If you are young, first start a company, says Josh Felser of Freestyle Capital.

By Josh Felser (Founder, Freestyle Capital)

This post originally appeared on Medium.

Photo Credit: Gary Larson, Far Side

…at least not yet. I was at Duke interviewing students for a new Freestyle internship program and several students disclosed that they wanted to intern at Freestyle vs our portfolio cos. I cocked my head, smirked and asked “Why”. I heard:

“I want to have my hands in lots of pies”
“I want to pick great companies”
“I want to get an overview of the tech industry”
“VCs know how to party”
And the most honest “I want to make a ton of dough”

I then asked, rhetorically. “Well how are you going to be helpful to your early stage founders if you have never been in their shoes, their clothes, slept in their beds… And how will founders differentiate you from the hordes of VCs scouring the universe for the next Patreon or Intercom (shameless plug)?” And then I heard crickets.

Without operating experience, the road to successful VC will be tougher and longer, less fun and even more muted. If you’ve never experienced the stratospheric highs and crevassic (made up word) lows it will be harder for you to relate to your founders. If you can’t relate you will find it harder to be effective. More importantly, it will be difficult and frustrating for you to be the kind of consigliere that founders need and want.

Then there is your personal brand. How will you stand out in a way that matters to founders. The number of early stage VCs (and serious angels) is probably in the thousands and growing. When founders are looking for capital, who will they seek out? Well their targets will likely be the investors who can help them the most, “the operators”, who bring more than money.

I won’t lie. Being an early stage VC is the next best thing to being an entrepreneur. You get to help founders realize their dreams and live vicariously all from the comfort of your European villa in August. And though many of us work 24×7, we can set up shop anywhere and go home at 6:00, because we don’t have teams of employees to manage.

I know there are glaring VC exceptions to my “operate first” mentality, like Steve Anderson and Kirsten Green, but they are the exceptions, and while I love breaking the rules, this is one rule I suggest you keep. Venture will always be there, waiting for you, with open arms (unless of course you are a woman, but that’s another post).


PS: I might have made up one of those statements attributed to the students. 🙂

Josh has co-founded four companies and one non-profit. In addition to Freestyle, he started two successful Internet companies, Spinner and Grouper/Crackle, which were acquired by AOL Time Warner and Sony for $320 million and $65 million, respectively. He’s the co-founder of FYI Living, the “mythbusters” for health information. After a few years of exponentially freaking out about climate change, he decided to co-found a non-profit using social media to inspire real action. You can download the first iOS app, #climate, here. Josh graduated from Duke and Fuqua, and is currently on the boards of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneurship Task Force. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshMedia