June 10, 2021

8 things I learnt interning at a VC firm

By

Sydney Yin

My thinking before I entered the VC world was that it was all about sitting around a table, listening to pitches all day, drilling into the numbers, and writing a few cheques. It seemed too simple in my mind, but could there really be more to it? 

So when I was offered the chance to intern at Folklore, one of Australia’s leading VC firms, I was so excited to understand the truth. In the 2 months that I’ve been at the firm, I not only got to peek behind the curtain, but I was standing firmly behind with the team. And I have to say, there is so much more to VC, and specifically so much more to Folklore, than I could have imagined. Here are my top 8 learnings that hopefully allow you to add colour to the exciting, people orientated world that is Venture Capital. 

  1. Curiosity is key...and a superpower

My biggest learning is the importance of curiosity and having an eagerness to learn. This is true in how the Folklore team considers investments. To those reading this, my advice to you is that when you come across an idea outside of anything you know, read as much as you can and talk to the right people, ask the right questions in the right way. This allows you to understand the landscape before forming a view on how a business is positioned within a market. To do this, you need to be driven by curiosity.

What left a bigger impression though, is the spirit of curiosity imbued in the team: of being genuinely interested in what's going on in the world, the ideas that are developing, and what people are doing. This makes for really interesting and eye-opening conversations.

2. VC is more than Shark Tank

From talking to different members of the team and weekly WIP meetings, it quickly became apparent that a VC is much more than what goes on on the TV show, Shark Tank. There are a lot of moving parts: the investment team hears startups pitch and do due diligence before making decisions; the investor relations team builds relationships and secures capital from the right LPs; added on the components of building a positive experience for the community and ensuring the day to day flow. These components move swiftly and cohesively together, adapting to changes and supporting each other. A VC almost operates much like a startup itself: lean teams and mission driven.

3. A holistic view is essential

As a quasi-finance student, I've started developing the habits of looking at companies through the lens of valuations: trying to distil all that goes on into a set of cash flows.

Companies in the VC world, however, have a lot more colour. They have hopes and dreams. They have stories. All this matters when making investment decisions because when startups are pre-product and pre-revenue, there are so many uncertainties about the future. You just need conviction that the problem is worth solving and the team can solve it, albeit it won't always be easy. To do this, you need to look at the holistic picture, beyond just financial statements.

4. People skills are important

Ironically, in a society full of people, having strong interpersonal skills does not necessarily give you a seat at the table.  At Folklore, I saw the opposite. On the investment side, a fundamental component of assessing a startup is getting to know the founding team and figuring out whether you believe they can surmount any challenges in the future to build a billion dollar business. This requires the rare skill of listening - beyond what's merely said - and understanding the person who said it. On top of this, you need to develop trust and build the relationship for a successful partnership. Similarly on the investor side, deciding which investors to bring on is no easy feat. I really enjoyed watching every member of the Folklore team value each person who entered our orbit.

5. VCs aim to support...to add value beyond the $s

I think one of the things that makes VC such an attractive field is that it operates on a mindset of "how can we help and add value?". Rather than "what can we gain?". I think this is really special and have seen this in how the team interacts with founders, investors, and with each other. People are willing to give their time, their advice, and genuinely want to add value.

6. A strong team culture goes a long way

Everyone says "team culture is important". Folklore has shown this to me in practice. It is incredible to work in a team with interesting, curious and passionate people full of ideas and an eagerness to learn.

After my first week at Folklore, I thought "wow everyone is so interesting". While this definitely holds true, I've soon realised the source of this impression to be "everyone is so interested". Everyone on the team is an incredible listener, and the value of this cannot be undermined, especially for positive team dynamics. 

7. We can own our own learning experiences (applies beyond the world of VC)

I came to this internship eyes open - assuming I’d be on finance tasks and that my knowledge of VC would triple-fold.  A few weeks in, I started to develop particular areas of interest. At this time I had a conversation with our Managing Partner, who encouraged me to make the most of this internship opportunity and advocate for the learning experience I want to have.

This was a tectonic-plate-shifting moment for me. In the past I've always gone into internships hoping to be given work that will allow me to grow. But why hope? How cool that at Folklore I was encouraged to shape the learning experience I wanted to have and put my hand up for work that interested me most. I can add more long term value by learning as much I can and the most effective way to do this is to actively participate in my learning experience. This is something I know I'm going to take into my career.

8. Soak it all in

As it all too often happens with internships, one moment you are new and finding your balance, and the next it's your last week. Appreciate it while it's happening. Soak it all in. It is a privilege and an incredible gift to have the opportunity of working at a VC. Especially, to hear and learn from so many founders and to dive into their ideas that could potentially shape and change our future. If you get a chance to work with a team of curious and passionate people, jump on the rocketship and soak it all in, I know I am.


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