Your Three (or Less) Jobs in Venture Capital
Break in, upgrade your situation, and find your forever home.
Most likely, your first job in venture capital isn’t going to be your last. Rare is it that you enter the industry and stay at that same firm for your entire career. Obviously it does happen, and admittedly for many of the greats in this business that’s the case.
But for the rest of us, our initial venture job is surely not going to be the only. After all, the very first rule of venture: just get into venture. By any and all means possible. Perhaps it’s not the best firm, or the ideal situation. But just get in. Into the club. One that’s a very hard thing to become a part of. (Of course, don’t forget the extremely important second rule of venture, don’t lose your seat.)
In previous posts, we’ve talked about reasons, rationale, and timing on when to contemplate moving to another firm. While in the old days of the VC landscape, moving between firms wasn’t as commonplace and looked down upon, the stigma and resulting pervasiveness are now gone. However, unlike building a career in startup operating roles where changing companies every 2-4 years (or less) is expected and even preferred to getting ahead, too much jumping around is detrimental. Venture capital is a long term game, with mean time from startups to exit 6+ years, so establishing a track record and then reaping both the reputational and monetary rewards from it requires stable tenure in one shop. Success has many parents - the moral credit for sourcing, selecting, and guiding a winning investment will be usurped by your former colleagues after any departure. Not to mention, extended vesting schedules in VC award carry to those who endure.
Assuming you’re already on the inside of a venture firm, ideally you only want to make at most two more career moves from here. The first is to upgrade. Unless you’re at Sequoia, there’s always a better platform. I recall one of the storied O.G. mentors in VC having very simple advice about what VC job to take: pick the most prestigious firm you can and ignore all other factors. Everything else will fall into place. There you will see what greatness looks like: the best entrepreneurs, the best investments, the best process, the best etc. Now my own recommendation might not be as ruthless, as I think that there are plenty of other factors to consider in your second VC gig like the working environment, ability to access mentorship, and velocity of the number of investments you’ll be involved with (more on this topic in a future post). Note that title and compensation aren’t included in that list, as those are subservient to the primary objective of learning better to perform better as an investor.
The third and final career move in VC should be to find your “forever home.” You’ve been in the industry. You’ve made the platform upgrade to learn the business the right way. Now is the time to find the place where you are going to spend the rest of your career. That may be at a firm similar to your current one. Or perhaps it’s a smaller one, hopefully on the rise. Or the surging new mega-platform hiring more partners with capital to clearly be an industry force. Alternatively, this move could be the right time to start your own firm and build your own platform, as Rob and I have done here at NextView with our partners.
Finding a forever home is hard, really hard. It (hopefully) means joining a place where you actually like the people you work with in order to spend the next decade or two together. It means matching the firm’s strategy to the type of investing you want to do and believe you’ll excel. And it means finding a situation where you complement the existing team by adding something new, but also have common ground about ethos, language, and culture that you can build long term relationships.
Of course, if you can combine your upgrade move and your forever home move into one, then that’s ideal. Many of my peers have done this and been served well. And if the first place you land is where your feet stay, then all the better.
Regardless, the journey does present risks along the path. It’s not uncommon to find yourself in a new situation which wasn’t as advertised or presenting all the benefits which were anticipated. Everybody makes mistakes, including with career choices. But use your moves very wisely. In particular, if you’re neither meaningfully upgrading your platform or finding your forever home, then you’re wasting a transition opportunity and will be searching for the another step within a couple of years. One or two too many lateral moves like this will make things more difficult if you find yourself losing your seat.
The way to truly excel in venture beyond just having a VC job is to find a place to build your career, a forever home where your investments can flourish so you can too. Aim towards getting there as soon as possible while ignoring shiny (and sometimes short-term lucrative) distractions along the way.