Want a Job in VC? Miss the Memo.
TL;DR: Writing is good. Writing “memos” is misguided. Here’s what to write instead.
To: Aspiring Venture Capitalists
Subject: Writing faux deal memos is a suboptimal path to a job in VC
Background: Recently, a couple of prominent investors have encouraged would-be VCs to burnish their credentials by writing hypothetical “deal memos” for startups, as if the applicant was already employed by a VC firm.
Purpose: The objective of this memo is to help you understand why writing that kind of memo is an inefficient way to pursue a job in venture capital.
As I understand the advice being given by these investors, would-be check writers are to jot down a justification for a speculative investment in a specific startup. Ideally, this would be written before, or contemporaneously with, a company’s actual funding announcement. This conjectural case study would be saved, and ultimately sent to a VC when a job opened up.
To be sure, these ersatz epistles would be interesting accompaniments to a CV and a cover letter. It’s true that demonstrating one’s ability to identify interesting companies, and showcasing the thought process behind an investment decision — real or fake — is useful. Writing this kind of memo is better than not writing anything, but almost any other form of writing would be better than a “memo”. In fact, this contrived format is quite possibly the least effective form a writing sample could take.
Why? The author likely lacks material information about the company’s metrics and projections. They almost certainly don’t have a useful understanding of the founder’s prior work experience or current partnership dynamic. At best, a manufactured memo will be a reflection of the writer’s underlying view of the market and technology landscape. It’s also important to remember that each VC has different decision-making criteria, so the argument may not even resonate depending on the hiring investor’s approach.
Recommendations: So what should an enthusiastic applicant write instead? Maintaining a blog, or even having a lively Twitter presence, can serve the same goal of demonstrating deal picking skills and analytical thinking capabilities, while simultaneously showcasing the ability to build a useful network, generate social proof via engagement, and establish expertise in media.
For instance, an applicant who was blogging knowledgeably about the crypto landscape circa 2010–2014, and earning engagement from respected third parties will be far more impressive than the apple-polisher who made an impassioned case against investing in the Dentacoin ICO in 2017.
Summation: Writing is a terrific way for an aspiring investor to stand out while searching for a job at a VC firm. We’re in the process of hiring a Senior Associate, and the applicants who have fared the best were the ones who had lively online presences.
But when you write, you’ll likely have more success if you start with the goal of informing and educating real readers, not guiding an imaginary investment decision. You’ll almost certainly be better served if your focus is on enriching the ecosystem through gathering data or generating analysis, rather than demonstrating your personal cleverness vetting an imaginary investment opportunity.
My suggestion would be to look at Harry Stebbings of the 20 Minute VC podcast as the model to emulate. Despite having little practical experience, no industry connections, and being based in an unfortunate location, he managed to become a VC by virtue of his content creation. As far as I know, Harry didn’t write any memos, but his tenacious networking, thoughtful preparation for interviews, and tireless marketing have made him a household name in the venture community and earned him a seat at the table — all while he created tremendous value for entrepreneurs.
Specific Actions Requested: Please, by all means, write, tweet, post VC memes on Instagram, make videos for YouTube, or launch a podcast. Share your thoughts on companies, technologies, and markets in whatever medium best fits your personality. But do so in a way that enriches the overall discourse and benefits the community. And if you’re in the market for a job in venture please check out the job description for our open Senior Associate role in NYC.