“What is a venture capitalist? It sounds like some sort of explorer, but that can’t be the case.” - Jessa from HBO's Girls

The following blog is from our own Thomas Rankin, better known to some as@RANKINTHOMAS. It first appeared in his personal blog, ADVENTURES IN CLEANTECH. We are reposting it here with his permission!

[Please read this while listening to the theme SONG FROM THE HILLS. It will enhance the experience, I promise.]

Career trajectory is a misnomer. It implies that the path we follow to build a successful career moves in an upward arc with peaks and valleys. In reality, the progression of a career is more like the journey through the streets of an unfamiliar city. Sometimes you know where you are going, sometimes you just head out and explore, and sometimes you end up exactly where you started.

Have it written in my obituary that I never wanted my career path to be seen on an x/y axis but rather on a grid. A Tron grid with lots of colours, if you please. Adventures in academia, consulting engineering, government environmental policy and business development all led to my current adventures in cleantech.  Loops, 180s and hard rights were in abundance.

June 20 marked the end of my rookie year as a venture capitalist. Twelve months ago I had the great fortune of joining a fantastic organization [holler @innovacorp] that was ramping up into a new investment deployment period. With a fantastically supportive and experienced team in place we were heading into one of the most active and exciting moments in the firm’s history.

In thoughtful reflection, and because it’s good for my currently lame Klout score, I have decided to share with the world the five [5] lessons I learned in my first year as a VC.

[1] Don’t Get Too High, Don’t Get Too Low

VCs see a lot of ideas and meet a lot of interesting people.  Because of this frequency, the inherent uncertainty of the business and the drive to build something amazing, each day is a roller coaster ride. Meet an exciting new entrepreneur, you get high. Hit a wall on a deal, you get low. The best VCs stay even on the up days and the down. Don’t get too high, don’t get too low. Sage words from @KEEFEPATRICK that one should never forget.

[2] There are Three Things That Make a Good VC

A great thing about working in venture capital is that a healthy portion of one’s time is dedicated to learning new things – new technologies, new business models, new approaches.  And learning is awesome. As a newbie, I spend a healthy amount of time listening to those who do the job well. @MSUSTER of GRP Partners has said on multiple occasions that there are three things that make a successful VC:

  • Finding and getting in on great deals: self explanatory, get the good stuff
  • Building and leveraging a network: to enhance due diligence, company recruiting and co-financing
  • Harvesting your deals: making money for LPs

The first and second of these set the conditions for the third. I’ve been lucky to find and work on some fantastic deals this year and have added some superstars to the network. Pray for me and stay tuned on the third point.

[3] You Must Have Ultimate Faith in the Founder(s)

As early stage investors, we hunt for game changing technologies. But in reality we hunt for amazing people. Founders make the world go round, point blank. For me, the decision to invest or to walk away ultimately rests with my faith in the founder. Innovacorp works with some truly dynamic founders with technical brilliance, market making capabilities and that intangible je ne sais quoi. We have a whole lot of faith in them.

[4] There are Three Things that Correlate Strongly to ‘Great Founder’

We were lucky to have @MATTHEWNORDAN of Venrock join us as a guest judge for the Nova Scotia CleanTech Open. When I asked Matthew what made a truly great founder, he generously shared the results of some of his research. Though there are always exceptions, and many other factors to consider here are the three things that correlate strongly to a great founder / founder team:

  • Great founders come in pairs and they have history together: the co-founder setup with a bond trumps the solo founder
  • Great founders are industry outsiders: they bring a fresh perspective to solving challenges
  • Great founders have a sense of purpose: lofty, esoteric aspirations drive them to take on crazy, unreasonable challenges

Individual opinions differ widely on these and success can come in many forms. At the heart of it, these principles show that as investors we need to support strong, dynamic teams that want to change the world. ‘Nuff said.

[5] Venture is a Beautiful Career

There are few careers in this world where the path forward in time is white space begging to be filled. That’s a beautiful thing. As I move forward with learning, adventuring and helping to build great companies the grid will unfold and develop before me. I expect lots more 180s, loops and hard rights.

The rest is still unwritten.