Be Your Own VC

I have to admit, at certain times over the past month or so, it’s been incredibly difficult to keep a positive mindset.  Frankly, it sucks to be turned down, being offered a position that isn’t valuable to you, being told a company doesn’t hire interns, or they only hire MBAs etc. etc. etc. For the sake of keeping a positive attitude, I started to list all of the benefits of being in my position compared to someone who already has a full-time job or has the job I want.  While the list was short, it was extraordinarily helpful in motivating me to continue working smarter and working harder to achieve what I set out to accomplish.  One of the most important items on the list was “the ability to be my own venture capitalist; right here, right now.”

Despite hearing this concept in a networking meeting I had this summer, it didn’t really hit me until I started to receive different internship proposals.  Instead of investing money in a startup (it takes money to make money), why not invest my career?  Basically, my thought process consisted of the following:

My long-term goal is to be a venture capitalist.  In order to achieve that goal, I know that I’ll need a hefty amount of startup and operating experience.  Therefore, when thinking of what I could do this summer that would align me with these objectives, I thought it would be fun, rewarding, and valuable to work at a startup.  However, as a junior in college, I’m looking for an internship that has the possibility of leading to a full-time job after graduation.  Especially at cash-strapped startups, full-time roles usually come with incentives that utilize a company’s employee stock option pool.  Putting this all together means I can potentially get equity in a startup that I work for (assuming I work hard, add value, and have a bit of luck).  As a result, I get to ask the same golden question VCs ask every day…Do I think the company that wants to hire me is sustainable and can it find a successful exit opportunity?

Now, it would be a hell of a lot easier to say ‘yes’ to the first internship proposal I receive and it would take a HUGE weight off my shoulders, but it wouldn’t really be smart…or fun for that matter.  Since starting this blog, spending four hours a day on twitter, getting my name out there, and networking as if my life depended on it, I’ve started to receive several different proposals which is where the fun begins.  I then get to do all of my own due diligence on the prospective companies, make my own growth predictions, talk to people the founders have previously worked with, assess the risk factors, analyze the market, and so many other things MD’s and their associates would have to consider when making investment decisions.  I also have to evaluate and understand whether or not I could add value to the business and make an impact.  What’s my personal competitive advantage that will propel this company closer to success or to an exit?  Will I simply be retrieving papers off of the printer, constantly doing data entry, or will I be thrown into real world situations where I will actually be receiving valuable experiences?  All of these are incredibly important questions that must be asked.  I’m not looking for an internship at a startup because I want to bulk up my resume in order to get a better job at a top tier firm right out of college.  I’m pursuing these jobs because it’s what I’ll have the most fun doing, where I can add the most value, and how I can propel myself closer to my long-term goal.

Unfortunately, with this type of outlook I’ve had to say ‘no’ to several positions for different reasons.  I didn’t think I would receive much value, the company wasn’t sustainable, the company was at too early of a stage for my risk profile etc. etc. etc.  However, I’ve promised myself to never ever EVER accept a job I don’t want to be doing.  Although this makes my search much harder, I believe I’ll end up much happier.  Of course, worse comes to worse, I can always go out and start my own company 😛

So far, the main struggle I’ve run into has been sitting down face to face with a prospective company.  They expect me to be constantly selling myself, showing where I can add value, and talking about my track record…for good reason.  On the other hand, I’m just as interested in getting them to answer many questions I have in regards to my due diligence.  As of now, I’ve found the best way to solve this is to focus on getting the job during the meeting, and asking the due diligence questions after the meeting or via email.

Ultimately, this unique thought process and outlook has led me to greatly enjoy my quest for “the golden internship.”  I encourage anyone else in my position to start thinking in the same way.  Not only will you be able to end up somewhere you’re more comfortable being long-term, but it will also allow you to practice using many skills and resources that will be greatly helpful down the road.

Quote of the day: “The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score.” – Bill Copeland


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