Category - Getting a VC Job

Advice for how to get a Job in a venture capital firm

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You Might Owe Your Job to a Veteran
2
Why I Joined Origin Ventures
3
How To Bend the Arc of Your Career to VC
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What Are The Prerequisites For a VC Job?
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Podcast Interview: Bytes Over Bagels
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What Are The Odds Of Getting A Venture Capital Job?
7
Engineer or Consultant interested in VC? READ THIS FIRST.

You Might Owe Your Job to a Veteran

I had the privilege of attending a launch lunch for the Bunker Incubator earlier this week in Chicago, thanks to my friend and US Airforce vet Todd Olhms. The Bunker is an accelerator for veteran-owned businesses that has started in Chicago but has quickly spread to seven cities. Among its many purposes is to create jobs for our veterans.

It occurred to me yesterday that aside from being thankful to our veterans, those currently serving in the armed forces and their families for what they do to protect our country, I am also thankful for another reason. A US Army veteran was the father of the modern venture capital industry. In a sense, I owe my job to an veteran.

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Why I Joined Origin Ventures

In June, I made the difficult decision to leave one of the Midwest’s finest venture capital firms, OCA Ventures. I began my career in venture capital at OCA in 2001, when I started as an intern. I will be forever grateful to the mentors, partners, support staff, founders, management teams and friends that made working at OCA and working with its portfolio companies such a rewarding and formative experience over the last 13 years. I will continue to serve on the board of Base CRM and have responsibilities for OCA’s investment in Alert Logic. I will still be rooting hard for OCA and its portfolio companies as an investor in the funds.

 

I am excited to announce that I joined Origin Ventures at the beginning of September. Origin is a venture capital firm in Chicago that invests primarily in series A rounds of technology companies and highly-salable services businesses. Our specialties include e-commerce, SaaS, digital media and advertising technology. Origin is perhaps best known for being the first investor in Grubhub, IfByPhone, Whittl and many other great businesses. I’ve had the opportunity to work with Origin and its partners over the last 10 years in various capacities- as a co-investor, board member and in the thicket negotiating deals. We’ve had the chance to see one another react to significant challenges, navigate through negotiations, perform cap table calisthenics, seize opportunities and work alongside entrepreneurs. Working in a small partnership is different than other jobs I’ve had. You are electing to intertwine your financial, professional, personal and every other aspect of your life together. Consequently, there is a lot of comfort working with people who you know and when you’ve already been tested together.

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How To Bend the Arc of Your Career to VC

I am still learning the formula of what makes a great venture capitalist. In an examination of other successful investors and my own numerous deficiencies, I’ve composed a theory that the best venture capitalists are a Jack/Jill of all trades and a master at a couple. Here’s how to bend the arc of your career toward venture capital.

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What Are The Prerequisites For a VC Job?

I get this question a lot. Usually it comes in the form of “do I need [x] experience to get into VC?

The answer is an unequivocal “no.” If you don’t believe me, do look at the backgrounds of VCs across several firms. You’ll see they are quite varied. There are former journalists and lawyers. My firm includes a number of former floor options traders. So there are no prerequisite experience to break into the industry. This does not mean, however, that there aren’t some backgrounds that are more prevalent. Former entrepreneurs, engineers, and executives are very common. Perhaps those backgrounds may be more in demand, but the point is that the lack of one of these backgrounds does not count you out.

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What Are The Odds Of Getting A Venture Capital Job?

I took a class in business school that fundamentally changed the way I think about a lot of things. The core premise of the class (Managerial Decision Making class taught by Thaler) is that we are subject to a lot of biases by virtue of being humans. 
 
One of these biases is overconfidence. He surveyed the class asking how many thought they would get an above average grade in the class. It was about 75%. He also asked how many thought they would be in the top decile. About 20%. Obviously neither of these situations is possible. This bias holds true outside an MBA classroom (clearly a biased sample). Consider asking people if they are an above average driver. 

Engineer or Consultant interested in VC? READ THIS FIRST.

In my mind, I am still a software engineer at the core even though I have spent much more of my professional career as a venture capitalist. I taught myself how to program when I was 13 years old on my Epson Equity I+ that I bought with my Bar-Mitzvah money. I spent an embarrassing portion of my childhood and college in the late 1980s and early 1990s in front of a computer. I was a nerd before it was cool to be a nerd.
 
My early professional career was in consulting where I played a very technical role. After business school, I had the good fortune to wind up as a venture capitalist. But the transition from being a software engineer and/or consultant to a deal-oriented environment was very difficult. If you are an engineer/consultant and are interested in venture capital, here are some thoughts on making the transition. The worlds are so different:
  • Software is deterministic. It works or it doesn’t work. VC deals are murky at their most clear, and very little is +5 volts or 0 volts.
  • Me and machines, we get along. In consulting you learn to work in teams and with people but the relationships with clients for the most part have an expiration. In venture, you are married to the founding teams and senior management and the relationships are not defined by a project. Average time to an exit for an early stage business is 7 years. Very few consulting projects are more than two years.
  • I was on some software engineering projects that were emotionally, technically and professionally challenging. But none of them was a fraction of the volatility that one experiences side by side with entrepreneurs where often you find yourself on the brink of failure and success at the same time.
  • Engineering requires planning, scheduling, and coordination. Priorities change but nowhere near as fast as in a deal oriented environment. It was rare to junk huge sections of code. But deals take twists and turns and sometimes you have to walk away from a lot of work which can be frustrating, even when you know it’s a sunk cost.

 

I think engineers, especially software engineers, make great venture capitalists. Hopefully for those engineers or consultants out there looking to get into the venture capital business or are starting out, this list will provide you some empathy and comfort and perhaps help you muddle through the transition faster. And that you aren’t alone in wondering WTF.

Copyright © 2014 Jason Heltzer