Tag Archives: Business

Berkshire Hathaway Annual Letter, 1979

Warren Buffett speaking to a group of students...The 1979 Chairman’s Newsletter represents Buffett’s first since Berkshire Hathaway went public on NASDAQ.  Not that this distinction changes Buffett’s approach much.  Indeed, he argues that Berkshire Hathaway is targeting long-term shareholders, and with about “98% of the shares outstanding [at the end of the year] are held by people who also were shareholders at the beginning of the year,” they were achieving that goal.  

 

More directly interesting and worth considering for early stage companies and investing are a few key points.

 

One is a theme that discussed in other Letters: namely, the focus on investing in a great company at a fair price versus seeking a bargain investment in a less-than-great company.  He discusses this in his comparison of Berkshire Hatahway’s Textile businesses relative to some of the the other assets.  Specifically, he compares textiles to network television stations, which then were pretty hard to replace and cash generating cows.

 

Our textile business also continues to produce some cash, but at a low rate compared to capital employed. This is not a reflection on the managers, but rather on the industry in which they operate. In some businesses – a network TV station, for example – it is virtually impossible to avoid earning extraordinary returns on tangible capital employed in the business. And assets in such businesses sell at equally extraordinary prices, one thousand cents or more on the dollar, a valuation reflecting the splendid, almost unavoidable, economic results obtainable. Despite a fancy price tag, the “easy” business may be the better route to go.

We can speak from experience, having tried the other route. Your Chairman made the decision a few years ago to purchase Waumbec Mills in Manchester, New Hampshire, thereby expanding our textile commitment. By any statistical test, the purchase price was an extraordinary bargain; we bought well below the working capital of the business and, in effect, got very substantial amounts of machinery and real estate for less than nothing. But
the purchase was a mistake. While we labored mightily, new problems arose as fast as old problems were tamed.

Both our operating and investment experience cause us to conclude that “turnarounds” seldom turn, and that the same energies and talent are much better employed in a good business purchased at a fair price than in a poor business purchased at a
bargain price. Although a mistake, the Waumbec acquisition has not been a disaster. Certain portions of the operation are proving to be valuable additions to our decorator line (our strongest franchise) at New Bedford, and it’s possible that we may be able to run profitably on a considerably reduced scale at Manchester. However, our original rationale did not prove out.

 

The second nugget I got from this letter is the detailed, concrete thinking on how business drivers might affect future business results.  In this letter, Buffett talks about an increasing performance in his auto insurance business.  Fewer claims were submitted, yielding better profits.  Simple business, insurance!  :)  Buffett points out though that in 1979 oil prices had soared.  They’d soared to such a degree that people were changing their driving habits, specifically by driving less. Less driving led to fewer accidents.  Fewer accidents led to better profits for Buffett.  Buffett calls this out as likely temporary.  If and when gas prices fall, driving will increase, and the temporary gift of lower claims will evaporate.  A solid, cogent example of the types of detailed drivers that we all need to think about in business to anticipate how a business might evolve and change over time.

 

Third, another useful theme Buffett talks about a lot: you attract the investors you deserve.

 

In large part, companies obtain the shareholder constituency that they seek and deserve. If they focus their thinking and communications on short-term results or short-term stock market consequences they will, in large part, attract shareholders who focus on the same factors. And if they are cynical in their treatment of investors, eventually that cynicism is highly likely to be returned by the investment community.

 

His description comparing how you attract and manage a relationship with investors to running a restaurant is terrific.

 

Phil Fisher, a respected investor and author, once likened the policies of the corporation in attracting shareholders to those of a restaurant attracting potential customers. A
restaurant could seek a given clientele – patrons of fast foods, elegant dining, Oriental food, etc. – and eventually obtain an appropriate group of devotees. If the job were expertly done, that clientele, pleased with the service, menu, and price level offered, would return consistently. But the restaurant could not change its character constantly and end up with a happy and stable clientele. If the business vacillated between French cuisine and take-out chicken, the result would be a revolving door of confused and dissatisfied customers.

So it is with corporations and the shareholder constituency they seek. You can’t be all things to all men, simultaneously seeking different owners whose primary interests run from high current yield to long-term capital growth to stock market pyrotechnics, etc.

 

Great writeup in 1979, I look forward to reading the 1980 one.

 

 

 

 

 

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Where are we?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed two themes in press and analysis around the tech world.

economist cover

Theme #1 : Where has the innovation gone?  This was represented best I think with this week’s cover of the Economist, asking whether we’ll ever invent anything as useful as a toilet ever again.  This echoed folks like Michael Arrington who quipped that he was bored and Peter Thiel who griped that instead of flying cars, we got instead 140 characters.

Usually, when I hear lots of mainstream concern that innovation is dead, that’s when I start getting excited.  The froth is coming out of the market, and the true innovation is out there, lurking, perhaps unrecognized (yet).  But it’s out there, just waiting to delight.

So on one hand, I’m excited.  Bullish about the future.

Theme #2: Thoughts on the Series A crunch.  Lots has been written about the pending Series A crunch.  I basically agree with Michael Maples Jr’s as quoted in a PandoDaily article, where he says (paraphrasing) that every year there are about 10 fantastic startup companies.  Irrespective of funding environment, those 10 are the ones everyone wants to get into and those have little trouble finding funding.  The goal is to start or be involved with one of those companies.

With that as context, I’ve read with increasing alarm the press that prominent incubators are putting out about how much follow-on funding their companies have attracted.  Here was one such announcement just made today.  I can understand why its useful and its not to take away from the work that incubators are doing to help companies get themselves started and off of the ground.   I’ve never been much of a fan of funding announcements though.  I’m more of a fan of announcements of big customer wins, market share achievements, and partners that are committing to your solution.  That’s real traction and where you have those wins, funding will follow.  I do worry that the signal from incubators on follow on financing is going to, if anything, prolong the Series A crunch.

These are just thoughts.  The concrete action feedback, if you’re a startup, is to stay focused on winning in the market place through traction–customers, market share, partners, revenue, growth, etc.

Delight a rapidly growing customer base and the Series A crunch and the concerns on a lack of innovation in today’s tech market will magically work themselves out.

 

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Market Cap / Employee

Monday I caught up over lunch with long time friend and superb Japanese entrepreneur, Nori Matsuda.  Matsuda-san is the CEO & Co-Founder of Sourcenext, a publicly listed consumer software company in Japan.

During the discussion, he talked to me about how he thinks about building public technology companies.  He mentioned a metric he thinks about a lot: Market Cap per Employee.  He thought that this was an interesting expression of a company’s culture, of how much opportunity, how much energy there likely was at the company.  He then rattled off the Market Cap per Employee of several large public tech companies.

I built this simple chart below, and I think it’s telling:

Company Market Cap (B) Employees (K) M/E (M$)
FB 52 4 $13.0
APPLE 528 73 $7.2
GOOG 219 54 $4.1
MSFT 227 94 $2.4
AMZN 107 51 $2.1
YHOO 21.8 14 $1.6
CSCO 98 67 $1.5
Zynga 1.8 3 $0.6
Nokia 13 105 $0.1
HPQ 23.6 350 $0.1

 

If you’re thinking of working at a public company, then this is probably an interesting metric to look at and consider.

Alternatively, if you’re running a startup, it’s also an interesting metric.  You might consider your current valuation and divide it by the number of employees.  See where you stack.  It’s probably at least some kind of indicator of the opportunity and the momentum in front of you.

 

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Can You Beat the Box? Getting Hired by Machine

This morning’s Wall Street Journal covers a growing trend in which companies are using software and algorithms to make hiring decisions, cutting out the traditional job application and in person interview processes.



It is a fascinating read.  It also reinforces the notion that there really are no limits to what software can disrupt, where software can make an impact.  It was also interesting to me, because, little known fact about me, based on a multiple choice test, I was once declared not qualified to become a junior stock broker trainee.  More on that below… :)

I will be interested in watching this trend evolve.  In particular, I’m interested to watch and learn how  prospective applicants react to this.  Potentially in a bad job market, people are more willing to take a test and try to ‘beat the box,’ relative to what they might have done in the past.  I’d love to see whether sites pop up where applicants try to share information on how they answered questions during the test, and what worked.  Gaming of a system always happens, and in this realm, I’d assume that’ll happen too.  I’m going to figure as well that job placement firms and job coaches / counselors etc. will in time evolve to help job seekers how to “Look Your Best, When Taking the Test.”  This all sounds a little silly when I think about it, but in a very real and serious sense, as you shift this behavior to software, you start to realize that all sorts of second order behavior will change along with it.

For my own part, though I was always really good at test taking, I’m really glad that (hopefully) I won’t have to do this to get a job.  Very early in my 20s, some good friends of mine got me a job interview at one of the big stock brokerage firms in Boston.  The opportunity was to join the training program for stock brokers, basically to start cold calling.  I knew next to nothing about the stock market, but that didn’t really seem to matter.  What mattered to those I interviewed with was that I could connect with them, was a good communicator, clearly worked hard, etc.

On the basis of the first day of human interviews, the feedback was that I’d done great, and they were hoping to make me an offer.  I was waiting tables at the time, so I felt like I was getting a lead on working on Wall Street.  I envisioned Michael J. Foxx in the movie The Secret of My Success, Charlie Sheen in Wall Street.  That was me, baby.  I’d arrived!

The one step between that first day of in person interviews and getting an offer was a basic test that they wanted me to take.  Reflecting back on it, I think this test was something like a Myers-Briggs profile.  It asked questions like, “if you have a free evening would you rather read a book or spend it with friends?”  Things like that: no wrong answers.  As someone who’d made a lifetime of crushing standardized, fill in the bubble type tests, this was a breeze.  I was in and out in about 30 minutes.  Didn’t think a thing of it, shook hands with everyone on my way out as I envisioned weekends on Nantucket and lying in a solid gold bathtub filled with dollar bills.   We were all fired up–they were excited for me to start, and I thrilled to have a real job and not have to wait the breakfast shift at the Hyatt Regency in Cambridge (where I was working at the time).

A few days later, I got a phone call.  That phone call said, Jay, we’er really sorry but based on the results of this test, we don’t think you’re really someone who’s a great long-term fit as a stock broker.  Bummer, nho gold-plated bathtub for me!

I’d forgotten all about this until my brother in law reminded me of it a few months ago.  We had a huge laugh about it–and I can barely contain laughter as I think about it now.  Though I’d been deemed unfit to be a stock broker, in all honesty, not beating the box that day was probably the best thing that ever happened to me.

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Beware the Generalizations

This week I got the rare opportunity to have a low key dinner with the founders working at the NewME Accelerator in San Francisco.  It was a great visit—the energy and sophistication of the teams there was really strong, and I enjoyed the time.

This talk was strictly Q&A—just me sitting with a group of around 15 founders, fielding questions one after another.  I love this format.  But if you’ve spent time with me, you’ll know once I get started I don’t really stop talking, so this may not be all that unique.  :)

The founders’ questions were many.  Some were specific and use case oriented, such as, “Our team has built a product, we’re getting traction, and we think we need to raise a small seed round.  Some are suggesting we raise more, what do you think?”  In your case, given the instincts that’ve gotten you this far, I reco following them going forward.  If you have an offer to raise more, then think about that then.

Or, “I’m a founder with unique and differentiated real world experience in a specific market, and I want to hire a tech team to build a product this industry needs.  How do I raise money to hire them or how to do I hire them before I have money?”  Catch 22 — not sure what to say, just have to figure out a solution.

Others were pretty hypothetical, “If you had one company with 2 million users and no revenue, and another company with a small number of users and $50,000 in revenue, which would you be more likely to invest in?”  Hm.  Totally depends on trajectory and relative opportunities of the two.

In answering the questions, I often had to reiterate a caveat I find myself making a lot these days.  Namely, when I’m answering a question on a business I know only lightly, as in when I show up at a Q&A with founders, my answers are going to be broad brushstroke generalizations.  These generalizations may not work for you in your particular situation.  Mileage can vary, a lot.  The core truth is that your on the ground reality may be the sort of thing where my advice, or the advice of other outside perspectives, is pretty useless or even harmful.

In my own experience, in building startups the core on the ground reality is pretty muddy and opaque.  This is a constant reality—startups are inherently dealing in uncertainties, and uncertainty creates ambiguity.  Uncertainty and ambiguity is more the norm than the exception.

At the same time, many in our community, investor types like me and other outsiders, present a worldview that is much more certain.  Company 1 is screwed, Company 2 is can’t miss.  Do A, do not do B.   The world is black; not white.  Approach y worked for company x, so you should think about doing y too.  In an uncertain world, the narrative of certainty is valued.

I disagree with this thinking.  Far more is unknown than known, especially by those of us far removed from the front lines of our business.  I encourage founders to hear out different opinions, but retain your own perspective, informed by the reality of your situation.

In most cases, the situations we’re dealing with aren’t black and white.  They’re gray.  Beware of people who make you think the answers are simple and that generalities work.

If the answers were simple, anyone could do this stuff.

 

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Tim Hanford’s TED Talk on Trial and Error

I watched this TED talk last week while on a plane, and it’s really stuck with me.  I recommend watching it if you’ve not already.

To an extent, the thrust of the talk is so simple.  The world is a complex place.  As humans, we’re predisposed to think we have the answers, that we *know* in our guts or on a smattering of data points.  In reality, the complexity of our world favors an embracing our ignorance and addressing it by embracing a trial-and-error approach.

Professor Hanford reinforces this trial and error approach with several compelling options.

And what I think is most impactful is his addressing the notion that his point is obvious.  It may seem obvious, he says, but think about how much of what we do in life is based on what we “know” to be true.  How we educate our children, how we feed our world, how we address poverty, etc., etc.

If you really investigate how we address these societal issues, the vast majority of the time we’re doing it on the basis of how we ‘know’ how to do things based on sclerotic, prior thinking based on gut feel or light analysis.

We need more trial and error.  We need more embrace of failure, that throwing an idea out and seeing how it does (well or poorly) is a good thing.  In startup land, this is largely understood, though even in Silicon Valley, we can do better.  But in the broader world in which we live, certainly we’ve got miles to go before we sleep.

 

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UberConference’s Awesome Video

For founders seeking funding and investment, one of the most common pieces of advice is to start a pitch by answering this question:  “What problem do you solve?”

It’s good advice–the last thing you want to do is launch into some obtuse description of your game-changing, proprietary, patent-pending, SaaS-based architecture with a REST API thingamajig without providing any context for the pain that your thingamajig will ease.

For pitch days, top tier startup incubators like Y-Combinator, 500Startups, and AngelPad do a terrific job getting all their founders to describe cogently and quickly what’s broken and what they aim to fix.  It’s grounding, it builds confidence and credibility in the team.   One of the many, many reasons that these and other incubators are providing so much value and usefulness.

One of the challenges though is to understand at what altitude to fly with these problem statements.  Do you just go with “Job hunting sucks,” or “We find your lost socks!”, or is there something more to it.

In general, I’d say stay high-level.  Fewer words are better.

At the same time, in a longer pitch, you are going to want to show concrete and clear understanding of the customer pain point you are trying to solve.  In my mind, this speaks to the product chops of the team, and the depth of understanding of the opportunity.

For a *GREAT* example of this depth and concreteness of understanding, check out Uberconference’s video.  It’s 90 seconds of awesome.

It frames up as well as anything I’ve seen in a while the problems with Conference Calling that the team is seeking to solve.

 

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Day 2 : Berkshire Hathaway Letter, 1978

The second Berkshire Hataway letter, authored by Chairman Warren Buffett, is a treat to read.  Starting with a bunch of clarifications on accounting owing to a merger, he then dives in to his discussion on performance during the year.

A few key observations from the 1978 letter.

Value focus means low prices.  

Buffett has been remarkably consistent and long-term in his view on investment approach.  He says the same thing here in 1978 that he says today, which is :

We get excited enough to commit [investment] to equities only when we find (1) businesses we can understand, (2) with favorable long-term prospects, (3) operated by honest and competent people, and (4) priced very attractively.

In his 1978 letter though, he specifically calls out the difficulty in finding opportunities that fit gate #4–an attractive price.

We usually can identify a small number of potential investments meeting requirements (1), (2) and (3), but (4) often prevents action.

This is a useful lesson for investors everywhere.  Whether growth or value focused–price matters.

A quick side note.  This has some interesting and at times difficult implications for venture.  For super hot companies, valuations and prices can get very hot very fast.  For example, Facebook’s Series A price was rumored to be near $100m on a post-money valuation.  This was way back 6 years ago.  At the time, it would have seemed to many to have been unreasonably high.  Now, it looks like it was an extreme bargain.

 

Minority/non-controlling common stock purhcases versus outright acquisition

Buffett again talked about bucking the fashion of M&A activities in favor of buying non-controlling blocks of common stock on the open market.  His rationale here is simple:

[Our] program of acquisition of small fractions of businesses (common stocks) at bargain prices, for which little enthusiasm exists, contrasts sharply with general corporate acquisition activity, for which much enthusiasm exists.  It seems quite clear to us that either corporations are making very significant mistakes in purchasing entire businesses at prices prevailing in negotiated transactions and takeover bids, or that we eventually are going to make considerable sums of money buying small portions of such businesses at the greatly discounted valuations prevailing in the stock market.

He tweaks pension fund managers who are move their money in and out of stocks with prevailing sentiment, as opposed to pushing to drive to find something to buy cheap and sell dera.

Work with great teams

Buffett closes his letter with an explanation of a recent acquisition of therAssociated Retail Stores, a Chicago-based women’s clothing store.

His description of the founders of the business, still involved at later ages is terrific:

 Ben is now 75 and, like Gene Abegg, 81, at Illinois National and Louie Vincenti, 73, at Wesco, continues daily to bring an almost passionately proprietary attitude to the business.  This group of top managers must appear to an outsider to be an overreaction on our part to an OEO bulletin on age discrimination.  While unorthodox, these relationships have been exceptionally rewarding, both financially and personally.  It is a real pleasure to work with managers who enjoy coming to work each morning and, once there, instinctively and unerringly think like owners.  We are associated with some of the very best.

An inspiring statement to be able to make as an investor about the leaders of a company you’re involved in.

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Day 1 : Berkshire Hathaway Annual Letter 1977

This post starts off the Berkshire Hathaway Project, a series where I’ll read all the annual shareholder letters that Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett has written.

The first letter that I found on the web site  is from 1977.  Disco was big. The Steelers were awesome.  And the economy was moribund.   As I read the letter, a few elements jumped out, useful for anyone in business–tech or otherwise.

Have an approach.  Buffett talks about in the letter the decision the Berkshire Hathaway has taken towards buying up less than controlling shares of companies it believes in.

We select our marketable equity securities in much the same way we would evaluate a business for acquisition in its entirety.   We want the business to be (1) one that we can understand, (2)  with favorable long-term prospects, (3) operated by honest and  competent people, and (4) available at a very attractive price.   We ordinarily make no attempt to buy equities for anticipated  favorable stock price behavior in the short term.  In fact, if  their business experience continues to satisfy us, we  welcome lower market prices of stocks we own as an opportunity to acquire even more of a good thing at a better price.

Our experience has been that pro-rata portions of truly outstanding businesses sometimes sell in the securities markets at very large discounts from the prices they would command in negotiated transactions involving entire companies. 

Consequently, bargains in business ownership, which simply are not available directly through corporate acquisition, can be obtained indirectly through stock ownership.  When prices are appropriate, we are willing to take very large positions in selected companies, not with any intention of taking control and not foreseeing sell-out or merger, but with the expectation that excellent business results by corporations will translate over  the long term into correspondingly excellent market value and dividend results for owners, minority as well as majority….

This is an unorthodox view, but one we believe to be sound.

Clearly, Berkshire Hathaway had an approach.  And if you read Buffett’s statements over time, the 4 key elements they look for when investing have remained unchanged over the many, many years he’s been investing.

What is interesting in this snippet is the clear willingness to focus on buying non-controlling shares of companies and common stock, if he were convinced that the propsect was a good one.  He basically justifies this view on two fronts.  First, he can buy in more cheaply–makes sense. And, he clearly signals that when he buys in and doesn’t control, he’s making a direct bet on management.

It’s an approach.  Clearly one that’s worked.  The lesson: an approach, have one.

Market dynamics matter. 

I’ve written before about the importance of big market opportunities in being critically important for a startup.  That a great team in a crumby market will get trumped by the crumbiness of the market.  Interestingly, Buffett makes this exact same case in this letter, from 1977.

In his note, he compares and contrasts the performance of two portfolio businesses within Berkshire Hathaway: its textile business and its insurance business.  Both textiles and insurance had great management teams, according to Buffett.  But the market dymaics were totally different, leading to different results.

It is comforting to be in [the insurance] business where some mistakes can be made and yet a quite satisfactory overall performance can be achieved.  In a sense, this is the opposite case from our textile business where even very good management probably can average only modest results.

One of the lessons your management has learned – and, unfortunately, sometimes re-learned – is the importance of being in businesses where tailwinds prevail rather than headwinds.

Again, sage advice that I agree with–aiming for a  big market opportunity makes a tremendous difference.

Recognizing the role of shareholders.

Buffett’s tone in the letter is one that strikes me as doing a great job dileneating the different stakeholders’ roles in the venture.  He discusses the accomplishments and diligence of the different management teams building the different businesses.  He also uses a lot of ‘you’s and ‘your’s’ to reinforce that the shareholders are indeed the owners of the business. See quote above as example.

Deft touch.

 

 

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How to Get a Job in Venture Capital After B-School

Aside from receiving a lot of pitch decks (which I generally love receiving), the second largest category of emails I get are from MBA students (and recent grads) asking how to get a job in venture capital.  This post is for you.

The emails I receive generally take this form:

 Dear Jay,

I’m a second year student at XYZ MBA program, and I’m interested in getting into a career in venture capital (or private equity) after I graduate.   I believe that with my strong analytical background, intellectual curiosity, and leadership skills that venture capital would be a great fit for me.  I would appreciate learning whether BlueRun Ventures has any plans to hire an Associate, and if so, whether I could speak with you about this opportunity.

Sincerely,

Joe (rarely Jane) MBA

 There are a few parts to my answer to this type of approach.

The first question that I would discuss with you is whether working as an Associate help you build a career in venture?   I don’t think that this is at all clear.  The most common post-MBA entry-level jobs are  investment banking or consulting, and both have very established Associate programs.  You join the ‘i-bank’ or consulting firm, and you work at a certain level, and things follow a well defined pyramid of ‘up or out.’  After 12-24 months, you’re either promoted up to the next level of the pyramid, or you move on.  And the skills you learn as an Associate, generally help and prepare you to be a Vice President, which in turn prepares you to become a Managing Director, etc.  Very clear and generally well understood processes exist there.

In venture, this defined process doesn’t broadly exist.  While some firms take an approach similar to what an I-bank or consulting firm would do in an Associate program, most especially in early stage investing don’t take that route.   Instead of setting the Associate up to become a Principal or Partner, the firm asks the Associate to get out into the startup community and meet as many founders as possible, to see everything.  Generally this involves a very large expense account and lots of parties and networking—a job that can be fun as all get out, but not one that necessarily sets you up with the skills you’d need to be value accretive to the firm or the venture industry long-term.  More often, these Associate roles are kind of a two year hiatus of meet a bunch of founders and build your network, help run due diligence, and give input at partner meetings.  Then after two years, you’re meant to get out into the ecosystem to ‘build operating chops.’

This is certainly a route, and to be fair, some who start as Associates do end up climbing the ladder to become Partners.

At the same time, if you’re going to consider doing the Associate gig at a firm, it’d be useful for you to know whether there is a track record at that firm of Associates moving through the ranks or whether it’s more a 2-years and out program.  So that’s the first thing.

The second element to this though is probably even more important, and deserves deeper consideration.  That is a more strategic view of how do you as an individual add sustainable value to a venture firm, thereby giving you differentiated substance as to why you should earn the role relative to your competition.  This is important not only to land a role in venture; its important to think about how you add value over time once you’re in a firm.

To me this is all about what is the equation of value creation in venture, and how you showcase it.  To me there are three elements of value that really matter: (1) proprietary deal flow; (2) credibility; and (3) value add with founders.

Deal flow is lifeblood to a venture capitalist.  And proprietary deal flow is about how do you get access to great deals.  The more of the great deals you can bring to the firm and get done, the more valuable you are.   This is true for anyone in the industry: top partners at the top firms, all the way down to first day on the job associates.

If you don’t have a network in tech startups, you’re at a severe disadvantage IMHO, and you need to work on remedying that.  One MBA candidate who contacts me every few months to look for a job in venture attends a top B-school in the Midwest.  Every time we speak, I tell this person that he’s got to get out here and get to know people and get a network.  Sitting in b-school class in the Midwest does nothing to get him any network or any insight as to what deals are interesting or what teams are worth watching or knowing.  Why wouldn’t a venture firm just hire some kid from Stanford who’s worked on their on campus incubator?

If you’re a b-school student who’s not out here in the Bay Area, then find ways to get out here.  Do a summer internship out here.  Visit during breaks.  Get involved in any way you can so you can meet people and start building a network.

Credibility is also important to build: both with the partners of a certain firm and with founding teams.  This is also a challenge for most MBA candidates targeting early stage firms.  The challenge most often is that the MBA candidate lacks both technical skills and insight and concrete experience working in a very early stage company.  While the MBA candidate may be analytically rigorous and a quick study, their inability to approach a partner or portfolio company founder with credibility of having been in the environment or having had strong technical skills makes it difficult to convey value to stakeholders key to your career.

So my recommendation here is that if you have no operating background in the high tech startup world, then get some.  Work for a small company or even work for a larger established company, e.g., Facebook, Google, etc.  The most important key here is to establish that you have operating chops and you have a perspective formed around getting products into market and getting users interested in what you’re effort has produced.

Finally, and related, you’ve got to have credible value add for founders.  If founders think you’re a joke, you’re not going to survive in the industry.  The good founders all know each other and your reputation in the industry is mostly controlled by these folks.  If you’re useful and effective, then they’ll say that.  If you’re not, they’ll let the network know that too.  Whenever I speak to an MBA candidate about getting a job in venture, I’m visualizing what an interaction with that candidate and one of our portfolio company CEOs would look like.  Too often, my assessment is that the CEO would basically ask me to never put the MBA candidate in the room with them again  as they would be a time waster.

With these as the core components of creating value in venture, then my recommendations to MBA candidates seeking to build a career in venture are basically the following:

Don’t limit yourself to looking for a venture role right out of B-school, look also at operating roles at tech companies.  Especially as so many Associate roles are 2 years in duration and then you’re bumped out into industry to gain operating skills, why not just start by building the operating skills?  In an operating company, you’ll have the opportunity to build a network.  You’ll gain opportunities to create real value and gain experiences that give you credibility in your industry.  This helps you gain credibility with the partners and the founders in your space.  And when you start interacting with rockstar founders, they’ll see you as someone who’s accomplished something, who knows what you’re talking about.

Get out to the Bay Area.  New York and Los Angelese are both surging as startup areas and I don’t mean to take anything away from them.  If you have strong proprietary networks and connections in either place, then sure, consider those markets carefully.  But all things being equal, more venture firms, more startups and more people in the industry are here in the Bay Area.  If you want to build a long-term career in this industry, the smart bet is to come out here.

Evaluate your progress on the 3 elements of value I describe abve, and commit to joining venture in the long term.  I’ve described above what I think are the 3 core elements of adding value in venture.  If you’re really passionate about joining this industry, then commit to getting there in time.  Understand that irrespective of when you join the industry, it will be important to always be making progress on these 3 elements of value add.  In my view, you want to track progress on these 3 elements before and during your career in venture.  So I’d say get started, build your network, build your credibility, and figure out how to add value to founders.

 

Good luck!

 

 

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