Will Your Partners See You as a Peer?
You will need to act “as if” before they call you a partner.
Nearly every up-and-coming VC has a maniacal bent on a specific prize: the coveted title of “partner.” Absent those firms where everyone on the investment team has some variant of the partner moniker, a promotion to that level for many can be elusive. The specific path of required accomplishments to the goal is largely undefined at best and often transitory. Like Zeno’s dichotomy paradox, each stop of “halfway there” seems to never reach the final destination.
The good news is that achieving the objective doesn’t require a commensurate level of success as the other partners in the firm before joining them in their ranks. After all, nearly by definition, they’ve had more time in their careers to notch accomplishments! Rather, the road towards joining the partnership is establishing that your colleagues value your contribution just like they do their other partners -and- want to reward you for it to ensure your continued presence in the firm.
Of course, sometimes it’s just not structurally possible in the existing set of circumstances. If most of the partners at your firm are using a venture career as their “second act” after extraordinary success as an entrepreneur or operator (or “celebrity” otherwise), they may never see you as a partner because you’ll never achieve something similar… you’ll always be perceived as junior. The counter is that you can bring something different & complementary to the table in a partnership of this flavor with deeper investing experience, especially if you’ve been at another firm previously. On the other hand, if the majority of your partners are largely career investors, that can be beneficial because they’ve been in your shoes in the past. The challenge in this scenario is that they may feel as though they’ve paid their dues (and often made lucrative investments along the way), so they’re now deserving of the unassailable seats as kings & queens of the firm. Your path towards partner in this scenario may prove a protracted one.
A partner doesn’t mean equal, either in compensation or even contribution. Your final stop on that journey isn’t your first here. Rather, Oxford dictionary calls a partner: “either of a pair of people engaged together in the same activity.” If you are partners with someone, you’re doing the same thing. Meaning that your own activities are complementary and not duplicative, yet striving towards the same goal. So how do you achieve that within your own firm? Find areas where your contributions are unique, would be detrimental if they disappeared (i.e. you left), and difficult to replace (i.e. hire in someone else).
Along those lines, you should endeavor to act “as if” you were a peer to your partners even before you truly are. That is not to say that you shouldn’t do work which they ask of you or give them leverage; partners help each other out, too, just not in a subservient way. Nor should you display arrogance or overconfidence. But rather, you should strive to speak with the authority and perspective which they respect, take (increasing) leadership in deal processes, and act with conviction on behalf of the firm.
Wondering when you’ll finally receive that (small p) partner title? It’ll come after you’re acting like you already have it, not before.