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Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

How working with VCs can help your career take off

As you flip through the pages of your Rolodex (or more likely, your Outlook database), some standard categories of contacts will regularly appear: past colleagues, former bosses, executive recruiters, vendors and the like. Now look again: If "venture capitalists" does not appear as one of your primary networking groups, you are missing out on what could be a major catalyst for your career.

VCs frequently ask me to introduce them to my network of CIOs, and it's easy to understand why. CIOs have much to offer a VC in need of customer feedback on the product potential of their portfolio companies.

For any CIO who is looking to secure a CEO position someday, experience on a board of directors is a critical item on your resume

"Most VC firms, particularly those who invest in enterprise technology companies, have an interest in engaging with CIOs," says Peter Solvik, former CIO of Cisco Systems and now managing director at Sigma Partners. "CIOs can be very valuable in helping a VC firm evaluate a particular investment. The hands-on experience a CIO has had allows him or her to ask different questions than a VC might."

What a CIO has to gain from the relationship can be a bit harder to pin down. But in conversations with both CIOs and VCs about this, there is consensus that such arrangements represent a two-way street. For the CIO, they say, there are four significant benefits.

1. Learning About the Technology Landscape

While it is true that most of today's CIOs eschew the straight technology role in favour of business leadership, technology knowledge is still a CIO's primary differentiator. Knowing which technologies are on the horizon remains critical to your role, regardless of your reach into the business.

"Successful CIOs are always looking at how they can apply technology to advance their company," says Asheem Chandna, partner at VC firm Greylock Partners.

"The best VCs are familiar with the technology landscape and the business value these technologies can deliver. For the CIO, a key benefit to working with VCs is the window they offer into emerging technology," says Chandna.

2. Gaining Board of Directors Experience

For any CIO who is looking to secure a CEO position someday, experience on a board of directors is a critical item on your resume. But that first board position can be extremely challenging to obtain. The CIO-VC connection provides one route toward landing your first role.

"Start on an advisory board," suggests Solvik. "If the VCs and the company's management team see that you have strategic insight into the company and can help on positioning and execution, they may extend your role to the board of directors."

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