Archive for September 2014
Let’s say you have the attention of someone who agrees to meet or do a phone call with you, but they’re just too busy to set it up right now.
The wrong thing to do in most cases is to wait some number of weeks or months to reconnect with the person and set up a meeting.
If you have the person’s attention, you should see if there is a way you can get on their calendar right then and there, even if the actual meeting or call will take place weeks or months out.
Here’s an example of how this might work in practice:
You: “Hi _____, I’m an MBA student who is tracking the Big Data market sector. I have come across some interesting companies looking for funding and was wondering if you might be interested in meeting me to discuss them during the 1st week of December. Also have some interest in working in VC and would love to discuss that career path as well. Please let me know your thoughts. Thanks.”
Reply: “Hi Mary – thanks for the note. I would love to chat but I’m swamped for next month or so. Can you email me in the New Year and see if we can set up a time to speak? Thanks.”
You: “Hi _____ – would love to talk to you in the New Year. Would it be OK if we penciled in Feb 1 10-1030a Pacific for a phone chat and then change/move if needed? Thanks and please let me know if that works for you.”
Reply: “Hi Mary – sure, may have to reschedule it but let’s get it on calendar. I’ve copied my assistant who can get the logistics set up.”
Give it a try. It works.
People these days are flocking to conferences, ideas festivals and cruises that are really about building friendships, even if they don’t admit it explicitly. The goal of these intensity retreats would be to spark bonds between disparate individuals who, in the outside world, would be completely unlikely to know each other. The benefits of that social bridging, while unplannable, would ripple out in ways long and far-reaching.
Recently I’ve been tracking the time I have spent on a couple of projects.
In doing that, I’ve stumbled upon an unintended but powerful side effect of time tracking.
By tracking my time spent on a specific project I become much more focused on the task at hand.
If I don’t succumb to any of the usual distractions (e.g. checking email) I don’t have to do the tedious work of figuring out how much of a given time window was really spent on project work.
This resistance to those distractions conserves mental energy ( I don’t have to compute “time wasted” and subtract it from the time window in question) AND makes my time tracking more accurate.
I’m definitely going to look for more opportunities to put this productivity hack into practice.
One more thing:
For VC’s to take you seriously in their hiring process you need to have a relevant set of work experiences that dovetail with the firm’s investment stage and sector preferences.
But you also need to show that you live, breathe, eat, and dream startups – even outside of your 9-to-5 job – and especially if you’re not working at a startup today.
A great way to show that enthusiasm is by becoming an advisor to startups.
What does a startup advisor do? It’s pretty simple. You do whatever you can to help a startup be successful – without being compensated for your efforts.
If this makes you uncomfortable, stop reading here. Do not pass ‘Go’, do not collect $200. VC’s spend a lot of time giving free advice. If you don’t like it, you won’t like being a VC.
If you are still reading after all of that doom and gloom ;) let me share some tips with you on how to become a startup advisor.
1) Be great at something, preferably something that startups care about – and then share.
If you look at the types of people VC firms generally hire, you’ll often see standouts who have strong personal brands focused on a specific area of expertise.
For example, Hilary Mason is one of the best known data scientists in the US and maybe the world – and now she is advising Accel Partners on Big Data investments.
Another great example is Danya Cheskis-Gold, who just moved over to Spark Capital to run their community outreach efforts after having built a great community at Skillshare.
Given their depth of expertise in areas that are extremely relevant to tech startups I’m sure both of them have spent a fair amount of time formally and informally advising early stage companies.
It all comes down to figuring out what you have to offer a startup that few others can.
Figure it out and then pay it forward by offering advice around that area of expertise for free to startups with whom you think you can make a difference.
2) Spend lots of time with startup founders.
A great way to do this is to attend relevant Meetups or startup pitch events. Introduce yourself to the companies where you see overlap between their sector and stage and your industry or functional expertise. Ask them how you can be helpful and where appropriate volunteer specific areas where you can assist.
For example, if you have a lot of sales experience and you meet a company founder who is starting to think about how to build out their sales team, maybe you can share some advice based on your past experience.
Don’t force your help on people but if in the course of conversation you see an area where you could add value, it doesn’t hurt to mention it. You never know where it could lead.
3) Raise your hand and ask to be involved in your local accelerator or incubator.
Accelerators and incubators are always looking for mentors to help their affiliated companies.
What’s the harm in asking someone for a warm intro to the folks who run a local accelerator or even reaching out directly to them to offer some pro bono help?
You’d be surprised at how few people do this in practice. They’re waiting to be picked — so stand out from the crowd by raising your hand.
Some people think the key to breaking into VC is getting a big break – getting one interview with a top firm, or getting a solid intro to a partner at a hiring firm, for example.
Let me tell you something. It’s not.
The most important thing – the key to your job hunt – is getting your ‘wedge’.
WTF is a wedge? The wedge is something you do that screams “I’m going to become a VC damn it.”
It’s the thing that shows the VC community that you can hustle and create opportunities for yourself. That you can ‘wedge’ yourself into the ecosystem and add value doing it.
Most importantly, it’s the defining event in your VC job hunt, because it creates huge leverage for you to open up other great opportunities.
My wedge? It was convincing a VC firm to sponsor me for an independent study during business school. Once I had that experience on my resume, I could mention that I had done work for the firm – in intro emails, to help secure interviews, and in interviews. It’s an understatement to say it opened some doors.
What’s your wedge? Maybe you’ve already found it or achieved it. If so, congrats! You’re well on your way and have as good a shot at securing a VC job as anyone.
Here are a bunch of things I consider to be great wedges for finding work in the venture capital business:
▪ Starting a well-attended meetup focused on startups, entrepreneurship, or VC (I know a guy who did this, and now’s he’s a VC.)
▪ Securing an internship or project work with a VC firm
▪ Starting an entrepreneurship organization on your campus
▪ Organizing a conference attended by prominent entrepreneurs and VCs
▪ Founding a startup or joining an early stage startup that ends up having moderate to major success
▪ Recommending to a VC firm a company in which they end up investing
If you don’t yet have a wedge strategy and you’re dying to get into VC, pick one of the wedges I suggested above and set a goal to achieve it by a certain date.
Or think of your own wedge that will make you stand out from the crowd. Then get to work!
I get a ton of questions from venture capital job hunters about how to come up with investment ideas and theses, so I wanted to share with you this recent article from Bill Gurley, General Partner at Benchmark Capital and investor in companies like eBay and Uber.
This is a chance to get into Bill’s head and see how he looks at this space. More importantly, it’s an opportunity for you to see how a successful investor puts rigor and structure around an investment thesis — and how you might apply more rigor and structure to yours.