How demanding is an associate position at a venture capital firm?
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This has been thoughtfully answered by the other posters, but I’ll throw in my two cents because I get asked about my hours fairly often offline.
The VC job is as demanding as you want it to be, and that can vary based on what you want out of the job as well as your own personality match with the role. Here are some inter-related truths I’ve observed about the role and why each may or may not be demanding:
Sourcing, and by extension, networking never ends. Sourcing is a primary responsibility of the associate job, and the day-to-day cadence of VC firms means that you’re not only expected to source but importantly, be seen sourcing consistently and frequently. Most VC firms have weekly investment committee meetings where they discuss their deal pipeline and vote on prospective investments. VC associates will feel pressure to regularly share a steady flow of new prospects, and as such, will constantly be building this pipeline. You were swamped on diligence for a partner’s deal and supporting a portfolio company project? Don’t imagine yourself immune from being asked, ‘Why didn’t we see this deal?’ This means that you never stop looking for new deals, and it always feels as if you could have networked more. Every associate knows the frustration of seeing a fundraising announcement from a company that he/she jotted down on a ‘to-do’ list but never made the time to contact. For someone who wants to focus 100% on one responsibility at a time, or who prefers to nurture a small number of very deep relationships as opposed to a large number of shallower ones, this can feel extremely unnatural and by extension, demanding. For someone who loves prospecting, meeting new people and living by the law of large numbers, conversely, this may not be tiring at all.
You are always “on” even among good friends. Because you spend so much time entrenched in the tech and investor community, many of your friends end up being VCs, founders or tech execs. However, because these people are all simultaneously business contacts who at any point may introduce you to The Career Defining Deal, you’re always a bit guarded with them, always careful to broadcast yourself as a savvy investor and differentiated value-add. As such, many investors complain about never being able to really be themselves. You want to share with your good friends your fears that you’ll never make partner because your deals aren’t doing well? You certainly can’t tell that to fellow investors (in case you want to jump to another VC, you can’t be damaged goods) or founders (they won’t want to pitch you or introduce you to their founder friends). The social performance of always being in networking mode even when you’re getting drinks with a friend can weigh on people, but conversely if you’re a natural salesperson who derives pleasure from charming and persuading new people, this might be great fun.
VC is increasingly brand-centric. Never before have there been so many VC blogs, dinner events, baseball games, podcasts and panels. We are living through an arms race of personal branding/PR, and nearly every junior VC I’ve met has started a blog, planned to start one or developed an effective way to fend off partner demands that they start one. If your blog isn’t already a top 10 most trafficked VC blog or if you’re not already famous, it’s a toss-up as to whether or not content marketing really moves the deal flow needle for you. Regardless, you will be expected to endeavor to be more of a public figure, and not everyone enjoys doing that. Conversely, if you’re extroverted, write competently and don’t weep at the thought of public speaking, you may love this approach.
Meetings get done during the day, “actual” work gets done at night and on weekends. I stack my pitches, coffee chats, investor catch-ups and (obviously) conferences throughout the working day (9 to 5), get dinner or drinks with business contacts once or twice a week, then get home in the evening (7 to 8) to actually churn through analysis work. You could take a less tiring approach and just carve out workdays to work quietly at your desk, but the aforementioned pressures of points 1-2 may grate on you. In today’s highly competitive environment, scheduling a pitch two weeks from now might mean that you have no shot at the deal, so I try to work around entrepreneurs’ schedules and make meetings possible during the workday as soon as possible. As such, deal diligence, investment memos and my own market research primarily get done at night and often on weekends. Oftentimes on Friday nights I find myself feeling relieved that I have all of Saturday to actually sit down and do what the rest of the world would consider work. If you hate taking your work home with you, you’d find this demanding. Personally, I find the evening work kind of relaxing; I put on Netflix, make tea and work leisurely through the memo/research/model/emails. I think the FOMO resulting from not scheduling a pitch sooner for an actively fundraising company feels worse than not having a bit more time for fun in the evenings.
The vast majority of VC associates will not make partner. What you want to do with your career impacts how demanding your associate experience will be. Common exits after 2 to 3 years are business school, operating roles at a portfolio company, founding a startup or corporate development at a large technology company. If you and your partners already know that you plan on taking one of these paths, you will feel less pressure to “earn your keep” via deal flow and can allow yourself to focus more on picking up relevant skillsets for the future. For example, if you’re interested in joining a portfolio company, typically the partners will be supportive of you allocating more time to portfolio projects, and the pressure to source will lessen. If you desperately want to stay on the investor path, the odds are against you and the clarity on whether or not you’ll make it extremely scarce, so you may naturally find yourself working long hours to simultaneously source, lead competent diligence, add value to portfolio companies, network relentlessly and find time to build a personal brand (all the points cited above). Keeping up this momentum is hard, esp. when you’re uncertain if the partners are open to promoting someone.
Personally, I find the personal branding side of it the most demanding because it requires huge upfront time investment for extremely long payback cycles, if it ever pays back. (Sounds just like VC!) Much of my networking can turn pretty quickly into exciting dealflow, but it may be years, if ever, before the next Mark Zuckerberg reads my blog or hears me speak at a conference and decides to reach out to me.
This question originally appeared on Quora: How demanding is an associate position at a venture capital firm?