When Will Harbin was leaving Affinity Labs (a company in the career networking space that was sold to Monster.com), he did not have a clear view of what he wanted to do next, other than it had to be big and exciting. He decided to come on board as an EIR at Trinity Ventures, one of the investors in Affinity Labs. In a matter of months he was able to meet several companies. One, in particular, caught his attention. It was a small gaming company called Casual Collective. Will restarted the company and joined as CEO with backing from Trinity Ventures. The company was later re-branded as KIXEYE and is one of the most successful companies in gaming.
If you are an entrepreneur or executive in transition from one venture to the next and want some time to let ideas flow and reacquaint yourself the lay of the land, an EIR program can be a good option. Says Harbin, “When I was an entrepreneur, I was completely immersed in the space that my company played in. With customers, partners and employees to attend to, I had limited time to dig into other spaces. An EIR role lets you do just that. It gives you time to explore other spaces and get your creative juices flowing”
An EIR stint at the right firm can provide important benefits to both the EIR and the host VC firm. An EIR can benefit from the firm’s resources – partners, office space, deal flow, network – as well as a possibility of investment from the host VC firm. The benefit to the VC firm is accessing the entrepreneur’s professional network, deal flow and expertise in evaluating potential investments. Most VC firms have an EIR program, but the programs are as varied as the firms themselves. So it pays to take the time to choose carefully.
Here are some pointers on how to seek the right VC match if you are considering an EIR role:
– Seek a VC firm that is actively investing in the areas that interest you. This will assure that the firm has a steady flow of potential opportunities in these areas of interest. It may well be that one of the companies that you meet while an EIR, ends up being the company that you join. On the other hand, if you are contemplating founding a company, it helps if the VC partners share your interest in the space you’re interested in and can help you brainstorm and refine ideas.
– Ensure that the entire partnership is sponsoring your joining as an EIR. After all, you will be spending your precious time at this venture firm, and you want to get the benefit of working with and tapping into the networks of every partner. Getting firm-level buy-in also means that every partner has knowledge of your interests, goals and expertise so they can talk about you to people they interact with, possibly generating some valuable introductions for you.
– Look for a firm that offers you an inclusive experience. Does the firm have an open calendar policy so you can see which companies are presenting? Do the partners invite you to attend most meetings provided the presenting company is comfortable with it? Do they invite you to attend their Partners Meeting and contribute to decision making? Since EIR stints are usually short, you want to look for an intense “high density” experience so you make the best of your time while at a VC firm.
– Seek a VC firm that is willing to pay you, even if it is a nominal amount. It is easy for VC firms to invite entrepreneurs to “hang out” with them or “use a spare office”. But if the VC firm pays an EIR, there is usually a discussion and general “buy-in” from the partnership on bringing someone on. This commitment from the partnership can be a big plus for an incoming EIR since the firm as a whole is aware and involved with the EIR during their tenure.
At Trinity, we have hosted over 30 EIRs since 2007. We have refined our EIR program over the years based on feedback from past EIRs. Since it is a transitory program by its very nature, we limit the duration of an EIR’s tenure with us to three months. Our program is highly immersive with all partners engaging with our guest EIRs. We invite our EIRs to company pitch meetings, Monday Partner Meetings, and all Trinity events. EIRs have access to partner’s calendars so they know what is going on at the firm. We even encourage our EIRs to opine on our investment decisions. And, we pay a respectable monthly stipend to our EIRs. We also do not set an expectation that our EIRs should form companies that we can fund. That would be unnatural. Instead we strive to help guide our EIRs so they find their next passion, whatever it may be, and have a memorable and valuable experience at Trinity. Most importantly, we strengthen our relationship with these remarkable individuals and hope that they will become positive ambassadors for Trinity. Of the 30 EIRs that we have hosted in the last seven years, seven went on to found their own companies, ten joined start-ups that had already been formed, six joined large companies and six moved over to the VC world. We keep looking for ways to improve our EIR program. If you have been an EIR at a VC firm, we would love to get feedback on your experience.