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Chapter XVII

because you never know someone from the very beginning

Month

June 2008

Birth Control

The Baby Borrowers on NBC.  There is a lot I could say about that show.  But that would be admitting that I watched it.  And that would be embarassing.  But I will say this, I love the tag line: “It’s not TV, it’s birth control!”


Funny, and oh so true.

To Assume Makes an Ass Out of U and Me

I went to a lunch today hosted by my graduate school, Harvard Business School.  It was not a large lunch, about 8 of us had been invited.  The purpose of the lunch was to get an update on what's happening at the school from one of HBS's marquee professors. 

I arrived and the only person there was the woman who works at HBS, whose job it is to organize these things.  I put on my name tag.  Her name tag, as the organizer, was different in style from mine.  A guy walks in, also an attendee.  He looks at both of us and says "Hi, I guess I am the first one here."

Interesting.  I was there.  He assumed, however, that I was an administrative organizer of the event rather than an HBS alum who had been invited to attend the lunch. 

Some will disagree with me, but I think that is a little odd.  Why do we think he would make that assumption?  Would he make that same assumption if I had been a man?

Very Rough Product Idea

I am playing with an idea.  I think the advertising model needs to be turned on its head, or become more direct to me as a consumer.  Can someone create a service that is like consumer lead generation?  A service where I can create a profile saying what I am shopping for, my budget, my timing, and other preferences and then advertisers can come to me directly?  Example, I was in the market for a stroller a while ago.  I wanted something lightweight, easy to use and not too expensive.  Rather than my having to go out and research strollers, can't I put these and other preferences into a profile and then manufacturers can come to me with relevant products?  Perhaps this would be a un-implementable for advertisers/manufacturers.  I don't know.  Or perhaps I am just being lazy.  But I feel like product researching processes are harder than they should be and with today's targeting technology, I should just be able to say what I want, and have that product presented to me.

How to Interview with a Venture Capitalist (at least this one)

There have been a number of people who have written blog posts about how to get a job in venture capital.  Here are links (Seth Levine and Fred Wilson) to a couple of the most notable.  These are good posts with sage advice.

I rarely write about work, but in the past several months I have conducted several interviews and have witnessed some patterns.  This post is about how interviewees can be more effective…at least with me.  Several of my points will extend beyond getting a job in venture capital to the overall landscape of interviewing. 

In addition to conducting many an interview, I myself have had millions.  At Goldman Sachs alone, I met 29 people; 14 in one day.  I got that job, and thank GOD after all that.  Cripe.  I have not always been successful getting the job but I have received more offers than refusals, and have learned a few things along the way.  In addition, part of my job now is to interview lots of people for my companies, and I get pinged all the time by people wanting to get into VC asking for informational interviews.  Bottom line, I have gone through this process on both sides many times and think I have learned a few things about what works.  So here goes.

Lesson 1: Say you want the job.  This might sound shockingly obvious, but I am always amazed at how often I meet people who don't tell me that they want the job, and most importantly, why they want it.  They may tell me once I ask, but my point is, why make me ask?  Everything you say in an interview should tell your interviewer why you are right for the job.  This comment varies by level and circumstance.  The more senior the role, the more the conversation is two-way.  And if it's informational, I expect that you are exploring and not necessarily trying to sell yourself.  But if it's a real interview, assume I am interviewing others for the job; therefore, sell yourself.  Try to stand out from the pack.  Why are you here?  What is interesting to you about this role?  Why are you a fit?  This does not mean you cannot have questions – you should – but don't make me wonder if you are even interested in the job in the first place.

Lesson 2: Act the part.  If you want a job in VC, you are often given the advice that you should go get operating experience and then after 15 years you can be a VC.  This is a good idea, and arguably, the best path, but most people I meet are looking for something a little more immediate than a 15 year plan.  And I understand that.  So what to do besides meet as many people as you can and get lucky?  You should still meet as many VCs as you can, but also, try to make yourself more lucky.  You can do this if you position yourself properly, meaning, act like a VC.  Send me deals. Go meet some entrepreneurs doing interesting things and see if you can connect me to them.  Introduce me to talented managers.  Send me an industry analysis and create an investment thesis around that industry. It's draconian but clean – be of value to me, and I am more likely to think you might add value to the firm.  You may be saying "Free labor!  Why would I do that?"  Take a lesson from lawyers and investment bankers.  They do it all the time, and it often reaps big rewards, meaning, they get the business.

Lesson 3: Before you implement Lesson 2, find out if I am hiring anytime in the next…two years.  Not a great answer, but it's reality.  If I don't have a new fund, I don't have more fees with which to pay you, and therefore, it will be really hard for me to hire you.  So you might want to focus your efforts elsewhere.

Lesson 4: Don't say you want to be a VC because you are entrepreneurial.  It's a cliche.  If you are entrepreneurial, start a company or go work for a start-up. 

Lesson 5: If you are looking for a job at a portfolio company and we have never met before, please do not say you are flexible and will do anything.  I have heard this from even the most senior people and it is frankly not that helpful.  I don't really know what to make of that.  I need executors.  Killers!  And my portfolio companies have real needs, so learn what you can about them and have a view.  I appreciate generalist skills, and young companies often need athletes, but saying you are "flexible" can be translated as follows "I don't really know what I want to do."  Don't allow yourself to be viewed this way!  You have to present yourself as something more than just flexible. 

And a few more things.  Do some homework on the industry for which you are you are interviewing.  It's incredible how many people don't do this. 

And show up on time.  Just my 2 cents.

The Hamptons, Priceless!

So we went to the beach this weekend, out in the Hamptons.  It's no wonder the rest of the country thinks New Yorkers are idiots.  The Hamptons are crazy.  I have been there many times, but for some reason this weekend was a reminder that there is a right way and a wrong way to go to the Hamptons. 

Don't even get me started on the traffic – that is a whole other frustration.  This post is about money.  The right way to go to the Hamptons involves grocery shopping yourself, hunkering down in your house and hanging by the pool, beach and grill.  When I was younger, I would expand that activity list to include visiting a variety of bars, and dancing on the occassional table.  And that was fun.  But that was then and this is now. 

My first mistake was going to get coffee and bagels Saturday morning.  Sounds innocent enough.  But then I got to the cash register.   "$15 please."  "$15 dollars for two coffees and two bagels!  Are they wrapped in gold paper?"  I asked if the bagels had been flown in on a private jet from Montreal.  "No, they are baked on premises."  "Well what business do you have charging that for two coffees and bagels!"  People started to stare.  There is something dumb about certain people in the Hamptons where they actually feel good about themselves that it costs a fortune to buy breakfast.  I felt bad and paid.  At that point, to forgo food would have been asking for more trouble.  But I was not about to quit, after all I was hungry.  I went next door to get fruit, thinking, how bad can that be.  Grapes…hold your breath…$9.00 a pound.  At this point I am thinking I am in a Mastercard commercial "Eating the Hamptons, Priceless!"

I am conflicted.  It's just so nice out there.  And honestly, I love to hate it.  It's awful in so many ways.  Who drives a Ferrari to a beach?  Who wears Manolo Blahniks to a BBQ?  It gives New Yorkers a bad name.  WE New Yorkers give New Yorkers a bad name.  It's just so troubling because it's gorgeous out there.  The beaches were stunning and empty (no cell phone toting crowds on the beach – you have to know where to go), the weather was great, and if you know the backroads you can avoid Route 27 hell and be there in about two hours from NYC. 

So, lesson learned.  Shop beforehand, take the backroads, don't even thinking of leaving your house at night, hang out during the day at the beach and not in East Hampton where the shops are ritzier than Madison Avenue, and that, my friends, is how you can enjoy the Hamptons.

Regret

I am a little stressed.  I just finished a junk food eating extravaganza.  A Cup 'O Noodles, a Coca Cola, a bag of Fudge Stripe cookies and two mini (thank god, mini) Mounds Bars.  This all happened in the course of an hour.  I should start to feel ill in about five minutes.  Hold your breath.

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