How to get in venture capital after an MBA — tips to help you on your journey!
I graduated in December 2019 with an MBA from IE Business School, Spain and an MBA exchange program at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) to join a venture capital fund as an associate. I want to share with you tips and tricks that I used in my journey that helped me land a role in this highly coveted space for MBA professionals. I believe the approach can be used for other industries too where the network plays a crucial role in landing a position — think private equity, investment banking or even a few non-finance industries.
We all know that penetrating the venture capital industry is rather complex. A strong academic background certainly helps with 12 schools producing more than 42% of investors but I could not claim that. Both my education institutions are extremely well respected in their specific geographies and driving recruitment in certain industries, but venture capital is not one of them. Therefore, I knew that I had to carve my path to land a role in the venture capital space abroad or my own country. Spoiler alert: I got offers from Hong Kong, Spain, and India, and I ultimately chose the India offer.
I broke my journey in 4 distinct parts like a sales funnel, which is what job hunting essentially is, and I pursued this cycle day in, day out:
- Lead generation — gathering data about individuals/funds
- Outreach — touch base via email, Linkedin or events
- Meet — events, coffee chats, calls. With COVID it has never been easier to connect with venture capital investors
- Convert — get them to agree to help, introduce or interview
A little background: I knew I wanted to pursue venture capital or product management after my MBA. It is what I had done previously and I had thoroughly enjoyed each role. I was more inclined towards venture capital because it was a combination of being challenged on a daily basis and the chance to shape the future actively. You should also have a clear understanding of why you want to pursue what you want to pursue. Once I was convinced that venture capital was my calling, I followed a more structured approach although I did apply for lots of product management roles on the side as well.
It is well known that there are not many openings in the venture capital ecosystem in a year and even fewer are listed on recruitment platforms. I did some quick math to calculate my odds to know where I stand and the effort required to land a role in this space. I chose India because that is where I grew up and faced minimum resistance to ‘startup investing is considered to be a localised business (I disagree)’. Also, it was the second most active venture capital ecosystem in the world so my odds of getting a role there were higher. There were ~43 venture capital funds that launched in India in 2019. Most of these were in the early investment bracket, which was my focus area. Assuming that most of these funds were recruiting for 1 or 2 associate positions (depending on average fund size and fund structure in India), there would be around 43 to 86 openings in the space. Assuming 80% of openings (Pareto Principle) would be lost in personal recommendations given the extensive network of fund managers or mismatch in fund size, position, or skillset, I have left with around ~8 to 17 listings or ~1 listing/month. This is a herculean task to convert to a full-time role. Therefore I aimed to focus on the 80% roles that circulate within a closed network to land a role and this should be your goal too! Pro tip: aim to build a relationship with people who can give you insights into the ecosystem and willing to help you with these unlisted applications.
Part 1: Lead generation
Unless your connections are extremely well entrenched in the venture ecosystem, I recommend a multi-pronged approach to meet funds. I found cold emailing, LinkedIn, and attending events the best way to connect with key individuals, given the 1 year MBA timelines. I also explored personal networks and common connections to get introductions to investors. For cold emailing, I used mail merge tools like Mail Meteor and Yet Another Mail Merge (I cannot begin to explain the power of this simple tool). My focus was to fill the outbound sheet weekly so I could schedule meetings. This is most crucial because it is the starting point of your journey. Keep your funnel broad so you increase your probability to meet individuals who can help which is the start of a deeper conversation. I used the following sources to build my funnel:
- Past work experience: I previously worked as a senior analyst in an angel investment platform for 2 years where I interacted with several fund managers and angel investors. For those who don’t have prior experience in this space, spot angel investors, C-level executives and HNIs’ who can help you with introductions or names of key individuals whom you can reach out to.
- LinkedIn: Find profiles of partners, principals, and associates of funds you identify as your target. Find their email ids on email finder tools like Rocket Reach, Zoominfo or Hunter.io or guess it. Look at similar profiles within Linkedin to gather as many leads as possible.
- Articles: Find information about recent fund closures, most active investors, angels, basically as many people as you can find who directly belong to this ecosystem. Get their emails from the resources mentioned in the previous point.
- University network: IE has a wonderful alumni network who were extremely helpful. One of the alumni connected me to a fund of funds manager in Amsterdam 3 months after I spoke to her. Thanks, Stanislava :)
- Events: While I did not attend events as regularly as I like, attending an event a week where your university alumni are speakers is a good idea. Connect with them in person and build a rapport. Once you share a healthy relationship, you can ask for introductions or help to expand your reach.
- Newsletters: There are a few really helpful newsletters you can sign up to that cater specifically to the venture capital ecosystem. You can learn more about job openings or fund closures in these newsletters along with very helpful tips on your journey. Few of the newsletters that I signed up for are GoingVC, StrictlyVC, Term Sheet, CB Insights, Crunchbase, Pitchbook News and VC Careers — these have been instrumental in helping me keep track of the broader VC community.
My email list comprised of around 250 people that combined people from India, Hong Kong, and Spain. LinkedIn InMail was additional to this but that was not my focus.
Part 2: Outreach
Venture capitalists are notorious for always running short on time. It will be tough to get in-person meetings, but a conversation is possible. Explicitly state why they should meet you, what is your background/value add? Think of it as a sales meeting. Here is mine:
People in different regions respond differently to cold emails. In Hong Kong, I got a high success ratio of ~50% with this email template so I used it for all my interactions. The people of Hong Kong are exceptionally responsive to meeting for a coffee chat so probably they are an exception. In India and Spain, I received only 20% reverts. Your template will evolve so allow time for reflections.
Few other templates you could use:
“I am an MBA student at ABC University and am excited to work with early-stage startups. I would love to get half an hour of your time to talk about how I can work with your portfolio companies and help them grow”
A more direct approach might be: “I want your job because I like working with early-stage startups. Are you hiring? Can we make some time to chat so when you are, or when you know someone who is, you think of me?”
Pro tip: Please follow up! I cannot emphasize this enough — most venture capitalists are bombarded with emails so they can easily forget to respond. Following up brings this back to their attention and also shows your seriousness about the matter. It shot up my response rates by 15% so can’t emphasize this enough.
Part 3: Meet
Before you meet with the venture capitalists, follow the 3R rule: research, read, and repeat — know the fund’s investments, fund thesis and the individual’s portfolio of investments to build an insightful conversation with them.
It is always better to score an in-person meeting as you have a firm commitment from the venture capitalists. Venture capital events might be an extremely effective way to get in front of key people who otherwise would not respond to your emails. In COVID times, it has never been easier to connect with venture capitalists so make the most of this time. With virtual events, you have an easier conversation starter to connect over Linkedin or email. Don’t ask for a job — try to understand how the fund works, what they look for and how you can help them. Most first meetings/calls will be extremely generic where you need to demonstrate interest, eagerness to help and a strong understanding of the startup ecosystem. Pro tip: Talk less listen more — let the venture capitalists talk about their perspective because that is where your next point of conversation will appear.
Part 4: Convert
Venture Capitalists are known to be straight forward and some will tell you if they are recruiting or not. Your goal is to get a chance to showcase your work ethic and a strong understanding of the space. I used Trello to track and follow up with prospective fund managers but excel should work just fine. Follow up once in a while emails and try to keep them engaged — but do not overdo it as they will ultimately stop responding. Understanding whether to follow up or not will be your judgement call depending on your conversation with the individuals. Ideas to improve conversion to something actionable:
- Share relevant information like companies or research reports with them with summaries that are focused on their investment strategies.
- Suggest a free internship as a sign that you are willing to work and showcase your interest.
- Suggest part-time work on content creation/marketing like writing blogs or articles for the fund. For example, I offered to cover a 2-day pass to a venture capital event as a ghost-writer for a Hong Kong based venture fund where I interacted with the fund managers of Gobi Partners, Tencent, and others large funds.
- If a specific fund is not recruiting, ask them if they can introduce you to other individuals who might be potentially hiring or remember you whenever they come across an opening.
Considerations before choosing a venture fund can vary drastically from person to person. Obviously the size of the fund, the role and pay you land, the portfolio and the strength of the team play a crucial role in the final decision but I would like to highlight a few more pointers that help you go beyond the obvious.
- Portoflio — Possibiliy the single most important factor on which you should judge the fund. Read articles that cover the fundings they have made and look at the website to map the logos shown. If logos are missing then reachout to the startup to understand what happened. That will give you a good understanding of how the fund works.
- Preference — Yes, there are lots of advantages working for the large organizations but I have always prefered smaller, leaner organisations — try to understand your preference. Additionally, try to get a better understanding of how the fund approaches investments — for eg: concentrated or spray and pray. This will additionally help you understand more about the fund and relate it to your personality.
- Positioning — There is a lot of noise in this ecosystem. For a small ecosystem like this, it truly creates an impact bigger than its size. Try to brush aside these marketing gimmicks and understand the crux of the fund. While this is vague, i believe you might understand this once you have started your research on different funds :)
In my experience, venture capitalists also understand how challenging it can be for MBA grads to explore opportunities in this space and are willing to help. Although, being patient is a key part of pursuing roles in this space. Showcasing your connection and understanding of the space certainly helps strengthen your cause. Attend events, mentor startups, help portfolio companies of target funds or invest in a few seed companies yourself and build your thesis to build your case. As one $200 mn China-focused venture fund manager told me that patience is key to succeed in venture capital. He spent 15 years trying to get to where he is today, and it has been a slow journey so go easy on yourself.
You will experience massive boosts of positive emotions and extreme lows as well when you are in this journey, just like I did but with every reply, suggestion, or introduction, you will believe that you can also land a role in this space.
Since you have reached all the way here, here is your reward. Please feel free to reach out to me on Linkedin and add a note with a reference to this article and I will help you to the best of my ability.