How I broke into VC: From marketing movies to making deals
From marketing movies to making deals
If you ever hoped to start a career in Venture Capital, you’ve probably heard multiple times that the industry is hard to break into.
There is no standard recruiting process or pre-requisites, and there are way more aspirational VCs like you than the number of available jobs.
Moreover, it seems that trying to break into an industry dependent on the network, as an outsider with no connections, is unrealistic.
For me, that was definitely the case. Prior to my Pre-MBA internship at SoGal Ventures, although I had some experience working on fundraising and company acquisitions, my career was in entertainment, more specifically reading scripts and marketing movies.
Without any prior connection to startups or venture space, I was not confident that I could land a career in VC.
I was first attracted to Venture Capital while looking for acquisition targets for my job in entertainment. I noticed that most of the large companies, even female-targeted ones, were not owned by females or minorities.
Most of the decision-makers were men, and even when minority female-owned companies were invested in, they were severely undervalued. I looked back on how I viewed opportunity for myself early on in my career, and when I thought of investors and entrepreneurs, I didn’t think of myself.
To be a successful, black, female investor, was rare. And I decided that I wanted to be rare. I wanted the minority girls behind me to look at Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital, and see themselves. After a year and about 50 cold emails, I was able to get an internship offer from my dream company.
While no journey to VC is the same, I wanted to share five steps that helped me on mine.
STEP 1: STOP NEGATIVE SELF TALK AND USE YOUR DIFFERENCE TO MAKE AN IMPACT
One of the biggest hurdles in embarking on a notoriously selective career path is getting out of your own way and deciding that you can be one of the few who gets in.
Before reaching out to VC firms, I spent a lot of time doing a lot of negative self talk, convincing myself that it was not worth it to try. I told myself that my career was too untraditional compared to the ivy league bankers vying for the same job, and that I wasn’t qualified enough.
Around the same time that I started my VC journey, I was applying to business schools, and using that same negative self talk. One thing that I learned throughout the MBA application process was:
Everything that I thought made me a weak or atypical candidate was my superpower.
I learned the power of using my differences as strengths.
As SoGal’s co-founder Pocket Sun said in her TED Talk, “When each of us can maximize our potential and have something valuable to give, that’s the most beautiful thing on earth.”
In each cold email and intro call, I started to emphasize how much I had to contribute, and how I could use my experience and uniqueness to affect change. As it turned out, these were not empty claims.
In my first week at my internship at SoGal Ventures, I learned how valuable my unique perspectives were. My first task on the job was to interview people of color consumers for a potential beauty investment, and I took two days to call up my friends and get their perspectives on beauty.
When my bosses were invited for a TV show opportunity, I used my media experience to create ideas, which were very well received. My “nontraditional” background and minority status were not weaknesses at all, they were indeed, my superpower.
Through conversations with Elizabeth and Pocket, I have witnessed how their backgrounds and experiences influence the investments that they choose and the feedback that they provide to portfolio companies.
They don’t run a monolithic company, and they appreciate unique perspectives. I am starting to lean on my own thoughts and trust the value in them.
So eliminate the negative self talk, and use your differences to make an impact.
STEP 2: SEEK FIRMS THAT MATCH YOUR THESIS
When looking for a company to work for, it may seem hard to know where to start. What helped me focus on firms was a thesis, and a purpose for going into VC. For me, it was this:
Females and minorities do not have enough access to venture capital funding, even though they are two of the highest growth groups of entrepreneurs, in terms of both founders and profit potential. I want to help close the funding gap, and ensure that the balance of funding in VC represents the balance of race and gender in the world.
This thesis helped me focus on firms that supported diverse entrepreneurs, and led me to SoGal Ventures — the world’s first female-led, next-generation VC firm investing in diverse entrepreneurs. It was a firm that showed me that I could make a difference as a young, minority female.
Having trouble finding your thesis? Try answering these questions:
- What are you passionate about?
- What industries or companies do you gravitate towards?
- What problems in VC do you want to solve?
- What emerging trends are most interesting to you?
Your thesis isn’t something that you have to stick to throughout your career, but it can help guide you as you start your journey, and remind you why you started when things get tough.
For the firms you’re applying for, having a value-driven north star also helps you stand out and shows that you’re selective.
STEP 3: BE PREPARED
When you start having conversations with people in VC, investors won’t expect you to be an expert, but they will expect you to have an opinion. It is completely normal for someone to ask you what companies you are interested in, or what you think of emerging trends. Here are three ways to prepare:
Do your research
- Read articles on how VC works. Our co-founders Elizabeth and Pocket have written a series of articles and interviews — Ask a VC, Ask an Angel, Venture Capital 101 and Angel Investing.
- SoGal offers a free monthly webinar series called Break Into VC, featuring different VC guests each time.
- SoGal Academy offers donation-based educational fireside chats and panels featuring entrepreneurs and investors.
- Subscribe to newsletters (First Round Review, Strictly VC, a16z, to name a few)
- Set a time (10–30 minutes daily) to catch up on news (TechCrunch, Bloomberg Business, Fast Company, Inc).
- Develop opinions. Think about how news affects certain companies, industries, or demographics, and how you could take advantage of or mitigate the trend.
- Use sites such as Pitchbook, Crunchbase, Medium, even Instagram to identify potential investment opportunities.
- Identify companies’ unique selling proposition, risks, competitors, and potential opportunities for growth.
- Imagine you’re a VC and start writing down companies you’d like to learn more about, do your own research on them, and keep tracking them.
Show how you can provide portfolio support
- If there are specific VC firms that you are interested in, look up their portfolio companies and assess potential areas for growth.
- Think about what you could do to help the companies and start intentionally gathering resources and connections in those areas.
STEP 4: COLD CALL IS A GOOD CALL- JUST DO IT.
Since VC does not have a standard recruiting process, a lot of job leads come from existing relationships.
When I started my VC journey, I had 0 connections in the industry. I wasn’t familiar with the recruiting process, or how to break in, so it was very important to create connections. The only thing standing in between me and connections was an email to a complete stranger.
While the idea of reaching out to a stranger seemed daunting, I told myself that the worst thing that would happen if I emailed someone would be no response, or a “no.” The worst thing that would happen if I didn’t email was… well, nothing. And the idea of limiting my growth because I was afraid of “no” was not an option.
Since then, almost every single connection and job lead has come from cold emails/calls that I made. My current internship at SoGal Ventures is no different. A phone interview came after a cold email I sent to SoGal, and I got an offer pretty quickly.
There are a few ways to reach out to people, but the 3-step method that worked best for me was:
- Identify people
- Make a list of target companies and identify a few people at each firm that you want to reach out to
- Look up investors through LinkedIn search
2. Reach out through LinkedIn messaging or find (or guess) people’s email addresses
- In my experience, I have found that most VCs have the email format of email@example.com
- You can do a more detailed search in a few ways:
- Google “email format for xyz company,” and insert the person’s name in the respective template
- Look in their company’s “contact” section for a general/info email, and use it as a template
- I.e. if the general email is firstname.lastname@example.org, use email@example.com
3. Just do it
Write a concise, yet thoughtful email expressing:
- Your interest to venture into VC
- Why that person’s career has specifically inspired you
- A request to hop on the phone
Below is a sample of my email:
Subject Line: Harvard Business School Candidate Inspired By Your Career
I hope that this email finds you well! My name is Tracey Thompson, and I am an incoming student for the Harvard Business School Class of 2022. I am seeking to utilize my business school experience to transition into Venture Capital and reduce the funding gap for females and minorities, and I came across your LinkedIn Profile and inspiring work doing so.
I am reaching out because I would love to hear about your trajectory into VC. I would also love the opportunity to attain a Pre-MBA internship experience, in order to learn more about the industry prior to starting Business School.
I am willing to help in any way, so I completely understand if it would have to be an unpaid and/or virtual position due to the current circumstances in the world. I hope that you are staying safe, and I look forward to hearing from you!
Once you make a connection, that is when all your work in steps 1–3 will come into play.
On my call with Elizabeth, I showed those 3 things:
I showed that my difference could make an impact by showing how each of my unique experiences could help different aspects of the company.
- My background in reading and approving scripts as a film assistant gave me the tools to source companies.
- My experience working at a startup, in both operational and marketing capacities, gave me the experience needed to provide portfolio support.
- My experience as a black woman determined to create equity gave me the passion and tools needed to implement diversity initiatives.
I showed that my passion matched the SoGal thesis by talking about how the lack of black female founders shaped my perception of self, and why I wanted to change that for those behind me.
I showed that I knew my stuff by, not solely talking about the diversity pledges that VC companies had recently made, but being fearless with my opinion on them, and being able to engage in a discussion with Elizabeth about them.
STEP 5: KEEP UP
After you make connections, don’t just stop there and expect a forthcoming job. Continue to reach out to people, look for job leads, and remain steadfast throughout the journey.
Make sure to follow up with thank you notes and maintain those connections. Some advice that I have gotten is to keep up with industry news, and send emails highlighting companies to invest in, along with their relevant risks.
Find the balance between maintaining contact to showcase your value, and constantly harassing people.
You can also stay abreast of new job opportunities by subscribing to newsletters such as GarysGuide, going to job fairs (virtual ones for the time being), or by searching on job boards such as LinkedIn. Some VC firms have job boards listed on their website like this.
Within my first month at SoGal, I have been able to learn tremendously. I have led in-depth due diligence on a Latina hair care brand which we ended up investing in, sat in on meetings with founders, assessed dozens of investment opportunities, worked on the curriculum for the FEMPIRE x SoGal Angel Investing group, conducted research to support portfolio companies, worked on the company rebrand, and even wrote my first blog post. It has been a tremendous experience and I can’t wait to share more throughout my internship.
VC will not grow if people who think that they don’t fit the prototype self-omit, don’t prepare, or give up. So I hope that this article helps anyone with that “untraditional” background start, and stay on, their journey, so that they too can someday break into and even change the rules of VC.
For more information on breaking into VC, be sure to tune into our free monthly Break Into VC Webinars!