10 things your boss won’t tell you when you start your new VC/PE gig
By the Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association
Most of us starting out in private equity and venture capital have never invested in private companies before. We’re eager to start building transactional experience and quickly climb up the steep learning curve. Getting there, however, isn’t always an easy feat.
We chatted with a few of the most seasoned folks among our member funds for their candid advice for industry newcomers. And what did they give us? Some really valuable tips that will help young pros gain an edge.
- Your personal track record starts on day-one, so speak up!
In the beginning, young investment professionals are called upon to assist in executing deals being spearheaded internally by more senior partners. Often, newbies have little choice as to which investments they will be working on as it highly depends on staffing availability. Therefore, you could end up working on investments that are highly successful or complete disasters, regardless of your own investment acumen. And, for better or for worse, those deals will follow you your entire career. So if you feel strongly that a deal is good or bad, speak up (but make sure you have strong arguments!).
- No one likes a know-it-all
Most entrepreneurs and operators aren’t used to taking advice from 20-somethings. And often for good reason. To gain credibility with your firm’s portfolio companies, stay humble. You’ll gain their trust over time by consistently offering value-added insights.
- The path to partner is long and bumpy
Many start off with visions of fast money, but that just isn’t the reality. The truth is that the partners enjoy the upside and the only material way to becoming a partner – and then enjoying carry – is to have everything go perfectly in the fund over a period of at least 10 years. It is only then that you’ll be in a position solid enough that the partners will “let you” help raise the next fund and thus have a seat at the table to enjoy carry on the new fund — which takes another 10 years. In others words: be prepared to be in it for the extremely long haul.
- You can’t get the muscles without doing the push-ups
One of the best ways to earn your place in a PE/VC firm is to park your ego and accept any task with enthusiasm and rigor. Be a sponge. Live, breathe and sleep your work: that is how you gain depth, insight and experience. Share your opinions, but remember to be judicious in your thoughts and actions because everything you say and do forms the foundation of your reputation. You need to put in the time and discipline to rise in the ranks. In other words, you can’t get the muscles without doing the push-ups, and in PE/VC, you need to do a lot of push-ups to simply stay in the game.
- Attitude is everything — even when the tasks are less than thrilling
Enthusiasm is the best way to ensure you will be afforded opportunities when they arise. Be the person everyone enjoys working with. Also remember to be pleasant to everyone and, most importantly, those who you think have no ability to help you climb the ladder. Never gossip or criticize — it makes you look unprofessional and entitled. The way you treat others is an important reflection of your character and your reputation.
- Make “reliable” your middle name
One of the key ways you can differentiate yourself from your peer group is to be recognized as turning out work of great quality, every single time. The VC/PE world is fast-paced and always changing, so resist the temptation to “lead with speed.” Instead, produce great work on a consistent basis (within a reasonable timeframe, of course!). Over time, you will be the one others seek out when they need a job done well, and this can lead to the most interesting and rewarding of advancement opportunities.
- Work as a team member within your firm
Interacting with management teams — either potential investees or current portfolio — is a team game. Without overstepping your bounds, try to get to know the CFO and VP of sales of the portfolio as you will likely interact with them more than you will with the CEO.
- Life is long — be patient and tenacious!
Do not give up easily. Those who succeed have all passed through tough times and have resisted throwing in the towel. They’re most certainly stronger, more resilient and knowledgeable in the long run as a result. As Gordie Howe once said: “It’s a long life, and things have a way of averaging out.”
- Don’t abuse valuable time with your superiors
When you request a 20-minute networking meeting, keep it to 20 minutes — even if you’re encouraged to ask more questions. Keeping your time in check is critical — that way, your colleague will be open to meeting with you again because they know it won’t sideswipe their day.
- Stay professional inside and outside the office
After-work socializing and drinks are common, and while you want to let your personality shine, make sure to stay professional. Stay away from controversial topics and if you disagree with someone, do so with respect. And don’t complain about your office or coworkers — the financial community can be small.