Required Reading for Aspiring VCs

Photo by Jan Mellstrom

As the level of interest in starting and joining early-stage tech companies grows, so does interest in funding them. Usually once a week or so, I’ll hear from a new college grad, fresh MBA, or career soul-searcher who is eager to break into the Venture Capital industry. I’ve gathered the snippets below to share whenever someone is seeking input and advice. For the first time, I’m sharing the list publicly.

Getting Started

Though relatively small, the VC industry is very nuanced. Before jumping in, aspiring investors should consider several dimensions: Big firm or small firm? Early-stage or growth-stage? Hands-on or hands-off approach to the portfolio? Marquee brand or emerging firm? Sector-focused or generalist? Each firm lies on a spectrum, and it’s important to prioritize which factors are most important to you.

What is Venture Capital?

  • Read this first. NextGen Partners has a great FAQ which provides some insight on breaking into the industry some some intel on what the life of a new VC might entail.
  • FundersClub put together a solid primer on VC 101. After reading it, you should have a good sense of the key players (e.g. GPs and LPs), investment stages, how VCs make money, and other basics.
  • For more detail on VC financial returns, check out this piece from Mattermark. I think few people who want to break into the industry really understand how the economics work, and this is one of the things I’ve personally learned the most about over the last few years on the job.

The VC Landscape

To get a lay of the land, take a look at the following:

  • There are several lists of the top VCs. CB insights ranks both firms and individual partners, and The Midas List ranks investor returns each year.
  • In addition to well-known industry names, there’s been a lot of growth in the last 5 years in the “Micro VC” market. Micro VCs are sub-$100M funds that tend to have smaller teams, typically make earlier stage investments, and often have a more narrow investment focus. Here’s an overview of the growing Micro VC industry as well as a list of firms, both by Samir Kaji at FRB.
  • Practically, there are two main aspects of a VC job: investing in companies (deal sourcing/ diligence/ investing/ winning) and supporting companies (the work after making an investment/ providing strategic guidance and connections/ board leadership). This is where each role and each firm will differ widely. Mark Suster from Upfront did a nice piece on “platforms,” discussing the range of support services some VCs provide to portfolio companies.

Following Industry News

For networking and interviewing, you’ll want to be current on industry news. The universe of industry-relevant sites and newsletters is huge; these are the highlights that I read (or at least skim) every day.

  • Mattermark Daily: a summary of daily posts from VCs and startup operators
  • StrictlyVC: a summary of VC happenings, from funding events, to new firms, to the occasional juicy scandal
  • TechCrunch: the Daily Crunch is good for a quick skim of what’s happening in tech
  • Crunchbase: in addition to being a great database of companies and deals, they send an informative daily summary of startup funding activity
  • CB Insights: more focused on deep dives and cross-industry data; I learn something new almost every day
  • ProductHunt: a daily list of new products with an active community commenting on and upvoting their favorites

Sharpening Your Focus

Now that you have the lay of the land, you can start diving into specific firms. Many, like my firm Maven Ventures, have quite a bit of publicly available information. Who you follow will depend on your own interests.

  • You can find the Maven investment thesis on our blog, and my partner Jim and I both write on Medium. You can follow him here. For more personal background, this is my TEDx talk, which touches in how and why I got into Venture (spoiler: it all started in a New Orleans basement surrounded by flip flops and cockroaches).
  • The 20 Minute VC podcast has a wealth of content on a variety of investors.
  • Use Medium, AngelList, and Twitter to follow people you want to learn from. Also make sure you have active, complete profiles on each of these sites. A few folks I follow are Sarah Tavel at Greylock, Mark Suster at Upfront, Fred Wilson at USV, and the YC blog. There are a ton more. To summarize the social media news, you can subscribe to Nuzzel to get a daily digest of the most-shared articles from people you follow on Twitter.

I hope this list is a helpful starting point. I’d love to build on it over time, as well as check out any additional resources you love. Feel free to leave a note about what I’m missing in the comments.

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Consumer tech investor and startup supporter @mavenvc.

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Sara Deshpande

Sara Deshpande

Consumer tech investor and startup supporter @mavenvc.

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