Finance Skills Don’t Prepare You for Early-Stage Venture Capital

I’ve noticed that a number of venture capital firms prefer to hire people with a finance background. Those with investment banking and private equity work experience are thought to be great candidates. In my chats with emerging and established managers, several mentioned they’re seeking junior hires and emphasized a desire for candidates from finance.

I’ve never worked in finance, but I have friends who have. It’s notorious for long hours and hard work. Anyone who’s done time in this world is thought to have a great work ethic, which is likely true. One learns a host of skills in that environment that many think highly of (financial modeling, research, etc.).

A banking background provides a strong skill set and will set people up to succeed in some stages of venture capital, but I don’t think that applies to the early stage. Evaluating companies at the idea stage or before product–market fit requires skills that a finance background likely doesn’t equip you with.

Early-stage investing tilts strongly toward evaluating people and markets to find the nonobvious. Identifying founders’ strengths and weaknesses and what’s possible if they’re surrounded by the right resources and support is key. It’s difficult—more art than science. Many people have a hard time ignoring the unpolished exterior of a founder they can’t relate to and seeing their potential. Evaluating nascent markets can be equally difficult. Recognizing the severity of a pain before others understand it and the market size if the founders can create an ideal solution can require one to suspend disbelief and ignore current reality.

Skills acquired working in finance are great, but I don’t think they make you an ideal early-stage investor.