55 things learned as a 19 year old VC

It’s divided into 3 sections :

  1. Overview of what I learned about the whole VC industry
  2. Suggestions for founders
  3. Suggestions for junior VCs

Things I learned about the VC Industry:

  1. The job is extremely unstructured. I knew going in that being a VC was going to be a pretty unstructured job, but I didn’t know it was going to be *this* unstructured. Basically, sink or swim. 🏊
  2. VC Pipeline = Access/Network + Judgment + Winning. Venture Capital is basically 3 things: 1) getting access to investment rounds — this includes both hearing about the companies, which involves having a diverse and strong network, & also being able to get in front of the entrepreneur if a relationship hasn’t already been built. 2) assessing potential investments and developing good judgment in picking the best companies from a sea of thousands. 3) convincing the founders to take your money. As a VC, you have to build a reputation as someone who can add real value (some examples are helping with recruiting, PR, business development, community, branding, product/design/technical aspects) & someone who they can rant to and have a shoulder to cry on during difficult times.
  3. I learned how to ask better questions and definitely underestimated how important and hard it is to ask the right questions which will get you the answers you are looking for. It took sitting in on a ton of startup pitches with the partners and taking notes on the questions they asked to develop this soft skill. The key to asking good questions is admitting what you don’t know, and being able to clearly articulate what you do understand. Next most important thing is to actually listen.
  4. To expand on that, always ask why. Keep digging deeper until you can’t ask why anymore. Justin unequivocally drilled this into me in the last year, and it’s been such a valuable mindset to adopt.
  5. Be skeptical. Don’t believe everything you hear! I don’t want to be a cynic, but this rule applies to life too, unfortunately.
  6. Have strong opinions, weakly held. Have thick skin and be fearless. Jump into Twitter conversations where you feel like you don’t belong, ask questions even if you think they’re stupid, generously give your ideas to others, share unique perspectives on topics, have conviction, and express your thoughts even if they may be wrong. Don’t be stubborn, rude, and annoying. But most importantly, be willing to learn from others and develop a growth mindset.
  7. Consumer tech falls under 2 categories: social or transactional (marketplaces, e-commerce, financial tech, health tech, real estate, etc).
  8. High-level framework for assessing consumer social products: 1) Does it have utility and actually solve a real problem? 2) Does it appeal to people’s innate narcissism? 3) Is it entertaining? 4) Is there a passionate community that’s talking about your product online without being forced or paid to do so (do a quick Twitter search)? Let’s break down a popular consumer social product at its early stages — Instagram. Utility? Their photo filters made your photos look way better. Narcissism? People get to show off how cool their life is and build a personal portfolio of snapshots from their oh-so-awesome life. Entertaining? I could spend hours scrolling through my Instagram feed looking at all the beautiful photos people are sharing, making me want to travel to a certain country or eat at a specific restaurant. Community? No question.
  9. Consumer social products typically evolve as such: Utility → Platform → Ecosystem
  10. Personal high-level framework for assessing consumer marketplaces: 1) Positive unit economics 2) Amazing branding 3) Strong community 4) Great SEO/ASO (Search Engine Optimization / App Store Optimization)
  11. Be nice. Simple advice. But somehow, it’s not expressed enough in this community. It makes me sad that being nice is a competitive advantage as a VC in this day and age.
  12. Transparency + Honesty + Empathy + Integrity. Work with people who possess these traits. And obviously, hold yourself to the same standards.
  13. In addition to those core traits, I would say intellectual curiosity, passion, hard work, hustle, and self-awareness outweighs intelligence and analytical skills.
  14. No one knows what they’re doing. Seriously. No matter how much they pretend like they do ;) I’ve met a ton of successful partners who you would expect could predict the future based on their track record and are aiming to skate where the puck is going, but when I talk to them, they seem to have as much of a clue as I do…
  15. Be super open-minded. You can try to be as unbiased as you want but you will inevitably still be, so try your best to remove preconceptions when looking at a company. Especially don’t underestimate the products that look like toys initially. For Series A rounds and onwards, data wins, after you believe in the premise/vision + team, of course.
  16. You trade in your beginner’s mindset for a more analytical assessment on ideas. By that I mean, initially, you believe anything is possible and that so many ideas are cool. After spending some time in the space and learning about what types of companies become successful, you stop looking at the world through a rainbow, all-is-great, point of view. You start asking better, and more, questions. You don’t just take anything at face value anymore. I’m happy about this but it also means I think about an idea for weeks before I decide whether it’s worth pursuing rather than just hacking it together in a weekend and shipping it.
  17. VC is a service business, and basically sales. You’re always selling. You’re “selling” yourself and your firm to entrepreneurs as someone they should partner with and take money from. You’re “selling” your portfolio companies to potential hires, users, partnerships, and investors. You’re “selling” to LPs to get them to invest in your fund. Always be sellin’.
  18. Pro-Tip for those looking to get into venture: When VC firms close new funds, they’re most likely going to be hiring.
  19. VC is fun if you’re naturally competitive, and it won’t be if you aren’t.
  20. People I haven’t talked to in 5 years started hitting me up. It’s bizarre but I guess everyone’s a founder of some sort of app nowadays? 😂
  21. This seems obvious but spend time where the people you want to meet hang out. If you want to meet VCs → Twitter. If you want to meet engineers or designers or learn those skills → hackathons are a good place to start. Build a strong network in a relevant, concentrated space. Reach out to people who have a job you think you’d be interested in doing.
  22. Regardless of what you want to do, you need to build your personal brand. Start with an active online presence, because, you know, it’s 2017 and people need to be able to find you on the interwebs. In fact, they shouldn’t have to find you — they should just see you, and then start seeing you everywhere. Lots of doors opened up to me because I spent a lot of time in the last 3 years building my online brand and persona, specifically on Twitter. In fact, for the 1st year I started using Twitter, people started referring to me as “Tiffany from Twitter.”
  23. Venture capital has incredibly long feedback loops. You have no idea if you’re performing well or not, besides qualitative feedback from your partners, portfolio companies, and founders you pass on if they’re willing to give you feedback. It can get disheartening when you spend hours and weeks looking through hundreds of companies and don’t end up investing in any. No one will be able to tell you how to succeed, because no one knows.
  24. Hate to break it to you, but the default mode is FAILURE. Both as a VC and as a founder.
  25. Early stage VC is 95% based on team, product, and market, and 5% on numbers and data.
  26. “Never let anyone regret that they spent time with you.”
  27. Try to avoid gossip as much as possible, whether you’re a VC or a founder. The VC world in SF and NYC are especially dense and word will spread quickly.
  28. Double opt-in intros. Always.
  29. When asking for intros, make it as easy as possible for the connector. For example, send an email to the connector that they can easily forward to the person you’d like to be introduced to.
  30. After being ingrained in the VC world for awhile, you learn a lot about human psychology, social structures, understanding power dynamics, and the art of persuasion. How do you message someone in order to get a response or a meeting? Who’s the best person to first reach out to — managing director? associate? analyst? Who are the decision makers?
  31. I got overwhelmed meeting so many people in the past year, probably in the thousands. My good friend Sarah Guo described the job best when we were discussing the extremely extroverted personality that’s required to be a good VC, especially as a junior VC who is just getting started.

You are who you hang out with. Choose very wisely. 💁🏻

To founders:

To junior VCs:

❤ Please hit recommend if you learned something!

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