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November 29, 2006

The Venture Capital Aptitude Test (VCAT)

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If you want additional proof that we’re in a bubble, here it is: young people are trying to get into the venture capital business again. I get several emails a week along these lines:

I’m about to graduate from college where I majored in economics. I’ve always been interested [what does “always” mean for a twenty-something year old, but I digress…] in business and entrepreneurship and ran my school’s entrepreneurship club. I’ve been working as an analyst for Goldman, Sachs, and now I’d like to get into the venture capital business to further my understanding of entrepreneurship and to help startups achieve success by tapping into my knowledge base. I am adept with PowerPoint, Excel, and PhotoShop.

They see a wonderful job: going to cocktail parties and networking events, flying in private jets, and getting sucked up to by entrepreneurs while pulling down a base salary of $500,000/year plus a piece of the upside of selling a YouTube for $1.6 billion. Who wouldn’t want such a job? (Frankly, I would too.)

First, a rare moment of Guy-Kawasaki humility: I am by no means “proven” as a venture capitalist. I’ve been in this game for about ten years, but I don’t have the mega-hit that “makes” a fund. Thus, I may not be a source of good advice about getting into this business, but when has the lack of knowledge stopped a blogger?

Regardless, here’s my advice to all the Biffs, Sebastians, Brooks, and Tiffanys who want to be kingmakers:

Venture capital is something to do at the end of your career, not the beginning. It should be your last job, not your first.

My theory is that when you’re young, you should work eighty hours a week to create a product or service that changes the world. You should not sit in board meetings listening to an entrepreneur explaining why she missed her numbers while you read email on a Blackberry and intermittently spew forth gems like, “You should partner with MySpace; I can also introduce you to a few of the losers in our portfolio.”

Furthermore, entrepreneurs should view any young person who opted for venture capital over “real world” experience with contempt. Why would you want advice from someone whose background consists of working in a college bookstore or cranking spreadsheets at an investment bank? Financial models are almost totally irrelevant because there’s no financial wizardry involved in making a good product and selling the heck out of it.

ElectricPulp.jpg

I’ve concocted the Venture Capital Aptitude Test (VCAT) to help people decide whether they are right for the venture capital business. If you’d like to take this test online, click here. My buddies at an interactive agency called Electric Pulp created the test for me. Knock yourself out!


Part I: Work Background

What is your background?

  • Engineering (add 5 points)
  • Sales (add 5 points)
  • Management consulting (subtract 5 points)
  • Investment banking (subtract 5 points)
  • Accounting (subtract 5 points)
  • MBA (subtract 5 points)

The ideal venture capitalist has an engineering or a sales background. Engineering is useful because it helps you understand the technology that you’re investing in—for example, is the entrepreneur trying to defy the laws of physics? Sales is useful because every entrepreneur has to introduce a product and sell it. For the third time in this blog, let me say, “Sales fixes everything.”

The three worst backgrounds for a venture capitalist are management consulting, investment banking, and accounting. Management consulting is bad because it leads you to believe that implementation is easy and insights are hard when the opposite is true in startups. Investment banking is bad because it leads you to believe that everything can be reduced to cells on a spreadsheet and that companies should be built for Wall Street, not customers. Moreover, investment bankers are oriented towards doing deals, not building companies. Accounting is bad because it leads you to believe that history not only repeats itself, it predicts the future.

Finally, there is the issue of the pertinence of an MBA to venture capital. The upside is that such a degree can provide additional tools and knowledge (such as calculating that 25% of $1.6 billion is $400 million) to help you make investment decisions and to assist entrepreneurs. The downside is that earning this degree (and I have one) causes most people to develop the hollow arrogance of someone who’s never been tested. All told, the downside of an MBA outweighs the upside.


Part II: First-Hand Experiences

You may have been in the right places, but you also need the right experiences in those places. Specifically, have you gone through these?

  • Been kicked in the groin by a major, long-lasting economic downturn, so that you know how powerless you are. (add 1 point)
  • Worked at a successful startup, so that you can speak first-hand about the ecstasy of entrepreneurship. (add 1 point)
  • Worked at a failed startup, so that you understand three things: first, how hard it is to achieve success; second, that the world doesn’t owe you a thing; and third, what it’s like to be fired or laid off. (add 3 points)
  • Worked at a public company, so that you know what the end goal looks like, warts and all. (add 1 point)
  • Held a CEO position, so that you have this fantasy experience out of your system and will not try to run the startup from a board position. (add 2 points)
  • Been an angel investor with your own money, so that you understand the fiduciary responsibility of investing other people’s money. (add 2 points)

Part III: Necessary Knowledge

Finally, can you answer these questions for entrepreneurs? Because this is the kind of advice that entrepreneurs need. (Don’t worry: many current venture capitalists would fail this part.)

  • How do I introduce a product with no budget? (add 2 points)
  • How do I determine whether there’s really a market demand for my product? (add 1 point)
  • What do I do if customers hate our first product? (add 1 point)
  • How do I get Walt Mossberg to return my call? (add 2 points)
  • How do I get to the folks who run Demo? (add 1 point)
  • How do I get a plug in TechCrunch? (add 1 point)
  • How do I get the folks at Fox Interactive to return my call? (add 1 point)
  • How do I dominate a segment when there are five other companies doing essentially the same thing? (add 2 points)
  • How much time, energy, and money should I spend on patent protection? (add 1 point)
  • We bet on the wrong architecture for our product; what do I do now? (add 2 points)
  • What kind of people should I hire: young, old, unproven, proven, cheap, expensive, local, remote? (add 1 point)
  • How do I get them to leave their current jobs without throwing a lot of money at them? (add 2 points)
  • How do I tell my best friend that he can’t be chief technical officer just because he was a cofounder? (add 2 points)
  • How do I get to the buyer at BestBuy to return my call? (add 1 point)
  • How do I handle a customer who wants to send back his purchase for a full refund? (add 1 point)
  • How do I fire people? (add 2 points)
  • How do I lay people off? (add 2 points)

Results

Here’s how to assess your readiness to become a venture capitalist:

  • 40 or more points: Call CalPERS and tell them you’re raising a new fund.
  • 35 to 39 points: Call Sequoia and Kleiner, Perkins and tell them that you’re available.
  • 25 to 34 points: Send your resume to 2,000 venture capitalists and pray.
  • 24 points or less: Work until you can score higher and keep flying on Southwest Airlines.

Here’s the bottom line: You should become a venture capitalist after you’ve had the shiitake kicked out of you. This will yield at least two positive results: First, you’ll stand out from the full-of-shiitake artists who entered the business when they were young. Second, you’ll really be able to help your portfolio companies—which is what venture capital should be all about. See you in ten or twenty years.

Read more venture-capital tips and tricks.

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Comments

How about some compensation data to add to this conversation? A survey conducted by JobSearchDigest.com (http://www.JobSearchDigest.com) focusing on the private equity and venture capital job market was designed to help private equity and venture capital players better manage careers and fund managers differentiate firms. The survey includes participation from firms both large and small such as: Credit Suisse, Labrador Ventures, Intel Capital, Mayfield, New Enterprise Associates, and SoftBank Capital.

The survey addresses issues such as the compensation earned by professionals and their work satisfaction. The survey also aims to understand how these professionals perceive their work and what they expect from their employers.

Some notable findings include:
• The annual average compensation for professionals in the industry is $224,000 with an average 3.5 weeks of vacation benefit.
• Nearly ½ of respondents bring at least 10 years of work experience to the table and only 5 years of private equity or venture capital experience.
• Although common in the industry, an MBA doesn’t guarantee better compensation.
• At the lower levels, there is very little difference in cash compensation between the US East and West coasts and even the Central states.

Regards,
David Kochanek

Venture capital funding is when a startup business or an existing one needs funds from outside people to sustain or keep it growing.the investor becomes a capital venture firm who will be doing this not only to jump start something new but also to make some money from it.

If my company's current assets do not exceed its current liabilities, then i may run into trouble paying back creditors in the short term. The worst-case scenario is bankruptcy. A positive change in working capital indicates that the business has either increased current assets (that is received cash, or other current assets) or has decreased current liabilities, for example has paid off some short-term creditors.

[edit] See also

If my company's current assets do not exceed its current liabilities, then i may run into trouble paying back creditors in the short term. The worst-case scenario is bankruptcy. A declining

I used to think a lot about making my ideas alive. I thought that i should not think about what VC's will think when they hear my idea. It wasn't working. Then i thought deeply about what they will see as a value in my idea. Not i read this blog and i feel that i have a new dimension added to my thought.

Thanks

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Ah, personally I don't even like the idea of Venture Capital at all. They force you to grow even if it's not what you need and push you towards an exit event that might be the death of the company you threw your life into. And on top of it, if you look at many of the VC's out there, they DO have management consulting or CFO backgrounds. So some ex-accenture MBA wonderboy is going to tell my how to run my software company, forget it. They don't call them vulture capitalists for nothing.

As a young VC I agree that one shouldn't build his career within the VC world. That being said, as a starting point for a career in high-tech, it's a great place to be. Reading hundered of business plans, working out investment strategies, and doing research is an excellent way to learn

Interesting take on VC, I'm not much for standardized tests

Ventrilo Servers

Some of the posts on this site are a joke. I mean 26 year olds talking like they have years of experience in business. I'm 39 years old, with an MSEE and and MBA and have over 10 years experience in business development and product management. If anyone is qualified to be a VC it's me. I wouldn't take the advice of a 26 year old with at most 5 years experience. Business is the real world, not some MTV game that you play with.

I am 26, an budding MBA with Chemical engg. background. Very good posting by you. I disagree with your points subtration for MBA. I worked in R&D management for a premier govermental institution with the technical background. I got enough funds to develop a native technology with native tools. It failed. But, after coming to MBA, I understood why it falied through. So it is the MBA which refines from others to take decisions in this changing world. But, we cannot say MBA is a must.

Great post - I'm very interested in the VC space - for someday when I'm done with my current position at Yahoo. But I dont have the VC credentials. Instead, the people I know in the VC space are saying exactly this (what you said) about me "How do I get them to leave their current jobs without throwing a lot of money at them?". Before I was at Yahoo I did exactly that - spent months of my time on VC projects that I didnt get paid for, and I didnt totally beleive would be successful but I beleived in them since they were VC folks. Lesson learned. They dont always know.

I'm naive to the VC world but I hope that there is a medium where those of us who are in the grind and come across rare great talent and great ideas can work with the VC folks with the Engineering or Sales backgrounds? to blossom some original and successful online brands.

Does this connection exist?

Thats great Guy, but honestly why on earth would you bother with a post about how to become a VC. Lets keep it about whats important. How to build great companies, great products, great returns and great FUN!

Interesting post Guy. As a 26 year old VC with no MBA, exposure in several failed start-ups and a few successful investments, I would counter that my experience within venture has been more educational than all my previous positions to date. I have been fortunate to gain insights into what makes companies successful or at least characterizes their strengths. I like to think that these lessons will help me refine my future education - whether when selecting a start-up employer in the future or when considering a tough operating choice.

Separately, I would address your quiz with the following concern: The questions are fair but the answer must vary depending on the company, market and time. Further and in my very limited experience, the best board members offer their thoughts on problems and help the executive come to a conclusion - not simply dictate it.

I do not know . Really do not know anything about venture capitalism as a career nor that of an entrepreneur. But i am a strong believer that an MBA or an investment banking career does not matter. what matters is the person... and his attitude toward entrepreneurship, investment and risk taking capabilities. Beyond acquired knowledge through degrees rises the phoenix of startup blown-outs.

Thanks

Classic entertaining and true post from you Guy and just dead on right. If you still have some energy left, you should either be building a product or selling a product, depending on your aptitude and interest.

On the other hand, the world definitely needs financing, and the startup world needs VC financing. I guess that means that the world also needs VC associates...to do all the work the partners don't want to do. They're necessary. I'm just not sure why anyone - other than risk averse ibank/consulting dropouts during a bubble - would want that job.

For me, this could have been titled "why I didn't become a venture capitalist, or stopped trying".

I'm 38 years old, an MBA and former management consultant, but also with 10 years experience in software... I was entertaining the idea of getting into VC a couple of years back, and after talking to some people both informally as well as formally, decided it's too early. VC is a career you exit TO, not FROM. So I recently joined a fresh start-up as VP Marketing and now I'm experiencing start-up life as it should be experienced - from the inside.

Being young myself, I would like to post my favourite quote here:

"Victory usually goes to those green enough to underestimate the monumental hurdles they are facing." Richard Feynman

It's great to be clueless sometimes.

I scored a 42. But looking back no wonder I did. I have lost everything... twice. Start-ups are what these young VC's should be out there working on. A prior post said we (Entrepreneurs)should have nothing but contempt for these young VC's. He/she is right. I do! In business, I listen to NO ONE that hasn't been kicked in the balls, looked up with tears forming in their eyes, and said "Is that ALL you got???" My best, most trusted VP joined me with less that 7 years before retirement age. He was/is my greatest assest! I would personally tell a noobie VC to go get me some coffee and be quiet while the adults talked if he had the nerve to open his mouth in a meeting with me.

*** Know risk, know experience, KNOW success.
NO risk, no experience, NO success. ***

I'm 37 now. Engineering and Sales. NO MBA. NO BA/BS. No Accounting. No Banking or even consulting. Currently a CEO in Telecom/VoIP/Cellular. Adore Cargill, Sprint, Hy-VEE, and ofcourse, Starbucks as companies (quoting Guy “Sales fixes everything” - sales drives these guys.). My thinking is long term gain, not create "hype" and sell to big dog. (Learn from Buffet, y'all).

See you in 15-20 years Guy, 3/4 of the way through my career!

ALAN

You have to love the passion on both sides. That what makes this such a great post. And, the fact that I was getting a good laugh.

Of course Guy's post is broad strokes and does not and can not address every young VC out there in the world. Get over it. But, taking a step back the post has some great truths. At at the very least for all those current young VCs and propective young VCs out there in the world realize your strengths and weakeness. Being young can sometimes be a strength and other times a weakness. Know the difference and use it to your advantage. I always think back to the movie "Big" with Tom Hanks. There are some great lessons to be mindful of for both the young and old.

Besides the fact that you over generalized the ambitions of young people interested in venture capital, I think you unfairly conflate 2 issues:
1. Young ppl are interested in VC.
2. What it takes to be a good venture capitalist.

Your argument is that #2 points to the idiocy of #1.

How unfair!

As a 24 year old working for a great venture capital firm, I can't help but take issue with this post (clever as it is -- I'll give you that much).

It is unfair to generalize the motivations / ambitions of young people interested in VC. Frankly, pre-MBA positions are not as lucrative as other financial positions (e.g. ibanking) and they are Not Partner Track. Dreams of corporate jets are delusional and anyone who does their homework should know that those dreams are just that. But you would be surprised to know that a lot of young people are interested in this new breed of pre-mba job because of the broad exposure to entrepreneurship. And I say that NOT with the misguided belief that they can experience what it is to be an enterpreneur by being at board meetings or tagging along with a GP. Instead, the value comes from the exposure you get with talking to hundreds of companies a month and learning about different business models, ideas, experiences, etc..

Secondly, a venture capital group is not only composed of GPs. (GASP?!) The role of the top tier does not trickle down in replica to the rest of the firm.

First, you should spend more time trying to find new deals vs. writing books and giving advice to the world - then you might have some home runs....Second, the next thing you'll be saying is that young professionals shouldn't work at hedge funds either since they haven't been squashed yet...give me a break.

Too funny! You only say it because it's true.
Thanks, Guy,
Peggy Farabaugh
VermontWoodsStudios.com

Hi Guy,

I love this post!
I am doing an MBA (marketing and finance) right now and I took a class in financial modelling, which is the probably the worst course selection I've made since undergrad...will be spamming this comment to a lot of people :-) :
"Why would you want advice from someone whose background consists of working in a college bookstore or cranking spreadsheets at an investment bank? Financial models are almost totally irrelevant because there’s no financial wizardry involved in making a good product and selling the heck out of it"

Guy,
I did like the post although as a young person trying to get into VC, I find it not to be completely true. I've started a couple of semi-failed businesses (none of them took off, but none completely bombed either), and I think some young people might want to get into VC because:
1.) a lot of VC's are former successful Entrepreneur's themselves, so you can learn from them directly.
2.) you get access to the VC's network and you can start building a good one for yourself.
3.) You can see how the funding process works from the VC point of view...so when you are looking for cash you know what to expect.
4.) You can use some of that $$ you make as funding for your company.

So although I do agree that having operational experience is a good idea...wanting to get into VC at a young age isn't a bad one either.

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