Be an Outlier

Here’s a question I get pretty often.  “How can I become a VC?”

Let’s start with the premise that there are a lot of well educated, solidly experienced people in this profession.  If you are part of this crowd, your odds are better but probably still not good.  If you are not a part of this group… your odds are terrible, but still not zero.

The way I would recommend going about it is the following:

1) Be an expert in something relevant.  Be the person who knows everything about ‘de-duplication algorithms’ or be a go-to resource on eCommerce fashion sites.  You have to have a way to add value.  If you are doing the same thing as everyone else a) the decision comes down to a credentials contest b) you won’t even get a chance to show your stuff and c) why does a VC firm need you anyway.

2) Know the job.  Even if you have never done the job before, figure out what is required and gain those skills.  Get a job spec from someone hiring and figure out the skills you need.  Maybe that means doing valuations of private companies for free.  Maybe that means understanding portfolio management software (do a demo) or CRM.  Maybe its exit analysis or term sheet negotiation (take a class).  Maybe it’s consulting to startups.  Maybe it’s getting a tangential job so that you have these skills on your resume.  Entrepreneurs often make good VCs.  Corporate strategists also. Nobody is going train you and nobody is going to tell you what to do.

3) Know the ecosystem.  If the VC you want to work at invests in FinTech, you better know all the FinTech companies.  Be familiar with the up and coming startups and the companies that have exited.  You better have as much depth as any one that you might deal with in that industry.  In fact, it’s helpful if you know more than most.  That means not only know about the companies, but knowing people in the companies.  That means networking… lots of networking.

4) Know the community.  There is no VC in the world that will simply look at a handful of random resumes to find their next employee.  They simply don’t have to.  Instead they will hire someone they know and are comfortable with.  They will hire a friend of a friend.  They will hire someone that went to their Alma Mater.  The bottom line is that it not as easy as going on an interview, killing it and getting a job.  So the interview has to start months before you get the job.  Go to the VCs office hours.  Send her something helpful and unique.  Respond to their blog posts with something more than feint praise.  And again NETWORK!  Go to events.  Immerse yourself in the community.

If you are looking at this list thinking “that looks kind of hard,” you should probably forget about it.  If you are thinking, “it’s 11:03pm, now is a good time to get started,” you might have a shot.

Build yourself a map of skills.  Make a list of how you can acquire those skills.  Work backwards from the point of success.  But, above all, make sure that you are developing a unique skill that is of value.  That’s the only way in the back door.

Be an outlier!