How to get a job as a Venture capitalist

I get an email or two a week from folks wanting to be a Venture Capitalist. Usually its to ask for introductions to a VC firm or to forward their resume. Most of these folks have a technical background and some have an MBA. Since most people sending the email dont ask me how they could really get a job at a VC firm, I thought I’d outline that for them.

There are broadly 3 operating roles in a VC firm – General Partner (GP), Associate / Principal (AP) and Operating partner (OP). There are other roles such as Venture partner, but those are fairly rare. Limited Partners LP’s) are not part of a VC’s fund’s operating roles, they are investors in a VC fund.

Most VC firms have between 2-5 GP’s, and 2-5 AP’s and 1-2 OP’s. (source: PDF)

GP’s take the most risk, since they raise the fund from institutional investors so they tend to get the highest salaries and profits the firm makes from the investments. To be a GP you should have enough capability to raise funds (the most important aspect) and deploy those funds to provide a better return (which is: invest in startups and ensure they have great exit). Most GP’s (over 60%) I know have a degree from a top notch school (think Harvard MBA, Stanford MBA or in India IIT and IIM). Please see list of VC firms (below) in India. My analysis of GP’s in those firms indicates unless you have been an entrepreneur before with a successful exit OR from a IIT / IIM, with over 10+ years of experience OR you can raise money from other investors, your chances of being a GP are very low (less than 10%). Unless you can raise money to be a fund on your own, you will have to spend 10+ years being an AP and then graduate to being a GP.

AP’s are usually junior folks, and of the 120+ AP’s in the firms (largely Indian) below 69 (over 50%) are from IIT, IIM, McKinsey backgrounds. So if you are a fresh grad or someone with 2-5 years of experience, and not from a top school, your chances of getting into a VC firm as an AP are not high. Its not impossible, but there are only 400+ firms in India and so a max of about 1500 AP positions, which means a best case of about 700 (<50%) positions. The good news is over the last 5-10 years the % of IIT, IIM grads as AP’s has dropped from over 80% to less than 60%.

Operating partners are usually CFO’s or Legal advisors, so your technology background wont qualify you for a role there. More likely a legal degree or a CPA / CA certification is required.

So how do you get a job as a VC if you are not from a top school or you dont have ability to raise money?

1. Be an entrepreneur first: Most VC’s who are not from top schools end up being one because they made money for the VC firm that invested in them. If you are an entrepreneur and you raise money from a VC firm, and then have a successful exit, the chances of you becoming a VC improve dramatically. Surprisingly, even if you dont have a successful exit, your chances of getting into a VC firm improve many fold. If you had a successful exit however, you can possibly raise your own fund, and write your own ticket.

2. Help rich investors make money: As I point out before a key part of being a VC is the ability to raise money. Most folks who I get emails from are like me (15 years ago). I did not have the network to raise funds at that time and neither did I have a lot of money myself to start a VC fund. Raising money from other rich people involves either them trusting and knowing you (they are friends, family, etc.) OR if you have made money for them before. I suspect like me, most of the folks emailing me dont have very rich uncles and aunts, so the best strategy is to help rich folks get richer. This might include introducing them to startups which need investment and then exit to make your investors a profit, or making money for them via the stock market and generating enough returns to both satisfy them and to make a tidy sum for yourself.

3. Work yourself into that role: VC’s dont recruit by going to campus interviews or by posting on job boards. If they do be vary, and run away. Most good VC’s I know only hire from their network or trust a executive search firm to help them get the right AP candidates. Get to know and help executive search (Kornferry or Stanton Chase) recruiters get other candidates (for other roles) and keep your name on the radar. They might come to you when a VC job comes up. The other approach is to network with VC’s so they will let you know when their firm has an opening for an AP. To be on their radar, help them source and talk to great entrepreneurs and send them good quality companies to invest in. Alternately if you have an uncle or aunt at a VC firm, you can get that AP role fairly easily.

Of course the easiest way to be a VC is to bankroll the fund with your own money, if you have that much money, then this post is largely useless for you.