What is the best way to get a VC internship out of graduate school?
- Leverage your networks to get introduced to as many VCs as you can
- Research VC portfolios, really understanding how firms are differentiated and coming up with ideas around their investment theses to augment “market mapping” exercises
- Dig into a handful of portfolio companies whose products and services you’re passionate about, and come up with some specific ideas and ways of generating value
- Be willing to do anything just to get to hang around the firm or their portfolio companies. From their end it should be as frictionless as possible: you come in, you generate value
- Be an original thinker and be able to articulate your innovative, orthogonal ideas in clear and persuasive ways
- Know what’s going on across the tech community. Read tech blogs, VC blogs and domain-specific blogs in your areas of interest. Nothing is more of a turn-off than a candidate who isn’t tuned into what’s going on
- Be an active user of the latest applications and devices and have a view about them. How do they rock, how do they suck, how would you do it better?
- Don’t regurgitate textbook crap you learn at school about valuation, etc. They are worthless in the early-stage venture realm. Look to real sources of information – practitioners, expert bloggers, etc. – for how things really work
- Be original and don’t be afraid to take chances when putting yourself out there. It doesn’t mean be a doofus who shoots from the hip, but don’t be afraid to share unconventional perspectives on new ventures, product features or industry trends if your position is well-argued and clearly stated
Formal programs are great and should be pursued, but using guerilla tactics will likely yield better results. The point is, you have to stand out in terms of your passion, thought process, amount of homework you’ve done and ability to create help. Challenge yourself as to why you should get a spot – and be honest. What makes you better than the next person with a platinum resume and a passel of Hs in your classes? You’ve got to outwork and outthink the rest of the class if you want to bust into the industry from school; it’s a different story if you’re a 2-time successful entrepreneur and ready to shift into the VC game. But if you think of the process as work and not as a passion, forget it. The business is just too hard and all-consuming for it to be looked upon as a job.
My friend Jon Steinberg and I were on a panel at Columbia Business School last week discussing entrepreneurship, start-ups and venture investing. Jon made an offer to every person in that room (which also applies to anyone reading this as well) – study the advertising technology market, really understand how insertion orders work, analyse Buzzfeed’s business and potential client base and approach him with a concrete plan for closing some business for the company. If you know what you’re talking about, have a clear plan and a hunger to help out, he’ll likely give you a shot. He said he has never been approached by anyone in this way, and was befuddled staring out at 100+ CBS MBA students as to why this was the case. I have to say I agree. One of the best ways to learn about venture investing is to start at a start-up, and there are far more start-ups than venture firms.
Why so many want to go right to investing without gaining experience as an operator is misguided. So the real answer as to how to land a VC internship coming out of CBS is to intern at a great start-up, prove yourself for free, get hired, gain invaluable experience and then if you still really want to be an investor to network into the venture industry from a position of strength. I’m not saying getting into venture straight out of B-school is impossible; clearly it’s not. But you need to ask yourself if this is truly the best route to take. I’d argue that working at 2-3 start-ups is invaluable training for being a successful investor. And having been on both sides over the past seven years as well as being a B-school grad myself, I think I’ve got a pretty good sense of the landscape…
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