Everyone knows that getting a job in venture capital is notoriously hard. And even more so for Silicon Valley’s top firms, like Sequoia, Founders Fund, or Andreessen Horowitz.
One common path is to first be a founder of a successful startup, sell it and have your own money to invest as one of the firm’s limited partners.
Another is to rack up years of experience as an operator at a big tech firm. A few others will start at smaller firms and develop a strong track record before moving up to bigger ones, although it can be difficult to bounce from one firm to another because it can take years before the startups they invest in pay off.
No matter what, the expectation is that breaking into venture capital requires having a strong industry network and a flurry of warm intros.
Li Jin, however, landed her first investing job at Andreessen Horowitz without doing any of this.
She cold-applied to the prestigious firm in 2016 while working as product manager at Shopkick. She expected her resume to “go into an abyss,” as she explained on Twitter, but instead she landed an interview with a16z partner Frank Chen.
That kicked off a six-month long hiring process with the firm, which at one point included building a massive financial model in Excel that predicted whether or not to buy or sell a public company’s stock.
There were certainly moments in that process where Jin didn’t think she’d get the job.
But she was ultimately hired. She then spent four years at Andreessen working on deals for companies like Rappi, Substack, and Hipcamp. It allowed her to develop her “passion economy” investing thesis, which supports startups that help creators monetize their artistic talents.
And now, at just 30, Jin is starting her own venture firm called Atelier Ventures. She was named among Business Insider’s 2020 list of the 100 rising-star VCs who represent the future of venture capital.
Looking back, she tells Business Insider, “The culture of warm introduction is a little bit broken, to be honest. I think there’s always going to be outsiders who are really deserving. And I think that they should get a chance.”
When Jin was a college student, she wanted to be a journalist. She poured her life into Harvard’s student newspaper and spent a summer interning at the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette.
She didn’t take her first computer science course until her senior year and didn’t even know what a product manager was when she graduated in 2012. She landed in Silicon Valley a year after graduating, working at an early-stage startup called Shopkick that was then backed by Kleiner Perkins.
She started as a growth analyst before internally making the transition to a product management role a few months later.
After a few years at Shopkick, she realized she wanted to “step back and see more of the consumer landscape” and applied to business school soon after.
Jin had fallen in love with Silicon Valley, however, and didn’t want to stop working and go back to school.
After one of her colleagues at Shopkick suggested venture capital as a possible next career move for her, she applied to an investor role on Andreessen Horowitz’s website on a whim.
“I literally went to a16z.com, went to their jobs page and submitted my resume online, because I didn’t have any connections in the industry. I didn’t know any VCs,” she said.
“To my surprise, two weeks later, someone from the team actually responded,” she added. It was a16z partner and investor Frank Chen.
Jin went “crazy above and beyond” to land her job at Andreessen
That first kicked off six months of meetings, presentations and projects where Jin felt she was constantly making the 15-minute drive from her Shopkick office to Andreessen’s office on Sandhill Road.
“It’s pretty common in the venture world to have these drawn-out interview processes,” she told Business Insider. “These roles don’t come around very often so it’s very high stakes who you add to the team.”
Still, there were some disheartening moments. At one point, the firm had “gone silent” for weeks and she speculated she was losing her chance for the job. Instead of giving up, Jin put together a detailed presentation that outlined the companies she thought a16z should invest in. It took the firm’s investors by surprise since it came out of the blue — but Jin says they were impressed, given that none of the other applicants took that initiative.
Another shining moment was when Andreessen asked of her to create a financial model to determine, hypothetically, whether or not to invest in a specific public company. Jin not only put together a sophisticated Excel model, but also spoke with public market analysts. Then she applied for a job at the company so she could talk to its employees.
“I just went crazy above and beyond,” she told Business Insider.
Jin’s efforts paid off, and she dropped out of business school to join Andreessen’s consumer investing team in fall 2016.
In addition to having to multiple projects, Jin says she had around seven meetings with different investors at the firm before she was hired.
Helping others break into Silicon Valley
Jin spent four years at Andreessen, where she helped the firm with sixteen of its investments including startups like Lime, Substack, Lunchclub, and Hipcamp, although she didn’t lead any deals herself.
Working at a16z allowed Jin to develop her investing thesis centered around the “passion economy,” or online marketplaces that allow people to turn their creative passions into self-sustaining professions.
She’s now started her own early-stage VC firm Atelier, and recently signed a deal with Stir, a startup that helps influencers and creators manage business tasks like splitting revenue and securing brand deals.
But she’s also committed to using her influence to help other talented entrepreneurs and investors become successful in Silicon Valley, especially those from less privileged backgrounds. She says she reads all the messages that founders send her, even if she can’t respond to all of them
For those aspiring to break into venture capital, she also had this piece of advice: “Show them what you’re capable of, and show your value before you’re even hired,” she said. “Don’t wait for people to give you a shot and tell you exactly what to do. Just do it.”
Are you a venture industry or a16z insider with insight to share? Contact Berber at email@example.com or on Signal at (914-318-4121). Open Twitter DMs as well at @berber_jin1