In my 30+ years of investment experience, I’ve worked with countless CEOs, founders, and other investors; I’ve seen unfortunate failures, wild successes, and everything in between.
I’m often asked about my path to becoming a venture capitalist and what a blueprint for success looks like. The truth is that no matter what you do—whether pursuing venture capital or another career—you need to figure out how to present and sell yourself.
What you’re selling is your value proposition. It involves how you position yourself in the industry, how people in the sector will come to know you, and perhaps most importantly, establishes your reputation for who and what companies want to work with you.
Speaking from my experience as a VC, I can tell you that investment opportunities never just pop up. So, I’ve seized opportunities by defining who I am and what I have to offer. Bay Partners’ investment thesis is working with early-stage B2B enterprise SaaS, and within our firm, I became the “people guy.” The personal brand I built not only defined my role at Bay Partners and how I interacted with the companies we invested in but also how people knew me in the overall investment industry.
What is your personal value proposition? And why should someone choose to work with you over anyone else?
What Makes You Different From Anyone Else?
Everyone’s different. So then, the million-dollar question is: what makes you different and outstanding from anyone else? Walking you through my experience, it’s answering why should a founder or CEO give you a chance?
Entrepreneurs are often interested in working with familiar faces or brand names first, so when you’re new in the industry, you have to start by establishing your brand. Ask yourself what you do well and lean into that as your niche. Will you be the SaaS go-to? Are you a financial whiz? Is tech development your superpower? The one who specializes in helping out minority-led businesses? Are you rooting for the underdogs or reaching for the top-shelf ideas?
For myself, I decided to be a VC who’s highly interested in and focused on people. Knowing that that’s what I do well and I’m passionate about, it was easy to embrace. With this in mind, I started getting to know potential entrepreneurs who needed funding, spent a lot of time with them, and built strong relationships. Whether there were opportunities on the table involving money or not, I started listening and building trust.
Trust is everything when competing with brand name firms and partners. Once rapport is built, this is your chance to show them how you can bring value. Fundamentally, your role is to be a sounding board for their ideas and thoughts and share your comments. Once I’m familiar and friendly with a CEO, I dedicate time to influencing them and the company—helping with sales, marketing, strategy, making introductions to potential customers or partners—whatever the CEO needs support with.
As the people guy, I was present more than any other investor. Regardless of what niche you settle into and how you make that happen for yourself, once entrepreneurs really get to know you, they remember you and tell other people about you. Suddenly, people want YOU as their investor over big, successful firms.
Build a Reputation and Have a Good Track Record
More often than not, you’ll likely be one or two steps behind well-known firms, so your value proposition needs to be strong and backed by a solid reputation.
In the foundational stages, you can’t have enough meetings, breakfasts, conversations, or face time to get to know entrepreneurs and show them what you have to offer. Work on outperforming any involved investors and producing what the entrepreneur needs.
Be willing to perform the balancing act of relationship building with producing results. For me, that meant being part of practical approaches to getting products to market, which sometimes included going out in the field with salespeople—or in today’s world, jumping on Zoom calls and connecting virtually with various people.
Considering how I’ve positioned myself, playing this active role was the best way to learn the most about companies—there’s nobody more honest and direct than salespeople. Lending well to my area of expertise, these interactions allowed me to identify problems and gather customer input, helping me get really honest and transparent with CEOs to relay what they needed to know.
Your actions say everything about how you’ve framed yourself and what you have to offer. Start with lots of face time, gain trust, and then tap into your networks and professional relationships to stretch your value even further.
Own Your Particular Area and Become Known for It
Coming full circle from establishing who you are in your industry and building a reputation around that, put your principles out front and really make your values known to everyone. If you know what you’re looking for, people will know how and where to find you.
Check your ego at the door and be someone easy to talk to and fun to do business with. Be willing to meet halfway and help one another. If there’s no mutual understanding and support, there’s no value. In the VC stream, giving money is just a vehicle to get started, but after that, you need to put in the work to produce results—being an investor is no cakewalk!
It’s valuable to learn from others who have made it big and adopt what works for you while bearing in mind that every situation will look different—following the exact steps won’t always replicate the same success. There’s no shame in starting with smaller investments because although ownership may be small, at least you’re in the game. From there, you get others to play, and your second investment could double in size because of the reputation you’ve built up.
Sometimes playing the long game pays off, and other times it won’t; some connections will instantly click, and some will take forever—this is all part of the process of discovering your personal brand and what you’ll be known for.
Framing your unique value proposition doesn’t happen overnight: all these things take time and practice to build up. But once you’ve built, owned, and become known for your area, people will start thinking, “this guy’s done all these things… maybe he would work with us!”
If you have questions about my pathway and how I’ve built my reputation or want to share your experience framing your unique value proposition, I’m all ears. Let’s connect!