I get asked this question a *lot*. I wrote a post about it back in 2006 on the topic that I could point people to, but it looks a little light, so I thought I’d post an update.
There’s no set way to get into VC – it really depends on what you’re starting with (and what role you’re shooting for). So, these are some of the things that are good to start with:
1) Be an entrepreneur. Successful or failed. I helped torpedo a few companies back in the dot com boom. Learned first hand what doesn’t work… This is a sub-optimal path, but it’s valid. Being a wildly successful entrepreneur turned awesome VC is clearly the preferred route. (Reid Hoffman comes to mind here…)
2) Work at a startup, then migrate. Or, work at a big Tech company (Google, Facebook, Twiter, etc), then migrate. Product, Marketing, Sales. You’ll have insight into big company M&A (they will be your customer as a VC) and you’ll have some operational skills. Bonus points if you’re a ninja in your field of expertise.
3) Work in the industry - Accelerators, PR, HR, Design, IP – whatever. Get yourself into the mix, get to know lots of people at various firms. Then transition.
4) Fix a portfolio company- This works if you have operational skills. Every VC has at least one portfolio co that’s not doing well. Probably more. If you can fix one (or more) venture backed co’s, you will be loved and will probably find yourself a more permanent role.
5) Professional Services – These are the old stand-bys: Investment Banking, Strategic Consulting, Freshly Minted MBA (from a top school usually), Technical background
6) Be lucky. Right place, right time. This applied to me. I had a mix of some the above (startup, MBA, sales, VC intern) when I rocked up in London. And then happened to be in the right place at the right time, so I got my official start as a VC…
I think this pretty much covers the various paths into the industry as an investor… Depending on what level you’re looking to enter at will drive which set of skills you need. Analyst, Associate, Principal, Venture Partner, General Partner, Managing Partner – all require different amounts of the above.