Best way for 1-on-1 convo, pitches, questions — Twitter @JoeyJinKim.
Venture capital has become sexy. Your job is to hear pitches from the most passionate entrepreneurs working on the coolest ideas and give them money. It certainly is the best job I’ve ever had. But it can be seen as an exclusive Ivy-educated old boys’ club or something only attainable after a lifetime as a successful executive or a founder.
But here’s the truth about breaking into venture capital in the 2020s.
You don’t need a prestigious degree. Hell, you don’t need any degree.
You don’t need to have the right “work experience” in corporate America or as a founder.
You don’t even need to be the smartest person in the room either.
All you need is to want it. Badly. This is not some inspirational Instagram post. I mean it.
All you need is the desire — supported by hustle and resourcefulness.
This is the only prerequisite for anyone, of any educational background, of any work experience, and of any age, to reliably break into venture capital.
Method 1: Just Start Doing the Job that You Want.
Here’s the most surprising secret I’ve learned about breaking into venture capital: You don’t need permission from anyone to do the job of a venture capital associate, which is primarily sourcing and due diligence (i.e. finding and vetting interesting startups ).
Just go do it. Stop talking or dreaming or asking about doing it. Just do it. If you want this job, go talk to startups that you find interesting as a free agent on your free time after work or classes, and a venture capital firm will eventually pick you up as a member of their team. Here’s literally a step-by-step guide on how to do this:
- Reach out warm or cold to 10–20 early-stage startup CEOs in a chosen focus (e.g., geography, school campus, industry).
- You tell them the genuine reason why you find them interesting + your original perspective on the chosen focus (i.e., “Payer distribution in healthcare rather than product is the secret to winning.”) + you ask to chat with them to discuss ideas for 15–20 minutes. All within 5–7 sentences.
- In the conversation, build rapport + ask them about their financing needs. Tell them, “If I were to connect you to VCs, would you be interested in the intro?” 99% of the time, founders will jump at the opportunity.
- After the conversation, take a step back. I’m sure you really enjoyed the conversation and vibed with the founders but take a moment to objectively evaluate the companies.
- Follow up with each startup via email and ask for a deck that you could forward to a VC.
- Now, reach out warm or cold to 10–20 early stage VC partners in your chosen focus.
- Tell them that you’re a student or working professional but you’ve been doing this on your free time. You’ve been talking to startups and came across a couple interesting ones. Ask for 15–20 min to discuss. VCs really appreciate this level of hustle. It’s rare.
- Approach the conversation with humble curiosity. It’s highly likely that your evaluation of the companies will be off. It’s okay. Make sure you clearly articulate your perspective and disagree when appropriate, but then say you still have a lot to learn. Tell them you’re willing to do the legwork and you would like to learn from them on how they think about startups. Boom. You’ve just created a high probability of a genuine mentorship. Ask them if they’d be open to setting up a meeting with you every 1 or 2 months to chat about companies you’re seeing (whatever suits you and your deal velocity).
- If VCs say they’re interested in any of the startups, connect the CEO to them via email.
- Rinse and repeat from step 1. Now, when you meet with startups, mention the VCs that you have a relationship with.
Quick Tactical Tip: You can find almost anyone’s email using chrome extensions like Adapt Prospector, Hunter.io, RocketReach.
Congrats, you’re a VC associate. It may take 6 months to receive a formal offer. It may take a few years. It may start with a paid internship. But this works. You don’t need an Ivy pedigree. You don’t need experience. You just need your desire to do it.
I know this works because I would hire you (yes you) if you did this for the sector I’m focusing on (literally hit me up at jkim(at)romuluscap.com if you’re doing this right now).
Method 2: Join a Venture Fellowship (hint: romuluscap.com/fellowship)
Fellowships come in different forms and structures. Campus Scout Program, Venture Fellowship, VC University. Ultimately, VCs are trying to do one thing — get a sense of what it’s like to work with you before they hire you long-term.
Here’s what’s going on behind-the-scenes. Early-stage VCs are small teams, ranging from 1–8 team members. Compound that with the fact that VC is an apprenticeship game and VCs are left with the hard reality: every hire is a high-risk, high-reward, concentrated investment of time and training.
It’s a long-horizon game. Much like the early startups we invest in, hiring someone isn’t about their performance during one fixed point in time (i.e., interviews) but more about the slope of their learning trajectory (i.e., pace of learning). Fellowships are perfect vehicles for VCs to evaluate you overtime rather than during one fixed point.
But here’s the truth about these: Some are incredible learning opportunities. Others are, quite honestly, shitshows.
Here is an example of the fellowship that I’ve run for the last 3 years at Romulus Capital with 6 cohorts throughout that time. I’m really proud of it. Each iteration, we tried our best to flush out bugs while doubling-down on the best parts based on feedback from participants.
Here’s how you tell the good ones from the bad ones:
- Who’s running it? This is a good signal of how much of a priority the program is at the firm. If it’s run by a partner-level investor who has been at the firm for a while, it signals that the firm is serious about this program. If it’s run by someone who recently joined the firm, it’s more likely an experiment (which can be okay…you just need to beware of it).
- How much upfront communication is there? An organized program will set out clear expectations of what’s possible and what’s to be expected from both sides of the table. Time commitments, things you can expect to learn, etc. If they don’t have it…they’re making it up as they go.
- How many people are in the program? I’ve run cohorts of 2 people. I’ve run cohorts of ~20 people. I can guarantee you that with more people in the program, what’s supposed to be a hands-on, apprenticeship-like experience is going to be diluted and wasteful of everyone’s time. Beware of “fellowships” where you have dozens of “fellows” running around without much training, guidance, or investment from the program managers. It’s a waste of your time (and in my experience, a waste of the VC’s time as well).
- Are you learning more than they’re gaining? Fellows don’t get paid. Given that, fellowships should not feel like unpaid internships — they should feel like seminar classes & experiential learning on venture and entrepreneurship you get to take for free. Good programs should feel like you got more than you gave.
- Are you working on real deals? Are you getting exposure to the real experience of a VC? This is what separates awesome programs from the good ones. You need to see action. You should be invited to see pitches. You should be invited to team discussions. Your work should be a part of real due diligence. You should be learning real lessons on customers, sales, and GTM so that you can apply them when you eventually start leading conversations.
- What do past participants say about the program? This is by far the most reliable signal of the quality of the program. One caveat here is to specifically ask who ran the program when the participant was a part of it. Good program managers could be replaced with bad ones and vice versa. Your mileage gained from the experience will be night and day depending on who is spearheading the program.
The best programs will use the fellowship as a funnel into an internship or even a full-time job.
If you’re the type of person reading this article, you’re likely the type of person who’s going to give it your all when you join a Venture Fellowship. So please please choose wisely where you choose to invest your time. Join a team that will give you real exposure; that will genuinely listen to you despite the fact that you are a newcomer; that will see you not as free labor but as an investment.
Getting an internship in venture capital isn’t easy, but it is more than attainable for those who want it. None of this requires a college degree. In my experience of training over 100+ new early-stage investors, I found that the single most predictive indicator of whether they stay for more than 2 years is their hustle.
All you need is to want it. Badly. And I promise you, it’ll come to you.
P.S. Couple methods I just skipped over in this article is through the “official interview process” or through headhunters. It works but in reality, that method is pretty biased against you if you don’t happen to come from the “perfect background” of banking/consulting/founder/operator with a college degree.
Also, the methods I mentioned are mostly for early-stage investing (i.e. pre-seed to series A). VCs focused on later stages are bigger and have institutionalized recruiting processes — which translates to higher barrier to entry, oftentimes in the form of years of experience in particular fields or pedigree.