I remember when I first downloaded Uber, it was seen as the poster-child of the startup ecosystem and I was blown away mostly by its user experience. The payment screen was so effortless that I honestly thought I was being scammed — I thought it couldn’t be so easy to pay for something. Over the following decade, that sort of user experience became the norm.
These events, along with the explosive success of Airbnb, Monzo and many other VC backed startups, brought VCs to the fore. They’re the women and men who control much of the money that funds these businesses.
So, what’s it like working in VC, giving money to the people and companies that we think are going to shape the future?
Firstly, and most importantly, I love it. I’ll break down why into five sections:
We spend a good portion of our week sat face-to-face with bright, interesting people. These people come in the form of both founders and other VCs. Founders feel extremely passionate about what they’re building and it’s palpable. Their energy is shared with anyone else in the room and I’m often a lucky beneficiary of this. On the VC side, I’ve met lots of like-minded people with whom I enjoy spending time — can’t argue with that.
We’re helping to build things. This is great for someone like me who loves building things — furniture, companies and hopefully a house one day ?. It’s exciting to see portfolio companies grow from just a couple of founders into companies employing hundreds of people. Most VC backed businesses either make people’s lives better or save them money (which might also make their lives better). This is the wholesome element of VC; while there’s a potential financial return for all parties, we’re also facilitating the creation of amazing things.
We spend our days at the coalface of innovation. We see the people and companies building the future well before most others. I’m not saying we have a crystal ball — most of this is public knowledge — but, we’re surrounded by it all day every day so we likely hear about it early on.
Lots of responsibility from early on. Almost from day one, you’ll be trusted to gauge what an interesting business looks like. It takes time to hone your radar to match that of your investment team’s, but once it’s calibrated, you have the autonomy to say yes or no to companies that you either do or don’t think are good investments. Responsibility can certainly be scary but it also stops you from getting too comfortable or bored. After a while, you might be given the chance to hire someone beneath you which presents more responsibility.
There’s an overwhelmingly positive atmosphere in the industry. Almost everyone seems to enjoy what they’re doing and I think very few people are bored because there’s always more interesting stuff to do or learn. Also on this point, the hours are sensible when compared to banking — most of the VCs I speak to have their evenings and full weekends off. This creates happy workers ?.
Now, these are the positives but there are also certain things to watch out for in VC. They’re mainly things to look out for rather than outright negatives, but certain people are of course better suited to VC than others.
It’s intense work and it’s hard to leave your work in the office (mentally). I was speaking to an ex-Goldman friend of mine who now works in VC and he compared the two, saying that Goldman was far longer hours but VC was more intense while in the office. There’s so much to get on with and never enough time. My brain is often aching by the end of the day from thinking so hard about so many things.
Whether you’re an associate or a partner, you’d better get used to saying no to people. We see about 2000 decks per year and invest in ten companies. This means we are saying no about 99.5% of the time. We don’t have meetings with more than perhaps 500 of these companies, but that still means we’re handing out a lot of rejections, and that gets a little bit waring (not as waring as it is for the entrepreneurs being rejected, however). The flip side to this is that when we do say ‘yes’, it’s very exciting.
You’re one step removed from the actual building of the companies. Although VCs get very close to the founders and companies they invest in, they’re not actually the ones pulling the levers. Thus, VCs won’t get the same level of satisfaction from building companies as the founder will. This sounds obvious but it’s something to consider. If you like getting your hands really dirty, perhaps you’re better suited to being a founder.
So there are a few ‘watch-outs’. Being a VC is a great job for the right person and hopefully, this blog illustrates that. There will, of course, be loads of other points that I’ve missed out, and some people might think that what I’ve listed as positives, are actually negatives and vice versa. We’re all different, but these are the key points I’d explain to anyone asking about my job.
If you’re a UK-based b2b startup looking to raise seed investment (up to £2m), drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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