Sunday, December 17, 2006

Aptitude Tests do not define us, Mr. Kawasaki

Recently, I chanced upon the much talked about VCAT test by one of the most esteemed Venture Capitalists out there.

I cogitated on this blog posting for quite a while. (By the way, my score asked me to email 2000 VCs and pray, something that I already do). I have exchanged emails earlier with Guy, being one of the thousands of Biffs, Sebastians, Brooks, and Tiffanys who want to be kingmakers, and he was generous in his advice and prompt in his response. I felt that the blog posting accurately reflected his opinion but I was taken aback by the significant generalizations inherent in the post.

I re-read a few of my earlier blogs, where I detail the reasons for my wanting to be in Venture Capital. At some level, this particular ambition invokes an emotional undercurrent in me. That probably is because to look for a VC position is to be in such an underdog position, especially in Business School. Young people do not naturally gravitate towards VC positions, Mr. Kawasaki. One has to sit out of dedicated interview periods, knock on hundreds of doors, and email many successful people like you to get a break. It is not a comfortable place to be in, and most people do not take it to it naturally, cocktail parties non-withstanding. But that begs the question. Why Venture Capital?

We do not work towards a Venture Capital job because we see cocktail parties, 0.5M dollar salaries and huge carries. On the contrary, most of us know that it is hard work, reasonable salaries and years before any particular break of any particular significance or visibility comes our way. So, then again, why Venture Capital?

Because most of us believe in our ability to help other companies move forward. Because most of us are young enough to have the energy, and have a finger on the pulse of what's going on and what's coming next. And because most of us want to be a part of the system that has built some of the most amazing technological innovations in recent times.

Many of us have worked for quite a few years in large, mid-size and small startups. We have worked on products, indeed built them, marketed them, and then supplemented that skill-set with advanced degrees in technology and business. We might not be as experienced as some senior partners out there, but we compensate for that with our energy and youth. I will argue that Venture Capital is not something to be done at the end of one's career. It is a great experience to have, to get one of the most well-rounded business experiences out there. It looks like a closed club from outside, but most of my friends who work in it vouch for satisfaction they get from their experiences.

I look at Venture Capital as a state of constant entrepreneurship...that builds other startups. You have to be driven, motivated and bright to succeed. Having not done a startup does not merit contempt when one is helping entrepreneurs. Nor are former entrepreneurs the best advisors to other entrepreneurs. Sure, there is something to be said for having gone through the experience many times over in one's lifetime before getting to be a VC. However, there is no reason someone with the right education, experience and attitude cannot help build successful companies. Most of us do not think that being a VC will involve making mere spreadsheets and giving random consultisque advice. Most of us look at it as an opportunity to work with the best and brightest, as a part of multiple teams, in multiple ways, and making a difference.

I think it is a significant underestimation of our capabilities to think that we are naive enough not to know what is in store for us in the Venture Capital industry. I may not get the right opportunity in this industry and might get the right opportunity in an appropriate startup. Or vice-versa. Neither is a backup for me. Ultimately, it is important to find satisfaction in whatever one does. I am interested in entrepreneurship, people and technology. And Venture Capital is one route to that.

I beg to differ Mr. Kawasaki. It is impossible to condense the capabilities of a person into an aptitude test. No aptitude test ever defined a person.

9 comments:

Greg Friedman said...

I don't think there is a right or wrong answer regarding the role a young, recent grad (undergrad, MBA, etc.) can have in VC. I tend to think it depends on the environment of the firm. A progressive firm that is willing to mentor a driven, energetic, smart and experienced VC amateur will probably find a lot of value in hiring. However, this may require a great committment of time. I performed fairly poorly in Kawasaki's test (embarassingly low score of 5 =), but am confident that I could create tremendous value in VC if given the proper environment. At the same time, I can certainly appreciate the relevance of his comments to VCs that have a different operational structure, very top heavy and focused on GPs with limited internal support.

Anonymous said...

I believe Guy's post was somewhat toungue in cheek. Take a deep breathe, try to relax,cut back somewhat on the coffee and learn to roll with the flow, my friend. Stay focused, tho, and you'll get there.

Signed,
An MBA who deals with VC's

Punit Soni's Adventures in VCland said...

Thanks anon/Greg. I will stay the course. I am not as riled by Guy's post as by the assumption most people make that us post-MBAs do not have a clue on what being a VC entails.
Will learn to cut back a bit with coffee!

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