Advice to Aspiring Venture Capitalists
Hacks to Help You Break Into VC
We were sitting in our Deal Flow Team meeting at SXSW a few weeks ago, and I looked around the room at each of my team members thinking about how a Harvard MBA grad, two lawyers, a designer, and me, came to be there, reviewing applications from thousands of underrepresented founders hoping to receive funding from Backstage Capital.
Our disparate paths got me thinking about the many conversations I’ve had with aspiring VCs in the past few months asking for any bit of insight for breaking into Venture Capital. Imposter syndrome kicks in quickly because I’m so new to VC and my story is so unique, but I have a few strategies to share, which can be useful.
Spend time on Twitter
When I decided that I wanted to break into VC, I noticed that most VCs and people in the Tech industry were on Twitter. So, I knew that’s where I needed to spend my time. I tried to engage and add value in many different ways. I noticed topics they were interested in and searched the internet for an article to compliment that interest. I would try to be insightful or helpful when responding to tweets. There were also opportunities where engaging was easy and organic.
Be hungry, not thirsty
I heard Arlan Hamilton say in a fireside chat, “Be hungry, not thirsty.” This is a tricky one, because it’s a fine line and the difference is ambiguous. The way I see it, being thirsty is equivalent to liking and responding to EVERY single tweet a VC shares while sending them a DM, capped off with a weekly email. In essence, it’s all about you.
Being hungry is the willingness to earn your keep in the ecosystem, adding value to others, and working hard when nobody is watching. It boils down to intent, not acting entitled, and not expecting certain outcomes from people.
Being thirsty is trying to achieve solely by serving yourself. Being hungry is trying to achieve by serving others.
Go to events/conferences
Hustle your way into different events and conferences. There are many small to medium-sized events that are free or under $100. I know that can be expensive for some, so I have another helpful hack from the queen of hustle, Arlan Hamilton: volunteer at events. Arlan would go to an event the day it started, walk to their information desk, and ask to volunteer until they let her do so. 😃
Don’t underestimate an event just because it’s not a big-name event like SXSW. I’ve met awesome people in tech and have come across compelling founders at small meetups with 7 people or less.
Learn about the tech ecosystem in your area and find startups that are interesting to you. There are different ways to be helpful to a startup, but it starts with building a relationship with the founder(s). Reach out and make a connection, but always be respectful of their time. Once you’ve established a relationship, you’ll likely come up with ideas to bring value to the table, i.e. making an introduction to someone in your network, collecting and sharing data, or helping them with an event they’re hosting.
You are not in full control of your circumstances. There are many situations, conversations, and opportunities that have come my way through pure serendipity. One Friday while still working in a Sprint retail store, I was telling a customer about my dream of investing. After over an hour-long sales process — selling a phone is a pain — he asked for my cell number in order to introduce me to his best friend who owns a private equity firm.
Later that night, I got a text saying his friend had an extra ticket to the University of Michigan basketball game and that they would like me to come! A rush of excitement met a wave of disappointment because I worked the next day. Instead of calling in sick, I made the mistake of going into work to ask my boss face-to-face if I could take the day off. He said no, and I walked out the door anyway. 😉
Former Investor-In-Residence at Backstage and now VC, Earnest Sweat, frames our chances nicely: “I knew all the statistics suggested that getting a VC role was similar to playing in Major League Baseball.” Serendipity doesn’t always work out the way you like. I was content with not immediately getting into VC, but I was ready to take advantage of every opportunity that came my way.
Know Your Why
Understanding why you want to be a Venture Capitalist to begin with is paramount because breaking into Venture Capital can be very difficult for underrepresented folks. Is it because you think it’s the hot thing to do right now? Trying to get rich quick? Want to do a little bit of work and rake in huge returns? Those are terrible reasons for getting into VC, and wouldn’t sustain you through the journey to get to the finish line.
A strong, foundational why will help with perspective, humility, hard-work, empathy, and patience. My why has to do with my dad’s sacrifice and hard work for my family coupled with the way my mom raised me and my brothers. That built a deep gratitude in me and motivates me to create opportunities for the Latinx community.
I hope this helps some of you along your journey into Venture Capital. Please feel free to reach out on Twitter with any questions!