It took 10 years from the time I hoped to become a venture capital investor until the time I actually became one.
Ten long years of hanging by the hoops, trying to crack in, a VC desperado.
It’s a fairly typical story: I studied books and articles, listened to podcasts about the greats, built spreadsheets of mock portfolios and learned lots of VC lingo (series, val caps, SAFEs…).
And somewhere along the way I even switched to flat shoes (Allbirds of course!), branded t-shirts and backpacks.
What a VC-wannabee! I still couldn’t get a guernsey. Because I had it all wrong…
If I had my time again, now having been on the inside of a venture firm for several years, boy would I do things differently.
Here’s what I understand about venture today that I just didn’t get at the time:
- The cheque is the least important thing a venture investor brings a founder. The far more valuable and finite resources to invest are actually your time, your network and your emotional fortitude
- Venture building is a craft, the learning is in the doing. You can only learn so much secondhand. The way you get good at building businesses is by building businesses
- When a company is starting out and there are only 1 or 2 people, practically any help is useful, generally you don’t have to be an expert in something to bring value
- The best way to snuffle out great founders is by recommendation from other great founders, and it takes many years to earn that kind of trust (rightfully so)
- Venture is serving, supporting, helping. You’re singing backup and, when you’re working with an awesome founder, you better keep hitting the high notes because you’re lucky to be on stage.
- Venture investors listen to smart people in the ecosystem — angels, advisors, mentors, accelerator program managers and many more. You don’t need a chequebook to get our attention, we love to read your ideas on blogs or catch up over coffee. If we’re learning from you, we’ll seek you out
- When you’re evaluating candidates to hire from within a venture fund, you can tell the people with real company building experience a mile away. It radiates through their application
With all that in mind, here’s what I’d suggest if you’re reading this and you want to become a venture investor: don’t wait for permission like I did. You don’t need a job at a venture fund to become a talented company builder. You can shave off ten years and just decide to start today.
Go seek out a founder who’s so electric you can’t not work with her. Maybe the whole company is just her right now. Offer a hand. For nothing to begin with. Just help in whatever spare time you can manage. And believe in her. Be a deep well of unsubstantiated belief, especially when things feel rocky early on.
Stretch yourself from the smallest tasks to the most strategic, effortlessly and with no ego.
In other words, go do the gritty, unglamorous, authentic work of a venture investor, and don’t worry too much about job applications, we’ll find you.
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