at least not yet. I was at Duke interviewing students for a new Freestyle internship program and several students disclosed that they wanted to intern at Freestyle vs our portfolio cos. I cocked my head, smirked and asked “Why”. I heard:
“I want to have my hands in lots of pies”
“I want to pick great companies”
“I want to get an overview of the tech industry”
“VCs know how to party”
And the most honest “I want to make a ton of dough”
I then asked, rhetorically. “Well how are you going to be helpful to your early stage founders if you have never been in their shoes, their clothes, slept in their beds… And how will founders differentiate you from the hordes of VCs scouring the universe for the next Patreon or Intercom (shameless plug)?” And then I heard crickets.
Without operating experience, the road to successful VC will be tougher and longer, less fun and even more muted. If you’ve never experienced the stratospheric highs and crevassic (made up word) lows it will be harder for you to relate to your founders. If you can’t relate you will find it harder to be effective. More importantly, it will be difficult and frustrating for you to be the kind of consigliere that founders need and want.
Then there is your personal brand. How will you stand out in a way that matters to founders. The number of early stage VCs (and serious angels) is probably in the thousands and growing. When founders are looking for capital, who will they seek out? Well their targets will likely be the investors who can help them the most, “the operators”, who bring more than money.
I won’t lie. Being an early stage VC is the next best thing to being an entrepreneur. You get to help founders realize their dreams and live vicariously all from the comfort of your European villa in August. And though many of us work 24x7, we can set up shop anywhere and go home at 6:00, because we don’t have teams of employees to manage.
I know there are glaring VC exceptions to my “operate first” mentality, like Steve Anderson and Kirsten Green, but they are the exceptions, and while I love breaking the rules, this is one rule I suggest you keep. Venture will always be there, waiting for you, with open arms (unless of course you are a woman, but that’s another post).
PS: I might have made up one of those statements attributed to the students. :)