My formulae of entering a VC firm – I did it twice!Mukul Singhal
The first quarter of every year, I get multiple pings from current MBA students on how to get into a venture firm. This is the time when campus placements in most of B-Schools are either done or in the process. From my experience, nobody (I guess 90%) on the campus gets their dream job (that’s why it’s a dream) and people start to look around. Every time, I have the same story to tell. This time, I thought I'll pen it down.
I joined Canaan Partners in 2006, six months after I graduated from ISB. I passed out of ISB without a job (which was pretty much a social taboo in a MBA school). Later, I joined a strategy division of a cement manufacturing company subsequently changing three jobs in six months. I started doubting myself whether I knew what I wanted. Canaan was the fourth one and it was pretty much an accident -- a decision which was not thought through.
After three jobs and before Canaan, I co-founded a startup with my IIT Kanpur friend, Prashan. We were trying to create Netflix of India. Within three months, we ran into legal issues with content owners and no funding. Given both the scenarios, we decided to close and move on with our respective careers. During this time, we were pitching our startup to Alok Mittal for angel financing. And I should tell today’s founders that he made us fly two-three times for Rs 50 lakhs. Today, founders get a corer just on phone calls.
Knowing that we were closing our start up, Alok made me an offer to join Canaan as he was just starting Canaan India office. I joined him. My reasons of joining were 1) Alok came across as an intelligent person so I thought I will learn something and 2) the location was in Delhi. My fiancée was pursuing Ph.D. in Delhi. I didn’t have much clue on what it took to be in the venture industry or whether I would even like it or not.
So I really don’t know how to enter into a venture firm. People also ask me about my career journey and how I moved to SAIF and what VCs look for while hiring people.
Again my joining SAIF was a mix of different events. In Canaan, for a long time, we were only two people. Later, we became three – two Partners and one Associate (myself). The Partner used to travel a lot. There were days I would be in office without speaking to any human being other than listening to founder pitches on the phone. It was very boring.
I started meeting an IIT Kanpur alumnus, then a VP at SAIF (Deepak Gaur) and now a Partner in the firm. Deepak was also the only person at SAIF’s office in Delhi. We used to enjoy bread omelette in front of Canaan office building in Gurgaon, and exchange notes on investments in general. At one such feast, he asked me if I wanted to apply at SAIF and I agreed. These guys called me to Kerala in their offsite for an interview. Imagine an interviewee wearing a suit in Kerala heat being interviewed by people in jeans/tees/shorts. I still don’t understand how they evaluated me.
Ravi, who heads SAIF, was nervous in extending an offer to a person from a peer fund. VC industry is a very close network and people don’t typically poach from one another. I told Ravi not to make an offer before they did a reference call with Alok (my current boss). And if he is unhappy or the reference is bad, then not to make an offer to me. That’s the risk I took. I still thank Alok for keeping my trust in him. And I thank Ravi for taking that risk for me.
In short, I don’t know how to gain an entry in the VC industry or prepare for interviews. However, I will extend a few pointers that I learnt along the way:
1) Historically, the industry has hired talent from consulting firms like Mckinsey and BCG. However, we are seeing an increasing trend around lateral hiring in funds from the technology industry. This trend should increase.
2) This industry is inclined towards people with experience. Ten years ago, there were very few startup options. However, now there is no dearth. Right from college, people should strongly consider joining startups as opposed to a venture firm.
3) Venture funds are very small teams – funds with 10-15 people would be the largest. So it’s very important to work with the right team. People should do a thorough reference check before joining. It’s not a question of good and bad but a question of frequency connect. If you are not able to create a connect with senior team members in the fund – it’s a non-starter.
4) There is very high churn at the entry level in venture funds. Either people don’t enjoy the work or don’t get to connect with the existing team members. It makes sense to talk to people who have left the firm and get their feedback.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)