The 3 Characteristics that Led Me to VC
Announcing my move to Acceleprise
Preface: I’ve joined the Acceleprise team to work alongside Mike Cardamone, Whitney Sales, and Alec Barrett-Wilsdon to launch our accelerator in New York City. I’ll be focused on sourcing SaaS companies for Cohort 1 and beyond, building community from coast to coast, and crafting the Acceleprise brand in what free time I have left.
Acceleprise is a 4-year old San Francisco based B2B SaaS accelerator backed by leading operators from Gainsight, Cisco, Salesforce, and Namely. I’m delighted to join this team of passionate change makers, who invest in founders, not just software. As of today, we’re live in San Francisco, New York City, and Melbourne, Australia. Read more about the launch of both NYC and Melbourne here.
For all the founders, investors, potential mentors, and everyone else in between who might be interested in connecting, please feel free to reach out directly email@example.com or apply to the accelerator!
Instead of writing another stereotypical article about “how to break into VC,” I wanted to share the specific characteristics that paid off for me. If you’re interested in my story, let me know and maybe I’ll write it anyway.
But first, below is a bear.
When I decided that I wanted to pursue a job in venture capital this past January, I didn’t have a successful startup under my belt, nor did I have a finance degree that proved I could do diligence on a company, and I sure as hell didn’t have anyone telling me exactly what to do to get there. I’d been deeply involved in Boston’s startup ecosystem for years but I was new to New York City and relatively network-less.
Despite my seeming lack of qualifications and countless rejections, I never stopped acting like the bear. I spent hours at coffee shops asking friends, acquaintances, and mentors for advice and support. I doggedly applied to job after job until Techstars picked me from a sea of resumes and Acceleprise took a chance on me too. Why? I’d like to believe it has to do with these 3 characteristics.
1. You gotta ❤️ the ecosystem
I’ve spent (and continue to spend) countless hours immersing myself in the startup ecosystem. I just like these people. Founders, investors, side project hustlers, everyone — I’ve enjoyed getting to know them and building a network of friends among them.
While most of this happens in-person, quite a bit of it occurs over Twitter and other online platforms. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met over Twitter who’ve helped me break into and thrive within this ecosystem. 🐣
A few other notable contributors to my building of a network within the ecosystem include, Northeastern University Entrepreneur’s Club, IDEA: Northeastern University’s Venture Accelerator, New England Venture Capital Association, Out of Office Hours, and Inbound.org. 🙌 🙌 🙌
My advice, if you don’t fall in love with the ecosystem then VC, at least early stage venture, probably isn’t for you. This work is a labor of love, so the deeper the connections you build with the people in this ecosystem, the more enjoyable it becomes.
2. Put founders first ☝️
Returns are important (they’re what makes this VC world go round), but I’m here because founders are my people.
At the end of the day, I want to back exceptional people. I try to always put founders first, just like the rest of the team at Acceleprise. Their investment in people before, during, and after the program is outstanding. I’ve heard it first-hand from the founders they’ve backed.
If you get excited by founders telling their story, if you can’t help but try to help in any way possible, if you can’t help but ask a billion questions, then we’re speaking the same language. Venture is the business for you.
The deep appreciation that I have for founders isn’t something I’ve developed through practice or grit, it’s innate, a drive that probably comes from watching my own parents bootstrap their lives as immigrants with 2 kids and no fall-back plan. Most, if not all, of my closest friends are founders of at least one company. Everything I’ve done with my free time has been in the pursuit of supporting founders.
My advice: Seek out founders who you can support. If you get excited about helping them with their business, you’re probably a good fit for some sort of ecosystem support role (investing or otherwise). In general, look around yourself and consider who you spend the most time with. Are they hardworking side-hustlers? Do you wish they were? Find your people!
3. Network your 🍑 off
There’s a difference between investing in the startup ecosystem and networking within it. You can love all the people within this crazy startup world but if you’re not willing to spend your precious free time meeting one-on-one for coffee, attending fireside chats, and volunteering at hackathons, you’re gonna have a bad time.
I can’t even begin to count the number of events I’ve attended or volunteered at, coffee chats I’ve had, programs I’ve helped build, supported, or partook in since the beginning of Freshman year when I first realized a passion for entrepreneurship. It’s incredible how much opportunity is out there for you to network directly with the people in this industry.
A few places to start
- Twitter, Twitter, and more Twitter: Start by following a ton of relevant people, then lurk respectfully, and then engage meaningfully. This is where the VC network lives and breathes. People on Twitter (even the “big names” aka 1,2,3) are incredibly approachable, but you have to take the first, value-adding step.
- ProductHunt/AngelList, Crunchbase, Strictly VC, On Deck Daily, and CB Insights: Subscribe to their newsletters and start getting to know what the heck is going on in the industry at large. You don’t have to understand everything at first, but start to familiarize yourself with as much as you can. There are also location-specific blogs and organizations, follow those too and start attending the events they promote.
- Meetup and Eventbrite: Use these two sites to find events and meetup groups worth attending. If you’re interested in a particular topic then seek out events where those folks meet.
My advice: Find opportunities to invest your time in startup people. Whether you prefer attending events, grabbing coffee, engaging online, just get out there and do it. This industry is all about who you know and who knows you.
Don’t ignore the people who aren’t “big names”. Everyone starts somewhere and while it’s great to have friends in high places, it’s important to learn how to identify high quality people who haven’t had their big break yet. Invest in high quality people and it’ll come back to you 10x.
That’s it…for now! I’ll be sharing my thoughts more often on all things related to my job, so keep and eye out and subscribe by following me here!
A little shout out is due to a handful of people who’ve been immensely and directly impactful in getting me to where I am now. It’s difficult to narrow down a lifetime of supporters but these are the ones who’ve invested their own time, effort, and empathy in me. Thank you (in no particular order).
My mentor and greatest career support, Lisa Cuesta, my Inbound.org dream team, Casey Henry and Andrei Oprisan, my entrepreneurial family, Victoria and Dan Stepanov, my incredible friends, Sarah Gaines, Abbey Titcomb, Kyle Ejsmont, Brett Fink, Kalei Buzcek, Leila Collins, and Baxter Wathen, and of course, my Techstars family, Peter Liu, Sasha DeWitt, Ryan Eisenman, Angie Müller, Alex Schwarzkopf, Charlie Donner, Amy Fu, Cal Costanzo, and Esther Lim.