Q: Crap! What do I do now that I’ve got a VC interview?

A: Learn the fundamentals, develop a point of view, and demonstrate what you bring to the table

“Yep, you did your homework”

These are what I call table-stakes. When you come to the interview with more than surface-level knowledge of the VC industry, startups, technology (if that’s the type of VC you’re interviewing with), and the folks you’re meeting with, you’ll make a good impression.

Do this by developing a working knowledge of VC using online resources and your network

  • Know the basics of the VC Industry – Can you answer the questions: how are funds setup? How do they operate? How are they measured? What are some common strategies? What are their motivations? Both books and blogs are good for ramping up.
  • Get familiar with the startup ecosystem – Track who the great successes are, who recently got funding, which VCs in the area are active. Keep up to date with this news.
  • If you have a background in technology, make sure you’ve got it covered and you’re actually an expert in your expertise. If not? Learn key vocabulary and metrics – You can find out what most VCs focus on. Know the basics of the types of businesses in which they invest.
  • Dive deep into the VC – figure out who they invested in and speculate why. Understand their thesis. Follow them on twitter. Read their blogs.

Granted, this involves a TON of effort. You want to get credit for the time you’ve put in. So, even if the conversation isn’t going in a direction that lets you highlight your mad preparation skills, come with a strategy to steer the conversation naturally in your favor without being awkward or coming across as a showoff 

  • You can make an on-topic statement that invites a follow up question. For example, if we’re discussing a startup or new technology, I may say “The market’s moving too slow for Company X to do Y.” Full stop. The next question, “why?” gives me a chance to show my thought process and knowledge of the industry/market.
  • You can find a way to add value to a portfolio company through real and meaningful customer introductions or talent referrals. When I was interviewing for an internship position, I found a company that was complimentary to that of Silver Spring Networks, my current employer. I asked for an intro to the CEO/company to discuss a biz dev opportunity
  • Use examples of real startups when articulating your points.

 

“Nice. You’re different than the other ones I see”

This happens when you have a share deeper perspective or form a specific opinion on all the knowledge you’ve gathered to date. If it’s actionable, even better.

  • Remember those VC industry metrics you were tracking? Have a feel for where the industry is going and articulate how it will impact your target firm’s investing habits. Are valuations changing? Startup or funding volume decreasing? This is all about sharing your thought exercises
  • Bring a few investment opportunities to the table. Chances are you’re likely not bringing something new, but again, shows how you think and that you can source*
  • Develop your opinion on portfolio companies. Know which ones you like and which ones you don’t… as much. Have the confidence to say so and be ok with being wrong. If you get the associate gig, you’re not going to be off writing checks willy-nilly, so here’s the time to be making hypothesis and testing them, developing arguments, and opening yourself up to coaching and learning. If I look back to my interviews at HPVP, I think my record is 2/3 based on progress thus far. The one I mis-categorized began marketing a lot just after my second interview. I had come back with a great line about how quickly I was proven wrong.**

*this is really important for the “picture me here” effect

**can be a little tricky, especially if you don’t know attribution (who on the team led the deal) and won’t know if you’re sh*ting all over a deal someone in the room did. All the more reason to be thoughtful and well spoken

 

“Wowzers”

There are some associate stories out there that just blow me away, and I don’t even know half of them. The “wow” factor is either how you get your foot in the door or how you close the job, but either way, it can set you apart from other folks vying for the position. Its hard to describe and there is certainly no formula or path to follow (otherwise, no one would be “wowed” by “it”). This first step is understanding your strengths. Could be skills, background, expertise, personality, etc. Could be a combination.

Mine? Hustling to take every opportunity I could with total disregard for my current skill set (or lack thereof) and spare time (again, or lack thereof). I got myself in the right place at the right time, and I had done enough groundwork to capitalize on it. (Yes I know, not that exciting, but I should show you the white-boarding I did to get there…)

Others? They’re a bit more tactical. For example, I have a friend, an expert networker, that created a database of all the VCs that he was connected to on LinkedIn and turned it into a geographical visualization. The message? I bring all of these people to the table. (in addition to all of the skills an smarts that others have too.)

Some people create social presences. Others do project work to prove themselves. A few are so persistent people just give them jobs to stop the nagging (almost kidding). Find out who you are, build a strategy around it, and go all in. Because everyone who is serious about VC is putting in the work.

Q: What do you actually do as a VC Associate?

A: Well, it depends. (And I know that’s a cop out answer)

Here’s some of what I do:

  • Sourcing and screening. Finding new companies is one of my largest responsibilities. Screening includes making decisions to push companies forward through the investment process (i.e. introduce them to more team members) based on initial conversations and/or initial diligence.
  • Diligence. When we get more interested in a company, I’ll dig into market, competition, company metrics. If we get really interested in a company, I’ll support in first-person diligence and a deeper dive into the startup.
  • Portfolio support. I’m trying to better understand how we can be an effective resource for our portfolio companies in a scalable and repeatable way (if you have suggestions, let me know! tweet @jaydimonte)
  • Community building. I mentor companies in accelerators, incubators, and am constantly talking to folks prepping for fundraising, trying to work in VC, learning about the process.
  • All of the other random small-co stuff. We are a small company too… Someone has to do quarterly reporting (yes, we have investors just like the companies we invest in)!

And some of the things my counterparts at other firms do:

  • No sourcing. There are some firms where associates support deal work with diligence but aren’t responsible for finding new companies. This is more applicable in firms that spend less time doing outbound sourcing (i.e. reaching out to companies vs. having companies referred to them)
  • Projects for portfolio companies. A few firms actually farm out associates for short-term focused projects. For example, if a company is working on a new sales strategy, an associate may work for a few days a week helping lay out the plan
  • Support thesis work. If a firm is very thesis-driven, associates can do much of the research on market opportunities and identify companies in those categories

I’ve realize a few factors that go into how responsibilities get doled out to VC associates. A lot of it has to do with the type of firm you’re joining:

  • Your firm’s target company stage is a big one. As you move from Seed to Series A to Series B, etc., you have much more data to work with. Where seed investors may focus more on teams and markets, later stage investors may dig deeper into financial statements (for example, I usually talk about revenue, CAC, LTV, etc., where some of my friends at later stage go deep into EBITDA, margins, etc.)
  • How big your team is. As firms have more resources, there can be some specialization in the work you do. For example, at HPVP, we have an incredible sr. marketing manager (shout-out to @jacktrox) that manages everything from our social media presence to our limited partner (LP) communications. Much of those activities would fall onto partners or associates on smaller teams

Key takeaway? The missing element is constant learning. Regardless of the specific activity, the great thing about working with startups is that each day brings something new – and stretches you a bit farther. From analysts to partners, they’ll all say the same thing.