a reflection on 5 years in vc at 23
Five years ago today, I entered the world of VC. The place for people the world just doesn’t move fast enough for, direction is based on sci-fi, and impossible is only six months away. In fact now, some of us don’t even invest in startups anymore, but global communities — we create whole economies and dream up new governance structures, entirely rewriting the rules of the internet and even challenging the very idea of the nation state. This is my reflection on how I spent my first five years in the field, and what I’ve learned so far.
VC is slowly becoming more accessible…
Between the times that I finished secondary school and I received my A-Level results, I got my first job in venture capital. Exactly two weeks after I started that internship, fundraising for the first ever ICO took place — in hindsight, that changed everything. I met partners who were based in London, Berlin, and San Francisco which helped me gain a global perspective on the space. As investor number 4 (and number 2 in London) guiding a fund of £100M, I knew that the field was unique and incredibly exciting — definitely the right environment for me.
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A year prior, the Kauffman Foundation had released their seminal paper which has now led to a flurry of Micro VC launches over the past 5 years — it was becoming much easier to raise a fund, but much harder to drive the expected returns. While many VCs struggle to become operator-oriented — many first-time fund managers are launching Micro or even Nano funds. They often have had no experience in venture before, but understand how to support and scale companies. I believe that the number of services companies that transition into funds will increase sharply over the next five years.
…which means more people can work in the industry…
My observation is that founding a startup is about solving a problem, or a concentric set of problems, while VC is about realising a vision by solving connected problems with an ecosystem of startups. Another field that resembles the latter is the music industry. Recording artists like JAY Z, Nas, and Kanye West have demonstrated huge success working through extremely tough pipelines of new artists to find diamonds in the rough and managing entire portfolios of artistic talent, so it is no wonder that they have such a knack for venture.
The other aspect is that they are all extroadinary influencers who understand what makes people tick. This is something I’ve found that VCs often miss out on, especially in the consumer space. I’ve written before that we need to renew our focus on isolated market verticals, namely, the 14–18 year old age group. To find promising startups in these verticals, we need investors who reflect these backgrounds, and so in the next few years, I am expecting many more VCs to enter the field during their teenage years, especially around consumer tech, AR, social, and crypto.
…and scale their impact!
After spending only one month in any industry, it is difficult to prove to yourself and others that this is where you should spend your future. To prove to myself that VC was the right career path, I worked in a range of startup and corporate gigs to compare notes. Unsurprisingly, VC remained the clear winner, and this taught me that it is best to figure out what you want to do and drive towards it relentlessly, perhaps even if no one in the whole world has achieved that goal. However, one important skill I did pick up was (extreme) self-organisation and understanding the deep connection between time, stress, and sleep management, ultradian rhythms included.
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I’ve found that VC and startup culture is blending — not just in how the funds support the startups, but in how they operate with a product mentality. With waves of platformisation and constantly changing regulations, the way we assess deals can change weekly, and as a mathematician, I am adamant on measuring the effects these changes have on the pipeline. But numbers aside, investment is an art rather than a science per se, and the art of innovation is radical simplicity. These startups are very difficult to find and even more difficult to build and so these careers are risky, but the risk is definitely worth the reward even if that comes in the form of experience. This industry’s negative career perceptions (for both founders and VCs) will eventually change, because this is the best way to scale your ambition.
Looking back, it ultimately took five years to prove that this field is right for me, and given I’m still in my early twenties, a lot of people still won’t be convinced. But for what it’s worth, VC helps people to become themselves, and with hindsight, it seems like an inevitability that they wound up there — people have definitely said that about me. In terms of what’s coming next, I believe that the next step in the democratisation of VC is solving the inherent diversity issues through intersectionality. Ultimately, VC is a superpower, and these underserved communities need it the most. But for me personally, it’s time to start getting my own fund together and backing the changemakers — they’re the ones I’ll be writing about five years from now.