I’ve just returned from what was probably the most valuable work event I’ve ever attended.
When I landed in the Venture Capital world around two years ago, having spent the previous five years in a high-growth start-up, I was fully expecting it to be a slowly evolving industry ripe for disruption. That said, it really feels like things are changing rapidly. As well as the trend toward firms hiring more diverse folks into their partnership teams, there’s a whole other side to VC that’s open, experimental, collaborative and being forged by people from all kinds of backgrounds. It’s refreshing, long overdue and this past week I had the opportunity meet, learn from and share with 120 of these folks at the Global VC Platform Summit in New York.
The attendees were each part of the growing network of platform professionals in venture. The notion of a “venture platform” (a catch-all term referring to the value-add services that a VC offers outside of capital and partner time on boards) isn’t a new one these days. A strategy first pioneered by the deep-pocketed likes of Andreessen Horowitz a decade ago, is now something most VC firms are implementing on some level.
The objectives of a platform strategy are varied depending on who you ask – portfolio support / acceleration, brand awareness, dealflow generation to name a few. But in short, in a world where capital has become table stakes, a VC’s differentiator is it’s value-add. This means a platform function or role has the potential to cover an extremely broad remit, as this handy (and terrifying) slide highlights:
As such, the VC Platform Summit agenda was packed and discussions covered much of the above as well as threads on scaling platform operations, career development, developing new revenue streams measuring KPIs & ROI and more.
So what were the key takeaways for me?
1) We’re all facing the same challenges
Despite the wildly differing remits in the room, we are all facing the same set of core challenges, namely: scaling, focusing on what really matters, getting stakeholder buy-in and understanding and communicating ROI.
2) This is an incredibly supportive community
Maybe it’s because these roles are relatively new and nobody has all the answers yet – there’s no playbook and even the most experienced people in the room have much to learn. I’ve never experienced a professional community quite like it and it’s great to know there are people on the same journey happy to share their experiences, feedback, advice and war stories.
3) We all got here by accident…
These roles are unique. None of us grew up with aspirations of running a VC platform. But we each landed here and each see a huge opportunity for learning, professional and personal development and having a real impact on our firm and the companies it invests it. That’s really exciting to see.
4) …and we’re not sure where we’re going next
It’s clear there’s no defined career path for folks in platform in VC (unlike the Associate > Principal > Partner track in the investment side of the industry). A few are forging a place for themselves as operating partner in their firms, some are making the transition to investing roles and some are making the move to the other side of the table – founding or taking executive roles at startups. It will be interesting to watch these trends evolve as we continue making our mark in our funds and consider what comes next.
5) Salaries vary considerably
Not a huge surprise given nascent nature of these roles, the range of fund sizes and the varying levels of seniority and background of people coming into them. (One subsection of the data in the annual salary benchmarking survey actually showed having an MBA correlated with a lower salary.) I imagine over the coming years as there’s more movement of people with platform experience between funds – and their value is increasingly measured and understood – these variations will level out.
5) Focus, focus, focus
The biggest challenge I (and many of us) face with such a sprawling potential remit is forcing ourselves to focus on the things that really matter. Perhaps the biggest reminder for me at this event was to prioritise ruthlessly, say no more and keep focused on doing 1-2 things exceptionally well.
6) If it doesn’t scale, don’t do it
(Or if it doesn’t scale right now, can we make it scale?) How to efficiently scale portfolio support and platform operations is a constant battle, especially for smaller firms with limited resources. So following point 5 above – focus efforts on the things that scale, or will help you to scale.
7) Understanding ROI is a challenge
There were differing opinions in the room as to what the ultimate purpose of a platform strategy actually is and therefore what success looks like. Views varied from “measure and report on every touchpoint and interaction”, through to “all that ultimately matters is the multiple the fund returns at”. The key takeaway here is ensuring agreement from all key stakeholders up front on what’s important, setting KPIs in line with that and communicating progress against them clearly and regularly.
8) You can’t beat in person connections
Online communities are great and can add considerable value when managed well, but you can’t substitute the serendipitous nature of getting a room full of engaged and collaborative people together. This is somewhat counter to my previous comments about scaling – but there’s an exception to every rule!
9) The Brits were representing
It was great to see attendees from 10 UK-based firms making the trip over from London to join this year’s summit, up from just two the year before. The VC platform community in the UK is smaller and more fledgling than in the US so it was great to be able to collaborate, share with and learn from with folks from around the world. I have a feeling our delegation will be even bigger next year.
10) Korean BBQ is delicious
Finally, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how tasty (and fun) this obscure Korean BBQ place was so it deserves a shout-out on this list. It’s on the 4th floor of an nondescript office building and the janky elevator opens out to incredible scenes and smells. If you’re ever in New York and fancy a full-on dining experience, check it out – http://www.jongrobbqny.com/.
In short, it was a hugely valuable event. I had the opportunity to connect with some incredibly talented folks and came home with a notebook full of ideas and inspiration. It’s great to see the VC portfolio community evolve and grow together in the UK, US and globally. At the first VC Platform Summit two years ago there were 30 people around a table, this year there were 120 of us in the room and I’m already excited to see the progress we all make over the coming 12 months to share at next year’s event.