The best way to understand how to break into venture capital (VC) is to study the paths of people who have. This will be a deep dive into the paths of Partners at top venture capital firms and the best solo GPs. Let’s review some of the common VC archetypes.
It’s a common saying in VC that the best founders make the best investors. This is mainly true due to three main advantages founders have as investors:
- Founders have more empathy for other founders. They have been through a startup’s ups and downs and can show the levels of understanding, patience, and temperament needed to support you.
- Founders respect other founders. Starting a startup takes over your life, and most of your friends become other founders. This can help them access the best deals.
- Founders are good at pattern matching. They can pattern match based on founder characteristics or traits that made them successful, which can help them pick future winners.
Some examples of the founder archetype include:
- Reid Hoffman co-founded LinkedIn, which opened at $7.8 billion on the stock market, before becoming a VC at Greylock. Reid’s investments include Airbnb, Coupons.com, Edmodo, Shopkick, Trialpay, Convey, and Coda.
- David Sacks founded Yammer, which was acquired for $1.2 billion by Microsoft, before becoming a VC at Craft Ventures. David’s investments include Airbnb, Facebook, Palantir, Twitter, Uber, and SpaceX.
- Peter Thiel founded PayPal, which returned to the stock market at a $52 billion valuation in 2015, before starting a VC firm called Founders Fund. Peter’s investments include being the first outside investor in Facebook.
While angel investing differs from VC, the mechanics under the hood are similar. Angel investing is an excellent way for people to build a track record that they can later use to raise money for their own VC firm or land an investing job at a VC firm.
Some examples of the angel investor archetype include:
- Ron Conway built a track record in the mid-1990s as an angel investor before raising money for his first venture capital firm in 1997. Some of Ron’s early angel investments include Marimba Systems and Red Herring magazine. Ron later invested in Google, Napster, and Paypal as a VC.
- Cindy Bi built a track record as an angel investor before raising money for her venture capital fund, CapitalX. Some of Cindy’s early angel investments include MailGun, Gravitational, Cruise, and Zapier.
- Elad Gil built a track record as an angel investor before raising $620 million for his VC fund called the Elad Gil VC Fund. Some of Elad’s early angel investments include Airbnb, Coinbase, Opendoor, and Notion.
Like building relationships with founders at a VC firm, startup executives build relationships with top talent they recruit and mentor throughout the years. Sometimes the talented employees they hired or tried to hire start companies. This gives them a headstart on creating valuable relationships that may lead to excellent investment opportunities. Additionally, startup executives have unique operating experiences which they can use to support portfolio companies. For example, a CMO turned VC can help a startup pressure test its marketing channels and hire a Head of Marketing after its Series A round.
Some examples of the startup executive archetype include:
- Keith Rabois was a VP at LinkedIn and COO at Square before becoming a VC at Khosla Ventures, then Founders Fund. Keith’s investments include DoorDash, Faire, Ramp, Stripe, and Affirm.
- Erica Brescia was COO at GitHub before landing as an early-stage Managing Director at Redpoint Ventures. Erica’s investments include Xata, Dagger, Railway, Zed, and Fixie.
- Meka Asonye was Head of Sales at Stripe and VP of Sales at Mixpanel before transitioning into a Partner role at First Round Capital. Meka’s investments include Coda, Snackpass, Guide, and Composer.
- Sam Blond was VP of Sales at Zenefits and CRO at Brex before landing as a Partner at Founders Fund in September 2022. Sam’s investments include Superblocks and Causal.
- Roelof Botha was CFO at PayPal before becoming a Partner at Sequoia Capital. Roelof’s investments include Youtube, Instagram, MongoDB, Tumblr, Unity Technologies, and Square.
Like startup executives, early employees at breakout companies can also make for exceptional VCs. Early employees are typically responsible for driving new initiatives from zero to one, helping the company find product market fit, and getting to work directly with the founders. This invaluable experience teaches them many foundational things needed to be a great VC.
Some examples of the early employee archetype include:
- Erik Torenberg was the 1st employee at Product Hunt before founding a VC firm called Village Global. Erik’s investments include Scale AI, Rappi, Pave, Lattice, Flexport, and Figma.
- Lachy Groom was the 30th employee at Stripe before raising a series of funds, the most recent being a $250 million fund called LGF3. Lachy’s investments include Beacons AI, Formation, Umba, Humaans, and Kopperfield.
- Wesley Chan was an early employee at Google, where he was the first Chief of Staff for co-founder Sergey Brin and led the teams responsible for Google Analytics and Google Voice. Wesley then became a VC at Google Ventures and Felicis Ventures before venturing off to raise his $450 million fund, FPV Ventures. Wesley’s investments include Canva, Gusto, Flexport, and Plaid.
- Bobby Goodlatte was Facebook’s first designer focused on user growth in 2008 and the lead designer for Facebook Photos. He co-founded a VC firm called Form Capital. Bobby’s investments include Coinbase, Envoy, and Linear.
One key to startup success is distribution. You can’t win your market and scale into a billion-dollar business without it. Some of the best VCs are writers & podcasters, athletes, influencers, and celebrities who can help startups get distribution to their audience.
Some examples of the writer & podcaster archetype include:
- Packy McCormick started a newsletter called Not Boring before raising a series of funds, the most recent being $30 million, to invest in startups. Not Boring has over 200,000 subscribers and talks about tech, web3, optimism, and strategy.
- Nik Milanović started a newsletter called This Week in Fintech, which reached 10,000 subscribers before raising a $10 million venture fund.
- Katia Ameri started a skincare newsletter with 200,000 subscribers, which helped her land a job Partner at Andreessen Horowitz focused on consumer startups. Katia’s personal investments include Clash App, FYPM.VIP, Together.Casa, and Maza.
- Harry Stebbings started a successful tech podcast called 20VC with 100 million+ downloads, which he leveraged to raise a $140 million fund from LPs like MIT, Harvard, and RIT Capital Partners. Harry’s investments include Roam Research, Hopin, Alloy, BeReal, and Merge.
Some examples of the athlete archetype include:
- Kevin Durant, the 2014 NBA MVP and 13x NBA All-Star, started a VC firm, 35 Ventures (35V). Kevin’s investments include Postmates, Rubrik, Robinhood, Acorns, and Hugging Face.
- Joe Montana, the four-time NFL Superbowl champion, started a VC firm Liquid 2 Ventures. Joe’s investments include GitLab, Anduril, Rippling, Rappi, and Newfront Insurance.
- Serena Williams, the female tennis superstar with 39 major titles, started a VC firm Serena Ventures. Serena’s investments include Lolli, Zitti, Juno, and Nestcoin.
- Joe Schmidt, the former Notre Dame Football Captain, landed a job as a Partner at Andreessen Horowitz, where he invests in Fintech and Insurtech startups. Joe’s investments include Mvmnt, Stoik, Cygnvs, The Coterie, and District Cover.
- Baron Davis, the 2x NBA All-Star, invests in startups out of Baron Davis Enterprises. Baron’s investments include Thrive Market, Overtime, Triller, and Clubhouse.
Some examples of the influencer archetype include:
- Jake Paul, the social media influencer with over 7 billion views across his social channels, started a VC firm called Anti Fund. Jake’s investments include Alchemy, Flexbase, Moonpay, Ramp, and Synthesis.
- Bryce Hall, the social media influencer with 6.7 million+ followers on Instagram, is starting to build a track record as an investor. Bryce’s investments include Atmos, Dog for Dog, Poppi, Price.com, VersusGame, and Lendtable.
- Codi Sanchez, the social media influencer with 600K+ subscribers on Youtube, started a VC firm called Contrarian Thinking Capital. Codi’s investments include Nuvocargo, PostPilot, beehiiv, Blindspot, and Ladder. She’s also included in a group of notable early-stage investors at Seed Checks.
Some examples of the celebrity archetype include:
- Ashton Kutcher, one of the stars of the popular American sitcom That ’70s Show, started a VC firm called Sound Ventures. Ashton’s investments include Uber, Affirm, Airbnb, Pinterest, and Warby Parker.
- Beyonce, one of the best-selling pop icons with over 200 million records worldwide, has invested in startups, including Uber, Lemon Perfect, and Sidestep.
- Jay-Z, the 24-time GRAMMY award winner, has invested in startups, including Uber, Oatly, and Flowhub.
- Justin Bieber, one of the best-selling musicians with 150 million records worldwide, has invested in startups, including Moonpay and Spotify.
VC firms often recruit from top-tier MBA programs like Stanford Business School or The Wharton School. MBAs typically possess excellent communication skills that help them build relationships when becoming a VC.
Some examples of the MBA archetype include:
- Mamoon Hamid used an MBA program at Harvard Business School in 2005 to help him transition into venture capital. With a marketing and systems architect background, Mamoon landed a position as an associate at US Venture Partners after his MBA. Mamoon would become a Partner at US Venture Partners and Social Capital before landing his current Partner position at Kleiner Perkins. Mamoon’s investments include Slack, Figma, Handshake, Rippling, and Modern Health.
- Vivien Ho landed an MBA internship at Pear VC while completing her MBA at The Wharton School. She accepted a full-time job with Pear VC after her MBA program concluded as a Principal before rising to Partner in 2023. Vivien’s investments include Budgie Health, Valar Labs, Streamline Climate, Osmind, and Stellation.
Consultants and Investment Bankers
Many VC firms view consultants and investment bankers as potential fits for their firms. Not only are consultants and investment bankers structured thinkers and analytical, but they also are typically filled with ambitious young people since those jobs are some of the most competitive to land when coming out of college.
Some examples of the Consultant or Investment Banker archetype include:
- Josephine Chen started her career as a Business Analyst at the consulting firm McKinsey & Company before making Partner at Sequoia Capital. Josephine’s investments include AMP Robotics, Benchling, Magic Eden, and Privy.
- Kristina Shen started her career as an Investment Banker at Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs before becoming a Partner at Bessemer Venture Partners (BVP) and then Andreessen Horowitz (a16z). Kristina’s current investments at a16z include Pave, Sprig, Equals, and Macro. Kristina’s past investments at BVP include RainforestQA, Productboard, ServiceTitan, and Gainsight.
- Kimberly Tan started her career as an Investment Banker at Goldman Sachs and Consultant at McKinsey & Company before landing a job as a Partner at Andreessen Horowitz. Kimberly’s investments include Alloy Automation, Mem, Pave, Rewatch, and Rutter.
- Rick Yang started his career as an Analyst at Credit Suisse before joining VC as a Partner at New Enterprise Associates (NEA) to lead consumer and fintech investments. Rick’s investments include MasterClass, Opendoor, Robinhood, and Plaid.
Analyst / Associate / Principal Ladder
Getting your foot in the door as a junior investment team member can be a smart move to break into venture capital. Most VC firms then evaluate you based on the investments and returns you bring to the firm to decide whether to elevate you to Partner status.
Some examples of the analyst/associate/principal archetype who climbed the investment team ladder to reach Partner status:
- Talia Goldberg started as an Analyst at Bessemer Venture Partners under the mentorship of Jeremy Levine. She later became the youngest elected Partner in firm history. Talia’s investments include Shopify, Pinterest, Discord, Service Titan, and Newfront Insurance.
- Faraz Fatemi worked as an Associate at Bain Capital Ventures for two years before landing as a Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners. Faraz’s investments include Joopiter and Circle Labs.
- Rex Woodbury started as a Principal at Index Ventures before being promoted to Partner in 2022. Rex’s investments include Flagship, Beam, Gather, and Persona.
Another great way to get into venture capital is through building a community. Founders and investors are more successful when they have peers supporting them. Founders lean on other founders for advice and emotional support. Likewise, investors rely on other investors to co-invest in deals and identify trends.
Some examples of the community builder archetype include:
- Lolita Taub raised a $10 million fund called Ganas Ventures from her community after dedicating years of her life to building it. She started to make a community by creating an investor-matching tool which led to 2,000+ introductions and 50+ investments, and online guides on first-time fundraising and LatinX founder support. Ganas Ventures’ investments include Leadsales, Shappi, Around, Latitud, and Masa Finance.
- Amber Illig built an angel investor community called The Council, filled with talented operators from Stripe, Opendoor, Brex, Uber, and more to source and recommend deals for their VC fund. The Council’s investments include Bounty, Respell, Rezilient, Mate Fertility, and Portex.
- Monique Woodard started Cake Ventures after co-founding a community to support Black entrepreneurs called Black Founders. Cake Ventures’ investments include Snack, Rares, Serif, Joshin, and Most Days.
Here are some non-standard paths:
- Pejman Nozad worked at a rug store in Palo Alto, where some of his clientele were VCs on Sand Hill Road. He started to invest slowly and build a reputation for identifying and supporting talented entrepreneurs. Pejam went on to co-founder Pear VC. Pejman’s investments include Gusto, Vanta, Nova Credit, and DoorDash.
- Jason Calacanis was an editor for Silicon Alley Reporter, a magazine covering tech innovation in New York, before raising money for the Launch fund. Jason’s investments include Density, Robinhood, Calm, and Eight Sleep.
- Arlan Hamilton was a tour manager for Janine And The Mixtape, a singer and songwriter from New Zealand, before starting Backstage Capital to invest in underrepresented founders. Arlan gained notoriety for starting a blog called Your Daily Lesbian Moment!
What Skills And Experiences Do You Need?
While everyone’s path to venture capital is unique, our VC archetype examples show that most VCs loosely share some similar experience (successful founders, angel investors, etc.) or skill set (consultants, investment bankers, community builders, etc.).
To summarize, here are some things that you can do to stand out and land a job as an early-stage VC:
- Track Record: Many VCs build a track record long before becoming a VC. They do this by investing in friends’ startups and angel investing. You don’t need to invest a lot of money, but you need to make enough bets to indicate to VC firms that you have good picking skills, can get access to the best deals, and have a desirable network to find future deals. If you don’t have money to invest, the best thing to do is write or own distribution! Write about startups you’re excited about in a blog or interview the founders on a podcast – doing so can help show VC firms that you’re knowledgeable about the space.
- Deal Flow: VC is a relationships game. Each investor is expected to have a large Rolodex of contacts and networks they are a part of, which can help them source and close the best startup investments. For example, a Partner at Sequoia may get their deal flow from a combination of credible founder communities like Y Combinator, alma maters like Stanford, co-investor circles, and local startup partner organizations in San Francisco. When a VC firm brings on a new investor, they want someone with access to relationships, contacts, and networks they don’t already have access to.
- Value-Add: VCs hire investors sometimes because they have deep expertise or are uniquely capable of helping founders in their portfolios. To demonstrate your value-add to founders, reach out to founders you admire and proactively help them. Start to track how you’re helping. These founders can be some of your biggest advocates as you get into the later stages of the interview process and need references.
- Be Unique: Being unique and original is advantageous when breaking into VC. Maybe you built relationships with family offices in your last job, which you can leverage for your VC firm when they are raising capital from LPs. Perhaps you created a fund management system with no-code tools, which you can leverage for your VC firm to automate manual tasks. Differentiation from other applicants can help you get your foot in the door.