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Evaluate a Start-Up Job Opportunity
Like a Venture Capitalist

By Ben Slick


Venture capitalists fund businesses based on a five-point analysis: the idea's uniqueness, the potential market, strength of management, the opportunity for scaling the business, and the company's head start.

Assessing your prospective employer's position within the VC framework is a crucial step in career planning that never occurs to most Internet professionals. Here's how VCs rate companies:

Launch pad. A Brave New World idea, but it's unclear if the idea will gain market acceptance. The best screen is the backer: If a first-tier VC is the backer, the chances for continued funding and big-time success are good. Candidates can get better job titles and larger stock option packages here, but the risk factor is very high.

Mystery spot. These companies address recognized and important, but nascent, markets. The competitive space is crowded, and no clear winner has emerged. Depending on how long the company has been around, candidates can stake a claim to potential fortune, or spin their career wheels on an idea that never got traction.

Rocket. This company has a hot product, rising sales, industry buzz, star-quality management and all the ingredients to be a high-flier. These are pre-IPOs, or fast-rising IPOs, like Juniper Networks, which have huge markets, enthralled customers and robust sales. It's a race to get the last of the pre-public options, but the share balances are much smaller.

Blue chip. Like a shopping mall with large anchor tenants, a VC funds anchor companies that have made it into the big show and stayed there. Intuit, Amazon.com and Yahoo reached this stage. The pre-public risks are gone, and working here can lead to solid career accomplishments. High-performing candidates in blue chips are prized for tomorrow's launch pads.

Walking dead. These ventures have growing revenues, but they will never achieve stardom. Check the vital signs: If the company is five or six years old and hasn't rocketed, or if it's gone through several CEOs or technology incarnations, watch out.

Flameout. Great ideas that spend lots of money, hire legions of people and go nowhere. Go Corp. was the classic example, in pen-based computing. It had a brilliant management team, $70 million in venture capital, but an unappreciative market.

Of course, timing is everything, and it can be impossible to plan. Ultimately, choosing wisely stems from knowing your own tolerance for risk and ambiguity, as well as how much time you have in your career to gamble with.


Ben Slick is president and CEO of PeopleScape.com, an electronic search firm specializing in middle-management positions for Internet businesses.












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