From college to venture capital (and everything in between)
I remember the day I searched Google for “venture capital internship”. I had about 874,000 results. To put that in perspective, you will get 2 million results if you search for “Cara Delevingne eyebrows” and 32 million results for “where is Donald Trump’s brain”.
Bottom Line: Google knows more about the world’s biggest mystery today than it does about venture capital. Which is not very encouraging when you are fresh out of college and hoping to enter the world of VC. In addition, the limited information available is often aimed at an American post-MBA audience. Because everyone knows that there are no entrepreneurs outside the “Valley”, and that obtaining an American work visa is as easy as clutching a Juicero bag in your hand …
If the above sounds familiar to you, firstly, I understand you, and secondly, this post will hopefully shed some light on the process of getting an entry-level position in a venture capital fund in the EU / UK (I know they should be separated now, but not completely yet, so a hyphen seems sufficient to translate this confusion into syntax).
To give you a bit of background, here’s a look at my own experience in venture capital:
- I left France at 17 to study business for four years in Lancaster and Madrid.
- I did internships in financial consulting and B2B sales.
- I did a year of Masters in Cambridge.
- I applied for an internship at Oxford Capital directly after graduation, I was accepted.
- I accepted an analyst position at Oxford Capital.
Which brings me to answer the first question you are asking yourself now.
Do I need to be white, male, straight, and educated in Cambridge to enter this universe?
Wait, wasn’t that your first question? Too bad, because it is the most important.
And the answer is: certainly not! We all know the depressing statistics about the diversity of the venture capital (and entrepreneurship) industry. It is true, there is currently not enough diversity in the ecosystem. What is also true is that VCs know this and think it is not a good thing. This is probably the reason why the entry statistics are improving.
Here’s what that means to you: As of today, you don’t have to be a male, white, straight, and trained at Oxbridge to get a venture capital internship (in fact if it is). please apply if you don’t fit any of these categories).
What you need is to be fast. Better yet, you have to be the fastest. For any available position, VCs are going to receive hundreds, if not thousands of applications – and they have limited resources to sift through them. This means that many VCs will process applications in batches. Make sure yours is the first they see, and your chances of being accepted will suddenly be much higher than that of the white guy straight out of Oxbridge who applied two weeks after the offer aired. So stay tuned and check for opportunities regularly.
Which brings us to our second question.
Where to look for internships in VC?
Wait, was that your first question? Well, sorry… or rather not.
Indeed, AngelList will spot some opportunities. I also found some good leads on Coaching Assembly.
But that doesn’t get you very far. So here are two tips:
Sign up for Stephan von Perger’s newsletter with the latest European venture capital jobs.
Take a look at the amazing work at Diversity VC – they can help you out (although if you’re a white man you’re going to have to be a real “Tootsie” my dear).
If all of the above doesn’t work, you have two options (bonus: they’re not mutually exclusive. You’re welcome).
Check out Techstars’ comprehensive list of venture capital funds. Track them down (you are the iGeneration, tracking down is literally your part-time job). And if you take a cold approach, let go: A VC told me they hired an intern because she sent them a rap poem about venture capital. Not everyone can spit out an Eminem-style flow, but you win my point (in case you don’t: VCs need initiative, so get out of your comfort zone and prove you got what it takes).
In the same vein: attend events that VCs can attend and start to network. Think going to a conference on artificial intelligence is only for geeks? Think again. Personal relationships will always take you further than icy approaches. Walking through a room full of strangers is intimidating, but VCs face this situation every day – so this is another opportunity to prove that you are already more of a VC at heart than they think.
Tip: be picky with the fund you are applying for. I know this point is hard to swallow, because there are so few opportunities. But every venture capital fund is unique, because firstly they are packed by different types of companies, and secondly the teams are so small that the fund culture is forged by those who are part of the team. So, if you’re not convinced about a fund’s portfolio or the team gives you goosebumps, don’t apply. You won’t appreciate your experience as a VC if you feel uncomfortable or bored to death with the companies you come across. This will reduce your chances of staying full time.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, and let’s start with the basics: getting you in.
What does the recruitment process look like,
and how to tape them?
If you are truly passionate about technology, entrepreneurship, and business, the VC recruiting process will be a treat. I have had the best interview experiences with VCs, which will mostly follow the process below:
CV + cover letter
A lot can be said about what VCs are looking for, but the two main recurring traits are, first, intellectual curiosity, and second, extroversion. Also note: the world of venture capital is closer to business / entrepreneurship than to private equity / finance. This means that you have a lot more flexibility with the format and tone of your CV and cover letter. Use it to your advantage.
An additional form (possibly)
Typical fields will include quotes from entrepreneurs you like, companies you could invest in (often three), and blogs and newspapers you read regularly. Oxford Capital also had a “your favorite meme” field. Be prepared to explain in depth the reasons for your answers.
Interviews (often two)
The typical interview sequence will be as follows: your background, your motivation, your hobbies, the companies in which you would invest and why, then the questions more specific to the themes of investment funds and strategy (B2C vs. B2B , hardware vs. software, early-stage vs. later-stage, sectors and technologies of interest…).
My advice ? Forget your Excel skills, because frankly no VC will care. What they want to see is above all your motivation for the position in question and your reasoning skills, that is, whether you are able to come up with some sensible ideas about a company or a fund.
As always, do your research first: if you apply for a fund specializing in artificial intelligence and mention three consumer brand companies, you may be wasting your time.
Another tip: focus on understanding the business model of businesses.
It lasts an hour on average. During this one, you will probably be confronted with the pitch of a company and you will be asked the 1 billion dollar question: “Would you invest in this start-up?”
What VCs want to see at this point is someone who can be excited and think deeply about the company, if their business model makes sense, what makes a good founding team, and what might be the challenges ahead (both macro and micro). The key here is to give an honest opinion. VC teams are small, which means they need people around the table who will challenge each other. If you always lean towards the majority or tell them what they want to hear, you are not adding value to the team. In fact, you are probably destroying value by not asking the tough questions.
Thinking about all of the above should hopefully increase your chances of getting into a venture capital fund. However, there is still a chance that you will end up asking yourself that last question.
I haven’t reached the final stage, is it over for me in the venture capital world?
First of all, don’t worry: there are just under 1,000 venture capitalists in the UK. If you assume that interns will make up a maximum of 5% of those, that leaves you with about 50 opportunities across the country. And that’s (very) optimistic. So frankly, that’s Hunger Games-worthy luck in this industry.
Also remember that there is a timing variable: most VCs only look for manpower when they are about to close a fundraiser. This means that these 50 opportunities will not be accessible at the same time. Sometimes you just need to be in the right place at the right time (again, doing your due diligence will help you determine which structures are most likely to raise funds).
Second, there are other ways to enter the world of VCs. Remember that VCs intersect almost all players in the tech ecosystem, from entrepreneurs to start-up advisors, incubators and accelerators, innovation consultants and many more. This may be one of them that can kickstart your VC career, so don’t give up: be resilient, keep building your personal network and your brand (write on a blog, do a podcast …) and find your backdoor.
Post originally published on Medium in English, translated into French by FrenchWeb in agreement with the author.
Esther Delignat-Lavaud Rodríguez is an analyst at Oxford Capital. After leaving France at age 17, she studied between Spain and the United Kingdom. After graduating, she joined the investment fund Oxford Capital in London.