Venture Capital/Analysis/

What did VCs do before they became VCs?

VC platform Vauban has looked into the backgrounds of its users, and there's a serious lack of startup experience

By Amy Lewin

Nearly half of VCs worked in finance or banking before jumping into tech

European VCs talk a good talk about being “founder friendly” and “hands on”. But the vast majority of them have still never actually run a startup — or worked in one.

New data from Vauban, a platform which helps investors raise, structure and then manage their funds, suggests that European VC ranks remain heavily filled with former bankers and private equity investors — and are low on former startup operators.

Finance backgrounds

Vauban has looked at the career history of 379 VC partners from 180 firms on its platform. Around 40% are based in the UK, around 40% in the rest of Europe and the remaining 20% from the rest of the world. This is data which it asks for as part of its onboarding process. 

The most common industry to have worked in before becoming an investor is finance, with 48.3% of the investors on Vauban’s platform taking this route. 

24.7% of investors on Vauban were previously founders, while 16.6% worked for management consulting firm or an established company (mostly in senior roles). Just 1.8% were previously startup operators.

This more or less tallies with previous studies — and suggests there has been little change in recent years with regards to the low number of startup operators moving into VC. 

In 2019, non-profit Diversity VC looked into the backgrounds of more than 2,000 VC employees in the UK — and found that 20% had a background in consulting, 18% in finance and 12% in investment banking. Just 8% had worked at startups, and only 4% in tech. 

In 2021, Sifted looked at the employment background of female VC partners in Europe. We found that 27% had worked in investing previously, 17% in consulting, 16% at a corporate and 13% in finance. Only 10% had worked at a startup and just 8% had been founders. 

Founders turned investors

Vauban’s data does suggest that a fair number of founders move on to a career in VC, however. This wasn’t what Diversity VC or Sifted found previously. 

Several high-profile former founders have recently launched VC firms. In June, Wise cofounder Taavet Hinrikus, Songkick founder Ian Hogarth and Teleport cofounder Sten Tamkivi unveiled Plural, a €250m fund. All three had been prolific angel investors beforehand. 

In July, entrepreneur brothers Fabian and Ferry Heilemann launched AENU, a €100m evergreen climate tech fund. Ferry Heilemann was a cofounder of Berlin-based logistics unicorn Forto. 

Startups are also increasingly raising money from a bigger pool of angel investors — many of whom are often founders or startup operators — thanks in part to the rise of platforms like Vauban, Odin and Bunch. This trend could see more startup operators get the investing bug — and an investment track record — and later head into VC. 

Amy Lewin is Sifted’s editor and cohost of The Sifted Podcast, and writes Up Round, a weekly newsletter on VC. She tweets from @amyrlewin

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