Become Known for Something ASAP

Without a reputation, you're just another VC.

On the welcome mat to a venture capital career should say, “You are a Commodity.”  There are literally hundreds of other peers who are doing the same thing — trying to find exceptional entrepreneurs to sell undifferentiated capital.

Respond to this challenge by separating yourself above everyone else.  In an effort to not lose your seat, deliberately endeavor to make yourself irreplaceable to the firm which you work for, and more importantly, to the industry.  In other words, create an (intangible) asset which gives you leverage whether you exert it or not.  One of the best ways to accomplish this goal is to become known for something outside of your firm as well as within it.

The most tried-and-true path is to become an expert in a domain.  Map a market space.  Do the research to publish some thought pieces that go beyond rehashing what’s already out there.  Better yet, coin a phrase.  The primary benefit of this exercise is that it turns the tables so entrepreneurs can and want to find you, rather than you searching for them.  But perhaps more importantly, it also differentiates you from the masses.

The internet has the potential to be a tremendous equalizer in that great thought articulated well naturally gravitates towards the right audience.  You could be funny, interesting, and uniquely idosyndatic on social media.  Remember that publishing doesn’t have to be focused in one domain or even research oriented.

That being said, the key to differentiation is to think more broadly than your peers.  Seems like everyone is playing the content and social media game, so play a different game.  Start a community group.  Become a master-networker.  Organize a set of exclusive invite-only branded dinners.  Become a key component in your startup ecosystem’s network who actually helps rather than just gives.  You’ll have to ask, but usually your firm will give you a small-scale budget for networking & deal-flow experiments if the partners believe it’s accretive to the firm, not just to you. 

Lastly, don’t overthink it.  What you’re “known for” isn’t a permanent decision.  It can and will change over the course of a venture career.  For myself as an example, I was initially known for having one of the first non-partner VC blog (back in 2005!), then for a regular entrepreneur meetup which drew 1000+ attendees.  Part of this exercise is to help you keep your seat and buy more time to allow your investments to flourish.  Eventually what you’re “known for” will be the investments which you’ve made and the accretive reputation you’ve developed in working with entrepreneurs.  But for now, become known for something soon. Otherwise you’re just another (replaceable) junior VC.