Approaching Start-Ups and VCs

Continuing on from my last post.. an MBA looking for a start up opportunity..

I think it’s important when you approach early stage start-ups and Venture Capitalists to clearly articulate what value you could bring (particularly for small ventures) but try and retain humility. You want to make it an easy decision for them to say yes to having a conversation with you.

There seems to be some negative feeling (arrogance and entitlement) associated with HBS MBAs in the start up community in particular and it’s our collective responsibility to try and quel that sentiment. My proposed approach is to be totally honest about your expectations and motivations for wanting to join the start-up and be flexible on compensation, equity and your job title. I think it’s really important to emphasize (and actually believe) that you are motivated by the same things as your potential colleagues and being honest and flexible upfront is the way to understand your compatibility as quickly as possible.

In general, I try and think about things from the eyes of the person receiving your message….

An important part of a Venture Capitalist’s job is to help recruit talent for his/her portfolio companies. I think you should make it as easy as possible for them to forward your application over to their CEOs. These guys are often busy and do a lot of work from their mobile devices – if your story is compelling and your credentials look good, I don’t see why they would not send your message to their portfolio companies.

A couple of guidelines that I use (in chronological order):

  • Introduce yourself clearly and highlight your current situation (when you graduate) in the first line
  • State which particular companies in their portfolio you are interested in
  • Articulate what you would like to do/what skills you bring based on some sort of expertise
  • Identify why these skills/expertise would be important for the portfolio company
  • Show that although you have a value proposition you are willing to be flexible 
  • Ask to speak with the VC – they will most often not have time but are awesome people to get advice from
I think the same principles apply to when you are approaching a venture directly, but I try and talk a little bit more about why I like the product/company. Founders/CEOs are pretty emotionally attached to their products and it’s always nice for them to receive positive feedback from their users.
I am of the opinion that no conversation with a smart, successful person in a field that you are interested is a wasted conversation and each one will help you understand a little more about what you want and perhaps open up new opportunities – you never know!! 
I’ve had reasonable but not exceptional success with this approach so would love to get other peoples’ thoughts – would be good to share the collective wisdom.

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