Dealing with evolving information about Covid-19

Humans are, as a general rule, poor at changing their minds once they’ve developed a view about something. This can be the cause of plenty of arguments and I suspect is a significant reason we’ve become so much more polarized as a country in recent decades (that, and it’s ancillary effect of causing us to seek out only information and data that  support our unbending view).

But in the case of dealing with a pandemic like Covid-19 it can be downright dangerous. I thought it would be helpful – perhaps even important – to talk about why being open to new and evolving information is so critically important in a time when what we know about Covid-19 is changing so rapidly.

I’ve certainly been through this journey myself. My views continue to change as I learn more. An hour ago I posted about the need to dramatically change how our society is approaching the virus and specifically some radical changes that we need to make now to slow the spread of the disease. People reading it will have various world views about the virus, bring varied biases about just how severe it is and as a result what we should do about it. I’d encourage you to keep an open mind.

My own views on this have evolved quite a bit and very rapidly. My very first reaction to hearing about a novel virus effecting an area of China was one of skepticism. The data I saw suggested that it wasn’t particularly dangerous for most people and it was pretty far away so it didn’t feel like something that was emergent. Even as it started to spread in Asia and Europe, I dismissed some of what I was seeing. As it got to the US I spent a lot of time talking about the “denominator problem” and just how little we really knew about how dangerous the virus really was because we didn’t really know how many people actually had it. Last Monday (that’s not even a week ago, for those of you playing at home), when we were trying to decide if we should go ahead and host our annual CEO Summit that was due to take place Wed evening through Friday of last week, I argued with my partners that we should continue with the event (fortunately I lost that vote). By Thursday we decided to close our office and ask everyone to work from home. By Friday I had pulled all in person meetings off my calendar and cancelled all non-critical meetings generally to free up some time. Last night I joined a growing group of colleagues calling for essentially closing down all social gatherings (bars, restaurants, churches, etc.).

Once views get entrenched it’s hard to change them (we’re watching as an entire major new network deals with this – or really fails to deal with this – in real time; it’s agonizing). I’d encourage everyone to step back from whatever their initial impressions were of the now unfolding crisis and view it with a fresh lease.

Take Decisive Action to Stem Covid-19 NOW

It’s hard to keep track of all the data around the current status and potential spread of Covid-19. The data are overwhelming, there is a lot of disinformation spreading, and the data and advice from various public and private sources are changing almost hourly. It’s a scary time, and as I wrote on Friday, a time to make sure we’re staying connected, even if we’re physically distancing ourselves from each other.

But what is becoming more and more clear is that we need to be taking bolder and more decisive action to stem the spread of the virus. And we need to be doing that NOW.

Rachel Carlson, CEO of Guild Education and Ken Chenault, former CEO of AmEx and current Chairman of General Catalyst, are leading a large (and growing) group of company leaders in pushing for a more radical and decisive approach – one that involves voluntary, but significant changes in our individual behavior. You can see their full post here. Foundry has endorsed this initiative (and both Brad and I were early signers of the document). We’re encouraging out companies to do the same. If you’re so inclined you can sign the pledge to take these actions in your own business here.

My wife pointed me to a great info-graphic that The Washington Post has put together that shows the effect of being more deliberate in the actions we’re taking to avoid community contact and therefore spread of the virus. We’ve all heard the term “flatten the curve” and The Post vividly shows how this works (in this exercise, everyone eventually gets sick but the effect of staying separated massively changes the infection curve). It’s exactly what we need to be doing to allow our first responders and medical system to stay on top of the crisis. It’s also the model that was followed in Hong Kong and Singapore. The graph below shows the effect that had on the spread of the virus there vs other countries. The difference is stark.

Stopping the spread

What actions should we be taking? Here’s what we’re outlining in the Carlson/Chenault-led initiative:

– Change our corporate policies to work-from-home

– Support our nations front line work-force (first responders, doctors, nurses, etc.)

– Ask our employees and friends to stop hosting or attending any voluntary social event of ANY size

– Encourage everyone to stop patronizing bars, restaurants, and gyms (we’re working on ideas to help support our local organizations, but we have to stop putting ourselves in places where we are in close contact with other people for the time being).

– Treat ourselves and each other kindly – we’re all under a lot of pressure and stress levels are high

These actions are bolder than what our federal, state and, in most cases, local governments are requiring. But we believe government is not doing enough and that their lack of action is putting us on the steep curves of other countries who failed to implement a strong community response. We can and need to be bolder and take more decisive action. We don’t need to wait for government to require it – we can decide ourselves to do it. The graph below shows the effect of delaying to do so. Pandemics follow an exponential curve. The effect of averting a single case now vs averting one a week from now are dramatic.

Avert Now

 

We’re just beginning to grapple with the social, economic and emotional costs of what appears to be the most dangerous global pandemic we’ve seen in a century. We do know that we can take action now that will change the trajectory of the spread of the virus and significantly reduce the burden on our already strained medical system. Potentially millions of lives are at stake. This won’t be easy, but now is the time to take bold action.

#stopthespread

#leadboldly

Social distancing vs social isolation

I took a poll of the Foundry portfolio this morning to check in on the shift to Work From Home. As of today, about 1/3 of our portfolio companies have implemented a mandatory work from home policy. The vast majority of the rest are recommending people work from home but are not mandating it (meaning they’re not physically closing their offices). Only a couple are still operating with their offices fully operational.

We’re living in unprecedented times. Children are out of school. We’re shifting work patterns. Many of us have parents, partners or others that we’re close to who are immune-compromised or in some other class of person who is at higher risk for Covid-19. It’s a time of great emotional and physical uncertainty.

As we retreat into our homes and bunker down it’s important to consider the challenges many among us will face with that kind of forced isolation. There is a great deal of research on how we’ve slowly been creating a society that is less and less connected. The results are greater instances of depression, anxiety and other forms of illness. Humans are social animals. We need connection and our “tribe” in order to survive and thrive. Johann Hari did a wonderful job outlining the research behind this in his book, Lost Connections (there’s quite a bit of information on this on his LostConnections website as well).

I had this in mind as we were talking to everyone who works at Foundry yesterday, telling them that the office would be closed for the foreseeable future. I’ve been talking to many of the CEOs I work with about how to best support their employees through what can be an isolating and scary time. It’s critical in times of stress – and especially in times where we’re physically isolating ourselves – to foster a sense of community and belonging. We talked about this explicitly as a group in our discussion at Foundry and are taking extra steps to make sure we’re not just checking in with each other, but also that we’re creating a sense that we’re working together even though we’re working in separate places (this morning that resulted in a bunch of photos of our various dogs working with us; silly but it gave us the sense that we were all working together; we’ve also significantly stepped up our use of Slack and Voxer so we’re all in touch more than we were when we were physically next to each other in some cases). I think this is important for all of us to keep in mind. While its important to check in on how people are doing, creating a sense of normalcy to working apart; creating community and connectedness – at work, with our neighbors, with our children’s classmates and with our friends – is just as important as what we’re all doing to physically isolate ourselves to slow the spread of Covid-19.

 

Let’s make sure that we’re not confusing social distancing from social isolation.

Organizational Scaling

For the early part of your business you’re likely too busy to be spending a lot of time thinking about management structures, team optimization and how your business scales. You’re just getting shit done. And, even for experienced executives, making quite a few things up as you go along. The solution to many early scale challenges is to find something that works and then do more of it. That works great, right up to the point where it stops working completely. We’ve had a lot of companies go through scale challenges (I’d say typically around 100 people, but plenty of companies have muscled through that point and built 200 or even 300 person organizations without paying much attention to the scale structured needed to make that kind of organizational scale actually work. Here are a few things to think about/look out for based on our experience messing this up over and over again.

Don’t be the single point of failure. For good reason, CEOs often are the key decision maker early on in a business. You likely approve any major expenditure and certainly all new hires. As your business scales this doesn’t work. Maintaining control of expenditures in this way isn’t you being a thrifty CEO, it’s you creating a bottleneck for anything getting done and not empowering your team. Budgets and delegating and distributing authority (with clear limits and rules) is how this is better managed.

Matrix, don’t hub and spoke. While plenty of companies do some form of a management team/e-team meeting, many don’t in favor of 1:1 conversations with the CEO. This can sneak up on you as is often the product of an early team running around all over the place and often not in the same state or country, let alone the same room. So the CEO starts direct check-ins to make sure everyone is on the same page. Great. But that doesn’t scale and it doesn’t allow your scale VPs to work collaboratively on the business. An awesome off-site isn’t the remedy to this. Weekly meetings with everyone in the room – talking to each other, not just reporting back to you – is.

Your head of talent is a key manager and should report to the CEO. Gone are the days when HR reported to the CFO as a purely administrative function. Have a talent professional with a seat at the e-team table and have them report directly to you as CEO. That elevates the position properly in your organization, empowers them to be a driver in your business and will pay back dividends many times over in terms of reduced turn-over, greater transparency and alignment across the organization and fewer headaches for you as CEO.

Communicate. The larger you get the more more deliberate you should be about communicating across the organization. The company takes direction from you as CEO but it can’t read your mind. So communicate often and clearly with the entire team, not just your direct reports. One of my favorite examples of this is Scott Dorsey’s famous Friday Note. Scott led Exact Target from their founding to $2.5bn exit. Every Friday, no matter where he was in the world, he’d send a note to the company talking about what was going on with the business, what he was up to and sharing additional thoughts about the market or something interesting he was reading or thinking about. His employees loved it, it set the tone for the organization, and everyone know that they’d hear from the CEO directly every week. Not necessarily what you need to do, but find some way of communicating with everyone at the company on a regular basis.

Invest in systems. This one stands out – it can be hard to spend money internally when there’s so much [product/sales/marketing/etc] to do at your company. But growing past the startup stage can require an investment in some internal systems that help create alignment and facilitate the communication that I’m describing above. This comment goes beyond internal HR related systems and includes making sure that you’re not cheaping out on other systems that are critical to running your business (i.e., by limiting access to them to a small number of employees). Take a broad view of systems and make sure you’re not skimping out on the last 5% of cost that can drive outsized benefit.

Hopefully this has spurred some thinking about how to scale the management side of the business. I’d love to hear more ideas, so let me know what other things changed for you markedly when your company scaled past 100 or 150 people.

 

Polar Bears!

Kaktovik lies at the far northern edge of Alaska’s North Slope region, about 640 miles north of Anchorage (and almost 400 north of Fairbanks). Located on Barter Island and due to its location, is mostly cut off from the rest of the world. Everything – fuel, supplies, infrastructure, needs to be brought in either by plane (to a small, gravel, landing strip) or by barge – of which there are between 1 and 3 a season. It’s just about the farthest northern town in America (Utqiagvik, which used to be called Barrow, is slightly north of Kaktovik). During the winter, the sun doesn’t rise for 2 months. Despite this isolation – or perhaps because of it – Kaktovik is considered one of the best places in the world to see Polar Bears. Female bears with their cubs make Kaktovik their summer home (the ever receding polar ice is about 200 miles north) where they wait out the season in anticipation of the ice reforming starting in October so they can venture north to hunt seals. The town is populated primarily by Inupiat, who continue to practice some of their native traditions, including the hunting of whales (they’re allowed up to 3 a year under treaty with the US government). While they use the majority of the whale for food and other purposes, the remains are deposited in a “bone pile” that the bears feed upon. It’s also not uncommon to see a bear in the village itself.

With Polar Bears in mind, Greeley and I ventured up to Kaktovik last week with Brad and Amy to see the bears and experience a few days far north (for all of us it was the farthest north we had ever been). Kaktovik is an interesting place – with a population primarily of Inupiat and at that only about 290 permanent population. But as one of two main gateways to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge it sees some tourist traffic during the summer months. Kaktovik is a desolate place, build on top of the alpine tundra and with little in the way of vegetation. There are two small motels, no restaurants (except for the facilities in the motels themselves) and only basic infrastructure. The people were very friendly but clearly hearty and self reliant. Most had long time family ties to the area. There is a small school there as well as a US Fish and Wildlife station. Industry is either government or related to tourism (not just polar bear watching but caribou hunting and fishing). From what I could gather the town in large part exists because of the stipends that Inupiat receive from the Alaska Native Corporation (royalties received from the US government; payback in the government’s mind for stealing their lands generations ago).

The experience for us was fantastic. We stayed at a place called the Marsh Creek Inn, which was very basic but comfortable, run by Tim and his family who couldn’t have been more welcoming. We ate all our meals at Marsh Creek and I was impressed by the fresh salads, bananas and strawberries (when Tim received the Strawberry shipment he came out to the dining room and announced “how about that – strawberries in Kaktovik!”; he later dipped them in chocolate and served them as dessert, which was pretty awesome). As we ate or wandered through town I kept marveling at how they manage to keep all of this supplied so remotely. That and what it must be like in the dead of winter.

Each day we ventured out to watch the bears (returning for a few hours over lunch). And they did not disappoint. Seeing a polar bear in the wild is a remarkable experience and one I’ll never forget. They are massively powerful animals, but graceful and downright cute a times. At times they were active – play fighting with each other and roaming. At others we watched them just nap. It was incredible and I’m thankful for having had the experience. I don’t typically blog about vacations or trips that I take but I thought this one was worth sharing, along with some pictures of our time there.

 

The Markets Are Great . . . but Venture Outcomes Haven’t Changed Much

A few years back I blogged about the hard data behind venture outcomes and the challenge of creating a venture portfolio that produces strong returns. That blog post – which turned into one of my most read posts ever – grew out of a study done by Correlation Ventures showing the distribution of outcomes across over 21,000 financings during the years 2004-2013 as well as some of my own observations. The Correlation study produced a lot of interesting data and showed that the typical “1/3, 1/3, 1/3” model that many VCs talk about was significantly more optimistic than the reality of typical venture returns. The vast majority (almost 2/3rds) of venture financings fail to return capital. And only about 4% produce a return of greater than 10x. Pretty humbling. Here’s the graphic I used from that post:

venture returns

These data are now getting old and VCs, LPs, and entrepreneurs have to ask if anything has changed – especially given the strong markets we’ve experienced over the past few years. Are ventures outcomes trending higher? Are they as skewed as they were during the ’04-’13 time period that the original study covered?

Correlation reran the data and produced some compelling data demonstrating that the market surges we’ve seen recently haven’t translated to meaningfully higher venture returns. Since 2001, financings that have produced a 10X+ returns have fluctuated some but remain modest.

Rather than breaking even, almost two thirds of financings lost money in the past decade and less than 4% produced 10X or greater returns. Despite the historic market we’ve had in the past ten years and the huge deals often highlighted in the press, venture capital returns haven’t shifted much.

Big hits remain a relative rarity and more than half of the capital invested into venture-backed companies loses money (interesting to see the data updated for dollars as well as deals – on a dollar weighted basis the numbers are more favorable at the low outcome end (below 3x) but at the high end of the outcome scale balance out). It’s as difficult today to find big winners as it was ten years ago and it remains just as important to find those deals if VC firms and their partners are to stay successful.

Note: Thank you to Correlation for allowing me to share these data as they were originally prepared as a private exercise for Correlation and their venture partners. 

How Well Do Founders Do in Venture-Backed Exits?

A few years ago I wrote two posts – Venture Outcomes are Even More Skewed Than You Think, and Some More Data On Venture Outcomes – that challenged the mythology that only 1/3 of venture-backed deals failed and showed just how rare large (10x and greater) venture returns really are. I think the sharpness of the curve surprised a lot of people and contributed to a bunch of discussion at the time around just how rare “venture outcomes” really were. Not surprisingly, I was looking at the data through the lens of an investor and in so doing was only focused on how well investors fared in company exits (as a side note, I’m hoping to update these data now that a few more years of a bull market are behind us).

The data that underpinned the analysis was from Correlation Ventures, which is a fund that invests programmatically behind certain investment signals – thus the large database of transactions. A few months ago they put out another interesting piece of analysis that I thought was worth highlighting here (Trevor’s original post can be found here). In this latest post, they’re taking a look from the perspective of management teams – how much do they make when a company exits. In this case they defined “management team” as founders and C-level executives. And exit was a sale of the business, IPO or wind-down. The data set included over 11,000 events from the 10 year period between 2008 and 2018.

I thought the data were encouraging.

Not surprisingly, 66% of the time, management made very little (less than $1M) – I say not surprisingly because this generally maps to the venture side of the analysis, where roughly the same % of investments failed to return capital. In 20% of the outcomes, management teams made more than $25M. 7% of the time they made greater than $100M. The full details are below. I’ve also copied the graph from my original Venture Outcomes post so you don’t have to click through to see the equivalent data from the venture perspective.


Clearly, the risk of starting a business is high, but management success is generally aligned with investor success (although remember, taking venture isn’t for everyone). There are plenty of ways that management incentives are not aligned with investor incentive (the most often talked about and obvious one being that investors place many bets while management teams place a single bet in the company they’re working for; this has been somewhat mitigated by the shared equity pools and, more so, by the advent of funds that help employees exercise their options when they leave a business so they can keep much of their upside as they move from job to job).

But at a high level, when companies do well, management teams do well. Which is good to see some data on.

How much should you be paying your auditor?

With April 15th right behind us, I thought this would be as good a time as any to write about the fun topic of Audit and Tax Prep fees for companies. I know you’ve been waiting for this, so here it goes…

While audits can sometimes feel like overkill for startups (certainly early ones), they’re generally pretty good hygiene. As a practical matter, most lenders will require them, so if debt is a potential part of your cap structure you’ll eventually need one. And most major investors will also require annual audits (we sometimes waive this for seed stage companies, although even then it can make sense). And, of course, if your company is acquired you’ll typically need to provide audited financials to the acquiring company.

First, let’s talk about who is doing the auditing. There are plenty of solid providers out there, including your brothers’ friends’ wife (more on that later) for all sizes and types of companies. Most of our companies start with a firm outside of what’s commonly referred to as the “Big 4” (Deloitte, E&Y, PwC AND KPMG). Most typically companies use a firm from the tier just below that, although we do occasionally have firms use a regional auditor. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, but do keep in mind that as your company grows you may find yourself in the position of outgrowing your firm’s capabilities. In my almost 20 years in venture we’ve seen the big audit firms come in and out (and in again) of the venture stage company market. They’re not set up to compete well on price for smaller companies but when they’re “in” market they’ll discount for a year or two with the hopes that venture companies grow quickly to mid-stage companies and better fit their fee model. When that doesn’t happen there can be some conflicts as the larger audit firms try to push on pricing and/or use more junior staff to save margin. Selecting an audit firm is typically a multi-year commitment (and should be – bouncing around from firm to firm is time consuming, looks like you’re trying to hide something, and creates inconsistencies). In fact, we typically recommend that when you are bidding out audit that you get multi-year pricing to be sure expectations are aligned on both sides.

I was curious what fees we were seeing in the portfolio at Foundry so we sent a survey to some of our CFOs to get a sense for what firms they were using and what they were being charged. The charts below are based on those responses (18 in total, so just a sub-set of the portfolio).

You can see what I was describing above. Some of the companies in our survey do you Big 4 audit firms, but the majority use someone from the next tier down.

I was a bit surprised by this next chart – the majority of our companies use the same firm for audit and tax prep. There’s convenience to this for startups – especially with limited finance staff – but as you grow it’s more typical to use a different firm for audit and tax.

Here’s the key slide and what led me to the survey in the first place; fees. This generally falls in line with what I expected – there’s an audit floor in the $25k range that’s hard to get much below, but it doesn’t really start scaling until you reach $10M or more in revenue. From there it does scale up, but is dependent on factors such as the complexity of your revenue recognition, the number of jurisdictions you operate in, etc.

With states now paying more attention to nexus and the sales tax landscape post Wayfair, many of our companies are paying more attention to the states in which they file (below we’re talking tax, but there’s also the related question of what states you need to register in; often they’re not the same as there are different thresholds for each). Obviously the graph below is just illustrative that companies are paying attention to this, as w/o knowing the specific businesses in question it’s not possible to say if these numbers are low or high relative to where they should be. But they’ll almost certainly be going up as companies pay more attention to this.

Hopefully these data are directionally interesting and helpful. We’ll plan to run this survey regularly and pull in some more data points.

A-B-E

Almost universally our best companies are constantly experimenting. This takes different forms in different parts of their businesses but the common theme is that every process, every page on your website, every communication to a customer is an opportunity to test and optimize. Sometimes this is chipping away at a mountain (small improvements that add up over time). Other times we see large jumps in efficiency (I had a company recently change some text on a landing page and see a 10% improvement in sign-ups to a white paper). The improvements are important – businesses become efficient over long periods of time and these efficiencies compound each other to create significantly better operational outcomes (and business outcomes). And even small improvements over long periods of time (and when combined with other improvements in the same flow) add up to significant changes. And it’s worth noting that optimization is a never ending process – even when you find something (like the landing page example above) that seems to make a big difference, that doesn’t end the experimenting. Tastes change and effectiveness of pretty much any page/email/process tends to go down over time.

So keep a constant eye towards process improvement and Always Be Experimenting.

How To Get a Job In Venture Capital

One of the most frequent questions I get asked is “how do I get a job in venture?” In fact, I’ve written two posts over the years on this topic – one way back in 2005 and a follow-up to that a few years later in 2008 (the 2nd of the post is the more practical advice if you’re pressed for time; or just keep reading below). A lot has changed in the past 10 years since I wrote my most recent post on this subject. And a lot hasn’t. Below is an updated overview of the venture job landscape as well as some current thoughts on how to break into the industry.

First some stats to outline the landscape. If you’re trying to break into venture the news, in general, is good (the two charts below were pulled from a great post by Eric Feng on the state of the VC market from late last year). The number of new venture firms raising their first fund has increased markedly – especially since 2011 (new funds are a good barometer of the growth of the industry, and a leading indicator of job growth in venture capital).
It’s interesting to note that the majority of these new funds are focused on Seed stage investing (not surprising if you follow the market, although investments at the Seed and Seed + stages have started to decline quite a bit from their peak a few years ago).

So the venture landscape has changed quite a bit since my first post on breaking into venture almost 15 years ago. So has the typical profile of a venture professional. When I first got a job in venture (now we’re going way back – that was 18 years ago) the typical venture analyst had spent 2 years in an investment banking program (maybe, but less likely, a consulting company) and spent a lot of time on the business end of spreadsheets. A venture associate had that same background, had likely worked at a venture firm as an analyst and gone back to business school. Venture principals (VPs, junior partners or other similar titles) were former venture associates who had worked their way up the chain. And partners were former junior partners who had been promoted up as well. Occasionally partners were former successful CEOs who joined the firm that backed them – at the time the most likely way to get into venture w/o having come up the ranks. In fact the hierarchy was so well entrenched, I remember at least one firm when I was applying to be an associate telling me that they’d only consider me for an analyst position because I lacked an MBA (the job I was leaving was running a $55M division of a public company with over 200 people reporting up to me; I had spent the 5 years before that managing teams of various sizes around corporate development, planning, investor relations, etc. But that experience didn’t matter at the time relative to my lack of a business degree. Needless to say, I turned down the offer to interview for that analyst position).

Today the market is quite different and people from a much wider variety of backgrounds are finding their way into venture. And with more, smaller, seed focused funds, VC firms can be scrappier and more thoughtful about who they want to hire and how and where they find them.

So with that good news, here are a few current thoughts on how to break into venture:

Take the long view. Despite the relative increase in number of venture firms, there still aren’t all that many jobs in venture. And they continue to be concentrated on the coasts to a large extent (see the chart that shows the data from Q3 2018 – generally representative of where the market is at the moment). Embrace that it’s a long shot and enjoy the journey. Which is to say that the things that will prepare you for, and expose you to, a job in venture are things that are generally helpful to you in any career that is focused on entrepreneurship and startups. Not getting a job in venture may be the best thing that happens to your career.

Get involved in your community. Venture and entrepreneurship aren’t spectator sports and are best experienced from within. Most cities now have various local tech meetups, pitch competitions, angel groups, etc. Get out there and participate. If you can, help organize and become a leader in your community (great entrepreneurial ecosystems are inclusive and have many leaders). If you’re interested in startups this should be both fun and easy. Make your presence known and appreciated. Find a gap in your market or someone or something that needs help and get after it. You’ll not only be helping your community, you’ll be making a name for yourself.

Get involved in companies. There are lots of great ways to help out companies directly. Hopefully through your work above you’ll be meeting lots of interesting people and companies. Do your best to help them out. Depending on your skill set and level of experience you may be able to offer your services directly to companies (we have plenty of people do this through Techstars for example). Figure out a way to connect interesting people together. Work your network.

Network. Most people are terrible networkers. They treat networking transactionally and they are always looking to take from their networks vs. give to them (good networkers adhere to the #givefirst mentality). Become a better networker and actively work to build out your network – of course including your local venture community as much as you can. This will pay dividends no matter where your career ends up taking you. If you do it well you’ll learn to love it (at least I hope you will). Here are two posts with some basic networking ideas to get you going (here and here).

Engage. Lots of venture capitalists put out a lot of content and it’s never been easier to engage with the venture community. Comment on blog and Medium posts, follow VCs that you respect on Medium and Twitter, send them ideas and thoughts on what they’re writing about and investing in. Stay active and top of mind. There are virtual communities in the comments sections of some venture partner and venture firms blogs. Participate. Personally I have long standing relationships with people who regularly email me with thoughts and ideas that are relevant to Foundry and our investment focus. Like most VCs I’ll take the time to engage and respond to people who are genuine in their outreach and especially those that are trying to be proactive and helpful. My favorite response to people who ask me “what can I do to help you” is to ask them to send me anything they find that’s interesting and piqued their interest (not necessarily venture or startup related). My Pocket reader is full of articles and stories that are sent to me this way. I know many other VCs do the same. It’s a genuine way to start to build relationships.

Look for any way in. Your first job in venture is typically the hardest to get. As more firms are expanding the roles they play with their portfolio, look for different ways in. Many firms now have operational groups that provide services to their portfolio companies. There are a growing number of firms that have someone running “platform” or “engagement” to better connect their portfolio CEOs. More broadly, there are plenty of non-traditional firms out there (not captured in the data above) that are investing either private, foundation or corporate money. In some cities there are organized angel groups that make use of part-time help to make investment decisions. Any job that gets you exposure to making investment decisions or helping those that do will be a good first step into venture.

Work for a startup or start one of your own. This was true 10 years ago and it remains true today. A great path into venture can be to start your own business or work for a startup. It’s a great skill-set to have and will likely put you in contact with the venture world.

Invest if you can. With investment becoming slightly less regulated there are opportunities to put even modest amounts of money to work through platforms like AngelList and others. If you have the ability, it’s not a bad way to show an interest in investing and give you something to talk about in your networking. Obviously this requires at least some amount of capital and I’m not suggesting that it’s a prerequisite to get a job in venture. But if you can do it, it’s a great way to build a mini-portfolio and may lead in unexpected directions.

Persevere. Getting a job in venture is hard and can take a while. Likely it won’t happen. Keep the long game in mind, have fun while you’re going through the process and keep at it. And maybe along the way you’ll end up finding something even more exciting to pursue and forget you ever wanted a job in VC in the first place…