A Year-In-Review: Reflections and Lessons-Learned as a New VC

It feels like I wrote my six-month review blogpost yesterday. It also feels like I just joined Corigin last week. But alas, it’s been a year.

In the spirit of transparency, much as I did with my six-month review, I’ve spent some time thinking about some of my takeaways from this past year, and published them here. This is a peek inside my brain, and some of the things I’ve found myself discussing recently.

One. Momentum picks up quickly with hard work and a good foundation.

In my six-month post, I wrote about the fact that impatience is a good thing. I certainly believe this, but to follow-up, I’ve really started to see some of the fruits of my labour come to fruition. I’ve tried to network my tail off and position myself as an active member of the VC community. Six months ago it still felt like a long uphill battle — and it still does — but now I’m seeing some reward!

Taking a moment to think back about the last year, I’m really proud of what I’ve accomplished. I knew I was coming in slightly behind, given that my network wasn’t extensive in New York, tech and/or VC. This was the aspect of the job I feared the most; I knew I could hunker down at a desk, analyze deals and converse well with people. I didn’t know how well I’d be able to control the connections I could make.

In the spring, I noticed that the pendulum started to shift. I was all-of-a-sudden getting asked to do panels and pitch competitions, instead of responding to emails volunteering. I was getting many more inbounds for deal flow and meeting a wider variety of people through inbound introductions. Furthermore, I’ve somehow convinced at least a handful of people in the community that I’m an expert on something. All of this came from tons and tons and tons of hours and hard work and putting myself in awkward initial situations. It’s been worth it, and will continue to be.

Two. Opportunity cost of time.

This is the point I quote most often to people, and I think it applies nicely to VCs and founders who are early along in their careers and/or ventures.

Given that I am new to VC, I’m still in my early days, months and years of bricklaying for my future career. This is the most malleable I will be, and the time when I’ll soak up the most marginal knowledge. To me, the opportunity cost of my time is relatively low. First, I don’t have many personal commitments: I don’t have a family, I don’t have massive personal expenses and I don’t have any demanding extra-curricular activities. Second, I don’t have professional obligations that make me incredibly invaluable. In other words, I’m not a Fred Wilson, Chris Sacca or Bill Gurley where my professional time is constantly a game of pick-and-choose the best use.

By going to events, even if they seem useless, the only real thing I’m giving up is a night or a couple hours, repeatedly. Instead, I might be doing extra work, catching up with friends, or going to the gym. These are all worthwhile, but if I’m really laying that foundation for my career, it’s not much to give up right now. I’m trying to set myself up to absorb as much of that knowledge base as I can now, so I can be more efficient with my time when I am one of those hugely successful VCs.

To me, a useless meeting, networking event, or panel is only an hour or two that I’ve spent doing something less than ideal. Plus, you never know what could come of it. It’s like investing: it only takes one person or connection to start something really great. That might only happen in one of every 10 meetings, but that’s why it’s worth spending the time to do it.

Three. You can’t cheat your progression.

About six months ago or so, I decided I needed to up my social presence. I knew that this would be a challenge. After all, I have nothing insightful or meaningful to say that previous savants haven’t said. It’s partially true. I tried to force myself to tweet a couple times a day. I looked for articles on how to create an interesting twitter account, looked at interesting pieces that weren’t getting as much attention as I thought they should and tried to engage with other tweeters. It took a tremendous amount of work, and didn’t really move the needle much.

I gave that up after a month or two, and just began tweeting when I thought there was something interesting to say or share. My twitter followers have continued to increase steadily, much like they did before (and probably more). Bottom line, trying to “hack together” a strategy didn’t really help me (probably also because I’m not a social marketer or PR expert).

While this is just an example, this continues my theme from my six-month post that experience and observation can’t be faked. There is a certain amount of learning that needs to happen that can’t be “hacked”. Relationships and reputation need to be built, much as a knowledge base does.

Four. You’ll have bad days.

My final point is about the highs and lows. I think my friends and family are beginning to think I’m a broken record, because when they ask about my job, I respond with “I absolutely love it. I’m so lucky!” Which I feel 99% of the time. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, I’ve never truly enjoyed a job; this is new and delightful. But, there are bad days. Even dream jobs involve bad days. This is nothing new to anyone. What I take away from this is that you can’t win or be the best version of your working self every. single. day.

This is a competitive industry and I’ve often said things to friends like, “I’m having a discouraging day. I just want to be better, quicker.” This frustration is really hard to stomach. It often comes from a feeling deep down that I’ve disappointed myself — no one else has, I have. But I need to appreciate it, and realize it’s what makes me work harder and look for resources to be better, and quicker.

This is a really easy industry to make comparisons to other people. What we need to remember is that what we do is tough, and we’re all doing a lot, all the time. It’s really hard to have bad days and to come up for air and realize that you can’t make everything happen right away. But instead, I’ve cheated a couple times and skipped an after-work event to do yoga or to hang out with people who don’t work in this industry. Then I realize that I’ll go to sleep and wake up feeling ambitious, instead of defeated. Everything is relative — what I think is standard and pretty average, my sister tells me I’m amazing for. Some outside perspective and low days are necessary and totally ok.

Bonus.

As a bonus, I thought I’d throw in the things I’ve been most surprised by, both on the upside and downside. Shout-out to Charlie O’Donnell at Brooklyn Bridge Ventures who asks great questions, and asked me this a month or two ago.

Most surprising to the upside: Easy. The Community.

There’s no way I would feel as accomplished as I do without this stellar community. Whether it be asking for help, seeking out experts, or venting, I’ve made some amazing connections and fantastic friends. I look forward to events that I know great VCs and friends will be attending and I am eager to help out the incredible people in this community. We are all so lucky.

Most surprising to the downside: Harder to pinpoint. Realizing that there’s no magic formula to ‘winning’.

This might seem obvious. But, I truly believe that this isn’t a job that you can master through ‘study’ or by simply putting your head down at your desk. My past jobs were like that: you follow orders from higher-ups, have a great attitude, and essentially chain yourself to your desk. This career takes many different things: meeting the right people, having guts and an appetite for risk, perseverance, a significant amount of extraversion (yes truly), and a lot of luck. There are probably many more things from this list that I’m missing.

My way of dealing with this, is to ask questions. Jason put a quote up on our whiteboard one day that said: “You have two ears and one mouth. Use them in this ratio in VC.” I like that. I try to ask pointed questions to many different people. I did that with Charlie. [side note: if you’re an experienced VC and you have lots of ‘wisdom’ and you want to tell me what I’m missing or give me tips, or tell me stories, I’m all (two) ears! I’ll buy you a beer.]

What’s It All For?

This review made me think back and reflect about my past year in this new career, and realize how truly lucky I am. In a short amount of time, I’ve expanded my network like crazy, led deals and worked with some incredibly amazing founders doing things I never would have imagined, and learned so many new skills I didn’t even know I was lacking.

I still remember that on my first day I nervously asked David this very question: “hey, so I think I know the answer to this question, but is it ok if I start reaching out to companies and just scheduling meetings on my own? I just wanted to check with you.” Now, I’m on an advisory council for Million Dollar Women, I’m a mentor for VFA and I’m heading up a startup/VC network with our first sponsored event happening in the fall. Further, I’ve engaged with some really experienced and knowledgeable people I didn’t think I’d have access to, and been quoted in Entrepreneur. At a minimum, I’ve made my parents proud.

At the risk of sounding redundant and cheesy, I’d truly like to take a moment and thank David, Ryan, Jason on the Corigin team. They took a chance on me when I was faking my tech chops in interviews. I’d like to thank all the countless VCs and founders who I’ve met with, and all the people I’ve leaned on over the past year. It’s been a hell-of-a-ride, and I can’t wait for what’s in store.

Please get in touch, let’s chat! @clairefauquier or on LinkedIn.

Aug, 03, 2016

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