How to break into VC

Jan 12, 2024

An insider's guide on how to land your first VC role

Landing a role in VC is fiercely competitive. The catch-22 of needing experience to gain experience is especially pronounced in venture, where most candidates lack the capital, access, or relationships to break in.

In this post, you’ll hear from investors who successfully found their “in” to the venture capital industry and how they did it. We also asked established investors what they look for when searching for new talent.

The truth is, like most careers, there are multiple paths into VC despite how daunting it might appear. But it’s still hard.

If you only have a few minutes, here are some takeaways to consider when thinking about how to break into VC:

  • Go niche to stand out. To break through the noise, focus on becoming exceptional at one or two core VC functions (find, decide, win, help, exit). You can then overlay your chosen functions with deep knowledge in a specific space or business model to differentiate even further. It helps to become the “go-to person” for some combination of VC function, space, and/or expertise area.
  • The premium on differentiation is only increasing. Unlike many other asset classes, the asset “chooses” you in venture. Founders ultimately decide who to bring on the cap table and there are limited spots in an increasingly competitive market.
  • Have a clear “why?” VC isn’t a “role”, it’s a craft. Your desire for honing the craft of venture is often legible to funds hiring. They’re looking to hire investors who have a clear “why?”, one that will endure them as they get better at their craft. 
  • Do the job without permission. Many future VCs start doing the job before they formally have a role. Some angel invest to establish a track record, but access to capital isn’t a necessity. Others help startups with fundraising, hiring, and other key functions to build a network, credibility, and experience.
  • VC is ultimately a relationship business. Relationships and reputation are the lifeblood of the venture capital industry. Any time spent building your network, from investors to founders to industry experts, can unlock doors to a future career in VC.

Shout out to Nikhil Basu Trivedi (Footwork), Pratyush Buddiga (Susa Ventures), Kimberly Tan (a16z), Seema Amble (a16z), Leo Polovets (Susa Ventures), Michael Dempsey (Compound), Anne Dwane (Village Global), Joanne Chen (Foundation), and Kristina Simmons (Overwater Ventures) for contributing to this post. 

Map out the landscape of VC archetypes

Mapping out the core “jobs to be done” as a VC is a useful starting point for thinking about how to position yourself within it.

Nikhil Basu Trivedi, General Partner at Footwork, sums up the role of a venture capitalist perfectly in his daily mantra: Find, Decide, Win, Help, Exit. 

These five parts of the job were first explained to Nikhil by his mentor at Shasta Ventures, Tod Francis, through a simple flowchart which Nikhil penned on a Virgin America napkin during a cross-country flight in 2014. 

Source: The Venture Capital Flowchart by Nikhil Basu Trivedi

The flowchart provides a framework for thinking about the role of a venture capitalist as five distinct functions:

  1. Find: Finding the best companies to invest in
  2. Decide: Deciding which companies to invest in, given the firm’s investment strategy
  3. Win: Winning deals by being a preferred choice for founders
  4. Help: Helping companies succeed by supporting them post-investment
  5. Exit: Navigating towards a great exit, maximizing return on investment

While there is no one-size-fits-all path to a career in VC (more on that later), we can use Nikhil’s flowchart to generate three key archetypes, based on which of the five core VC functions they perform.

Archetype 1: The Networker

This archetype excels in sourcing investible founders from networks rich in founding talent. These networks are typically cultivated in college or at work. While being an active participant in these networks can be useful, the strongest version of this archetype is often the organizer of these networks. Lastly, the more differentiated the network, the better.

How Shawn Xu (Lowercarbon Capital) positioned himself as a Networker 

“For me, I leaned into my work with student entrepreneurs (‘I have a point of view on who the strongest founders/engineers/designers are at the top schools in America’) to score my first internship in venture.”

— Shawn Xu, Lowercarbon Capital, in an article originally published on Startup Grind

Why Leo Polovets (Susa Ventures) hires Networkers

“When looking for someone to join the team, the things I'm seeking are: 1) someone who I think will be good at finding and identifying great companies, and 2) someone that great founders would be excited to work with.

When I met my colleague Pratyush a few years ago, I thought he checked both boxes exceptionally well… [He brings] a fresh perspective and great mental models, and he is a very kind and thoughtful person, and I felt like those were traits that a lot of founders would gravitate toward.”

— Leo Polovets, Susa Ventures

Archetype 2: The Analyst

This archetype demonstrates expert-level knowledge in areas of interest for VC funds. The strongest version of this archetype is an expert in more emerging, less understood areas of technology. Researchers, writers, bankers and consultants who approach investing from a more analytical viewpoint can be good backgrounds for this archetype. Writing publicly is a good way to establish credibility and attract like-minded people.

How Seema Amble (a16z) positioned herself as an Analyst

“I was first exposed to fintech when I started looking at financial services companies 15 years ago through the lens of private equity investing.  I couldn't help but think there must be new, more modern ways to build these companies – and a more fun way to invest. Over time, I moved earlier – it's a lot more fun to be working with early-stage founders than it is to be sitting on quality of earnings due diligence calls!”

— Seema Amble, a16z

Michael Dempsey’s advice for demonstrating thought-leadership 

“My tips for anyone wanting to break into venture are always to build a timeline of your thoughts that are time stamped. What that means is often writing and/or tweeting or creating some sort of artefact that shows you are thinking deeply about a given category, technology, group of people, or idea and that you are able to form opinions and understand less understood things whether that's pockets of talent or possible ways value accrues (or doesn't) within a given space. The other advice I would give is not to get caught up in trying to be correct about when things don't work but instead try to be correct about things that people aren't thinking about at all and that could be big if they work.”

—  Michael Dempsey, Compound

Archetype 3: The Builder

This archetype has previously built or scaled successful companies and can help founders do the same post-investment. Their hands-on operational experience helps them win deals being a preferred investor for founders. They can also bring empathy to the table, having navigated the challenges of starting, building and scaling companies. Builders are typically founders or early-joiners at high-growth companies.

How Kristina Simmons (Overwater Ventures) leveraged her operational experience 

“I felt like the best investors have been in the seat of an entrepreneur. I experienced the 50-2,700 people growth stage at lululemon, and then I went the startup route after a16z to experience what it was like to launch something from scratch.

My operational experience made me a 1,000x better investor. Having seen and experienced different stages of building made it much better to give strategic advice to a founder. The best way into VC is to do interesting things on the building side first.”

— Kristina Simmons, Overwater Ventures

How Nikhil Basu Trivedi (Footwork) leveraged his startup experience to break into VC 

“I'd met one of the partners at Shasta while I was working on a startup in college, and built a relationship with him where we'd trade notes on potential investments, leading to me meeting more and more of the team, ultimately to them offering me a role.”

— Nikhil Basu Trivedi, Footwork

Niche down to stand out

While the ultimate goal is to become proficient at each core VC function, focusing on becoming an expert at one or two functions early on is a strategic way to stand out initially.

Why focus helps

It’s much easier to be an exceptional specialist than an exceptional generalist. Becoming exceptional in a specific skill, space or business model maximises your chances of getting noticed and remaining top-of-mind.

Most VC firms are hiring for specific leverage or to fill a particular gap on their existing investment team. Picking one of the above archetypes is useful for setting yourself on a well-navigated path into VC. However, to stand out from those archetypes, you’ll need to niche down to differentiate yourself further.

“Some people are uniquely suited to find the best investment opportunities – perhaps they have unique access to networks of founders, or work very hard to proactively reach out to companies that they hear are doing well. Others have a superpower in their ability to help portfolio companies, maybe because they've been in the CEO's seat before, or because of their expertise in product, sales, or relevant function.

Internalize the venture capital flowchart and think about what you bring to each part of the job. You have to want to be great at each of them, particularly spike on one or two dimensions.”

— Nikhil Basu Trivedi, Footwork. 

Leo Polovets’ advice for differentiating yourself 

“I think it's better to be exceptional at one or two things than to be pretty good at a lot of things. You'll get a lot of credit for being a legitimate expert in some job skill or sector or business model. If you are not top-tier in something already, you can get to an elite level relatively quickly. E.g. if you spend 100 hours reading about 3D printing or customer success, then you will know more about those topics than 99% of VCs.”

— Leo Polovets, Susa Ventures

Why to start niche

“The three traits that stand out for aspiring VCs who are looking to break in for partner-track roles are (1) a strong network (2) a core sector focus the firm is looking to hire for, and to a lesser extent (3) independent, original thinking with a generalist flavor. Proof-of-network (1) or sector specialists (2) are what the majority of funds are hiring for. There needs to be some differentiated sourcing strategy or network you have access to that intrigues the fund. A core sector focus and a deep network to go with it is the sweet spot especially if a fund is looking to fill that gap on their investment team.”

— Pratyush Buddiga, Susa Ventures

How to position yourself to fill the gap

“I think the best prospects end up being firms where your skills and knowledge are at the edge of the firm's investing comfort zone. If your experience is too close to the existing team then you won't add enough incremental value, but if you're too far out (e.g. you're talking to a fintech fund but your strength is biotech) then the firm won't know what to do with you. You want to find a place where they can appreciate and evaluate the skills you have that they understand, but also benefit from the skills you have that they lack.”

— Leo Polovets, Susa Ventures

Positioning yourself as a particular archetype within a given niche (think “The AI Networker,” “The Marketplace Analyst,” or “The Consumer Brand Builder”) will make it easier to communicate your unique value-add to the VC market. 

Do the job without permission

Once you’ve thought about how to best position yourself in your chosen niche, don’t wait for someone to give you a shot. Do the job before you have the job.

As with most careers, employers value previous experience, so build street cred by “hiring yourself” for the job you want. There are many ways to do this, including:

  • Introducing promising founders in your network to investors in the same industry
  • Building your own investment portfolio (real or fantasy)
  • Publishing deep industry research or your unique investment thesis 
  • Using your expertise (e.g. sector or business model experience) to advise startups in your industry

Doing the job before having it signals your seriousness about wanting the role and your resourcefulness to get started. It’s also a valuable signal of how much you enjoy the work.

Seema Amble (a16z) on doing the job without permission

“The main piece of advice is to start doing the job before you get it – have a point of view on what companies you would invest in and why (or if you have the means, angel invest). Share your theses actively with firms and don’t send emails just asking for a general coffee catch-up. People are more likely to engage if they know you have something substantive to talk about!”

— Seema Amble, a16z

Anne Dwane (Village Global) on doing the job without permission

“Do the job before you have the job. We love people who advise or help companies where they reached conviction, and can explain crisply what they found compelling about the founders, market, and product.”

— Anne Dwane, Village Global

Joanne Chen (Foundation Capital) on doing the job without permission

“Audition for the role. Bring in founders, execs, people who the firm you’re talking to would want in their networks. Once you’ve demonstrated you can do the role, it’ll be obvious that they should hire you.”

— Joanne Chen, Foundation Capital

Manoj Soundararajan (Craft Ventures) on getting active deal experience

“I broke into VC by starting an AngelList syndicate that invested in early-stage startups. It helped me get active experience partnering with companies and understanding how venture works from doing diligence to winning allocations and then supporting portfolio companies. I eventually met the team at Craft after co-investing with them in a couple of deals and became a scout investing in early-stage SaaS startups. I recently joined as Craft's first summer Associate and was able to join officially to continue partnering and investing with SaaS companies.

I think the best thing to do if you want to break into VC is get active experience working on deals and building that repetition. That could be through being a scout, angel investing, or starting a syndicate. Sharing companies you're excited about with VCs is another way to break in because VCs can understand the kinds of founders in your network and get a sense of your taste in companies. This also keeps you top of mind which is how some firms decide to expand their investment teams.”

— Manoj Soundararajan, Craft Ventures

Vedika Jain (Weekend Fund) on doing the job without permission

“I started my career at Stripe and then joined TrueLayer in London as their first Product Manager. While working at TrueLayer, I started writing fantasy investment memos. Writing these memos allowed me to pursue my genuine curiosity about venture without quitting my day job.

When I came across a company I thought was interesting (usually through a funding announcement), I’d research the product, the market and the team behind it. I organized my research into a ‘fantasy investment memo’. I didn’t have ‘access’ to these deals, the teams or any ‘intel’, but that only made me more resourceful.

The internet makes it easier to start doing the work you want to do (or some version of it). During the interview process, I shared these memos with Ryan at Weekend Fund. The role I applied for was competitive (over 600 people applied) and the memos helped me differentiate myself.”

— Vedika Jain, Weekend Fund, in an article originally published on Medium

VC is ultimately a relationship business

Building a network is an essential part of breaking into VC, regardless of whether or not you fit The Networker archetype. VC is ultimately a relationship business.

Landing your first VC gig through cold outreach, while possible (more on that later), is rare.

“Breaking into VC is hard, so meet as many people in the industry as you can in order to increase your surface area for getting an offer.”

— Leo Polovets, Susa Ventures

You can increase your surface area by making sure you cover the full spectrum of your niche, from investors to founders to industry experts. The more relationships you form, the higher your probability of breaking in.

How Kristina Simmons (Overwater Ventures) leveraged her network of founders to break into VC

“When I was at lululemon, I helped start a new team called Emerging Products and Concepts, essentially anything new for the company. This included looking at potential partnerships and acquisitions, and through this, I met a ton of startups. VCs started sending me companies to look at and give my opinion on. I started to judge startup competitions and accelerators and got involved in the Bay Area and New York ecosystems. I was quite active on Twitter, and I started to have people reach out. I built a strong network through Twitter, even by being in Vancouver. That's how I ultimately landed the job at a16z!”

— Kristina Simmons, Overwater Ventures

How a rich founder network can land you a warm VC intro

“You should prioritize meeting more founders than investors… Don’t be afraid to send a cold email — if you think you can be helpful to a founder, give it a shot. Host your own happy hours and dinners that bring founders together. Build close relationships with founders and get on a texting basis. As Lightspeed’s Alexander Taussig says, the best warm intros to investors are from founders of their portfolio companies. Moreover, founders know who the other great founders are — ask them to introduce you to their peers! A good word from a founder friend goes a long way.”

— Shawn Xu, Lowercarbon, in an article originally published on Startup Grind

Communicate your "Why?"

Breaking into VC through cold outreach is rare, but possible. Kimberly Tan got her foot in the door at Andreessen Horowitz by dropping her resume into the firm’s job portal on LinkedIn.

Building on this Tweet (Source: X), Kimberly also told us: “Curate your interview process. You can send cold emails, but make sure that the emails are targeted to the firm and the individual you're reaching out to – it's very easy to tell which cold emails have been mass-sent vs which show genuine interest in the specific firm and person”

Kimberly’s experience is a good case study in not being afraid to shoot your shot. However, she emphasizes the importance of being authentic when reaching out. 

“Curate your interview process. You can send cold emails, but make sure that the emails are targeted to the firm and the individual you're reaching out to – it's very easy to tell which cold emails have been mass-sent vs which show genuine interest in the specific firm and person. Always attach a resume or a LinkedIn.”

— Kimberly Tan, a16z

Find a firm that's culturally aligned, that needs your skillset

“a16z's interview process spoke volumes about the culture: no one asked me about who I knew or what companies they should invest in. Instead, they asked me about who I was, how I made life decisions, and why I wanted to be an investor. What I realized was that a16z was testing for slope, a hunger to learn, and raw judgment – not y-intercept (thankfully, since mine would have been literally 0).

In the 3 years since I’ve learned just how much the entire firm has been built around this philosophy. We approach hiring the same way we approach investing. We don't just look for founders who have done it all before & who have all the answers. We look for people who are scrappy, hungry and willing to put in the work to build something generational from the ground up.”

— Kimberly Tan, a16z

It’s not enough to want the job just because it’s cool. Investors will be screening for your genuine passion for VC. Doing the job before you have the job is one way to do this, as is having a track record of being obsessed with your craft. 

What’s more, the world of VC is demanding, with boards, LPs, and founders constantly pulling for attention. A passion for the work is key to endurance in the field.

What stands out to Anne Dwane when hiring investors at Village Global

“Venture Nerds: Folks spending free time (weekends as Ryan & Vedika might say) immersed in the startup ecosystem…for fun… are up our alley! Early-stage investing works best when there’s a real love of the game. My colleague Max Kilberg exemplifies this archetype.”

— Anne Dwane, Village Global

What stands out to Michael Dempsey when hiring investors at Compound

“What stands out to me is people who treat venture capital and investing broadly as a craft, versus those who treat it as a role.

What I mean by that is that it's a type of job where you are constantly decaying because you have time being pulled at you due to boards or LPs or just having more portfolio companies. It's also the type of job that you must improve to stay great at, and that means understanding the past, present and future of the technologies and asset classes you're investing in, and the participants of the markets. What stands out is when people are really obsessive about all these different dynamics or about the things they care about and can have strong recallability and flow when talking about these areas.

To be honest, I think every person I've hired at Compound has embodied this. They all had some level of obsessiveness in their own way and showed that through a dedication to sharing those thoughts publicly and soliciting feedback from talented and thoughtful people.”

—  Michael Dempsey, Compound

What stands out to Joanne Chen when hiring investors at Foundation Capital

“Hiring investors is like making seed investments in people. We look for grit, ambition, and a desire to learn about the world. Venture is a decades-long investment so we also look for people who have a long-term mindset.”

— Joanne Chen, Foundation

You have to be different to be great 

When it comes to breaking into VC, there’s good news and bad news.

The bad news: There is no universal path to breaking into the venture. Want to be a doctor? There’s a clear playbook for that. VC is far less structured.

The good news: There is no universal path to breaking into venture. Want to be a doctor? Spend a decade or longer in higher education and take on tremendous debt. While challenging, there are multiple ways in, even if the path is murky.

There are always exceptions to the rule

“What I wish I knew was that there is no linear path. You need to make the choices that are unique to you and where you can maximize your strengths. There are always exceptions to the rule, so, when someone tells you don't have the background or it can't be done, don't listen to them. It can always be done.”

— Kristina Simmons, Overwater Ventures

Leo Polovets on his decision to hire Pratyush Buddiga

“He had already proven himself to be world-class at spelling bees, geography bees, and poker, and it wasn't a stretch to believe he would be world-class at the next thing he focused on.

I believe each hiring decision is idiosyncratic, but some candidate attributes that consistently stand out to me are: exceptional past achievements (personal or professional), an original point of view, and a demonstrated willingness to go above and beyond what is asked.”

— Leo Polovets, Susa Ventures

If the idea of fitting into a particular archetype or box doesn’t work with your background, then make your own. In venture (unlike public markets for example), the asset class needs to choose "you," which increases the premium on differentiation.

Kristina Simmons sums it up perfectly: “Be yourself. Especially to be an investor, you have to be contrarian or different to be great. Don't try to be a shark, when you'd rather be a dolphin. Don't try to fit in, stand out.”

If you've broken into VC successfully, we would love to hear your story. Email us at

Lastly, let us know what topic you’d like us to cover in the next edition.

Until next time,

Ryan and Vedika. Special thanks to Julia for writing this piece with us.

read Next

Should I start a fund?

Everybody is starting a fund. Is it the right decision for you?