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Since you’ve asked – here’s how to get a job in venture capital

Since my departure from venture, lots of junior folks have reached out to me asking how to get in to the VC world. There are indeed VC firms out there hiring, but I’d hardly say there’s a formula to get that first venture job.

Venture capital is becoming  a career that lots of young people seek out. I understand the allure: you get early access to the cutting edge ideas and technologies out there, you meet amazing founders, you get a big picture view of problems and get to see the way that many companies choose to address it.  However, it’s important to know the real aspects  of the job and be prepared to add value quickly. This is one of many good pieces  about what it means to be a junior person in VC.

Go work at a hot startup

My #1 tip is to go work at a well known startup. If you’re more junior, it’s a good bet to go to a well funded, Series B/C funded company that’s funded by the big VC players and work your way up. You’ll learn a ton, get a lot responsibility, and get a big network of smart people that will eventually be starting the next big thing.

BUILD A SOLID NETWORK IN TECH AND VENTURE

Of course, you have to build a network. Venture is definitely not a career path with lots of job openings out there. You have to be plugged in by building your network in Silicon Valley. Ruben Harris wrote an amazing piece about breaking into the Silicon Valley scene and getting his first role in tech:http://mobile.businessinsider.com/how-i-broke-into-tech-with-a-non-technical-background-2015-2

“PLAY FAKE VC”

Speak at events, mentor folks, be generous with your time. Matt Turck wrote a great piece about this:
https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/playing-fake-vc-portfolio-approach-getting-job-venture-matt-turck?trk=hp-feed-article-title-like

FIND A FIRM THAT HAS STRONG ALIGNMENT WITH YOUR INTERESTS AND SKILLS

I got interviewed by Hunter Walk about my experience getting my first job in venture, and other good stuff
https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/playing-fake-vc-portfolio-approach-getting-job-venture-matt-turck?trk=hp-feed-article-title-like

NOW – lucky you. Say you have that big first interview for a VC role!

Here’s your Study List:

Read up a few articles like:
My original content

Getting your start in Silicon Valley startups: A guide for a non-techie

Let’s start with a few Truths

 Silicon Valley is not a meritocracy. Many talented individuals will never get a first interview. You need persistence, hustle, and connections.  Want to get ahead in this industry? Keep reading.

Working for Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple, Linkedin or Facebook is not the same as working for a startup. While that experience is very valuable and generally respected, it’s an entirely different skill set. This piece is about getting that startup job as a non-techie.

Why a startup? The fun part about working at a startup is the greater autonomy, the ability to make a big impact on a small team, the higher upside if the company does well, and the faster professional advancement if you play your cards right. Startups are organizations in the process of validating a product and are inherently risky. As the valuation and traction of the company increases, the early employees can get a big reward. That’s the promise of joining an early stage company.

By joining a startup, you’re showing the world you have a higher risk tolerance, you’re willing to be flexible, you want to roll up your sleeves, and you can work in more unstructured work environments.

Let’s dive into the concrete steps you can take to getting your start in the valley.

1) Get a sector/functional focus. What’s your competitive advantage? What’s the one thing you might be able to get better at than 90% of candidates out there? Put in the time. Read everything you can. Start with the seminal pieces on Silicon Valley: books like Lean Startup, The Four Steps to Epiphany, The Design of Everyday Things, among many others: You can read more about that on Quora.

Follow some big thought leaders in the space you care about. Some of my favorite go-to bloggers are Mark SusterHunter Walk, Marc Andreessen, Fred Wilson, and Benedict Evans. Most job interviews include context-specific questions about recent product launches, recent competitors, etc. Twitter just launched a new service aimed at app developers? You should know that — I don’t care if you’re doing Software Engineering or you’re doing Customer Support.

Let’s assume you’re a political science recent grad. You decided working for a large corporation wasn’t your jam: now you don’t know exactly how your skills fit into the startup workplace. Guess what, your future employer doesn’t either. However, let’s assume you did research on commissioning government contracts in college— that’s a skill set that’s very interesting to startups. There’s tons of companies working in Govtech, go find them.

Now let’s assume you’re a native Spanish or Mandarin speaker. Start learning about marketing to those audiences, learn user experience research, prototype products that serve those populations, learn how to do internationalization or localization, or get your start in customer support: whatever you need to do to get your foot in the door. Language fluency is just one example. Figure out what you can bring to the table.

Maybe computer science isn’t your thing (yet). Not everyone can be a developer — but you should know about general tech trends, frameworks, how things work: you need to know how the company you’re interested in fits into the general ecosystem. Do a few classes on Coursera– try to build a simple site.

2) Try to position yourself as an expert. If you’re lucky enough to have a brand name degree you must first acknowledge that isn’t enough. Employers usually don’t want to take a risk on a new grad unless this candidate has something very concrete to offer. Position yourself as the best person to do a job— and don’t expect to get a job with a fancy title. There’s many folks out there who are willing to slog it out: you should prepare yourself for that.

Start using Twitter aggressively. It’s likely that your future employer has a Twitter presence. Follow what they write, and use it as a potential platform to communicate with them. Have intelligent conversations on the platform, and engage deeply with a topic.

Interested in working at a [fill in sector] startup? Use AngelList, Mattermark, and CrunchBase and read about every major competitor. Do a competitive analysis of the space. Post it on your blog (start a blog!) and explain why you think X company is killing it and tweet about it. Nothing gets you faster attention than a blog or Hacker News post that got a company some extra traffic.  Granted, use this strategy well: make sure you make an intelligent, new argument and don’t trash other companies. Show you have a great business or product intuition.

3) Try moving to Silicon Valley. I know this is a privileged stance, and some of you readers will not be able to do this. Particularly for those of you who are supporting yourselves financially (like I did as soon as I went to college), I know this is challenging.

However, this piece is specifically about getting a role in Silicon Valley – and being here, in person, is a huge asset. Many of you will be using this advice to get a tech job at another tech hub and that’s great too. Join the nearest tech hub in your area. The people who run tech orgs in other cities are typically well connected– get to know those people. Much of this advice is widely applicable outside of the geographical confines of Silicon Valley.

This field is very relationship driven. Pull whatever connections you can together and try to come spend a few weeks on someone’s couch if you need to. Can’t afford the ticket to a conference? Look for ways to volunteer to work at a conference. Can’t volunteer? Go to the after-parties. If you offer to volunteer, you might find that one of the organizers will offer you a spot on their couch.

In short, hustle.

4) Look for a community that you identify with. Find other likeminded people. They are the key to getting your first job because they become your network. Maybe you’re into Burning Man– those people will try to help you. Maybe you studied at an HBCU–those folks will try to help too. Networking is the key to scoring your first job in the Valley.

Organizations that help folks get started in tech include Women 2.0, Latino Startup Alliance, BitHouse, Blacks in Tech, Movement50, Women Who Code, Designers and Geeks, and other topic-specific events on meetup.com. The list goes on. I’m not saying they’ll set you up with housing or other resources: but they can offer networking, access to experts, and potential friendships.

If moving is not possible, your online presence has to be sharp. Twitter networking will become a priority. Hang out in the spaces where the technologists are writing: Hacker News, Stack Overflow, Tech Lady Mafia, Twitter threads, GitHub, Quora. Subscribe to blogs and newsletters like REDEF and Termsheet.

5) Be targeted in your search. Job hunting is humbling in today’s economy. Don’t go for quantity in your job search, go for quality. Identify exactly what kind of job you want, and be very targeted in your job applications. Use your new network to ask for intros to decision makers at startups. Don’t try sending your resume into the black box of job applications. In most cases, companies don’t take these very seriously: use referrals. Reach out to people, ask for advice, and ask if they’d be willing to refer you. In most startups, referrals earn employees a bonus if the candidate is hired — people are happy to do referrals.

Make sure you operate courteously as you ask for help. Be respectful of people’s time and don’t be transactional. Don’t assume anyone should help you just because of an affiliation or mutual friendship.

Use venture capital portfolio sites to find great companies that already have money. Joining a seed stage or Series A company means you’re joining an organization with a bit of funding.

6) Look for companies you think are making an impact. Here’s my short plug for joining impact companies. When you join a company that you think is making positive social impact, your passions will shine through. Working the long hours on a startup will feel so worth it. Check out the job openings at social impact companies we fund at Kapor Capital.

Food for thought: do you want to work in an unstructured work environment? Do you understand that typically, the mentorship will be limited, you’ll have to ask for help to get it, and your bosses could foreseeably be your age or younger? The exciting parts of startups are also the things that can unnerve the newcomers. Be prepared, and do your research on companies and founders. Arguably the most important part of choosing a startup job is that you like your team and have something to learn from them. While the product might change, the team and the culture of the company is less likely to change.

Silicon Valley might feel like a secret club you weren’t invited to. Getting a job in Silicon Valley as a non-technical candidate can be daunting. Start by identifying your passions and skills, putting in the hard work to learn what you need, and identifying allies.

As soon as you start figuring it out, don’t forget to mentor others. You can’t get ahead in this industry without giving and taking help from others.

Feel free to shoot me your thoughts on Twitter: @anadiazhernandz. I welcome new resources to link to, new perspectives, and new tips.

Check out other great resources:

Danilo Campos on hustling his start into design and iOS development: http://danilocampos.com/2014/01/sneak-into-tech-through-the-back-door-a-hopelessly-limited-how-to/

Jonathan Anderson on getting a non-eng role after consulting. All his posts are a great, hands-on deep-dive on the job search, regardless of former background: http://www.startoutup.com/start/

Erin Parker on teaching herself and launching her fitness app: http://www.quora.com/I-am-24-years-old-and-just-started-learning-coding-I-want-to-be-a-programmer-Am-I-too-late-in-the-game

“The next thing Silicon Valley needs to disrupt big time: its own culture”: http://qz.com/225782/the-next-thing-silicon-valley-needs-to-disrupt-big-time-its-own-culture/

***Special thanks to folks who contributed some thoughts to this: Elen AwalomAnarghya A VardhanaKimberly MuñozKarla Amanda Brown, Stephanie Parker, Morgan DeBaun, Danilo Campos, Diana Albarran Chicas

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Want your tech event to be more diverse?

Let’s put our money where our mouth is. One big reason that tech conferences are not more diverse is because of economic reasons – let’s put our money toward mitigating that issue (This is surely not the only reason, but reducing the economic barriers is a great start!).

So what can we (tech industry) do to help?  Provide more discounted conference tickets, volunteer options, or scholarships. You can create interesting incentives, like asking each awardee to write a blog post about their experience at the conference. Help a young struggling entrepreneur to a conference they really want to attend and you’ll forever have an ally.

Making your conference more diverse is important for more reasons than “it’s the right thing to do”. Conferences are the professional networking gateway for people who are new to the industry. Helping them  get to a conference to experience the connections, see good pitches and demos, and know where they stand relative to their industry is a very healthy thing. I’ve seen this myself, where scholarship attendees to Women 2.0 credited this event with new-found motivation, new connections, and actionable steps to move forward with their startups.

I want to take this time to celebrate a few folks who are already doing it:

You’ll hear plenty of Silicon Valley insiders talk about the lack of interest of underrepresented folks: “We don’t exclude people, anyone is welcome!” The economic burden of attending a conference is difficult for any bootstrapped entrepreneur– but more so for those that don’t come from a network that can help them raise that infamous “friends and family” round.

You might say – I can only afford to sponsor a few people, is it even worth it? The answer is YES. Any little bit counts. Just make sure you sponsor at least 2 people. Also – even if you personally cannot finance this, use your network: start a crowdfunding campaign to finance scholarships, ask for donations from other attendants, ask your friends to host these folks at their home. The will is there to help. We can all take our small part.

NEW ADDITIONS:
Check out this Indiegogo campaign for Kronda Adair, who wanted to go to Lesbians Who Tech but couldn’t afford it. She’s reached her goal!: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/help-me-go-to-lesbians-who-tech-in-san-francisco

Here’s a great aggregated list of scholarships for travel by Geek Feminism Wiki: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Travel_funding

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Diversity in tech: a crowdsourced reading list

THE LIST: http://bit.ly/divcrowdsource

Those of us working on diversifying an industry understand this phenomenon: the issue you’re fighting against is first, ignorance.

What makes this ignorance even more critical to confront in the time we live in is the rapid-fire response of social media. You’re constrained by the medium to make a comment, and inevitably, context is lost. Conversations are often asynchronous, and some loon can come in the middle of it and be reactionary based off a “soundbite”. People get caught in embarrassing and damaging cyber-scandals for saying a(n) (perhaps well-meaning) ignorant or hurtful comment.

There’s been a lack of safe spaces to discuss questions and curiosities, people choose the impulse Twitter reply to make a statement. Before you make those claims – do make sure you’re informed on some of the basics. Ignorance about the issues plaguing the tech the industry for a particular underrepresented group can lead well-meaning people to make hurtful mistakes.

It’s not acceptable to be a founder, investor or manager in tech and not be aware of the issues keeping diverse candidates from making it through the interview, getting the offer, negotiating a fair wage, being a culture fit, and staying at the role.

I want to help compile a quick toolkit to reference those basic pieces detailing the issues affecting people in underrepresented groups. I encourage you to add to the list, as I’m missing MANY. These pieces are generally for lighter consumption. There’s a whole body of literature in psychology, organizational behavior, sociology, gender studies, and anthropology that I’m not even touching here.

So please, check it out, and contribute your reading suggestions: it’s the first step in helping peers better understand the experience of underrepresented folks, so they can become better, more empathetic allies.

http://bit.ly/divcrowdsource

Diversity, My favorite posts, My original content, Technology

The hidden bias of a brief investor comment

*This blog is strictly my opinion, and not representative of the stance of my employer.*

Investors in Silicon Valley have been getting heat lately about not having diversity in the founders of their portfolio– and in my opinion, rightfully so.  We’ve heard it before: Most people who get funded are Caucasian young men, 19-30 years old, who attended the same Top 10 private colleges, and wear hoodies while they pitch.  An over-simplication perhaps, but the hidden biases are there. Let’s consider this:

“I don’t trust a guy who comes to pitch in a suit– I assume he’s not a fit or too old school.”

I actually heard this from a well-known investor at an event at Stanford. What’s wrong with this statement? Well, in short, lots. Let’s deconstruct it:

1) “Trust a guy” – This particular investor said “guy”, as if only men pitched him. Maybe in his case, in fact only men pitch him, but not because of a lack of female founders out there.

2) “Pitch in a suit” – This is one example, but I’ve heard and read similar statements by VC’s and entrepreneurs that reflect white hacker culture. Not every tech entrepreneur knows “pitching in a suit” is a faux pas in Silicon Valley.  Particularly if they are from another part of the country where the startup hoodie culture isn’t as prevalent, or if they are from a family that told them “wear a suit if you want to be taken seriously.”

One of the elite Historically Black Colleges in the United States – Morehouse – has a well known adage: “be well read, well spoken, well traveled, well dressed and well balanced.” That means students regularly wear suits to class. Many of those students would not know wearing suits was not done here.  Is wearing a suit a good reason to discredit a candidate?

3) “I assume he’s old school” – This could be agism: The investor community constantly discredits entrepreneurs who have been around for a while. The justification is that they use old-fashioned technologies, they don’t know the young market, or they’re too entrenched in existing user patterns to see creative solutions to an issue.

This could also be racial bias. That candidate might have great ideas or a life experience that represents a market need you don’t relate to. Don’t automatically discredit it.

4) “Not a fit” – This is the biggest cop-out in venture capital and in recruiting in Silicon Valley. What is that code for? “Not what we usually associate with success”. “Not like the others”. “Not something we can pattern recognize”. I understand how hard it is to recruit candidates or to choose companies to fund. But I’d recommend checking your assumptions there. Are you pattern matching based on significant data?

Here’s my tip to investors–While those assumptions could be true, try applying this mantra during a pitch: Identify what makes you distrust the person pitching you. People usually make up their mind about how much they like someone in the first few seconds of an interaction. Ok, now you’ve identified the source of your distrust– spend the rest of the pitch trying to disprove yourself. Ask the candidate targeted questions to address each issue you have. You might find the entrepreneur will surprise you.