In the first two posts, I combined all of the advice I’ve gotten from the best investors in the world and distilled it into seven steps. Unfortunately, at literally every single step, I’ve received conflicting advice. I’m making my own path, cherrypicking the best pieces of advice from each bucket. Here’s my attempt to make sense of it all:
1) Establish an online identity: Yes this is important, but not in the obvious ways. A) Nobody reads it, B) I’m not making any earth-shattering discoveries on my blog, and C) This is certainly not a way to get inbound interviews. So why do I write? It’s good practice for structuring thoughts and positions on industries, themes, companies, etc. Also, on the off chance that someone wants to see what I’ve written, they can flip through my old stuff here. Think of it as a paper trail- “I am really interested in this, see?” Finally, I think a critical part of being a venture investor is the willingness to consider, discuss and make non-obvious decisions in public. When you “put something out there” on a blog or a tweet or otherwise, you’re opening yourself up for criticism. I think comfort in the “open for criticism” department is an important skill for a venture investor.
2) Go to Conferences: This one depends. Two years ago, I went to as many networking events, GA classes and conferences as I could (look at my blog archive- it’s basically all conference recaps). This was largely to soak up the vocabulary of the industry and start building some institutional knowledge. I also supplemented with a TON of podcasts, etc. Sure, I met some great people, but most of the open or big events are so unstructured, that it’s tough to make connections there. I definitely still get to events, but now for a totally different purpose: I go with 2-3 people in mind that I need to meet. Once I do that, I leave. This is hard, and I often fall short of my goal. Side note- I’m also usually the biggest dude at an event, so if I run into an investor or entrepreneur who I’ve met, I can usually go up to them and remind them that I exist, which can’t hurt right?.
3) Network with investors: The question is whether its better to focus on a smaller number of authentic relationships or to spray-and-pray. I do both and always, always, always try to make a real connection afterwards. Everyone’s in on the joke, so just get out there and start meeting people. It’s not like I’m a total moron and wasting their time. If I was, they would say so and/or decline my meetings. Hasn’t really happened so far.
4) Get Smart and Send Research: I’m planning to use my research essentially as a teaser to start conversations. There are tons of different ways to approach this one, and “short content-> conversation” is the most comfortable/natural way for me.
5) Learn Deals: I’m picking a few sectors that I want to learn more about. As a byproduct of research (reading, trying products, talking to founders), you learn about the deals in the sector. I am focusing on three areas that are personally interesting to me. They don’t really overlap with one another, so I should be able to chat with almost every fund about at least one of my topics. My themes are 1) eservices markets (my parents run a commercial cleaning business and they’re under attack from startups); 2) something within financial services (I spent six years in the space and literally everything is changing); and 3) B2B and SMB sales (I spent my summer selling @ Thanx)
6) Send companies and deals to investors: This is as simple as “hey have you seen XYZ company? I think you’d like that they’re up to.” It can be tricky though, because you actually need to be ready to defend your statement that you think that investor would like that company. I’m to relying heavily on steps 3-5, and I’ve found that this step comes in naturally.
7) Start a fund. Not in the cards right now for me but a really interesting idea for a bunch of reasons.
So that’s my roadmap. First step was to make a roadmap. Next step is to follow it and see where it takes me. Feel free to let me know if you think I’m missing anything.