have a game plan … Build skills, not a resume … Consider early career choices as a series of 2-4 year projects.
35. Jeremy Liew, Lightspeed Venture Partners
Key Takeaway: Find ways to invest early and often.
I think I would actually be a better investor if I’d spent all of my time as an investor. The more you do anything, the better you get at it. If you were gonna be a surgeon, it doesn’t make sense to spend five years becoming a lawyer first. You’d be better off spending 10 years becoming a doctor.
36. Neeraj Agrawal, Battery Ventures
Key Takeaway: Don’t be afraid to take weird jobs.
I studied computer science at Cornell, and then came to Boston for my MBA. During my b-school summer, I worked in product management at Real Networks … someone at Battery asked me to help him map out the “streaming media” space. Basically, Battery was looking for free labor … The project went well, but I didn’t find a start-up that resonated with me. Instead, Battery offered me a full-time position.
37. John Doerr, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
Key Takeaway: Look to learn and grow; don’t be blinded by money.
When you begin your career … select for the places where you’re going to learn and grow the most, not just for the compensation.
38. Rory O’Driscoll, Scale Venture Partners
Key Takeaway: Try combining entrepreneurship with banking experience.
I set up my own business in the U.K. after college and had the authentic entrepreneur experience—which is to say that after some success … the business did not work out … My first job [in the US] was as bookkeeper for a cemetery company. I was lucky enough to then get a job at a large financial institution (BofA) and … transferred to their venture capital group …
39. Crystal Huang, GGV Capital
[By offering to work for free,] you’re sending the negative signal that you don’t particularly value your own expertise, experience or network … Junior VCs must find ways to create value, not just take direction … Demonstrate market knowledge with research decks around specific focus areas … Start sourcing today … Benefit their portfolio today … Build the skills you’re lacking today.
40. Matt Turck, FirstMark Capital
At FirstMark, for our associates, we tend to like (but certainly not require) a couple of years after college in a top bank, consulting firm or equivalent—the main benefit from our perspective being that candidates have been thoroughly ‘professionally trained’ and come equipped with the right level of work ethic, reliability and thoroughness.
41. Paul Cohn, The Ohio Capital Fund
Look for a firm with a big staff—lots of assets under management. Now network, network, network. And then network. Try to get touch points with the fund at high and low levels. Tell them that you are interested in breaking into venture capital and ask their advice. Show up at networking events that VCs attend. Be visible.
42. Jeff Crowe, Norwest Venture Partners
Key Takeaway: Good entrepreneurs can recognize their own.
I think if you want to become a successful venture capitalist, it’s great training to be a successful entrepreneur first. If you’re going to invest in, bet on, and advise entrepreneurs, it is really helpful if you have been one yourself at an earlier point in your career. So I think it’s tremendously valuable in becoming an impactful and helpful venture capitalist.
43. Rob Hayes, First Round Capital
Key Takeaway: Don’t just get a mentor, learn to be a mentor.
There are way easier ways to make a lot of money than going and being a venture capitalist. I do it because I get to wake up every day and meet a lot of new people who have new ideas and are building companies that I would have never considered before … I get to work with these companies and help them along the way. The biggest joy I get is walking out of a meeting with a founder I work with and feeling like I’ve added value and helped to make it a more successful company.
44. Richard Liu, Morningside Ventures
When you do the research in a sector and a deal comes along, you can make a decision very quickly … Sometimes we bet on the right sector, but we bet too early and could not survive when the whole sector took off and then died. How to find the right timing for early venture is very difficult.
45. Doug Dooley, Venrock
Key Takeaway: Look inside yourself and find your passion.
I believe the best way to seek our own versions of success has to start with an introspective search for what strengths we possess inside, what brings us joy and fulfillment, and what forms of reward motivate us to do our best work.
46. Blake Robbins, Ludlow Ventures
I [researched and obsessed over] the VC industry. I read every single Paul Graham post. I did everything I could to immerse myself in both the startup and VC world. Twitter, for me, was my main way to stay plugged in with the eco-system.