How to get into tech VC in Europe

I receive a number of requests to chat from people asking how they can break into the world of VC in Europe. I don’t have time to meet every single one, so over time have hacked together an email which I send on with some thoughts. Seemed sensible to finally do this properly and make it public.


The first piece of advice I have for people trying to get into VC in Europe is to make another plan. This is a tiny industry, with very few open roles, and even less in the way of a career path. Most people in VC here have fallen into it rather than actively pursuing it.

The second piece of advice is to make sure that this is something you want to do. The day to day work of VC involves making decisions quickly with minimal information, working alone for the majority of the time, saying no frequently, and fighting hard internally for any deal you want to get done. You need a lot of self-confidence and self-motivation, and be willing to self-promote. You know that the credit for success of your portfolio companies lies solely with the founders and team. You need to be comfortable being an advisor only, not a decision-maker.

Those caveats aside, where, when and how can you get into VC in Europe? I’m going to break this down by level, as the profiles and approach vary accordingly

Intern

Internships are the least impossible way to get into VC, and are offered by many VCs. Some (e.g. Balderton) have a small programme in the summer only. Others (e.g. DN capital) have a rolling programme of 6 month internships. The life of an intern will involve a combination of due diligence on potential investments, screening cold-in deals, going to early stage pitch events, and analysis of industry sectors.

Typically firms are looking for interns who can hit the ground running, so have a combination of good analytical skills (strategy consulting or similar), a prior knowledge of the sector, and ideally a useful technical skill relevant to tech startups. Not many firms are open to MBA internships but worth a try if you have interesting and relevant pre-MBA experience. Many internships are advertised publicly, but worth checking in with one of the Associates at the firm if not.

Be aware that VC internships almost never lead to full time job offers. However they can be a help in getting a job at another VC, as it gives you an opportunity to build a network and perform better at interview stage. Two of our team at Balderton previously had VC internships.

Associate

The typical non-partner route into VC is at Associate level. Most of the larger VCs have Associates, and it is a position with pretty high turnover so new roles come up more often.

Associate roles vary considerably but typically involve:

  • Finding new companies: analysing industry sectors and reaching out to interesting companies, going to pitch events and conferences, using your network
  • Having the first meeting with these companies to see if they are interesting, then getting a principal or partner involved to go deeper
  • Due diligence on potential investments (competitive analysis, some basic financial analysis, customer calls)
  • ‘Building the firm’ e.g. social media, writing LP updates, portfolio support

Different firms look for different profiles of Associate, but as a rule of thumb they look for:

  • Proof of analytical skills, self motivation and drive. Typically 2 or more years of ‘blue chip’ strategy consulting, investment banking or growth capital (eg Summit). Balderton have a bias towards ex-consultants, Index have more ex-bankers — every firm varies.
  • Proof of deep interest in the tech startup world. Ideally this would be working at or (even better) founding a startup. Failing that, knowedge of the space, helping out startups and getting out to events in your spare time

The ‘nice to haves’ include being able to code, European languages, and useful existing networks (from MBA, university or big tech firms).

The hard part is how to find the opportunities when they come up. The best approach here is to get out to tech events and get yourself introduced to a couple of VC Associates, then check in with them occasionally. Also keep track of the VC’s blogs as sometimes roles are announced there. A well written cold email doesn’t hurt, but please don’t ask for a coffee to ‘exchange thoughts’.

Most Associates stay in the job for 2 years or so and then move on to do something else, often founding or working for a startup. Promotions are rare. If you really want to build a VC career do your research and look for firms which have non-partners who have been around for 3+ years.

Principal

The role of a Principal is the least well defined, and it is not a common entry point: most Principals come from the few Associates who are promoted internally. However a few firms (including Balderton) do occasionally recruit externally for Principals. Some firms also have a Vice President role which is somewhere between Associate and Principal.

The Principal role is an evolution of the Associate role, with the biggest differences being more ability to lead deals within the firm, and spending up to 1/3 of the time working with portfolio companies as board director/observer. Typically a Principal will already have a good network for sourcing deals, and so will spend less time on cold-in deals and going to events. They should also become known for deep expertise in particular sectors or areas.

The profile of a Principal would be as above for an Associate, plus a few more years of relevant experience to give you real credibility in talking to CEOs as a peer. This might be from founding a startup or being in senior management there, working at a large internet company, or at another VC.

To find Principal jobs the same advice applies for Associates above, but with a lower probability of success. Promotion from Principal to Partner is even rarer than from Associate to Principal

Partner

The optimal way into VC is of course to come straight in as a partner. To do this you will need to have some money (as you will be expected to personally invest in the fund), and preferably add to the firm’s ability to raise money, through having a network of institutional investors or family offices. More importantly you will need to have at least one of the following:

  • Impressive track record as a founder or CEO of a successful tech business
  • Strong investing track record, as a VC or an angel, with at least one public success story

You don’t look for partner roles — if you can meet this profile they come to you…

Hope this is helpful. Please add questions/comments below, would be happy to elaborate further.

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