From uni to VC, and everything in-between

tldr: it’s all about proving you can already do a VC’s job — from networking to analysing start-ups.

I remember the day I first googled ‘venture capital internship’. I got about 874,000 results. To put that into perspective, you will get 2,130,000 results if you search ‘Cara Delevingne eyebrows’ (#firstworldproblems) and 32,000,000 results for ‘where is Donald Trump’s brain’.

Conclusion: Google knows more about the world’s current biggest mystery than it does about venture capital. Which is not massively encouraging when you’re fresh out of university and hoping to get into VC. What’s more, the little information available is often targeted at a post-MBA, US audience. Because everyone knows there are no backable entrepreneurs outside of the Valley, and getting a US work visa is as easy as squeezing a Juicero pack by hand.

If the above sounds familiar, 1) I feel you and 2) this post will hopefully shed some light on the process of getting an entry-level position at a VC fund in the EU/UK (I hear they have to be separate now, but not completely just yet so a dash seems adequate to translate this mess into syntax).

To give you a bit of background, here is a snapshot at my own ride into VC:

  • Left France at 17 to study Business for 4 years in Lancaster and Madrid
  • Did internships in financial advisory and B2B sales
  • Did a year of masters in Cambridge; got impostor syndrome (spoiler alert: so does everyone else)
  • Applied for an internship at Oxford Capital straight after graduation; got in; got impostor syndrome again (spoiler alert: so does everyone else)
  • Accepted an Analyst position at Oxford Capital; still have impostor syndrome (spoiler ale… actually, not sure about this one).

Which leads me to answering the first question you’re asking yourself right now.

Do I need to be white, male, straight and Oxbridge-educated to get in?

Wait, that wasn’t your #1 question? Too bad, because it’s the most important.

And the answer is: hell no. We all know the depressing diversity statistics of the VC industry (and entrepreneurship). True, there is currently not enough diversity in the ecosystem. Also true: VCs know it, and think it sucks — which is probably why the statistics are getting better at entry-level. What that means for you is: as of today you do not need to be white, male, straight and/or Oxbridge-educated to secure a VC internship (in fact, please please please apply if you do not fit in any of those categories).

What you do need to be is fast. Better yet: you need to be the fastest. For any 1 open position, VCs are going to receive 100’s if not 1,000’s of applications — and they have limited resources to sift through them. Which means many VCs will work in batches. Make sure yours is the first application they see, and your chances of getting in have suddenly become much higher than those of the straight white Oxbridge chap who applied 2 weeks after the position opened. So stay tuned and check for opportunities regularly.

Which brings us to our second question.

Where to look for VC internships?

Wait, that was your first question? Oh well, sorry not sorry.

indeed and AngelList will pick up on a couple of opportunities. I also found some good leads on Coaching Assembly.

But that doesn’t take you very far. So, 2 insider tips:

  • Sign up to Stephan von Perger’s newsletter with the latest European Venture Capital Jobs
  • Check out the amazing work done by Diversity VC — they can help (although if you’re a white male, you are going to have to go full-on Tootsie for this one my dear)

If all the above fails, you have two options (bonus: they are not mutually exclusive. You’re welcome.):

  • Look up Techstars’ exhaustive EU VC funds list. Stalk them (you’re the iGeneration, stalking is literally your part-time job). And if you opt for a cold reach-out, go all-in: one VC told me they hired an intern because she sent them a rap poem about venture capital. Not everyone can spit a beat Eminem-style, but you get my point (in case you don’t: VCs need to show initiative, so get out of your comfort zone and prove them you have what it takes).
  • In the same vein: attend events at which VCs can be expected to show up, and network your Peronis off. You think that applied AI conference is for geeky PhDs only? Think again. Personal relationships will always get you further than cold reach-outs. Walking into a room full of strangers is intimidating, but VCs deal with that situation on a daily basis — so this is another opportunity to prove you’re already more of a VC than they think.

Tip: get picky with where you apply. I know this one is hard to swallow, because there are so few opportunities already. But each VC fund is unique, because a) they get excited about different types of companies and b) the teams are so small that funds’ culture is pretty much forged by whoever is on the team. So if you’re not convinced by a fund’s portfolio or the team gives you the creeps, just don’t apply. You won’t enjoy your experience as a VC if you feel like you don’t fit in, or are bored to death by the companies you meet. This in turn will reduce your chances of staying on full-time.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, and start with the basics: getting you in.

What is the recruitment process like, and how do I nail it?

If you’re genuinely passionate about tech, entrepreneurship and businesses, the recruitment process for VCs will be a blast. I had the best experiences interviewing for VCs, who will mostly follow the process below.

CV + cover letter — A lot can be said about what VCs look for, but the top 2 recurring traits are a) intellectual curiosity and b) extraversion. Also worth noting: the VC world is closer to business/entrepreneurship than it is to private equity/finance. That means you have a lot more flexibility with the format and tone of your CV/cover letter. Use it to your advantage.

Possibly an extra application form — Typical fields will include naming entrepreneurs you like, businesses you would invest in (often 3) and blogs/newspapers you read regularly. Oxford Capital also had a ‘your favourite meme’ field (they’re cool like that). Be prepared to explain in-depth the reasons behind your answers.

Interviews — Often 2. The typical interview sequence will be: your background/motivation/hobbies, businesses you would invest in and why, then questions more specific to the fund’s investments themes/strategy (B2C vs. B2B, hardware vs. software, early stage vs. later stage, sectors and technologies of interest etc.). My advice? Forget about showing off your Excel skills, because quite frankly no VC will care. What they want to see is 1) your motivation for the job and 2) your reasoning skills, i.e. can you come up with sensible ideas about a company and/or fund. As always, do your research first: if you apply for a fund that specialises in AI and come up with 3 consumer brand businesses, you are likely to get nuked. Another tip: focus on understanding the companies’ business model.

Case study — On average an hour long. You will most likely be presented with a company’s pitch deck and asked the £1bn question: ‘would you invest in this start-up?’. What VCs want to see at this point is someone who can get excited and think in-depth about the company, whether its business model makes sense, what makes a good founding team and what could be the challenges ahead (at the macro and micro levels). The key here is to give an honest opinion. VC teams are small, which means they need people around the table who will challenge each other. If you always lean with the majority or tell them what they want to hear, you are adding zero value to the team. In fact, you are probably destroying value by not asking the hard questions.

Thinking about all the above should hopefully increase your chances of breaking into VC. However, there is still a chance that you will end up asking yourself this final question.

I didn’t make it to the final round — am I done for in the VC world?

Nope.

First of all, don’t beat yourself up: there are a bit less than 1,000 VC investors in the UK. If you assume interns will make up 5% of those at most, it leaves you with 50 opportunities country-wide. And that is (very) optimistic. So quite frankly, that’s some Hunger Games odds right there. Also, remember there is a timing variable in the mix: most VCs will only look for manpower when they’re about to close a fund raise. Meaning those 50 opportunities will not be open at the same time. Sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time (again, doing your due diligence will help you identify which funds are most likely to be raising).

Secondly, there are other ways into VC. Remember that VCs cross path with pretty much the full array of actors in the tech ecosystem, from entrepreneurs to start-up advisers, incubators/accelerators, innovation consultants and many more. Being any one of those can launch your VC career, so don’t give up: be resilient, keep building your personal network and brand (write a blog, do a podcast etc.) and look for the backdoor.

Get in touch (pplrecognition@gmail.com) if you have any feedback on this article - I will do my best to reply (no guarantee)!