The Ideal Venture Capitalist: The Right Attitude For The Field

by David Cummins Ankit Garg, and Linus Chung

This chapter is a free excerpt from The Best Book on Getting Into Venture Capital.

In this article, David Cummins "leads by example," showing through his own experience what sort of background, skill set, attitude, and level of self awareness a venture capitalist should possess:
  • Pursue your passions and interests.
  • Stay focused.
  • Gain a diverse set of experiences.
  • Don’t be afraid to stand out.
  • Do your homework—work hard.
  • Reach Out.
  • Patience is a virtue.
As with any other career path; in venture capital the right mindset goes a long way. David Cummins, one of our expert consultants for this book, details what he feels these attributes are.

Pursue Your Passions & Interests


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In this article, David Cummins "leads by example," showing through his own experience what sort of background, skill set, attitude, and level of self awareness a venture capitalist should possess:
  • Pursue your passions and interests.
  • Stay focused.
  • Gain a diverse set of experiences.
  • Don’t be afraid to stand out.
  • Do your homework—work hard.
  • Reach Out.
  • Patience is a virtue.
As with any other career path; in venture capital the right mindset goes a long way. David Cummins, one of our expert consultants for this book, details what he feels these attributes are.

Pursue Your Passions & Interests



I wanted to internationalize my career, and I thought the best way to do that as an undergraduate would be to learn a language. Originally from Texas, I learned a lot of Spanish in high school. When I got to college, however, I wanted to pick a language that would be more challenging. I wanted to select a language that I was interested in, one that I felt would be important on a global scale.

With my eighteen year old mind, I thought China would be pretty vital in the future. Lots was happening there—the economy was growing really quickly. It became very clear to me that China was going to end up a major player on the world stage. Since there were a lot of Chinese people that spoke English, I felt it was important that we reciprocate and learn Chinese. Language is an important tool for understanding and communicating with people—if I can talk to you, then we can communicate and connect on a deeper level.

Stay Focused



A lot of my undergrad business school classmates thought I was crazy. They didn’t understand why I was expending so much time and energy to learn Chinese, or why I spent a year studying abroad at Peking University in Beijing, China during my junior year of college. The simple truth was, I was passionate about it, so I stayed focused. It wasn’t easy, though. If your native language is a Western language, Chinese is what the State Department calls a Level 4/Level 5 language. Chinese, along with Arabic and Japanese, takes three times as long to learn as a romance language like Spanish or French. But I was fascinated with emerging markets and what was happening in that part of the world—I wanted to be a part of it, so I kept at it, and it paid off.

When you enter graduate level, you’ll have people tell you what job you should have or what job you should want, and a lot of folks blindly follow that, rather than taking a step back and asking, “what am I really interested in?”

Gain A Diverse Set Of Experiences



Experience is extremely important if you’re considering a career in venture capital. As an undergrad, I ended up doing quite a few internships and gaining a lot from them. I spent a summer working in Qingdao, China at a leather manufacturing factory. Prior to spending my junior year abroad in Beijing, I spent a summer studying Chinese at the Middlebury College Chinese School. I also spent a summer working at Intel.

When it came time for graduation, I knew I wanted to go abroad sooner rather than later. I had spent all this time and energy learning Chinese, and I didn’t want it to go to waste.

A lot of my business school classmates took more traditional jobs. They went to work as consultants or took investment banking jobs at places like Goldman Sachs. It turned out those places didn’t really hire you for their international positions straight away. I wanted to find a job that would let me go abroad immediately.

I ended up getting a job at a manufacturing firm that was based in Austin, Texas, where I went to school. They did a lot of design and engineering work in Austin, but they outsourced a lot of the manufacturing work they did to China. They made a lot of parts for computers such as plastic casings, custom computer cables, and a wide range of other computer accessories. I then spent two years working at a boutique Shanghai-based investment research firm that catered to foreign hedge fund clients investing in American-listed Chinese technology companies, such as Baidu and Tencent.

When I interviewed for a job in venture capital, I had a very non-traditional background. I could talk about why I choose the jobs I choose, how I went about getting those jobs, and, more importantly, what I learned. The partners at the fund could sense the entrepreneurial attitude that it took for me to learn Chinese, seeking out non-traditional jobs, and work in China at such a young age. If I’d just taken a consulting or investment banking job, my resume would have looked like all the others and lacked the necessary passion. Had it not been for my diverse set of experiences that I could talk passionately and clearly about, I might never have landed a position in VC.

Don’t Be Afraid To Stand Out



It was a small start-up company with only 30 employees, and I was the only person at the company that spoke Chinese, which made me a major asset to the company and helped me to get the job.

It turned out that I spent a lot of my time in China, managing our vendor relationships, making sure productions projects stayed on schedule, and that products were shipped to our U.S. customers on time.

Resumes tell people the “what” but they don’t detail the “why” or “how” you made the decisions or did the things you did. I was able to tell a compelling story about why I started learning Chinese, how I landed such a non-traditional job just out of college, and what I learned from all of my experiences. They love stuff like this—stuff that shows you’re willing to take a risk, pursue your passions, and stand apart from the crowd.

Do Your Homework

Keep your finger on the pulse of the industry—it’ll pay off in the long run.

When I was living in China between 2004 and 2005, I noticed a lot of Chinese technology companies going public. Companies such as Tencent, Baidu, Focus Media, and Sina were all becoming big names, and I felt it was worth looking into.

One international company—though not Chinese—that caught my eye was Skype, which had just been sold to eBay. I started to look at all of this and ask myself, “who are the Silicon Valley venture capital funds backing these companies? I did my homework and discovered that a firm called Draper Fisher Jurvetson (www.dfj.com/index.shtml) was at the forefront of international technology investing.

DFJ is a unique group in that they have a global network of funds all over the world, investing in various geographical locations. They have a presence in China, Eastern Europe, Russia, Israel, and South America, as well as all over the US. Given my interest in global markets, technology, and entrepreneurship, I was intrigued.

Be Willing To Reach Out

I really wanted to get in touch with this firm. As such, I decided to reach out to a couple of guys that had started it. One of them was Tim Draper—he’s a pretty big deal out here in Silicon Valley; a third generation venture capitalist (www.linkedin.com/company/third-generation-ventures) responsible for funding some very important start ups. DFJ is one of the most famous venture firms in the world, and has been around Silicon Valley for more than 25 years now. They’ve invested in companies such as Hotmail, Overture, Skype, Baidu, Focus Media, and Tesla.

I decided to send Tim a cold email introducing myself and expressing my interest in China and some of the investments the fund was making there.

I honestly didn’t even know where that contact would lead at the time, but as it turned out, Tim actually got back to me. He’s very good at responding to people. He said that if I was ever in Silicon Valley, I should find the time to come by for a chat.

Don’t Expect Immediate Results

The next time I was in the states, I purchased a ticket up to San Francisco from Texas. Tim was gracious enough to meet with me at the DFJ offices for a quick chat, It turned out that another representative, Bobby Chao from DFJ Dragon (a Chinese venture fund), was there as well.

The conversation didn’t lead to a job straightaway, but it did lead to a relationship that I ended up maintaining over the next few years.

During that time, I left the manufacturing world and went to work for an investment firm in Shanghai. Incidentally, it was a cold email to Jim McGregor, a 25 year China veteran and author of One Billion Customers, that landed me that job. While working in Shanghai, I got to know and built relationships with a lot of DFJ folks that were on the ground in China.

Through those networks, I became aware that DFJ was creating a new fund, known as the DFJ Growth Fund, and they were building a team to manage the fund.

I’d always been interested in entrepreneurship and venture capital, and was energized by and excited about the prospect of being part of that team. So I leveraged some of those relationships that I’d developed over the years to get in touch with the team that was building the fund, flew to California, and met with them for an interview.

Next thing I knew, I had a job.

The Ideal Venture Capitalist

The truth is that venture capital is a small industry, and there is no one common methodology people use or unquestionable playbook about how to break into the industry. What I will tell you is that it is a people driven business where relationships matter a lot. Patience, determination, uniqueness, a willingness to take risks, and the ability to build and maintain relationships are all elements that can help open doors to a potential job as a venture capitalist.

And don’t be afraid to contact people—as a matter of fact, networking is one of the most important elements of venture capital. If there is someone you want to meet, send them an email, introduce yourself, and tell them why you’re reaching out. Be concise, clear, and respective of their time. It doesn’t always work, but you’d be surprised by who might respond to you. At the end of the day, it’s about making connections.
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