Some of you may remember that we put together a legal tech industry landscape a few months ago. We are excited to share our second such report on the real estate industry, this time spearheaded by intern Naomi Grossman (shout-out to Jake Quan for finalizing the data). As was the case last time, this report was created as a starting place for deep dives and due diligence. We hope it is helpful and look forward to hearing your feedback!
Saying goodbye to a family member or friend as they move forward in their life is always a bittersweet moment. It is that time of year at Laconia when we must say goodbye and thank you to our latest team of interns.
We run a paid part-time intern year-round, either for an academic semester, a full academic year, or a summer season. Our internship program has been widely successful, attracting talented students from NYU, Columbia, Cornell, Penn, Brown, UMich, and Rutgers, among others. In addition to intellectual curiosity, exceptional work ethic, and adaptable skills, they have all brought to the table a genuine passion for technology, entrepreneurship, and venture capital investing. Numerous former interns have gone on to pursue full-time opportunities at other venture capital firms and Laconia portfolio companies, with one former intern even re-joining Laconia full-time. Our interns are among the firm’s strongest ambassadors, often referring future candidates and budding entrepreneurs.
Our program fully immerses the interns in the inner workings of a venture capital firm, providing extensive first-hand exposure to all aspects of the work required. In preparation for the program, they read Ventures Deals by Brad Feld & Jason Mendelson, review Laconia’s Private Placement Memorandum, and become familiar with our portfolio companies. While with us, they are involved in deal flow & sourcing, due diligence, portfolio support, industry research projects, marketing, and operational support. We treat our interns as associates, and, in return, we get hardworking, smart thinking, and creative minds who allow our small team to accomplish so much.
We are strong believers in compensating them for their work along with providing them with a platform to learn, grow, and explore. Internship programs are great vehicles to allow young adults to dip a toe in the real world so they better understand the direction they want to take and the skill they need to develop. Payment extends access rather than limiting the field to only those who can afford to work for free.
I end this by saying goodbye to Jodie Miller and Ravi Shah and wish them all the best as they graduate and head off to PwC Strategy& and IA Capital respectively. They were stars and will be sorely missed. The good news is that as one door closes, another opens, and, with that, we welcome Naomi Grossman and Addison Huneycutt to the Laconia family - we can’t wait to see what you will create here!
One of our fabulous associate interns, Jodie Miller, put together an extensive report on the legal tech industry landscape - please check it out below. We hope this document can serve as a resource for future deeper dives and due diligence sessions on companies in the legal tech space. This project is a work in progress, and we hope it can be a useful starting part for anyone who comes across it. We look forward to hearing everyone's feedback and additions.
It takes serious guts to be a venture capitalist. One must be willing to take enormous risks for uncertain returns. It’s definitely not a stable, clear-cut path. Perhaps this was what drew me to entrepreneurship and venture capital. The idea that you can make it big or lose it all is unnerving but fascinating to me.
I was first introduced to Laconia Capital Group by Peter Wiener, a former manager whom I had worked with at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Laconia Capital Group’s venture capital funds focus on late seed B2B SaaS startups in the Northeastern US with monthly recurring revenues of at least $25,000. Going into the internship, I did not know what to expect. I knew that I wanted to learn more about the business and how venture capitalists evaluated startups, but that was it.
Four months later, I can say that, without a doubt, my internship at Laconia has been nothing short of a phenomenal experience. I have learned so much from Jeff, David, DLee, and Geri. I sat in on pitch meetings, portfolio company strategy calls, and partners’ meetings. I crafted market research for portfolio companies. I wrote investment memos for potential deals. I even helped source potential deals. In fact, the internship never felt like work. Rather, it was more like attending office hours with three extremely intelligent and business savvy professors and one brilliant TA. I probably ask David on average 15 questions a day. Thanks for being super patient and answering all my random questions, David.
As my internship concludes, I have begun to reflect on everything I have learned during my time here. One thing I have realized is that many times, students and working professionals focus too intently on gaining hard, technical skills and overlook the softer skills. There is nothing wrong with learning how to program if you aspire to be a software engineer or learning how to design circuits if you plan to be an electrical engineer. While it is nice to have technical skills, they are not a necessity in the venture capital world or the broader business world. Instead, people should focus more on learning and developing soft skills. These are the skills that become more useful and essential in life. There are three soft skills that I learned and developed over the past few months.
Writing is arguably one of the most important skills to have for any career. It is a way to solidify intangible thoughts and ideas that someone has in his or her head. The process of writing things down can also help identify fallacies in the ideas. Writing is essential to communicating one’s thoughts. Someone can have the next billion-dollar idea, but if he cannot convey that idea to others, then it is meaningless like a check that cannot be cashed.
At Laconia, writing is viewed in the highest regard like how Michelin star chefs view their cooking appliances. Whether it’s responding to emails, crafting investment memos, or writing LP letters, both syntax and grammar are important. At Laconia, I was able to become a better writer and to learn proper business writing, which is very different from academic writing.
Business is built around relationships. In venture capital, successful relationship management can differentiate the professionals from the amateurs. In today’s Facebook Messenger and Instagram society, it is easy to keep in touch, but it is also easy to lose the personal touch. Now more than ever, successful relationship management is critical. It doesn’t take much to stay connected. A follow-up email after an initial meeting or an occasional update is all it takes. As Jeff says, “Follow-up emails should always be sent out within 24 hours.”
Laconia has a seamless relationship management process that I was able to learn and absorb. No email is left unread. No request is left unanswered. No call is left unreturned.
As Laconia went into due diligence with two startups, I was assigned to write investment memos about the companies. Investment memos are essentially Laconia’s version of McKinsey Insights but with more detail and research. Writing investment memos taught me to think critically and holistically about different startups, their value propositions, market fit, competitors, and exit potential. The ability to think critically about any topic or issue is a vital skill. Whether someone is a venture capitalist or an entrepreneur, he or she will face a wide swath of problems with various learning curves. It is impossible to prepare for each problem, so it is important to be able to think outside the box and approach each problem with an unique perspective.
There is a Chinese proverb that says, “It is better to walk 10,000 miles than to read 10,000 books.” Most classes that students take are not applicable to the real world. School provides students with a foundation, an academic framework of thought. However, it is up to that student to build upon and expand that foundation. Internships are a great opportunity to gain that practical experience. Speaking from experience, I have learned so much from the Laconia internship that I would not have learned at Columbia. Yes, I learned about the B2B SaaS market. Yes, I learned how to construct financial models and read cap tables. But more importantly, I also learned valuable and overlooked soft skills that will stick with me forever. These are the skills that will help me in my future endeavors.
Tony Zheng is a junior at Columbia University studying computer science and psychology with an interest in entrepreneurship, artificial intelligence, and renewable energy. He is involved with the Columbia Organization of Rising Entrepreneurs and is an avid camper and reader.
If you ever want to make a college student cringe, usually all you have to do is ask, “Have you found a summer internship yet?” Luckily, after developing mild carpal tunnel syndrome from scrolling through our respective college career sites for countless hours, we were both given the opportunity to enter the venture capital world as summer interns at Laconia Capital Group. Just completing our sophomore years at Penn and NYU, we began our internships at Laconia unsure of what our summers had in store for us. On each of our first days, we walked into the office uncertain but excited to gain experience in an industry that would give us exposure to a variety of businesses and accomplished people. However, ten weeks later, we now find ourselves participating in office discussions with confidence and an eagerness to absorb all of the information thrown our way. As our internships come to an end, we reflect on our experiences and the invaluable lessons we have learned this summer. We’ve outlined the top five takeaways from this summer that are relevant to those working in the VC industry, as well as those thinking about their own business.
Keep Your Friends Close:
One of the key lessons we both gained from our internship this summer is the importance of cultivating relationships. After attending multiple networking events, it is evident that one of the ingredients crucial to becoming successful in the VC world is to maintain strong connections with entrepreneurs as well as other VC firms and personal networks. Establishing strong ties with other venture capitalists has the potential to increase exposure to high quality deals, while also nourishing relationships with possible co-investors for future investments. Even if a VC firm decides to pass on an entrepreneur for the time being, forming valuable connections with founders allows investors to keep communication ongoing and open new doors for business.
Keep Your Eyes on the Prize:
“Your capital strategy is just as important as your operating strategy.”
This is a message we have had drilled into our heads almost daily over the past ten weeks. Far too many times, entrepreneurs overlook the importance of a well organized cap table or capital structure. It is rare that a CEO would say that they love fundraising; however, having a detailed plan going into your capital raise is crucial to the success of your business. Ensuring that your company will always have enough money in the bank to meet your KPIs allows founders to go into negotiations in a position of strength rather than weakness. Companies run into trouble when leaders fail to raise the appropriate amount of money needed to reach their milestones. Additionally, building strong relationships with VCs prior to needing to raise capital can be advantageous to the entrepreneur down the road.
Perfect Your Pitch
After going through dozens of pitch decks and sitting in on presentations, we can now properly identify the good, the bad, and the ugly. What makes a pitch stand out to us is the founder’s ability to develop an easy-to-follow storyline that the audience can relate to. Oftentimes, founders get too tied up in jargon and struggle to simplify complex concepts. Even though you may know each and every detail of your business, remember that outsiders need to be walked through each step to fully understand the problem you’re trying to solve. Keep in mind that although you might be the smartest person in the room, you still need to illustrate your business as if you were speaking to a five year old (with an MBA).
Be Ready for Anything:
One lesson learned as an intern is to come prepared. You are not expected to know how to write an investment memo on day one. However, it is helpful to familiarize yourself with the language used on a daily basis. One book that expedited the learning process for us in our first few weeks was Venture Deals by Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson. We highly recommend this read to anyone interested in venture capital or starting their own business, as it will help you understand not only the financial aspects of a venture deal but also the legal and technical sides.
On the entrepreneur side, VCs appreciate those who come prepared to meetings and have materials ready to go once the due diligence process begins. These documents oftentimes include financial statements, customer referrals, a well-thought out pitch deck, and team bios. Each VC firm varies on their level of due diligence; however, it is helpful to have these resources on hand for whatever might be thrown your way.
Back to the Future:
It’s hard to imagine what the world will look like in 5-10 years; however, as an entrepreneur or investor it’s important to evaluate a marketspace and try to imagine how it will evolve over time. VCs are interested in understanding the vision of your company and how you would adapt to a change in the competitive landscape. We have learned at Laconia that it is not about finding the “unicorns” of the industry but rather seeking out scalable, reliable businesses that will be able to stand the test of time.
We’d like to finish this post by telling you about the best parts of the job. For starters, what normal twenty-year-old gets to sit in on meetings with the founders of some of the most innovative companies in the world? In VC, this is the norm, and we were lucky enough to get to sit in on at least two each week. In addition, interning at a micro-VC firm allowed us to work side-by-side with Laconia’s two partners, exposing us to the minds of investors and the way in which they think about potential investment opportunities. Finally, we were able to gain access to accelerators, incubators, and pitch events, introducing us to the larger VC community. We hope these tips come in handy as you attempt to enter the daunting world of VC or take on a new business venture.