Roneil Rumberg, 22, is one of the youngest partners at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB), the iconic Silicon Valley VC firm founded in 1972.
He joined the firm in April 2015, and now runs the Edge Fund, a seed-stage fund focused on emerging technologies like drones and virtual reality.
But for Rumberg, a Stanford computer science grad, being a full-time VC was never part of his career plan, until just recently.
“If you had asked me 6 months ago if I would be here right now, I would have never guessed,” Rumberg told Business Insider.
So how did he get there? Rumberg took a rather uncommon, roundabout path — which involved founding a not-so-successful bitcoin startup along the way. But he says a big reason for it is KPCB’s summer fellowship program he took two years ago, where he was able to get his feet wet in the tech startup world and build strong relationships with KPCB’s management team.
“My pre-existing relationship with Kleiner made it a lot easier for me to fit into this role,” Rumberg said.
The KPCB fellowship program gives college students a chance to intern at one of its portfolio companies, while providing a string of exclusive events and unfettered access to the firm’s leadership team. It’s also one of the country’s most competitive fellowship/internship programs to get into: Only 84 fellows out of roughly 2,500 applicants were accepted this year.
KPCB’s fellowship isn’t intended to nurture the next VCs of the world — Rumberg’s case is a rare one, as the program is designed for students pursuing careers in engineering, design, or product management. But in any case, the value of the program is clear: a unique opportunity to experience Silicon Valley’s thriving tech culture and learn from some of the most powerful tech leaders in the world.
Not just an internship
Being a KPCB fellow doesn’t mean you get to work at the firm.
Instead, you become an intern at one of Kleiner’s portfolio companies, such as Uber, Flipboard, or Square (Slack will also be available from next year).
The best part about it is all the exclusive events you get invited to. KPCB puts together a long-list of events — only offered to the fellows — throughout the three month program, such as a special dinner with its general partner John Doerr or a presentation by Nest cofounder Matt Rogers. There are also weekend excursions to a nearby island or kayak trips.
“We probably had 2-3 events a week, and a weekend event which tended to be the fun, sailing trips. During the week, we’d visit Kleiner portfolio companies or go to dinners with partners like Mike Abbott,” Rumberg said.
The fellowship also helps KPCB’s own portfolio companies. By putting the KPCB brand behind it, the fellowship program can help recruit some of the country’s most talented students for startups that may not necessarily have the brand recognition of its bigger competitors.
“If you’re a student deciding between Google versus one of our portfolio companies, it’s not that comparison anymore. It’s Google versus KPCB’s fellowship program,” KPCB’s partner Andy Chen, who leads the fellowship program told us.
How to get in
The fellowship offers three different tracks: engineering, design, or product management. Depending on which program you apply for, you get asked a different set of questions.
Rumberg, who was an engineering fellow, said the application process was pretty standard with some questions about an engineering problem. Chen said product management fellows have to upload a video explaining a product that they like.
Once you get past the first round, you do a more technical interview with a team leader of a KPCB portfolio company. Those who make it past this second round are the finalists, which usually amount to about 100 people, Chen told us.
The finalists are then given a choice to pick from five Kleiner portfolio companies they’d like to work for. They go through a round of interview with each of those companies, and only the ones given an offer from them get into the fellowship program.
The fellows don’t get paid by KPCB, but the companies they end up interning at. That means the terms of compensation differ for each fellow depending on who they work for. In most cases, KPCB says they’re individually negotiated.
Meeting John Doerr and Mary Meeker
John Doerr and Mary Meeker, two of the most powerful KPCB partners, also make sure they get connected to the fellows.
Doerr, for example, does an intimate Q&A session over dinner with the fellows, where he answers all kinds of questions, from investment and stock tips to even some personal ones. “He puts all the questions on the board and answers them one-by-one, all 84 fellows,” Chen says.
Meeker also gives a special presentation of her famous “Internet Trends” report, and spends hours afterwards to answer questions individually. “She stayed past 10PM just chatting with us. Getting her kind of off the record and hearing the unfiltered stuff, that was really cool,” Rumberg said.
Other presenters include Uber’s Chief Product Officer Jeff Holden, Facebook’s VP of Product Chris Cox, and Flipboard’s VP of Design Marcos Weskamp. Star CEOs like Slack’s Stewart Butterfield and Sportify’s Daniel Ek were also available during this year’s welcome reception.
“One of the big things I took away from the fellowship was it kind of humanized all of these people you read and hear about,” Rumberg says. “It was kind of surreal to be there, chatting with Mary Meeker, but she’s actually just a super normal person.”
Stephanie He, a Princeton computer science grad, who interned at Square as part of the fellowship program last year, echoed the same sentiment. “People like John Doerr can seem intimidating at first, because they’re legendary in Silicon Valley, but they’re all very accessible, engaging with the fellows,” she tells us.
Life after the fellowship
Rumberg, the KPCB partner, was an engineering intern at a cloud infrastructure startup called Nebula during his fellowship in 2013.
Although Nebula went out of business earlier this year, Rumberg says the whole fellowship experience was so inspiring that it convinced him to finish college a year early and start his own Bitcoin startup called Backslash.
Backslash didn’t pan out the way he’d expected, but Rumberg’s experience as an engineer and founder led KPCB to reach out to him with a VC position.
“Roneil [Rumberg] was part of the program, and he kept in close touch with the team here, and that relationship enabled him to bounce into Edge,” Chen says. “The Edge Fund team immediately thought of Roneil because they had that long-standing relationship.”
For Stephanie He, the 2014 fellow who interned at Square, it was about getting that startup experience and gaining the confidence to join a young company. She will start working at an early stage startup called Flux Factory this year.
“I never had a chance to work at a startup before KPCB. If you’re interested in exploring startups, then I highly recommend the fellowship program.”
Chen says 90% of the fellows end up receiving job offers from the companies they interned at. In some cases, like Rumberg, the fellows go on to become VCs or even launch their own startup.
“If you want to have the best bang for the buck, where you can meet the best people, work at the best company, and have the best experience, I think the fellowship program offers all of that,” Chen said.