Interning in Venture Capital (1/2)

This past June, I started a 3-month internship at OpenOcean in London, a European VC focused on deep and delicious software companies raising their Series A.

After receiving messages asking about my experience at OpenOcean, I decided to write some of my answers in a two-part blogpost. In this first part, I talk about the application process, my first impressions working in VC and the daily life at OpenOcean. The second part, coming in October, will be a compilation of the top things I learnt during my time at OpenOcean and my final comments on the internship. Before you start reading, you might want to know a little more about me and OpenOcean.


Looking for internships

Just like a start-up, VCs are flexible and stay true to the entrepreneurial values of moving fast and being unpredictable. As a consequence, most VCs won’t advertise for an intern position until relatively late (~1 month), contrasting with the typical investment bank where you’d usually apply in September and wait until December for a reply. This means if you focus only on getting a summer VC internship, you can be left without an offer until the last weeks before summer.

Sources I recommend to look for job postings:

Some precious advice I got from others:

  • Start building your own investment portfolio to have some kind of track record that speaks for itself about your passion and talent — it doesn’t have to be big amounts but is definitely one of the best experience you can get (thank you Max)
  • Have a “hit the ground running” mindset when writing your application and during interviews. You want to make it very clear how you plan on adding value. To give you an idea, out of a 3-month internship, the typical split is going to be 1 month learning, 2 months adding value. (thank you Max)
  • Venture capital is very people orientated, so rather than applying through a position, try and reach out to anyone in the team that seems interesting. Customise cold emails, use people that went to your high school/university, really just hustle!

The Application Process

This is the job OpenOcean advertised online. I applied through their Workable profile (they currently have an opening!) and had to answer a set of questions on top of including my CV and other personal information. Questions included: What makes you different ? , What research do you want to do at OpenOcean ? , Which two startups would you recommend us to look at ? , Which blogs/podcasts etc. do you follow ?

After that, I was invited for an interview with a member of the OpenOcean team. I felt like the interview was mostly to gauge who I am; see if we can hit it off, where my ambitions and aspirations lie, and whether they are in line with what they are offering and expecting me to achieve. Happily, we hit it off and I was then invited for a second interview with the firm’s London office partner, Richard. There again, it felt very much like Richard was feeling what kind of person I am more than trying to test my technical skills. (See “Cool stuff” below for more details about the interview)

How did you prepare for the interviews ? : This was all happening during exam time for me which meant I had limited time to prepare BUT I knew I was up against tough candidates and I really wanted the job. So, I worked as much as possible to prepare for the interviews. This means I knew all about 1. my interviewers, 2. OpenOcean (fund size, investments, other partners..), 3. venture investing, 4. what I want to do at OpenOcean, and had read enough about the industries they’re involved in to have developed some form of opinion on it. I didn’t only focus on reading but also listened to podcasts, watched videos and in general tried to immerse myself as much as possible in this world. They turned out to be impressed by the amount of work I had done to prepare for the interviews. The truth is I loved every bit of preparation and just didn’t see time going by — here’s a reason why you should only apply to jobs you really like!

What did you like about the application process ? : One of the interviewers made it really clear I shouldn’t worry about trying to know it all, as none of them actually knows it all. It made me feel comfortable as I understood they were asking me to show the best version of myself rather than show how excellent I am at a job I have never done before.

Sources I recommend to prepare yourself:

First Impressions

I arrived at WeWork Soho for my “real” first day of work, got my keycard, my very own email address (alex@openocean.vc), Slack login, my picture taken and I am ready to gooooooooo

What do you mean you’re all busy? Do I just sit there and wait for you guys to finish your work?

Yes, this is what hitting the ground running means. Nobody is going to hold your hand and give you step-by-step instructions. The team is very busy. They have calls to make, meetings to attend and deadlines to respect. You therefore have to start figuring out what to do by yourself and prepare for when the team has time to brief you!

When that time came, I had to present what my OKRs would be for the next 3 months, aligning myself with the quarterly and annual strategy of the firm. (eg. Firm Goal — getting more brand exposure, My Goal — I choose to focus on social media, outline a strategy, and then pitch it to them). As you can see, from the very first day, you are given a lot of independence, which I appreciated a lot.

How many are you in the office ?: We are 6 (including 2 interns), with a few extended OpenOcean family numbers popping in and out frequently. As we are in the summer, people go on holiday and so the lowest total number we’ve ever been is 3. The disadvantage of a small office is that it gets annoying when people are speaking and you are trying to work. On the flip-side, you get so much exposure to everything that’s happening.

How are you finding your colleagues?: Given the nature of the venture capital industry (small, in-demand), most people working in it are very interesting and very different to each other. They can be young, hungry, and have achieved a lot in a few years, or older, with a successful professional career with its ups and downs. More importantly, the VC industry tends to be the most relaxed part of the financial industry (ie. annual Burning Man reunions), so everyone is not only very good at what they do, but also has many great extra-professional stories to tell. The bottom line is you are surrounded by awesome people. I was lucky my colleagues were all also very nice. JACKPOT!

Daily Life at OpenOcean

The Hours: I get to the office between 9:00 and 9:30am Monday to Friday, and usually leave around 6:30pm. I took a few days off so far, to travel to Spain (Ibiza) and Poland (Wroclaw). I plan to take a few more to go to Austria (Vienna) in September!

Side-note: OpenOcean has a philosophy to trust you with your time. As long as you deliver the work, you can pretty much leave/come whenever you want — without overdoing it. So the information above isn’t entirely relevant. I found that liberating and again, I appreciated it a lot.

The Work: It varies every day. As I mentioned above, I have deliverables at the end of my 3-month internship which are big projects to continually work on. Day-to-day, I have a lot of ad-hoc tasks like helping with due diligence on a prospective investment, helping prepare data for internal and external slides or visiting venues for an upcoming event we are throwing. One key thing to remember is that you need to be prepared to jump in when a team-member needs your help, ideally even offering it before they ask. It’s also worth mentioning that the work can be sometimes lonely as everyone is busy with their own projects. This means there might not always be someone to answer your questions — make sure you’re comfortable working by yourself!

The Food: Soho is full of awesome restaurants and places to grab food, my favourite include Princi (authentic Italian bakery), Vital (salads), and Tommy’s Burger Joint. I have lunch at my desk most of the time.

The Money: Except for a team lunch every week, I have to pay for my own lunch. I also have to pay for my own transport, to and from the office. I get my salary monthly, at the end of every month. I won’t disclose the exact amount but it isn’t much — let’s face it, you’re not interning in VC to make good pocket money. If you are, you might want to look at higher-paid internships in investment banks or big tech companies.

How much time did you spend on research/coding/meetings/events? : I can’t really quantify that. As it is a small VC, you do a bit of everything and rotate between tasks. More importantly, you might be having a conversation about an interesting start-up and before you know it, 15 tabs are opened in your browser with articles to read, videos to watch, and links to other resources in every single one of them.

Do you like the atmosphere? : Yes I do. The London office team is made of young and driven individuals. The atmosphere is relaxed: you are allowed and encouraged to share your opinion on anything that’s happening and to take initiatives. As I have said above, you are trusted with a lot of freedom and I really appreciated that. However, don’t get me wrong on the relaxed bit, when there is work to do, the team might work until 1AM to get it done, but that’s because they WANT to, not because they HAVE to.

Are you learning a lot ?: Yes, so so so much — I learn so much every day that my brain fries after too much time working because I need time to digest everything I have learnt, and that’s every. single. day. I would argue this is actually my hardest job, keeping up with everything I’m learning. Because of that fact, I’m the happiest intern ever.

What are these big projects you mentioned? : My “big” projects are 1) researching the machine learning space and 2) helping streamline OpenOcean’s investment process by focusing on individual elements of the due diligence value chain. The deliverables of my research project are documents (slides, market map, database), which include investment strategies, educational content, creative content to be released, companies to invest in, people to monitor etc.. Streamlining the investment process means making it easier for OpenOcean to go through companies they are considering. As you might have guessed, they have their own investment process, their secret sauce, that follows several steps. My role is to target which steps can be improved, figure out how, pitch it, and then do so. As mentioned above, these are only my 3-month long projects that I continually work on, I also do a lot of smaller tasks unrelated to these projects and also lightly research other areas of technology.

Cool Stuff

  • I share a common friend called Luigi with Max, one of the OpenOcean team-members! 8 months before the start of my internship, I randomly ran into Max and Luigi at Diynamic’s 10th Birthday party in London. This is where I first heard about OpenOcean, between two shots of vodka, with Solomun playing in the background. To top it off, I discovered that Rahul, my fellow intern, goes to Stanford and actually studies Symbolic Systems with Luigi! It’s a small world! (Shoutout to Luigi ❤)
  • During my second interview, I met Richard at OpenOcean’s offices but ended up walking around Soho with him, passing by a coffee place and a public park, casually talking about OpenOcean and life. He managed to get all the information he needed from me through a casual chat!
  • My “real” first day was at an Artificial Intelligence conference in London, CogX. I thought that was pretty awesome, especially given the £1.5k price tag of the tickets to attend.
  • On my second day, Richard brought a massage therapist to the office. We then had our first OKR meeting while taking turns on the massage chair. Unprofessional? Never! Richard noticed Rahul’s jetlag and figured it’d be a good time to demo the product of a company he is an early investor in!
  • I have my own OpenOcean business cards that I use when I go to events. It’s a simple gesture on OpenOcean’s part to have made them, but made me feel a lot more included within the firm and also made it clear to me they expect us to hustle, not just work mindlessly on spreadsheets all day.
  • I have to source my own companies for them to invest in. That means going out there and meeting founders, going to conferences and meet-ups. The cool thing here is that I have the VC’s contact book to use and therefore have access to people I would’ve never been able to talk to otherwise!
  • I worked on the due diligence of a company we ended up investing in, so I was actually useful!!

I certainly missed a lot of stuff in this first part, please feel free to ask any questions you have. For the sake of efficiency, ask them on Medium so others can also benefit from them! I will edit the article and add them in.

Stay tuned for Part 2

Alex

Thanks to the amazing Anastasiya Belyaeva, Rahul Singireddy, Max Mersch and Ani Banerjee for their help writing this blogpost :)