I had the incredible chance to be the first Associate at Underscore VC, having joined in January 2016 to help build the firm before its public rollout.
The Associate role is a rotating position that Underscore has created in partnership with the co-op program at Northeastern University in order to bring younger talent onto the team and expose them to Venture Capital. It’s an exceptional opportunity to experience life at both a startup and a VC firm.
The position has garnered some serious interest from other students. I want to address some questions that I’ve been asked frequently below.
What sets Underscore apart from other VC firms?
Underscore is literally changing the game (read: law) that VCs play by. They’ve developed a loyal Core community, curated peer groups of amazing entrepreneurs who become involved with investments in an aligned and integrated way. It’s cool. And very powerful.
They’ve also shaken up the internal structure of a VC firm. The partners aren’t “general partners” that have to do everything from sourcing to portfolio support. Instead, they’re focused on functional areas like investing, operating (building) and community to give the organization a greater potential to scale and really serve the entrepreneurs that they support.
What do I need to be successful as an Associate at Underscore?
First and foremost, every new Associate needs to be passionate about working with entrepreneurs and engaging with the community. Every member of the team at Underscore truly believes that entrepreneurship is the most powerful driving force of positive change in the world. We all devote our lives to supporting entrepreneurs. That passion is absolutely necessary in an Associate.
Beyond that, the ability to self-direct in an ambiguous environment is vital. Underscore is just at the beginning of building a multi-generational firm that is intended to take years to evolve toward its vision. The biggest value an Associate can add is the ability to recognize the big picture and take tangible steps toward creating something that helps build value for Underscore’s customers, their entrepreneurs.
What is the Associate responsible for?
The short answer here is: a little bit of everything. The Associate role is flexible and meant to offer support to every member of the team while also leaving enough room to jump in and own different initiatives as they arise. Responsibilities can generally be bucketed into four main areas: the investing process, internal operations, Core support, and assisting with the non-profit foundation that powers Startup Secrets. These buckets tend to change in priority and time spent every week.
What do you do on a daily basis?
The only “regular” day at Underscore is Monday, which is usually booked with team and investment meetings. Beyond that, there is no typical day. I personally wanted to 1) learn as much as I could about what VCs look for when investing, and 2) help build the company by taking on projects, building tools and creating operating structures.
9am – 9:30am: Check and respond to emails
9:30 – 11:00: Solo work on projects or investment diligence
11:00 – 11:30: Coffee with entrepreneurs
11:30 – 11:45: Debrief with Principal
11:45 – 1:00: Lunch with portfolio company
1:00 – 2:00: Solo work / email check
2:00 – 3:00: Meet with entrepreneurs
3:00 – 3:15: Debrief
3:15 – 4:00: Check in with Partner(s)
4:00 – 5:00: Working session with team member
Those objectives translated into days that typically had a few meetings with entrepreneurs, a few hours of solo work and a few hours of collaborative work or meetings, something along the lines of the agenda to the right.
That said, there’s no clear schedule. Things will come up last minute; a really interesting potential investment gets introduced, an entrepreneur has to reschedule, everyone’s in Cambridge for some reason, etc. There have been days where I don’t make it into the office due to offsite meetings and events, days that have started at 7am and days that have gone until 2am (luckily only one falls into the last category!).
What is the team like?
The team is amazing. It’s currently seven people who are all incredibly driven, talented and genuine. They’ve pushed me to grow, allowed me to take on a lot of responsibility and frequently offered their time and support. There’s no hierarchy, everyone is approachable and they all want the Associate to add their voice to the firm.
One thing that I’ve been particularly impressed with is the orientation toward goals and objectives. Every quarter, we spend a significant amount of time to create a comprehensive and synchronized set of goals both company wide and individually. I’ve been pushed to create multiple sets of goals that significantly contribute to the growth of the firm and am pushed (and helped where necessary) to achieve those goals.
They’re also great to hang out with:
What do you learn as an Associate?
This is an interesting question. My first two co-ops were at large companies and my learning in those roles was around hard skills. I walked away knowing how to do specific functions in a specific process that the company had outlined. By contrast, this role has taught me a lot of soft skills around how I work, how I approach problems and what I like to spend my time on.
I’m definitely walking away with more refined project management skills from managing the process of building and launching the new Startup Secrets website, a better understanding of how to work effectively with a variety of people (and on a small team), my approach to problem solving, and a stronger sense of institutional investing.
What can I do to set myself apart for this role?
Resumes that really stand out are the ones that clearly show interest in the entrepreneurial community. Significant involvement with entrepreneurial clubs on campus or in Boston is a huge plus. I was the Investment Lead at IDEA prior to joining Underscore, which drove the majority of the conversation in my interviews.
Once in the interview, it all comes back to the passion that I discussed above. The Underscore team is looking for a driven individual who’s passionate about entrepreneurship, has a general understanding of the ecosystem and knows why an experience at Underscore will be beneficial to them. Clearly conveying that passion and your personality through the interview process is key.
The Associate role at Underscore has become more integrated during my time and will continue to evolve as the firm grows. Each new Associate will bring a different lens and have the autonomy to modify parts of the role to suit their strengths. While I’m sad to be leaving, I’ll stay in close contact with the team by continuing to meet with entrepreneurs in the community, attending events and creating a closer relationship with Northeastern and Underscore.
I’m also incredibly excited to introduce my successor Lucas Rocha as the incoming Associate. Lucas is on the Investment Committee with me at IDEA, and was an Investment Partner at the Dorm Room Fund. He’s driven and truly dedicated to helping entrepreneurs in their journey. I’m excited to hear what he does, how the role changes during his tenure, and who follows him in six months!
If you have any questions or are interested in learning more, please feel free to reach out to me here. I’m happy to talk.