Interview with Kapor Capital - Summer Associate 2017 πŸ’Έ

Interview with Kapor Capital - Summer Associate 2017 πŸ’Έ

Or how an MS in CS student with no prior VC experience got an interview with one of the most well-recognized VC firms in Silicon Valley.

I’ll admit right away that this title is somewhat misleading because ultimately I didn’t get the position BUT hot damn, at least I tried. πŸ’ͺ🏽

So first, I would like to start out by saying how grateful I am for having been given the opportunity to interview with Kapor Capital for the 2017 summer associate position.

While I did not end up getting an offer, I learned a lot along the way and wanted to share some tidbits from my experience.

To provide some context, there were approximately 650 applicants that year which is over a 200% increase from the previous year when there were only about 200. Of the applicants for this year, there were only four summer associate openings.

In other words, the competition was tough but I was one of the lucky few to get invited to interview on-site on May 10th, 2017.

While I won’t share every feeling I had from my interview day, I do want to give some insight into the process and how I prepared as someone who had very little experience in VC.

Position

Since I can’t go back in time and see the job posting from last year, here’s the one for this year.

This is just to provide some context as to what Kapor was looking for in the first place.

The qualifiers then that we can take from this posting are the following.

That whole spiel about We are also open to non-traditional candidates that can demonstrate a genuine interest in venture capital.? Yeah - that’s where I fit in. 😊

Job Posting

Process

The process actually wasn’t too drawn out before the onsite but in order to differentiate yourself from the hundreds of other applicants, you really need to make sure to get that first step right.

You can do this by crafting excellent responses to the questions they ask and showcasing your best self through your previous experience/resume.

  1. applied online through posting
  2. call with Ulili (who was recently promoted to partner at Kapor)
  3. onsite interview was scheduled for May 11, 2017
  4. fly to Oakland
  5. onsite interviews in Oakland
  6. final decision emailed to me

Onsite Interview Schedule

There were actually some changes at the last minute so I actually had some of these interviews earlier but this was the initial schedule I was provided.

The nice part about the onsite is that all my travel needs were reimbursed and they set me up with a hotel that was nearby for the night before.

Wednesday - May 10th, 2017

  • 11:15 am - Arrive at Office
  • 11:30 pm to 12:00pm - Interview with Ellen Pao
    • You will be joined by another candidate for this part of the interview.
  • 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm - Lunch with the Kapor Capital Team Members
  • 1:30 pm to 2:00pm - Meeting with Carolina
  • 2:00 pm to 2:30pm - Meeting with Jorge
  • 2:30 pm to 4:45pm - Break
  • 4:45 pm - Return to Kapor Center Offices
  • 5:00pm to 5:30 pm - Interview with Freada Kapor Klein and Brian Dixon
  • 5:30 pm to 6:00pm - Interview with Mitch Kapor

To prepare for the onsite interview, I reached out to several past summer associates via LinkedIn (at least 6 I believe) but only 3 replied - Madeline (resources), Adrian (branding), and Sidney.

Adrian actually gave me a great piece of advice:

I think what you’ll get out of it will tend to be very personal but I wanted to use the opportunity to dip my toe into VC, understand if it’s something that I want to pursue further, understand what stage of the investment cycle I enjoy most, understand how social impact VC differs from traditional VC, etc. I think I was certainly able to get that out of my summer at Kapor.

Asking Questions

Below are the questions I researched to ask my interviewers ahead of time. Remember that for the most part, you can ask the same question to multiple interviewers and get very useful/different opinions.

  • As a VC, what dimension of a company are you disproportionately willing to take risks on?
  • When you reflect back on your career, is there anything important you would have done differently that other young people who are aspiring into venture capital could benefit from hearing your wisdom and experience about?
  • What are the most important decisions you made along the way in your career that you think most greatly contributed to your current success?
  • do you see yourself in vc for the long-run or what are your long-term plans
  • What are some deals you/your firm passed on, which eventually went on to become very successful start-ups? Are there any general lessons that can be drawn from those misses?
  • If you had $500,000 to invest in a company, which one which you choose and why?
  • What lessons can be learned from the Juicero debacle?
  • Ask about their careers and how they ended up in VC. Venture capital is often “the last job someone will ever have.” So they tend to be pretty reflective on the path that brought them there.
  • As a minority, have you ever felt the intense pressure to succeed?

Answering Questions

Most of these are framed as notes that I could look at on my phone while interviewing.

Be prepared to get grilled of your VC/market-product-fit knowledge by at least one of your interviewers.

In one of these type of interviews where the interviewer asked me what I believed makes a great team and how to determine market fit for their product with market mapping and landscape analysis, I definitely started to feel super ignorant which is great because it showed how much I could learn.

What makes a good VC?

deep empathy with entrepreneurs; prior experience as a founder; , integrity; a commitment to building lasting value, building companies with great, inclusive cultures, and helping to empower and mentor entrepreneurs whose lived experience generates great business ideas; and companies that solve real problems.

Great VCs can consistently pick winners. VCs see a ton of deals and they have to have the ability to quickly separate the wheat from the chaff. They know which deals to chase after and invest in. And when to hold off making an investment because the valuation is too high or something just isn’t right about the company. Effectively doing due diligence, “pattern recognition” abilities, being able to read people well and having domain expertise in the area that you are investing in all parts of having good investment judgement as well.

Do you feel the intense pressure to succeed?

harsh reality is that the folks in this room have to show that we can actually make this shit happen to inspire a generation of people to want to be a part of this. Whatever burden that falls on us is what it is, but we have that responsibility. And to the extent that we do, the great thing about this culture is that we’ve taken over every single vertical, co-opted it, and made those verticals more special.

Why you?

The reason I want to be a summer associate at Kapor Capital is because I genuinely want to use my position as a Latina developer – personally and professionally – to push back against the rhetoric and ideologies around minorities in tech that Silicon Valley is all too familiar with. Ideally, with the skills I’ll learn through this internship, I will be able to inspire others in the tech scene and show them that yes, Latinas can indeed not just develop products but actually LEAD within the tech industry. In any industry, really. For I, too, believe in “the power of transformative ideas and diverse teams”.

If you look at the array of skills, networks, and experiences required to be an engaged VC, the best firms build from varied backgrounds and leverage lived experiences to spot entrepreneurs, companies, and trends.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics from last year (2016), women made up 25% of computing related jobs. When it came to Hispanic women, we were 1% (lowest among all).

Break down the investment stages.

Pre-Seed up to $500K

Our life stories have taught us the importance of taking risks early and often. We’ve developed the ability to recognize patterns–ways to identify smart entrepreneurs with promising ideas–even before they have developed a product or established a customer base. At Soil (also referred to as pre-seed), we help our founders develop their ideas into products and take them to market.

Seed Investment Size: $500K - $1.5M

Once talented entrepreneurs have developed a strong idea, they need to build the foundation for growth. We help them build the strong, diverse teams required to build category-defining companies. We further help founders identify their product market fit, and collaborate with them in crafting plans to attract sustained, happy customers.

Series A Investment Size: $750K - $3M

When the fruits of a team’s labor have paid off–when a company has successfully figured out their product/market fit–we’re there to drive the major fundraising milestone. We work to scale companies with proven product lines.

How do you keep up with the latest news? Is there a blog in particular?

GitHub, ProductHunt, LinkedIn, NYTimes, Hacker News, Behance, Medium

Why ed-tech?

Due to receiving a full-ride merit scholarship to pursue my undergrad and a generous scholarship for grad school, I, unlike many of my school peers, am not held prisoner by my student debt and can pursue the career of my dreams.

AI is about to make the biggest changes to humanity, and we’re missing a whole generation of diverse technologists and leaders

If we don’t get women and people of color at the table β€” real technologists doing the real work β€” we will bias systems. Trying to reverse that a decade or two from now will be so much more difficult, if not close to impossible.

What do you believe this role involves?

  • Find great companies
    • Find great companies by being out in the community building strong relationships.
  • Make the right decisions about investments
    • Have good judgment and strong insights about opportunities, and be able to communicate this and push through the inertia of a firm.
  • Close those investments over other firms
    • Represent the culture and brand of the firm, and leave a good impression.
  • Help their companies grow
    • Offer help to portfolio companies when you can be useful, but respect that the entrepreneur-firm relationship is owned by the Partner.
  • Help their companies exit when appropriate
    • Stay the hell out of the way with potential exits, unless asked.

What do you believe makes a good investment?

  • is the product in market yet?
  • is there a technical founder on the team?
  • who is your customer and what problem does it solve?
  • what kind of traction do you have?

We are focused on seed stage, IT startups which serve the domestic U.S. market and close gaps of access, opportunity or outcome for low-income communities and/or communities of color.

Which of our portfolio companies do you like/dislike?

As part of the interview process, I figured someone would ask me about the companies that Kapor has invested in already and how I felt about them.

So I looked into most of them and made a short list of ones I liked/didn’t like and felt were relevant to EdTech and People Ops.

Like

  • Make School
  • piazza
  • Accredible (automated certificate process)
  • Brilliant (math and science advanced topics)
  • ClassDojo (reminded me of this glass company (Corning) who envisioned futuristic classroom) - A Day Made of Glass
  • noredink (grammar)
  • Learners Guild (Shereed Bishay)
  • Magoosh
  • CODEHS
  • binti
  • bitly

Don’t Like

  • interviewing.io (Aline Lerner is great but hiring factors still off)
  • wepow (no clear differentiation)
  • codespark (product still iffy)
  • writelab (Grammarly?)

Essay Responses

Yep, I saved these. I’m pretty sure these are the main reason I was able to get to next round despite my atypical background so feel free to get inspired! πŸŽ‰

Why do you want to intern at a social impact venture capital firm such as Kapor Capital?

When you’re a first generation Peruvian-American female genuinely interested in coding, it raises some eyebrows at family gatherings. Not necessarily because it’s such a terrible idea, but because it’s just generally unexpected that someone who looks like me will ever stay long in this kind of field.

Never mind the fact that I feel more than capable of taking on the role as a software developer since I have already worked in the fields of front-end web dev, web design, AR, and VR. Never mind the fact that I feel I try harder than most of my peers by being constantly engaged within the tech community by speaking at conferences, mentoring potential coding bootcamp students, and attending numerous hackathons. Never mind any of my efforts to give back to the tech community. Because none of it seems to matter if one is going to end up isolated for so long because of the all around general lack of diversity there is everywhere they go.

Yes, to be fair, I’ve had to learn to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. When you’re the only minority or female on a software development team of all white men (which has been the situation in my professional experience so far), you can either think of yourself as inadequate or recognize you bring a unique perspective and relish the challenge by bringing your all.

In fact, my prior history will tell you I’ve always tried to pursue typical life events at an earlier age and am constantly trying to involve myself with the non-familiar. I entered primary school earlier, took numerous college classes through dual enrollment all throughout high school starting at the age of 13, ended up graduating high school at the top of my class at an age younger than the majority and now intend to receive my master’s by the age of 21. For me, it’s never been the rush, but the thrill of the experiences I’ve gone through that have compelled me to be crazy enough to seek them out time and time again.

Even now, I’m juggling a part-time job with one of the most recognized coding bootcamps in NYC while taking a full load of 9 classes (I kid you not) my last semester of grad school. I’ve had the opportunity to win scholarships to attend major tech conferences and hackathons where I’ve even gone on to speak on topics I love or win an award for my dev work. I professionally blog, freelance, and mentor folks as side hobbies, with my personal blog posts accumulating over 20K hits over the past year alone.

This sort of schedule wasn’t hacked out spontaneously. It took a while to build up my online reputation and technical skills to get this far. It also took a while to get over the initial fear of feeling as though I represent my entire race and gender every time I speak up at these tech events, let alone in class. But as I mentioned earlier, being uncomfortable can excite me in a way I still don’t entirely understand myself.

The reason I want to be a summer associate at Kapor Capital is because I genuinely want to use my position as a Latina developer – personally and professionally – to push back against the rhetoric and ideologies around minorities in tech that Silicon Valley is all too familiar with. Ideally, with the skills I’ll learn through this internship, I will be able to inspire others in the tech scene and show them that yes, Latinas can indeed not just develop products but actually LEAD within the tech industry. In any industry, really. For I, too, believe in “the power of transformative ideas and diverse teams”.

What experience do you have volunteering, interning, or working to close gaps of access, opportunity or outcomes for low-income African American, Latinx, Pacific Islander, or Native American communities in the United States?

Since 2013, I’ve tried to close the gap through three key routes: freelancing, mentoring and speaking for organizations that promote diversity in tech.

The reason I try to close the gap specifically through freelancing, mentoring, and speaking is because I strongly believe in leading by example and that it’s the easiest way for someone who looks like me to know it is possible to be successful in the tech field.

For example, I freelanced this past December for AlterConf, which is a traveling conference series that provides safe opportunities for marginalized people and those who support them in the tech and gaming industries. The hackathons I’ve been an organizer of in the past all heavily focused on recruiting a diverse body of students.

I’ve mentored aspiring female techies through the WiTNY (Women in Technology and Entrepreneurship in New York) program that is fully funded by Cornell Tech and aims to facilitate, encourage and enable a significant increase in the participation of women in both higher education and entrepreneurship in fields related to technology within New York. I also have held over 15 video chat sessions with potential coding bootcamp students who have successfully gone on to coding bootcamps like Fullstack Academy, Hack Reactor, and MakerSquare. Through Code.org, I’ve also tutored kids at the elementary, middle, and high school level on how to get started in the tech field.

When it comes to speaking, I’ve given talks on alternative forms of education (coding bootcamps) and one can get started as a developer.

These alternative forms of education (coding bootcamps) or more long-term solutions like Make School and Learners Guild (both funded by Kapor Capital) that are springing up have shown they can provide not just a more diverse student body in terms of bringing more females and minorities but also a more prepared workforce. I’ve given the talk “JavaScript Coding Bootcamps” at the Capital Region Women in Computing Conference and the Norfolk JavaScript Meetup group.

The reason I give the talk on how to get started as a developer is because in my experience, I’ve found that even a lot of CS students lack a basic of understanding of what modern tools/concepts are used in the workforce so providing them a basis for how to get started or what other options they have to learn has been really successful. I’ve given the talk “So You Want to Be A Wizard?” (How to Get Started as a Developer) at Northern Virginia Community College and the Free Code Camp group for Norfolk, VA.

I love being a part of these programs because I myself have benefitted from them numerous times by receiving scholarships to attend certain conferences or by just winning awards for challenges that target a specific underrepresented group (e.g. Virginia Space Grant STEM Bridge Scholarship, React.js Conf Diversity Scholarship, Winner of the Goldman Sachs 10K Small Business Challenge for HBCUs, O’Reilly Diversity Scholarship, TAPIA Conference Google Scholarship Recipient, npmCamp Diversity Scholarship, Computing Research Association for Women Scholarship Recipient, etc.).

If you feel these activities are in any way exaggerated, I guarantee you they are not. I have heavily documented them on my personal website (using pictures) and evidence of these efforts can be found across the interwebs.

Which of our investment sectors are you most interested in working and why? (Sectors: Edtech, FinTech, Digital Health/Med Device, People Operations Tech, or Justice). Please only choose 1 or 2 of the above sectors.

People Operations Tech and EdTech, in that order.

To be clear, I refer to these sectors in their specific ties to creating alternative forms of education.

Now the reason I’m interested in these two sectors is because I’ve been exposed to so many alternative kinds of education models and have made it a goal of mine to try and experiment with as many as I can.

Granted, by any standard, most of my education is quite formal but if you take a closer look, it’s also rather unorthodox.

Let me provide some context.

So as I mentioned in my response to the first question, I started taking college classes when I was 13 at a local community college. I took dual-enrollment classes every summer of high school. Upon graduating, I studied computer science abroad in Germany for one semester before graduating from Hampton University as the CS department valedictorian in just 2.5 years.

While I was at Hampton, I took it upon myself to learn about modern technologies I felt I wasn’t getting exposed to in class so I attended Fullstack Academy’s inaugural summer of code program back in August 2015 which taught me the fundamentals of fullstack JavaScript web development.

After Fullstack, I decided I also wanted to get more insight into the fields of design and product management graduated from an online design school program and an on-site product management course in NYC.

The average college grad completes 48 courses and the average master’s student completes 15 courses (average of 63 courses in total). By the time I graduate from Cornell Tech, I will have taken 81 college-level courses starting from 2010.

It should be noted now that both of my parents are professors (high school and grad school) and believe heavily in the power of the Ph.D.

It’s clear that education has always been a huge part of my life, whether or not I’ve wanted it to be that way. Regardless, I find myself so excited about the new models that are emerging and as an ambassador of Fullstack, I happily promote such models that can encourage a more diverse and technically prepared workforce. The People Operations Tech/EdTech sectors both promote that model as well.

Are you currently enrolled in a MBA, MS, JD, PhD or have received a letter of acceptance from to start graduate studies in Fall 2017? (You do not have to be enrolled in a graduate program to apply).

Yes, I’m currently pursuing an MS in Computer Science at Cornell Tech in NYC.

Why do you want a job in Venture Capital?

I have this insatiability to learn more. I’ve pursued courses whether informally or formally in engineering, design, product management, and creating a startup - David Tisch, co-founder of BoxGroup & co-founder of TechStars NYC –> seed stage VC firm.

Love of the technology / science, excitement for investing in companies, enjoying communication with interesting people, the thrill of looking at new ideas and chasing the next Google, etc.


Notes

These are just a bunch of random notes I took to help me get immersed in process. Most are not fully formed sentences but hey, whatever.

there are two aspects of Kapor Capital that define its place in the market in my view: 1) focus on social impact and 2) early stage tech/IT focus.

invests in social impact tech startups that narrow gaps in opportunity and access for underrepresented communities and eliminate barriers to full participation across the tech ecosystem.

definition of diversity and inclusion

Founders Commitment: The purpose of the commitment is to create a culture of diversity and inclusion from the outset , and provide an incentive for companies to hold on to their values as they grow.

If you look at the array of skills, networks, and experiences required to be an engaged VC, the best firms build from varied backgrounds and leverage lived experiences to spot entrepreneurs, companies, and trends.

Focusing on key job responsibilities and measurable skills needed β€” not proxies. As a head of People Ops at a tech company put it, “A degree from Stanford and a previous job at Google are not skills.”

Emphasizing actions, not words. We prioritize candidates who have experience building and managing diverse teams, or who have experience being an “only” in a professional or volunteer position. It’s amazing how quickly the “most qualified” candidates go to the bottom of the rankings if demonstrated experience with diverse teams is a requirement in the job description.

Developing a diverse talent pool. We know openings for partners, principals, associates, and analysts occur infrequently in small firms like ours, so we decided to grow our own talent pool. Kapor Capital has worked with Management Leaders for Tomorrow for several years to recruit pre-MBA and MBA students from underrepresented backgrounds as Summer Associates. Several have gone on to full-time positions as investors in the industry. Our very own Brian Dixon was a Kapor Capital Summer Associate, prior to entering business school four years ago. Thereafter, he became a full-time Associate, then a Principal, and just a few months ago was named Partner.

For the latter, I think: deep empathy with entrepreneurs; prior experience as a founder; , integrity; a commitment to building lasting value, building companies with great, inclusive cultures, and helping to empower and mentor entrepreneurs whose lived experience generates great business ideas; and companies that solve real problems.

Relating to Interviewers

I tried my best to try and relate to my interviewers in some shape or form but unfortunately, I don’t think that really came across great so if you can do that better than I did, kudos to you!

Brian/Carolina

Kapor Capital specifically… I see myself in Brian, who’s a partner, and I see myself in Carolina (she’s a Peruvian-American female like me - rare to see in tech/VC industry).

Mr. Kapor
  • former transcendental meditation teacher?
  • Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet, the “killer application” which made the personal computer ubiquitous in the business world
  • EFF defends civil liberties in the digital world and works to ensure that rights and freedoms are enhanced and protected as our use of technology grows.
  • In a funny way, having a childhood in which I was a social outcast was a big success factor. I skipped second grade and was two years younger than my classmates and was always excluded from social groups. It gave me an outsider’s perspective. I was never very concerned with approval from my peers and was willing to entertain crazy ideas (like insisting in 1978 everyone in business needed a personal computer or in 1990 that everyone in the world would hook up to the Internet). Being an outsider of course isn’t sufficient but it shaped me and I used it.
  • I’m an outsider too as a Peruvian-American female who loves developing but also has interests outside of that like PM and VC.
Ellen Pao, Mrs. Kapor