Startups and Venture Capital

September 6, 2022

Venture Capital Q&A

with Caleb Maru - GP at Proximity Ventures

Transcript

Ayush

All right, recording has started now.

So, yeah, just keep your mics muted when I unmute all of you. And lastly, for asking your questions, use the zoom chat options. We already have a bunch of questions that you submitted before, err…  while registering for the event, so we're going to kick off with a couple of those questions, and then we're going to open the floor for everybody to… so that we can have a discussion. And you can also raise your hand if you have a specific question and I can allow you to unmute yourself.

So as… before we begin, Caleb, do you want to just give a brief background on yourself, what you do and your background VC as well?

Caleb

Yeah, absolutely. I'd love to.

So yeah, I’m obviously Caleb here; Head of Programs at EntryLevel.

Before I was working at EntryLevel though, before I started a startup with the team at EntryLevel, I spent a lot of time doing a lot of different things. 

So I was working for a period of time in policy… policy in East Africa. So, I'm originally from Ethiopia. 

So, policy in East Africa for a while; I worked in social enterprise; I worked in crowdfunding with Ayush here as well. We used to work together in crowdfunding. Yeah, and a lot of work in, like, social services as well.

So like, quite a varied background and yeah, up until 2020 I was sort of doing a lot of different things but usually working with startups, working with really cool people, and I really wanted to like blend the love that I have for, like, meeting new people, you know, sort of building new things, and coming up with new ideas to create something incredible. 

And that's where I learned about Venture Capital; and venture capital is like this incredible field where really, like, you get to be the first believers or first set of people who help bring an idea to life. And that idea,  if it works—and hopefully it does—can really, like, change the course of how humans interact in the world. And so, it's like one of the most—to me—one of the most impactful spaces that I can be in, and it sort of uses all these skills that I really love and I think that's why it's such an exciting space. But unfortunately, it's like, it's also quite a hard space to break into and it's quite elusive on how to get in.

So yeah, we had a lot of people ask us to build a Venture Capital program at EntryLevel and we launched one at the start of this year. That's probably how you ended up on this call.

And yeah, we're all about, like, showing people how they can break into the VC space, so, maybe a little bit on what I'm doing specifically now is; I'm head of programs at EntryLevel—which is great—and on top of that, I'm also the managing partner of Proximity Ventures—which is my venture fund.

We invest small checks into companies across the world but, like, with a specific focus on Africa. So, that's… that's only been the last seven or so months, and since then I've backed in total, like, about 18 companies. I'm looking to back another 20 over the next nine months. And yeah, it's sort of been the start of my professional investing journey as well.

Ayush

Awesome!

Thank you so much for that great intro. It's wonderful to hear the multiple hats that you've been donning and currently also doing two roles in one.

Let's kick off today's event with a question that one of the students asked earlier. 

According to you, are there any one or two key skills or competencies that would really increase one's likelihood to succeed in the VC world? So if there were just a couple of skills that one person was to have, what would those key skills be?

Caleb

Yeah, the very, like, the most important thing in Venture Capital is relationships.

So it's really important, like, VC is a relationship game. It's like, it's more about who you know and that exists on quite a few levels. It's like, can you hold a relationship with, you know, potential people you might work with, right?

So like, “Can you hold a relationship or maintain and manage a relationship between a partner at a firm to land you that first job?” to “Can you hold multiple relationships with founders who are building things or maybe people who are, like, not building products yet, haven't started their company yet, but you know that they have a lot in them and that they eventually will build something incredible?”

And it's, you know, it's kind of surprising like the number of founders who the best VCs have backed; who at the time when they met actually weren't doing their own startup. They might have been working growth at another startup or they might have been like the executive team at a different company. It's really about, like, can you build those relationships? And so, if you work backwards from that, how do you build relationships?

You need great people skills and people skills meaning, like, you need to be outgoing; you need to be, not just good at, but, like, excited to meet with other people and connect with other people, and also doing it, like, not at a superficial level, but at a level where you genuinely care about other people and you have that interest.

And I think that's where you build these great relationships. So, to whittle it down, it's like you need great people skills; being able to talk to people, communicate with people, and build relationships. That's like, probably the most important thing in Venture Capital and probably the most important thing in general if you want to succeed in startups. And then, maybe the next most important skill is like, I think it's like, being able—this is a very general one, but—being able to think clearly. So, there!

As you, sort of, go through life and, in general, and then also as you invest there's so many biases that can cut; that can arise, right? So like, when there's a company or a startup that externally looks amazing, they might be in the news every two weeks, they might have raised, like, a lot of money; they might have amazing branding and visuals, like you sort of—when they're raising money—you sort of, get this sense of like, “Wow, I need to be a part of that because it looks amazing optically.” You need to be like, a really clear thinker to look past, like, what all the optics say to understand what's happening behind the scenes, right? 

And to understand, like what, how that business model works, whether it's actually operational.

There's a lot of things in startups where, like it's kind of just like smoke and mirrors; you don't actually know what you're getting and you need to be able to think really clearly about opportunities. And so, that means—like to me—that means like, just thinking or like, reflecting a lot of time, like, spending a lot of time thinking about your thinking—if that makes sense. So, it's like, how clearly did you think in that instance, you know? Like what were the potential factors that were swaying your decision at the time?

All of that stuff makes you—in the long term—makes you an incredible investor. 

So yeah, those would be the top two skills; so relationships and being able to think clearly.

Ayush

Amazing. 

Thanks for the in-depth answer, and I can attest to the first one—relationships—because when I was working at TechStars; which is a startup accelerator, but bulk of the… it's sort of like a VC firm itself, because they're investing into startups; they put 100k in 10 startups per year and in just one year, each department, each country techstars is just putting 10k in once, 100k in ten startups. But the rest of the year, what they do is just relationship building. So, the meeting with founders, talking to them and looking for the perfect fit that would suit the program; but also it’s the great culture for program fit, and also building relationships with mentors and other investors.

So like, the first eight months, they just build relationships and for the remaining four months, they actually deliver on the program and invest in startups.

Caleb

That's awesome.

How do they do that, by the way? Like, what does relationship building look like for TechStars? 

Ayush

For TechStars, so they… it's an application-based program. So, similar to Y-Combinator, I would say but TechStars is, I would say a bit bigger because they have chapters in major parts of the world. They have a chapter in Bangalore, Singapore, Melbourne; a lot of them in the US and all so like, different countries and some of them focus on specific sectors. 

So the one in Melbourne was sports technology—sports tech; the one in India was for companies solving for emerging economies using technology and then there's disability focus. There's… they partner with other organisations as well; for example, banks, to deliver fintech programs. 

But relationship building is mostly meeting with the other investors in the network, so other VC firms that are operating in that particular area, looking at their portfolio companies and finding suitable applicants from that. 

And what they do is encourage those companies to then apply for the program, but they don't want… the number of applications is not the metric; quality applications is the metric, so…

Caleb

That's really cool.

Ayush

…how they do it is, usually, because the managing directors are coming with big… they usually have a big profile so they already have a big network base already and TechStars is a well-known name, so VC analysts or operations, associates working in TechStars go ahead and like do cold-calling or talk with founders and meet new people, and that's just… that's the job for most of the year.

Caleb

That's awesome! Super cool. 

Ayush

Yeah, awesome!

I'm gonna ask the next question, but also in white, if anybody has any follow-up questions to what Caleb's answers or if you have any questions of yours, please feel free to put them in the chat or raise your hand if you have a question.

All right, we have a question from Julian; What are the three common questions you asked founders to navigate through the smoke and mirrors? What are the red flags and responses? 

Caleb

That's a great question. Nice, nice.

Yeah, that's a good one. 

So, the very first one is like, what problem are you solving, right? Like, a good startup is solving a problem and if a founder can't answer that question, it's immediately a red flag. Like, you need a product focus and so that's like, that's one of the first things.

Probably the next thing is, like, the next thing—and this this sounds like a really silly question but I ask it every time and it actually, like, gets me really far but—it's like how do you know that that's a problem? Like, how do you know that that's real? Like, what's proof of that; can you explain it to me?

And sometimes, you get really interesting answers from founders. Sometimes, like, well it's obviously real, like, look at these statistics. What you actually want is like, when founders tell you, “Oh, like I've actually experienced it. I experienced it this time, this time, and this time and this is what happened. That's why I'm solving it,” or when they say, “Oh this is… here's an example of, like, a company I work with that, like, is facing this problem that we're solving for them.”

So you want to ask them like… a good way to, is just, like, “What problem you're solving and how do you know it's a problem?” Those are like two great questions. 

Yeah, and then the other one is like, you really want as you're talking to founders, you want to like flag for, just like, consistency with what they say. So, sometimes founders will make big claims and that's okay if it's like, if there's truth behind it. Sometimes, there actually isn't, right? And you don't actually know what's going on, and so you really want to make sure that things they're saying, they can back up. And a lot of that is what you go through in the due diligence process

So, that's like going through all their documents, going through their financials, going through their partnerships to make sure that everything that they've said has landed up. And so you really just want to make sure that there's integrity and that they're saying what is actually true. 

So, those are, kind of, the three things I would look for in flagging the smoke and mirrors. And then, I think the rest of the work is really about, like, critically analysing that and coming to a decision as a VC about whether that's investable or not.

Ayush

Awesome, wonderful!

Next question would be; so as a VC analyst, is it must for a VC analyst to source deals on, like, if you would know the number, like how many deal flows in a typical VC firm are sourced by analysts compared to, maybe, the senior partners or the directors in a fund.

Caleb

That's a great question; it's actually a very hard one to answer because every VC fund is different—like, very different—and their structures are very different.

Sometimes, you have VC funds which have, like, analysts that go and will go find the deals. They'll go and meet other, like, other companies. 

You might have other analysts who literally don't go and find deals themselves; they just go through the inbound. Inbound; meaning like, sometimes venture capital funds will have websites and VCs and, like, startups can apply to get funding and their whole job might actually just be going through all of the inbound applications they get. In other funds, an analyst can have, like, a very very active role, right? Like, they can be like the face of the firm, so it's actually very hard to answer that.

The short answer is like; whatever the firm needs, and like whatever gap you feel is sort of what you do as a vc analyst. Some of that is—I actually just hired a vc analyst for proximity for my fund; his role right now is, like, split between; half the time he's sourcing deals, he's looking for companies at the moment; and then the other half of the time he's doing research on the companies that have made it to the next stage with us.

So, it really depends, but yes, you do need to be able to source deals. That's like, a very important thing to have in your arsenal and what that looks like is, kind of like, identifying, like, breakout companies or breakout, like, industries or trends and sort of going and finding companies that are working in that space and trying to understand what they're doing. Keeping tabs, building those relationships; it's quite important, so yeah.

So, just to summarise that one, the scope of a vc analyst depends on the firm that you're in. But in general, yeah, you probably will be sourcing deals or you'll at least be like, analysing deals that come your way.

Ayush

Absolutely wonderful answer. And I've seen that too because when I was researching a lot of VC firms, they would have a form to submit a pitch and, like, just so that I'm sure like the big VC firms have a lot of inbound applications that the VC analyst then looks at. And also, we see firms tend to send their analysts to a lot of events as well, which the senior directors or partners can't go to, so that forms a part of sourcing as well…

Caleb

Yeah and like, for firms… Oh sorry…

Ayush

Go ahead…

Caleb

Sorry I interrupted, go ahead…

Ayush

Now, just saying it's like for a young… for a young fund, it definitely… VC analysts would be involved more in sourcing deals while if it's a senior… if it's like, if the fund has been around for a long time, they already have so many applications and analysts might also be working with current portfolio companies instead of sourcing deals. So, it would depend a lot on the stage of the fund and, yeah, and which area they're working in.

Caleb

Definitely, definitely…

Like, I think most forms online where, like you have a VC will have, like, hundreds—if not thousands—of applications every year. So, that is a job in itself and it's why I don't have a fund website. I'm just like, I don't want that like, right now; I'm trying to, like, build my processes and it's too early to have like, you know, hundreds of startups reach out to me. 

So yeah, so, totally agree with that.

Ayush

Yep, awesome!

There was a question from Abdullah. 

Yes, the recording of this session will be emailed to all of you with some more resources after the event; maybe tomorrow.

Before I move on to the question in the chat, I'm going to ask another question that a user submitted; so, when applying, when preparing to work in Venture Capital, is it… do you suggest a niche? So we should niche down in particular industries, like a couple of industries, or is it the more the merrier when preparing to work in VC, so, as personal expertise in specific industries?

Caleb

That's a great question and every time I talk to other people about it, it's always mixed so I think that the… like the response is kind of, like, ‘Yes’ and ‘No’.

So, it helps to have one space that you're good at and one space that you have like, you know, superior knowledge in, because then you become the person who the team relies on for that expertise, so I'm trying to think of a good example. 

So, for instance, I have a friend who got hired at, like, a really big venture capital firm in Australia; like a billion dollar venture capital firm and her background is science, and so she's like… she's been a scientist for like years, and so she's like the go-to for anything in deep technology because that's her background. And so, sometimes it really helps because you have this sort of niche advantage that other people don't, because you might be a great VC, but you also have deep technical expertise.

You don't necessarily need that though because I think a lot of firms, especially earlier stage firms, are very general and they'll look at a lot of different verticals and industries. So. that means that you probably want more of a generalist on the team who can just think really well about a lot of different opportunities, and in my opinion it's actually way more fun being a generalist because you get to see a lot of different startups, a lot of different problems that are being solved, a lot of different, like, potential solutions, so yeah. 

So that's my thinking; I think it's like, good to be a generalist, but have a few things you niche down in and a few things that you can be good at but never like just do one form of VC or like one industry because I think that really limits you.

Then the next thing I'd add is, if you do decide to go down a path where you're niching down on a subject or, like a space, it really helps to to actually share your knowledge about that. So, share your writing, share the things that you're learning and be known as that person who's like very niche in a space, and if you do that, like, it suddenly becomes very, like way easier to get a job as a VC. In fact, if you're an expert in a specific space that not many people understand, these VCs will approach you and ask you to work with them, and that's happened a couple times to a few friends of mine, so yeah; just some additional advice if you do have a niche.

Ayush

Awesome, that's some great advice!

I'm gonna go to the question in the chat while applying to some which builds on this question. 

When applying for VC firms, some of them ask to prepare the bearcase for one of their portfolio companies, so are there any… What are the best practices for preparing a bearcase?

Caleb

Yeah, that's a good question.

I actually don't think I can answer that, because I've never done that. I've never done a bear case and I think that my understanding of that is like a scenario analysis, which is a bit more advanced and technical. 

And what that looks like is, you will have like a range of different scenarios; like one scenario where the company does amazing, one scenario where the company does like as expected, and then one scenario—which is the bear case—that might mean, like if the company fails or just like hardly delivers on expectations.

I don't actually know what the, you know, the best way to do that is because I've never done that sort of technical analysis. I also don't think that that technical analysis—and this is just my thinking on this—I don't think that's really needed for the early stage if you're doing seed in pre-seed because at seed and pre-seed, there's actually like a 90% chance that it will fail, so you're kind of expecting that anyway; like, you expect, you know, basically, you know, 90% of your companies to go to zero in the first place. 

You don't need that financial modelling; it's more like it's just a… it's more of a case if you're investing in Series-A onwards. So, I think for my stage of investing, it's not as necessary.

What I would recommend is just, like googling, because like googling… Google is really your best friend. I still Google a lot of stuff on startup terms even as an investor of playing checks.

Ayush

So awesome. 

Great… someone asked; what is a bear case?

So, I mean just really simply explain, it's in stock markets or like in the financial markets; there's the bull market and the bear market and the bull market is generally where things are on the rise and the market’s doing great and the economy… the conditions of the economy are generally going up and favourable, and the bear market is opposite so the economy is receding and stocks are declining in value.

So, when the question said preparing a bear case so that probably means  the chances of the company not doing well and receding in value or not meeting product market, or losing its product market fit, is that correct, Caleb?

Caleb

Yep.

Yeah, I agree I think that's about accurate. Yeah, so I don't have anything specific on that; it's not really my stage of investing.

Ayush

Wonderful!

For next questions, any… Do you have any tips or hints for transitioning from sell-side to buy-side? 

Caleb

I don't know what that means, like… 

Ayush

That is a question from somebody. 

Caleb

I looked at the question, I didn't understand it. Sell-side to buy-side; that sounds like a marketing thing.

Ayush

That's, I think, probably like, more of a financial markets question.

Caleb

Yeah…

Yeah, no… again, not really the game I'm in, but this question in the comments looks really good. I actually really like this question, but I'm gonna butcher this name, sorry, Abdulraman?

Yeah, so let's assume I have the startup evaluation investment memo ready and I'm not in any VC firm, what do you suggest I do to make sure that the investor takes a look at my investment memory? Thanks! 

That's, like, so good. Sorry, like, actually I think this is how you sort of buy trust or buy those relationships with VC firms. If you send someone who… if you send like a beautiful investment memo—which explains the opportunity in like one page—which is like this is, you know, the company, this is like the traction, this is why I think they're great, this is… these are the market trends; that's a really easy way. It's like building trust with a lot of investors and so what I… Yeah, I think it's like firstly, it's a great strategy. 

Secondly the best way to get it in front of people is to just, like, DM them on Twitter. DM… yeah, DM… DM, like, senior partners on Twitter or principals on Twitter. DM, or like, email people on LinkedIn via email and just say, “Hey, I have this great investment opportunity.” 

What you want to do is just highlight in one or two lines why it's great so you want to say like, you know, “It went from 0 to 16,000 sign ups in like one week.” 

This is, you know, just the top-level stuff to make sure that people click through it's almost like writing a marketing email you're trying to make people be like, “Wow, this is really interesting I'm going to have a look,” so just explain why it's a great investment in like one or two sentences and then just DM a bunch of people; and I think if you do that, at least one or two of them will, like, have a look at it and probably respond to you saying, “Thanks, I'm passing” or “Thanks, like, I'll have a look. I'd like an intro”, so… 

Ayush

Awesome! Great tips. 

So, if someone is preparing for a VC interview, what… Do you have any tips for them? A couple of tips; maybe two or three tips?

Caleb

Yeah, okay cool. 

So, VC interview… I think… 

Okay, so it depends on what sort of firm you're going for. If you're going for an early-stage firm, like for instance, I did interviews last week—actually, two weeks ago—and they were super casual. I just wanted to get to know who the person was. It was more like, you're building a startup and so it's an early team, like, you have the first few people and it's more about whether you get along than like “What are the hard skills?” 

If you're, like, interviewing for a more established firm that probably has like a few, you know, like 20 mil over under management, then it would probably be a bit more formal. 

So, I think that the main things—the main impressions—you want to give, maybe two things; the first is that you're really curious and that's like, that shows that you are someone who will go and learn things and you're proactive and have high agency.

A way that you can do that is really, like, talk about or share some of the trends you're looking at or the things you're most interested in, and also sharing some of your writing. I think it's really important as a VC to be writing and sharing your learnings. 

So, sharing some of that stuff is like a really good way to show that you're a curious person and that you're interested in different trends.

The next thing is to show that you're actually prepared, right? Because like in VC, it actually really pays to be prepared and like to be ahead of the curve, right? And understand who you're talking to, understand, like, the investment opportunity. And so, a really good way to prepare is, like, do your research on the firm, do your research on, like, who the partners are in their background. And I'd also just like try to flex a bit and show that, you know, and you've done your research, so saying things like, “Hey, I noticed that you did this, this, and this, can you tell me a bit more about why?” or, like, you know an investment that you like.

And then, the third one is like, you'll probably… you may be asked like, what's a company you're looking at and why. 

Come up with, like, a really interesting answer to that; so maybe a company they don't know or a company that they do know, but might not expect you to to suggest. Don't go with the generic like market leaders because I think that's a bit boring. 

Ayush

Awesome. Some great tips again.

We have the person who asked the self-side versus buy-side question. We're gonna leave that for this discussion, but if anyone's interested in reading what is sell-side versus buy-side, read in the comments. It's more related to hedge funds and investment banks and the big advisory and consultancy firms than venture capital or private equity.

I'm going to read the question we have in the chat, right? 

So Nihal is asking; he's currently a product marketer at a SaaS company with around three years of experience and he wants to pivot into the VC space, though he doesn't want to shift his focus from SaaS. What are the initial things that he needs to work on to become a full-time VC analyst? 

Caleb

Yeah, good question.

That's possible, I mean, yeah, like I think that SaaS is so big and you probably just want to find a firm that is focused on Software as a Service (SaaS). Yeah, I think that that's like… that's basically the starting point; you find a firm that is focused on that and I think, like, the rest of it is really just like, you want to be a thought leader. Like, the best way to fast-track your entrance into venture capital is writing, and it's getting your presence out there, and it's building relationships actively. So if I was you, I'd start writing about the things I'm learning and things I'm doing in SaaS and I think that's kind of easy as a product marketer as well. So the sort of stuff you're doing and also why; like, the people you're looking out for or the companies that you find most exciting and why.So talking about that stuff is really important, really building that brand. 

The other one is like, if you really just want to be in VC, sometimes it pays to not be picky about which vertical, and it helps to just do everything, so the best shot for someone to get hired is actually not really going to a big VC firm; it's actually going to a smaller one that is looking for people to work with them and looking for, like, their first set of employees. It's way easier to just be like, “Hey, I can be valuable in these ways, like, let me help you for free for now and then when you're hiring, like, I'm happy to help out.” And that's a good way also to train your investing muscle and I've seen people do that a lot to get their first roles. 

Yeah, so I think there's a couple ways to break in but yeah, to summarise like if you just want to work in SaaS, look for SaaS-focused VCs and then start writing about SaaS. If you just want to break into VC, then start helping out VC firms or like, trying to meet with, you know, emerging managers to support them.

Ayush

Awesome.

There's an interesting thing you mentioned—that helping the VC firms for free—and then turning into a paid employee when they are hiring; which, there is a question that was submitted on, that I'm gonna ask next. But before that we have ten more minutes so if anyone has any other questions, feel free to put them in the chat. Any questions related to the program as well; if you have any confusions or questions, because we're gonna wrap up in 10 minutes.

So, someone had asked; is volunteer work a taboo when trying to get a VC experience?

Oh no, I mean the first thinking; I think it's not. Volunteer work is… I don't think it's a taboo anywhere because it gives you valid experience and gets you started in an industry and make connections where you don't have, but I'm gonna let you just, like, shed some light on that as well. And I'm also curious to at least understand why this person would think volunteer experience is taboo. But if you have any points to feel to help people be comfortable with volunteer work in the VC space…

Caleb

Yeah, I think I can actually understand why it might be a taboo, right? Like, especially here, it's like if you intern at a company or, like, volunteer at a company, it's a bit weird because the company should be able to pay you wages; they should pay you at least a stipend, whatever. 

Like it's kind of… it is a bit weird to volunteer and not get paid so I understand that it's not taboo and VC and it's also not to build startups because, like, there's scarcity in both of them. Like in venture capital, there's not enough roles and so the only way to get your foot in the door and get that experience is actually volunteering. There's no other way really to do it. 

And then in startups, there's like just not enough money and so, like, you volunteer because you want access to a startup but you actually can't; like, you can't be paid addicts; there's not enough funds. 

So yeah, I think it's super normal… It's super normal in this space and it's kind of like the rite of passage for a lot of people. Like, you volunteer as a VC, you help out like someone who's investing, whether it's with market research or with admin stuff, and then you get more and more opportunities as you get more tapped into the world. 

So yeah, I think that’s like, totally normal. I've seen it happen; I don't like doing it—I'd rather pay people—I think people should be paid for their time and that's just my thing, so I pay people I work with but quite a few people just take volunteers, so. 

Ayush

Makes sense.

Building on working in VC, Diane is asking if… she's looking to intern in… with venture capital funds. Is this best to reach out to people through LinkedIn or do you have any suggestions on other ways to find those… to look for these experiences? What's the best way for this industry?

Caleb

Yeah, so there's a few things.

So, LinkedIn is great. LinkedIn is probably one of the best. Even better is Twitter; Twitter's really good, Twitter's like very fast. A lot of VCs are on Twitter, so I'd say LinkedIn and Twitter at the top too. If you want the best shot, like, you really want to convey the value you can bring, like, really quickly and upfront and sometimes, the best way to do that is by email. 

So it's saying, “Hey, like, look I have expertise in x, y, and z. I want to help you and here are the things I can do and, like, here are the details; like you know here's how quickly I can start.”

Stuff like that is really helpful, so when you're, like, very articulate about, like, how you'll provide support, there's probably not any good VC sites for that but, like a really easy way is just like, look up venture capital and then the region that you're trying to do VC in and a whole list of search results will come up either on Google or LinkedIn.

So, yeah.

Ayush

And I would also suggest, like, going from VC events that are happening in your region or maybe online. There's a lot of  events and panel discussions that happen online, so join them, connect with people who are attending those events because those people are your tribe. There's the startup weekend that happens in many countries around the world and entrepreneurial hackathons that happen where you will find entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs usually go to VC. So, that's how you expand your network.

I think this is a question that you might enjoy answering, Caleb; the Chinese are investing into Africa in recent years so why is it, in your opinion, a hotbed region at the moment? So why is Africa so popular in these times? Because you are investing in the region too, so…

Caleb

Yeha, so I think like, the… yeah, the Chinese are investing in Africa, I think, it's a bit different to venture capital. Like, I think they're less active when it comes to venture capital, they're more active when it comes to, like, debt financing and, like, infrastructure. That's a whole can of worms.

I'm probably not going to dive into why China's investing in Africa because it's a whole thing and it can be a bit controversial, but Africa is a huge opportunity right now for a few reasons. It's like, it's essentially the last tech frontier, in that, like, tech is… has, like, really quickly been adopted across the world and it's the last place where tech is still really booming and is really, like, meteorically on the rise and that's really interesting because, like, in Africa, there's a lot of problems that still haven't been solved and aren't solved by governments and they're not solved by, like, nonprofits and they're not solved by corporates. So, startups essentially become service providers; like, they provide, like, infrastructure that helps; really bridge, like, and create financial search… sorry, create services for people who don't have those services otherwise.

So, for me, it's like this intersection of impact and also like returns for African consumers. It's more like, “Oh man, we finally get to access consistent energy or like have financial products that help, like let us transfer money,” things that really impact their livelihoods. So, tech just is kind of different in nature there. And now with, like, mobile and internet penetration growing really quickly, it's like the perfect time to be starting a company in Africa, so that's why I'm bullish on Africa right now.

Ayush

Yeah, amazing. Great answer.

All right, call for last questions; if you have any, I have a second last question, so this is more of… related to the program as well. Nihal is finding it really hard to find the valuations of a company online and he's curious to know how VCs value startups at a very early stage, so pre-seed startups, and he also has a question from Stripe that we have in the program. So, if you want to read that in the chat. 

Caleb

Yeah, so it's very hard. Like, I mean, buying a company it's just like finger-in-the-air, like you don't really know, like, you kind of just guess it and sometimes it's ridiculous. Like, sometimes, yeah it really varies. 

Sometimes, you'll meet like the best founder; one of the most impressive founders and they're investing, you know, they're raising money at a pre-seed stage where they have a bit of traction and they're raising it just at a very low valuation—like very low. Other times, you'll have a really good founder who's raising it like triple the valuation, and so it really depends on the company. Usually, the valuation is set by the lead investor and the lead investor is the one who puts the most money in; they get to dictate what value they take the company at if the company agrees—they have the right to opt in or walk away. Usually, it's a mix of things, so at pre-seed, it's like, 

What is the space? 

What's the house, like, how strong is the founder?

And then, what existing traction do they have already?

Have they already got like a couple thousand users or how quickly are they growing and how far in the build are they?

So a lot of these things really weigh it up. Once you start bringing revenue into the equation, it makes it a bit easier to value a company, but before that, it's really about, like how strong is the founder, how interesting is the space and what's the traction so far? So there's no, like, hard and fast rule. It's a bit more about feeling than anything. Yeah. 

Ayush

Yeah all these stages are feeling-based. 

Caleb

Yeah, it's also like, how ball of the founder is, like, I don't know it.

Like, if the founder's just like, “Yo, I'm taking this as my valuation, you take it or leave it,” in a lot of cases, like, VCs—if it's a strong founder—would be like, “Yeah, okay,” kind of, “fine, we'll take it.” Like, so it really does depend on how good the founder is at manoeuvring. 

Ayush

Yeah, absolutely.

Ah, awesome. We have a couple more questions and a couple more minutes, so we can go through them quickly.

Nash is asking; what should one expect to learn from a VC firm—to teach them if they join as an analyst or any junior executive position? I'm not really sure what exactly is the question, nash. 

Caleb

Do you want to ask the question, Nash? Like can we…

Nash

Yeah, Hi Hi Hi!!! 

Thanks for organising this, right? So, I wanted to ask if I joined a VC firm and if I'm joining as an analyst or any junior rold, right? So, I think the only way I can grow is to follow a leader who is much, you know, way smarter than me and teach me the ways. So, if we talk about an idealistic leader or a firm, right? We understand there's a lot of jobs going on in general, right? Because there's so many hands to do, what would be an idealistic position that one can teach me? What should I expect from a good leader in terms of your own following? Then because my… if I'm getting involved my plan is to stay in work for next 15 years 20 years, right? So, how exactly can we work that out? 

So that's what I want to understand.

Caleb

Yeah, that's a great question.

So, firstly, it's like, yeah if you join a firm, you should be working closely with a partner or with someone who's senior to you who helps you, like, helps guide you in that process and helps you become a better investor.

Yeah, there's probably two things I would say; the first one is like, freedom to call your own shots and that means, like, when you find a company, if you… like, they can help guide you through the thinking but if you're a high conviction and you believe in the company, then like, they'll let you make that decision to invest. They won't actually say no if you're high enough conviction. 

That doesn't always happen because, you know, it's not like… it's hard to have that level of trust especially if you're junior, but it's important that they do let you say like, “Hey, actually no, I really think this is an opportunity” and explain your why; and if that why holds up to everyone's arguments, then like, they'll give you that freedom or that autonomy to make the decision. That's really important.

The next one is, yeah, what is the next one? I think the next one is just like, that they are keen to show you the ropes and show you, like, how they thought about investing and their framework and that they let you develop your own style because I think people have their own style of thinking about companies and and pretty often, like everyone's style can become amalgamated into one. It gets very similar, like, I remember when I started Proximity with Ajay who's my partner in Proximity, we had very different ways of thinking and we disagreed a lot of the time. And now, we're very similar and that's actually a bad thing—that's not a good thing—you want people with very different forms of thinking to, like, come in with different perspectives and who want to play devil's advocate. 

So, I guess like the next… yeah the second thing is that they let you develop and explore your own style of thinking about investment opportunities. 

Yeah, so those are the two that I'd suggest.

Nash

Yeah, thanks so much for answering. 

Thumbs up, thanks!

Ayush

Great! Last question for the day; what do you think is the best way—so this is more catered to the African VC space—to get the world out for more VC openings or build communities in the applicant space? Seems that the opportunities are huge and the market is growing, so if someone is keen to do that, what should we do?

Caleb

Yeah and I'm gonna guess yeah… 

Ayush

I just… I guess it's the same as like, not only in Africa, but the answer might be relevant for other people as well in other other communities because VC as a field is growing quite fast but still it's hard to find those VC openings or have a central space where people can gather and meet other like-minded people or like have common communities.

Caleb

Yeah, I'm gonna take this question as; Samuel's asking how to, like, learn more about the VC openings and the space. 

There, I'm guessing that that's what it is, right? Not like, “how do firms do that more?”

So yeah, I think like I think the best way to do it; so there's a few things here. If you're the person who connects, like, individuals to opportunities, that's like a pretty powerful position to have and those people, like, find it pretty easy to raise money and to find their first, sort of, set of jobs. 

So, there's a really interesting group called Gen Z VCs, which is a big Slack group. There's like heaps of opportunities on there. It's not the best community, but it's like, one of the biggest. I think there's like 20,000 people who want to get into VC there; that woman who started that, like, has so much clout that she could join any firm that she wanted. So, if you started something similar—which is like a community for young, like, for people in africa or like your region or with an interest in a specific thing who want to get into venture capital; which is really easy to do—there's a massive opportunity there for you to build your own community there and find more opportunities and be that connector. So, that… that's a really easy way to become known in the VC space.

Now if you're looking for opportunities in VC, I would just say, like, I mean it depends on how much you want. If you really want a position in VC, then go and, like, figure out, like, what your value proposition is and then just dm like every single VC, that you know or that, like, you can find and just see how you can help and start interning and volunteering.

In the meantime, it's really important to build your own brand and profile so, like, start writing. Writing is one of the most effective ways to bring people to you. It's helped me find some of the best founders I've met; it's helped me get into deals that have been closed for months; it's helped me meet, like, people who've invested in my funds, so like, it's… 

The most important thing you can do is writing and getting your public profile out there. It can be podcasting too; it can be like, yeah, it can be podcasting. It can be like other content, like TikTok, whatever… it's just important that you build your brand. That's like, one of… that's one of the most defensible things you can do.

Yeah so if you connect people, that's a good thing; if you build your brand, that's a good thing, and then finally, just be relentless, like, keep messaging people until someone gives you a shot and eventually, someone will. And then, that's a great way to get started.

Ayush

Amazing. Yeah, all of it boils down to taking initiative and action and just being active in the community and talking to more people in that space.

Caleb

100%

Ayush

Awesome! Thank you, Caleb, for your insightful answers, and thank you everybody for joining us today. It was a great session. The recording will be provided to you via email and for those of you those of who are in the current program, good luck with… good luck with finishing it. 

Make sure you take note of the deadlines and if you have any questions—any further questions—feel free to, yeah, connect with Caleb on LinkedIn and also reach out to us on discord and we'll be happy to answer your questions there.

Awesome thanks everybody. We'll wrap up the session here and I'll stop the recording. We'll see you guys on a future EntryLevel event or on Discord.

Caleb

Awesome! Thanks, guys.

Thanks for coming.

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Register now to attend

Want to learn more about Venture Capital? Listen to Caleb, GP at Proximity Ventures, tell his story.

Attendees got the chance to ask questions and hear advice about working in VC.

Discussion included:

  • The best part about working in Venture Capital
  • Skills needed to work in Venture Capital
  • What breaking into Venture Capital is like
  • What Venture Capital Analyst interns can expect to do
  • Tips to land your first Venture Capital Analyst role
  • How to get experience as a Venture Capital Analyst
  • Investing in Africa

Resources shared during the session

Enrol in EntryLevel's VC Analyst program: https://go.entrylevel.net/vcqna

FAQs: https://help.entrylevel.net/help

Contact: support@entrylevel.net

How to break into VC blog posts

https://www.entrylevel.net/post/breaking-into-venture-capital-part-1

https://www.entrylevel.net/post/breaking-into-venture-capital-part-2

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Presenters

Caleb Maru

Director @ Proximity Ventures

Caleb Maru is a partner at Proximity Ventures, which invests in startups accelerating Africa. He is also the Head of Programs at EntryLevel, which aims to break the no experience, no job cycle through hands-on tech programs. Caleb builds, invests in, and writes about Africa's growing tech scene.

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