Monday, September 04, 2006

How did I Network?

First of all, the art of good networking involves not considering it as a process but an experience. You have to enjoy meeting people, talking to them about their ambitions and of course, you goals. The aim should be to connect with the person you are talking to and make a friend. Everything else will follow. Meeting people with warmth, with openness to new ideas and people is the best form of networking.
If you find the process of networking cumbersome, then maybe Venture Capital is not for you. The industry is an art form more than a precise science, and it works primarily because it is a collection of tightly-knit, extremely bright people. Every deal that you source, diligence and close might involve phone calls to your friends in the VC firm across the road.
The process of finding a VC job is not too different. It's not about applying for positions in a VC firm, it's about knowing when they appear. When someone comes across an opportunity that might be a fit, that someone has to remember you.
So Networking is important and more important is Networking with genuine sense of openness and fun.
The way I went about the process is not too different from what most of the MBA students do when they look for an internship/full time position.
Step 1: Create a Pitch
Create an effective 1-2 minute pitch on your background, credentials and ambitions. Being very clear about what you want to focus on is important. Ultimately, the question is what do you bring to the table. And this has be answered in a clear and concise manner. I found strong, effective pitches were the best way to get the attention of the person across the table or phone. Also, the people who you are talking are usually pretty busy and are taking time out of the work to lend a helping hand. Speaking clearly and articulating your ambitions unambigiously helps save their time and also helps them help you in the most appropriate way. You also come off as an impressive, motivated individual and that can't hurt!

Step 2: Collate your sources
You have to first of all collect any initial contacts that you might have in VC world or related to Venture Capital.
For us MBA students, these are primarily from the following sources:

1. Friends who are in the VC industry
2. Friends who are entrepreneurs and who have interfaced with VCs at some point in the lifecycle of their startup
3. Your peers at school who might have had VC experience
4. Business school Alumni

Step 3: Get Started
From all this, create a list of initial contacts who you can talk to and start pinging them one by one. Before you speak to them, practise your pitch with a few peers!
The way I have done it till date is by sending them an initial short introductory email with a short bio and a request to meet/talk for a few mins. Obviously, using your contacts to "warm call" people is more effective than "cold calling" them. Having said that, when I started, I did not know that many folks in the VC world and I have been reasonably successful in talking to loads of VCs. The trick is to ensure that you have some valuable to say and you have the confidence that you deserve to be given a chance.
I can say that the people you will end up getting responses from are a self-selected group of VCs who are generally less-stressed, warm human beings (there are exceptions and I have been at the recieving end of those). Trust them, rely on them, talk to them and lay out your ambitions. At the end of each conversation, ask if they could do you a favor by introducing you to someone who was a relevant person to talk to. This is a long shot but you have nothing to lose and you can end up winning a "warm call/referral".
That is the way the network grows.

Finally, as you network will grow, you will learn how to pitch better, you will figure out the VC parlance and know what the trends in the industry are. In a very subtle way, you will become smarter and will understand what this industry is about.
And that is a good point to re-evaluate if you are indeed a good fit for Venture Capital. Thus, networking will help you not only in finding a job but in deciding if you actually do want the job.

Till now, I have been aggregrating my experience in VC recruiting but I am curious about what other's experiences have been? Anything different to say or an experience which does not match what I outlined in this blog? Do comment or ping me.
Next time, I will talk about what else can we do beyond networking to enhance our chances.

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