Ask the Hustle: How Can I Break Into Venture Capital From a Nontraditional Background?

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Sara Friedman
Sara Friedman

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A while back we invited you to slide into our DMs, and almost 300 of you wrote in with questions. We got some good ones, and we’re getting back to you here. This one’s from Payton in Dallas, Texas:

Ask The Hustle

How can someone break into the VC world coming from a nontraditional route/background? Basically how can us normal people get into VC?

For those of you not on tech Twitter, where everyone is in VC (according to their bios), VC stands for venture capital — a field of private equity where investors finance startups and early-stage companies. 

It’s an industry that gets a lot of hype, but not as much in the way of actionable tips and insights. So, Payton, we went straight to the source (AKA Twitter) and tapped an actual venture capitalist and angel investor, Janine Sickmeyer, to help us answer your question. Here are her tips for breaking into VC from a nontraditional background:

  • Dip your toe in: Although traditional paths to venture capital often include college degrees in finance or family connections, the industry is starting to broaden. A key step to getting your foot in the door is educating yourself. Sickmeyer recommends learning more about the sector through any means possible: listening to podcasts on the subject, subscribing to newsletters, and following experts on Twitter (such as Jason Calacanis).

    To get some hands-on experience, angel investing groups (firms made up of multiple angel investors) and syndicate SVPs (“special purpose vehicles,” or groups of angels who pool their investments in a company) can be great entry points. She recommends Hustle Fund and Backstage Capital, both of which she joined earlier in her career.

    Making angel investments and joining syndicate groups lets you learn about how deals are evaluated and made without giving up your day job. Another way to get started without going full time: Look for contractor positions at small VC firms (for tasks such as evaluating markets or helping with deal flows).

    Tip: Sell your niche. Some firms are looking to expand investments in specific industries, like crypto. If you have expertise in a certain field, pitch it as part of your skillset.
  • Build a network: “There is nothing more valuable than working alongside people who are just a little bit ahead of you, especially if you don’t already have a background in VC,” says Sickmeyer.

    Sickmeyer is a mentor with Gen Z VCs, an organization that educates and trains a new generation of VCs. She says such organizations can be a huge help in building a network of peers, mentors, and future colleagues.

    While friendships within the VC field can be positive, Sickmeyer cautions those entering the industry against group thinking. “The best way to be successful is to go against the status quo and do your own thing,” she says.
  • Come prepared: “Start doing your research and make sure this is something you really want to pursue,” says Sickmeyer. “Understand the full background: It’s not just hanging out with founders and investing in things you think are cool.”

    Venture capital may seem illustrious on social media, but it’s an industry that takes hard work and skill building, like any other. Having a full understanding of the sector as a whole and what the job itself would entail can position you for success.

    The most important skill to bring to the table: knowing what it takes to run a startup.

    “Whether you’ve been a founder of or involved in an early-stage startup, understanding everything it takes to build a startup is a skill that not all VCs have,” she says. “When you come across VCs who do, it’s obvious.”

    While it’s not feasible to launch a business just to set up your VC career, Sickmeyer says it might be a smart move to take a position at an early-stage startup to learn what building a company looks like from the inside. 
  • Bottom line: Venture capital is not necessarily the swanky, high-profile job it’s cracked up to be. Sickmeyer likens starting a VC fund to creating a startup. “It’s really hard,” she says.

    But if you dip your toe into the VC pool through some of the channels above and love what you’re seeing, it might be time to take the dive.

    “There are a lot of different ways to get into VC,” she says. “But it’s really about shooting your shot and getting out there.”

 

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