There has been some chatter on Twitter about the value of pitching to VC associates. Thought I’d lob in my 2 cents on the shuttle to NYC. Full disclosure — I am a senior associate at Spark Capital.
Roles have blurred between associates, principals, EIRs, and VPs. Regardless of title, different roles have different levels of influence within a partnership. Over the years, I think we’ve seen some title inflation at some firms. It comes down to whether a person can lead an investment. In some firms, senior associates can do this in certain cases (I am able to lead seed investments at Spark). Charlie O’Donnell is an EIR at First Round (and a pretty young guy), but just led their most recent investment in Backupify. But in many cases, associates can’t lead investments, and even principles or young partners will get unusually high scrutiny through the deal process.
High quality intros to GPs > talking to associates > low quality intros. I generally agree with Keith Rab ois that you want to get to a decision-maker. It’s common sense, even if it hurts. If I were an entrepreneur, I’d try to talk to GPs I know personally or can get a high quality intro into. But the emphasis is on high quality. A low quality intro is sometimes not much better than a cold call. Also, if you don’t have a quality connection to a firm, getting an associate excited about your company works. An associate pushing for a deal is almost as good as a high quality intro. If not, that VC firm is wasting it’s $ paying that associate. There are many examples of great companies that met their VCs through associates.
Careers are long and Venture is a young person’s game. In many cases, the associates of today are the GP’s or corp Dev execs of tomorrow. It doesn’t hurt to meet them early in their career as you never know where things will go. There are many good GPs and angel Investors that were former associates: David Cowen and Alex Ferrara at Bessemer, many of the Battery GPs, Alex Finkelstein at Spark, Chris Dixon, Jeff Fagnan, Larry Cheng, etc (sorry for the east coast bias, but this is off the top of my head). I wouldn’t burn a lot of time with fruitless meetings, but I’d certainly be respectful and get to know the guys I like. Some of these folks will be decision-makers soon enough.
So, those are my thoughts on whether to talk to Associates. Here are two tips if you are talking to them.
- Be mindful of associates at transition points. Usually, these guys have been associates for at least 1 year, more likely 2. They are either rising stars that will be tested by leading a few investments or guys just trying to survive. If they are the former, they can be great assets. These associates will hustle harder than other VCs to prove themselves and usually have champions within the VC firm who will give them a lot of support. The latter are dangerous because you might spend a lot of cycles with them and get nowhere. Even worse, they may advocate for a decision, get you funded, but leave the firm in 6 months. Be mindful of the risk of becoming an orphan and make sure you establish a strong relationship with the partner on the deal early.
- favour associates with clear domain expertise or a strong thesis. This can be based on their operating experience, blog, or just clear evidence that they know what they are talking about. Meeting these associates can at least be helpful, and typically have a higher likelihood of culminating in serious consideration by partners. It also helps you figure out which firms “get it” in your sector or do not. Typically, I’d be more wary of associates that are clearly chasing momentum. These meetings are less likely to be valuable and could also mean that you are part of competitive due diligence for another deal.