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Plot Your Next VC Job Move In Advance
If you realize that you’re losing your seat, it’s probably too late.
As you build a career in venture capital, you’re not going to be at the same firm for decades. The first job in the industry is about getting through the door however — I mean however — you can. This first role usually is not the perfect long-term fit due to any one of numerous reasons: the firm isn’t on the rise, internal politics hinder your success, the investments you’re involved in don’t match your long-term favored stage/sector/geography, or frankly, you just don’t like the people.
Depending on your tenure, one option for your next step is to raise your own fund; and hopefully you’ve been laying the groundwork by establishing your edge, your tribe, and your access to capital, per my partner Rob’s suggestion in a previous post. If your progress along these dimensions aren’t where they need to be, or it’s just not the right time to set out on your own due to your life stage or personal ambitions, your second VC job at another fund can still afford a meaningful upgrade.
After your first job, you know the industry. You know what you like, and what you don’t like: what kind of culture you want to be a part of, whether you prefer a large or small firm, and whether the right approach is multi-stage/sector or a smaller boutique strategy.
Importantly, you don’t want to start your job search process from a standing start or through a series of one-off conversations. Just like an entrepreneur who is fundraising, you should have a plan and run a process with many funds. But also like a CEO fundraising, there’s a half-life of when word gets out that you’re searching, and your “deal” can go stale. So you need to be able to make the most of it once you raise the proverbial flag and declare yourself “eligible.”
The trouble is that once word gets out that someone is loose in the saddle, even a junior VC, it spreads like wildfire. I remember when I was switching firms it felt like I was tripping over myself with “confidential” conversations that turned out to be not so confidential, resulting in constant anxiety that word was was getting back to my current but soon-to-be-former employer. The urgency given the VC grapevine is juxtaposed by the fact that VC hiring processes can be dreadfully slow since it’s all about the relationships, especially as you become more senior. Additionally, VC firms hire “just in time” — either they’re proactively looking or they’re not looking at all. So when a firm does decide that they’re looking, you want to be at the top of their minds. The solution, then, is to establish relationships with GPs at prospective firms well in advance (read: years) of whenever you’ll eventually want to jump ship.
My recommendation is to run the playbook of fostering unique and authentic senior VC co-investor relationships at target firms starting as soon as you begin your first VC job. Just as an entrepreneur should “always be fundraising,” you should always be putting in the work to authentically market yourself. If it feels “too soon” in your present role, that’s a great sign that you’re already behind. Don’t stress, just begin now. Do the research to figure out who’s who at the kinds of firms you’d potentially want to work at in the future — what are individual partners focusing on, what are their personal and professional backgrounds, what might you have in common. You know the drill, it’s better to get an intro to network, but a cold outreach isn’t ridiculous (... you now have a VC “business card,” so use it.) It’s OK to stretch a bit and position the conversation as a get-to-know you, implicitly (not explicitly) mentor-mentee kick off. Pick a half dozen GPs at firms and have introductory networking conversations with each of them. At this point, it doesn’t really matter if they’re hiring or not. And make sure they’re a real partner with influence at the firm per my previous post.
Not sure what to say when the meeting actually happens? The goal in this informal conversation is to learn the coordinates of this partner’s ideal type of deal. Once you have this information, you can start doing your next job before you have it. Deals and information are your currency, and you’ll get noticed if you consistently bring high-quality ideas to your small set of prospective GPs at would-be destination firms. It doesn’t matter if these deals actually become investments; what matters is that these GPs begin to perceive you as someone who is in the flow and would be an asset if you were on their team instead. That way, when they’re actually hiring (likely at the beginning of a new fund), they’ll think of you first. Alternatively, if you find your own seat in jeopardy or realize it’s time to start your own job search process for whatever reason, you’ll have already established a relationship supported by trust and respect. The alternative to waiting until your gig is up to look for your next VC job is risking losing your spot in the VC world at large. As always, preparation is the key to staying in the game.