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Fierce Competition in Venture Capital

By Tara Shaffer

As a principal at the Boston- and San Francisco-based Weston Presidio Capital, Kevin Hayes knows what it takes to break into the industry. So we asked him for a few tips on getting your foot in the door.

"Think about what you bring to the table. Sometimes you need to convince the partners to create a job for you, and that can be challenging." -Kevin Hayes
What is venture capital?
Venture capital is an important source of money for growing businesses. Typically, venture capital firms invest in start-ups, medium-sized and distressed companies, and public companies seeking buyout financing. Venture capitalists specialize in sourcing and structuring financial transactions, and managing the deployment of capital into prospective companies. We also help management teams execute their strategic plans by providing the capital required to fuel growth.

What kind of firm is Weston Presidio Capital?
We're an investment partnership that invests in later-stage, established, privately-held growth companies. We have $900 million under management [invested plus committed to invest] right now, and we actively pursue investments across a broad range of industries including specialty retailing, manufacturing, health care, and technology.

How do early-stage investing firms differ from late-stage?
Both types of firms are fast-paced and exciting places to work. Earlier-stage venture capital firms typically have less data to review when making investment decisions. They use more intuition about where an industry is heading rather than historic company performance or the management team's experience. With late-stage investing, there's more to analyze, more history, and typically, the management team has more industry-specific experience. Ultimately, the performance of a given company, and thus the returns on the investment, are determined by the strength of the team. Successful venture capitalists have a knack for picking great people.

What is the typical career path?
Without an M.B.A., you generally start as an analyst. Analysts at larger VC shops conduct due diligence (careful investigation of potential investments), but many spend the majority of their time on the phone trying to identify investment opportunities-sometimes called "dialing for dollars." They attend trade shows and read business journals-anything to find potential investments. Analysts aren't necessarily required to have specific functional skills in finance or accounting; they can learn those skills by working alongside experienced venture capitalists or by going to business school.

Some companies have analyst programs that are clearly defined as working for two or three years to gain experience and then leaving to obtain an M.B.A. Once you have a master's, you can join a VC firm as an associate or principle. Associates research and analyze potential investments, and make sure the company is spending its money wisely.

How important is having experience and an M.B.A. when entering the industry?
A master's is not a prerequisite, but the vast majority of the people who reach the level of partner have them. When we hire, we look almost exclusively at candidates with M.B.A.s. Unlike Weston Presidio, a lot of VC shops have a specific focus and give more weight to people with industry experience under their belts that enables them to better identify and evaluate investment possibilities in that industry.

How can you break in?
Although job opportunities have grown, the VC industry is still a small network that can be difficult to penetrate. The competition is fairly intense. It's rare for a venture firm to recruit on college campuses, so you have to be extremely proactive. Think about what you bring to the table. Sometimes you need to convince the partners to create a job for you, and that can be challenging. If you do your homework (get on the Internet, look at each company's web site, and learn about their portfolio companies), you can match your own experience with a company that has a compatible investment focus. You can also read publications like Private Equity Analyst and the Venture Capital Journal, and target companies that are actively raising money, which usually means they're also more likely to be hiring. VC firms seek highly energized individuals with a passion for investing and a strong desire to learn and contribute to the firm.

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