By Stephanie Manning, Director of Platform
In this series, “Get a job in VC,” we’ll cover how to break into the venture capital industry, including the right way to approach the search, paths into investing and Platform roles, resources for your job hunt, and more.
In our last post, our Investing Associate Isabelle Phelps offered her advice on how to land a job as an investor. But as we’ve said, there’s more than one path into venture capital. In fact, there’s never been a greater need to fill roles in one fast-growing area of venture: Platform.
“Platform” is a newer function in venture capital that’s gained popularity in the last seven years. It covers a broad range of post-investment support and services and can mean different things at different firms. A Platform role (or roles) vary by title but responsibilities typically fall into these six buckets:
- Business Development
- Content, Marketing & Communications
- Community & Network
As more funds start up and deals become increasingly competitive, Platform support and services help firms differentiate. While in the past a Platform team might have been considered a “nice to have”, I really believe it’s become a “need to have.” The three major drivers behind the rise of Platform are:
- Investors at firms can’t offer as much hands on support as their portfolios grow
- Founders are asking what kind of support firms can provide in addition to financing
- New and established firms are looking to differentiate through Platform offerings
In the coming years, I predict that firms will double down on Platform in two ways: firms without a Platform team will make their first hire; and firms with a Platform team will continue to make hires in the most pressing areas of need for their founders. This all goes to say: there’s never been a better time to pursue a VC Platform role.
But, if you’re interested in breaking into venture capital via Platform, you’ll want to answer this question before starting the job search: Do you want a jack-of-all-trades-type role and to join a firm as the first Platform person? Or do you want to continue your career specializing in a specific function?
General vs. function-specific Platform roles
There are two main paths into Platform, a general Platform role and a function-specific job. For the first, you’ll likely be the firm’s first Platform hire. And for the second, you’ll probably join a pre-existing team. Both have their own unique demands.
The general Platform role consists of strategy, standing up the fund’s services, creating metrics and KPIs for measurement, executing in the six categories above, and potentially building your own team down the road. Usually, it’s a one-woman or one-man show.
To succeed in a general Platform role, it helps to have these key traits and skill sets:
- Ability to build relationships with stakeholders
- Community builder
- Organized with a keen attention to detail
- Multitasker who can manage competing priorities
- Experience working with entrepreneurs and startups
These skills don’t naturally point to one background, which is why there are so many paths into Platform. I know Platform leaders who have come from program management, startups, executive search, media, MBA programs, corporate innovation departments, and more. But the unifying theme across Platform hires is as follows: a passion for working with entrepreneurs and startups.
DNA of a Platform team
My own path into Platform began when I joined a New York-based startup out of college. I started my career in campus recruiting, spending two-and-a-half years at AppNexus. My next step took me to enterprise tech venture capital firm Work-Bench where I led events and talent. I joined Lerer Hippeau back in April 2017 as Director of Platform, the firm’s sole Platform person at the time.
Unlike a general Platform role, the path to a function-specific job is a bit better defined. Candidates for function-specific roles come from all types of industries, but usually their backgrounds are more or less aligned with how they support portfolio companies and the fund. These include business development, product, event planning, marketing, talent, and more. I saw this play out in real time as I built out my own team.
When I started at Lerer Hippeau, our content was sporadic and even though we were invested in amazing brands, we weren’t paying enough attention to our own. I wanted someone who could build a content and brand strategy from the ground up.
So my first addition to our Platform team was Natalie Sportelli, our Content and Brand Manager. Natalie came from Forbes where she served as Associate Editor of its 30 Under 30 list and vertical. At Lerer Hippeau, she uses her writing skills and brand expertise to help our firm produce original content and grow our brand as well as consult our companies on any questions they have in those areas.
Every year our founders reported that their greatest area of need was talent and recruiting. When I started at Lerer Hippeau, we had our TalentTracker, a reverse job board for jobs in our portfolio. But we didn’t have someone dedicated to educating our companies on talent and helping them with recruiting. I had a background in talent, but overseeing the entire Platform meant I couldn’t devote all of my time to it.
That’s why my second hire was Amanda Mulay, our Senior Talent Manager. Amanda started her career at AirBnB as an Account Executive then moved into talent acquisition roles at Bay Area startups Zynga and Twilio. She was most recently a Talent Partner at Andreessen Horowitz. In her current role, she advises our portfolio companies on all things talent, recruiting, and HR.
Both Natalie and Amanda came to venture capital from industries where they had deep domain expertise and are now applying and growing that knowledge base in their roles at Lerer Hippeau.
Pay close attention to the job description
At a recent gathering of VC Platform leaders from across the country, we listed our titles on a whiteboard. There were around 60 different titles for the 80 people in the room. I’ve seen everything from Talent Partner to Director of Network and Engagement, all falling under the “Platform” umbrella.
Anyone considering a Platform job should pay close attention to job descriptions and, specifically, the responsibilities. Even though a job is called “Platform Manager” there might be an emphasis on branding projects and communications. In that case, the role would be well-suited for someone with a marketing background.
If you’re looking into a general Platform role, honing in on the responsibilities listed and discussed during the interview process can help you learn how you’d spend most of your time.
It’s all about timing
Even though Platform is a rapidly growing area of venture capital, firms don’t scale the same way startups do. While a startup may hire 10, 20, or 30 people at a time, most VCs are hiring one, two, maybe three Platform people over the course of a couple years.
Knowing that your dream Platform role might not yet be available, here are some things you can do right now to get ahead:
- Passively interview with VCs. Get on their radar before they formally kick off the hiring process. Reach out to folks in your network, request to connect, and ask them to keep you top of mind if any job openings (at their firm or otherwise) come their way.
- Follow VCs on Twitter. Investors, Platform folks, and tech people frequently share job listings on Twitter.
- Consider joining a startup. Startup operating experience is an invaluable skill set in venture — for both Platform people and investors.
- If you don’t have experience with startups, find a way to weave it into your extracurricular activities — be it through events, volunteer work, or via your current job.
- Read up on the Platform function. Here are some good deep dives:
Powering VC Platform: 3 Reflections from the 2018 VC Platform Summit via Lerer Hippeau
Measuring the impact of a VC platform strategy via Bethany Crystal
Since I joined VC in 2015, the number of Platform roles has skyrocketed and I expect the community will only continue to grow. What originally started as 10 of us New York-based Platform people getting drinks at a bar has grown to a 300-person strong VC Platform Global Community. I’m excited to continue the conversation about decoding the VC Platform role, so leave your comments below or tweet at me.
In the next post in our series “Get a job in VC,” we’ll share our favorite reads and resources for landing a job in venture. Stayed tuned for more.
Read past posts in our “Get a job in VC” series: