Like many VCs, founders, or those who’ve worked for household-name technology brands, I’m frequently contacted for career advice.
During the last decade I’ve seen the astonishing growth from the inside at Uber, Dropbox and WhatsApp. Since returning to Europe and joining the venture capital firm Balderton Capital as General Partner I’ve worked with the Career Centre at LBS helping students looking for guidance about which direction to go in.
A large percentage of those who I speak to don’t really know what they’re good at yet. They can be studying anything from computer science to literature, maths to marketing, economics to languages, and they don’t know where to turn.
For what it’s worth, here’s the approach I recommend – assuming you need to pay the bills and you’re motivated by technology.
1. Never forget that time is your most limited resource. As a student, recent graduate or someone early on in your career, you likely have little-to-no hands-on experience, beyond possibly an internship or a couple of years at a company, where you probably spent your time figuring out what to do next. For all of us, at that point in our lives, the years seem to stretch out endlessly ahead like an open road. But time is finite. It’s your most limited resource and you don’t want to spend it just treading water. There’s a great deal at stake.
2. You have two Olympic Games cycles to establish yourself. That’s eight years. Two tours of duty to find out what you can really excel at, and how you’ll carve out the rest of your career and savings. Yes, there are some great Olympians – Michael Phelps (23 Gold Medals across four consecutive Olympics), Carl Lewis (nine Golds at four) and Usain Bolt (8 Golds at three) – who get more than the eight years allotted to the rest of us. But they are the exceptions – the ones who were going to build the next Google or Amazon anyway.
3. Don’t play career roulette. Too many people take an inflexible, traditional approach to sourcing opportunities and landing their dream job. They apply via jobs or industry networking sites, by companies’ own sites, or they engage with HR managers or recruiters. There’s nothing wrong with any of the above. It’s just they are what everybody else does. Don’t follow the crowd: instead of taking a random walk of opportunity, apply the same rigour and analytical approach you’d use to solve a complex mathematical problem or assess an investment opportunity. The opportunity cost is very high.
4. Reach for a spreadsheet. Start an Excel sheet. Across the x-axis, write your goals and values: the things that matter to you about the world of work and the sort of company you’d want to join. In the first column, write ‘Geo’ for geography: where you want to work. Next, pick the top three relevant venture capital (VC) firms in that Geo and list them on the y-axis, starting from the top left, going downwards. Then continue with your goals and values across the x-axis. For example, you could think about industry/sector, number of employees, company culture, brand power, the financial stage they are at. Revenues, co-investors, salary, stock options. And so on – until you have an empty shell of an Excel sheet.
5. Do your due diligence. For each of the VCs, scour their website, look through their portfolio companies and start to write down those start-ups that stand out to you, in an industry or area you think is interesting. At the end of this process, you’ll have a list of 20-40 companies. For each company, go across the goals and values that you wrote across the x-axis and complete the list for each company. Use LinkedIn, Crunchbase and Pitchbook if you have access and general internet searches to get the information you need.
To gauge company culture, talk to ex-employees, from whom you’ll often get the unvarnished reality. Find them through LinkedIn. In my experience, most people are willing to talk about their former employer.
For the financial stage, look at media coverage and related press releases. You’ll also need to track down when the company you’re researching last raised investment and which stage it was. If, for example, it’s a Series A company, which raised two years ago, and you continue to read positive press about them, the chances are they are probably about to raise their next round. And just before they do so is a very good time to join.
By now your page should look much like this: