Q&A: Corp Dev > Strategic Finance > VC

Hi everyone,

Seems like there has been a recent uptick in interest in Corp Dev and Strategic Finance. WSO has been instrumental in my career and I wanted to help out anyone considering these fields. I have posted a bit on these topics before, but feel free to come at me with any questions!

Some background on me:

  • Target Undergrad, no MBA
  • 2+ years in biotech corp dev, 2+ years in fintech strategic finance, and just transitioned to a role in software VC

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Comments (41)

Oct 27, 2021 - 1:12pm

I think the tough part is actually finding the Corp Dev people you want to network with in the first place. Obviously finding people who work in corp dev at F500 companies is a simple LinkedIn search, but those roles are competitive and you will have a lot of people vying for spot there. There are a lot of smaller companies that you may not be aware of that have very active M&A teams (like my first company) and that will take some digging. I approached this like I was screening for deals:

(1) Overall Universe: I made a list of industries that I thought were interesting (at the time it was HC / tech)

(2) Subsectors: Specifically targeted mid sized companies in those sectors that sounded like they were doing something cool

(3) Unique Attributes: Combed through the past 3 years of press releases for those companies to see how many M&A deals they worked on with an emphasis on large transformative deals

(4) Once I narrowed down the list to acquisitive companies with a focus on M&A, I would find these people on LinkedIn and reach out cold. The hit rate was pretty decent, but what impressed people I networked with the most was that I spent time researching the companies' prior transactions and was able to piece together a unique story as to why I was reaching out and why they stood out to me. 

Oct 27, 2021 - 1:24pm

I will add that the above is the proactive approach that landed me my first job. For my current role, I ended up landing it through a reactive approach:

I would search for job opportunities on LinkedIn and reach out to the hiring managers or someone on the team for an informational chat. This was also a way for me to interview potential companies and see if they fit my tastes, so I was able to glean information that wouldn't be as apparent on the job postings. I would say that 25% of the time these chats turned into informal first round interviews that got me into the process without having to send a resume into the digital black hole. 

Most Helpful
Oct 27, 2021 - 3:01pm

Not OP clearly, but I just received an offer in Corp Dev. I have wanted this role since my first IB internship, and was able to get three corp dev interviews within the past year or so. Couple thoughts: 

1. It is EXTREMELY hard to find these opportunities. Yes, you can network, but it does you far less good than IB / Consulting, even PE / VC. These teams run lean, and people are rarely replaced. When a position opens up, it goes to a headhunter and/or the current corp dev team utilizes their current network.

2. If you see a job posting, then network with that team. This is probably the only time I would say it is worthwhile to network. There simply arent regular openings in these roles. I want to emphasize this point. I came into finance with zero connections, and built my network from nothing. My network is what I have always leaned on. I did all through cold messages on LinkedIn and emails. However, this is the only time I would state it is not worth applying general networking approaches. 

3. I got all three interviews through different headhunters. Keep your LI up to date, and check it frequently (or just use the mobile app and turn on notifications). These roles fill fast.

4. It is possible to get into Corp Dev even if you aren't currently at an IB, but it is extremely challenging. During my first process I didnt make it to a second round simply due to experience (1.5 years of strategy consulting at the time), and was told I was the only person not currently working in IB who got an interview. The individual who got the offer was at a solid MM IB for 3 years. The second process, I made it all the way to the final round, but was beat out by a guy with 3 years of IB and a year of HF experience (2 years strategy consulting experience at this point). The third and final process I was the first to make it to the final round after interviewing 5-10 candidates (2.5 years of strategy consulting exp at this point). I got the offer two days later. I had a ton of IB / PE internship experience and was able to leverage this. I took my skillset and tailored it to the role as best I could. It helped that my strategy consulting was mostly M&A, so I spoke to how to maximize value post close and what to do pre-close, stuff investment bankers dont even know.

Note: Every time I cold applied I was auto rejected. Most of the time I tried to network with teams that were currently hiring, they ignored my LinkedIn requests / messages. 

Edit: Sorry @big hero 6ix I didnt mean to hijack your thread, but I have wanted to share my perspective because there is simply no information out there on how to get into Corp Dev. I think your approach above is excellent, and just wanted to piggyback on it based on my anecdotal experience. 

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Oct 27, 2021 - 4:52pm

Going to speak about StratFin vs. VC from my own personal experiences. I'll try to add on as I think of more, but here are things that jump out to me:

StratFin Pros

  • Great way to take a deep dive into the drivers of a single business
  • My StratFin team was put in a position to drive a lot of the decision making in the company so this gave me a lot of exposure to the C-Suite and how they thought about running the company
    • This is a philosophy I am going to abide when I consider future StratFin roles: a great finance organization can really be the engine of the company
  • Work on a lot of exciting projects from a blank slate - I worked on a wide range of transformative projects: new product launches, M&A deals, equity raises, etc. 
  • If you enjoy building financial models this is the place to be

StratFin Cons

  • FP&A work like month-end reporting and variance analysis is boring and mind-numbing. However, in retrospect, this type of work helped get me up to speed on the drivers of the company early on
  • Busy all the time - constant work all day with no downtime and there's always a new project coming down the pipeline. Honestly not a bad tradeoff for being able to work 40-60 hours with weekends off.
  • Quality of people you work with will vary - you get to see the true bell curve of office workers in a corporate setting. The world of high finance and consulting is very heavily skewed in one direction

VC Pros

  • I enjoy looking at wide variety of companies and business models so this gives me exposure to a range of topics
  • Working with really smart founders - similar to the C-suite exposure that I got in my StratFin role, I get see how a wide range of entrepreneurs think about building their businesses
  • Learning to become more than just a financial investor - my roles before this have been really finance heavy so this helps broaden my scope to understand things like product-market fit, evaluating founders and their teams, etc.

VC Cons (Not a lot, still in my "Honeymoon" Phase)

  • Working with really smart founders / people in the company - not really me directly, but watching my higher ups deal with people who are very smart but have large egos (both in and outside the firm) is a little daunting
  • Maybe a bit of my naivety coming into the role, but I was hoping our team could have a bit more of a say in guiding the growth of our portfolio companies. I really enjoyed that I could help actively guide my company's trajectory in my StratFin role, but I guess that's just not the nature of the beast here
Oct 26, 2021 - 1:54pm

What was your approach to moving from strategic finance to VC? And was it for a senior associate role? Did you emphasize any particular skillsets that they saw value in? 

I was in VC before and currently do finance & operations at a startup so I figure my pitch would be that I have an operator's perspective + investment experience. 

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  • 1
Oct 27, 2021 - 2:36pm

Good questions - these fit well with DominicanBanker's first question so I'll tie my responses together here.

Ultimately my motivation and pitch to move from the operating side to VC was pretty similar to yours. I enjoyed the transactional / investing nature of Corp Dev and I had a great experience diving deep into the operating side of an early stage business. I wanted to put the two experiences in an environment where I could drive a lot of value at the early stage. For me the path would've been strategic finance/corp dev at another startup or try to break into VC. I still wanted to get a broad exposure to a lot of different industries/companies so I tried to focus more of time on getting a VC type of role. Fortunately I lucked out and found myself in a position where the VC valued my operating experience. 

Something they emphasized to me throughout the process was that they were looking for people who understand how a business is built at a nitty gritty level. Like how do you scale revenue opportunities, what sort of vendors do you need to stand up your sales team, how to think about hiring, a general sense of product management, etc. My prior position in strategic finance gave me a real deep dive into every single line of the P&L so I learned how to really think like an operator.  

Oct 27, 2021 - 2:52pm

Really big change from corp dev to strategic finance. As you know there are a lot of lulls and sprints in a transactional role, so I would end up getting a lot of downtime on some days and other days would be jam packed. However, in my strategic finance role, it was busy busy busy all the time, this was probably because our team was so lean and our company was growing fast. I'd be working 40-60 hours a week, but every single minute of it was jam packed with regular boring work like month-end close and the more exciting stuff like new product launches, M&A, or long-term planning. 

  • Associate 1 in CorpDev
Oct 26, 2021 - 11:34pm

Currently an associate in strat fin in a high growth hc startup with plenty of modeling exposure, albeit no deal exp. What do you think of the transition in the opposite direction, going from strategic finance to corp dev? 

  • Associate 1 in CorpDev
Oct 26, 2021 - 11:53pm

Pretty detailed revenue builds at the unit economic level that integrate user behavior curves to forecast future activity, rather than just $XX rev * growth rate. Some more industry specific modeling that I don't want to necessarily describe. New market entry. I've also been on working on building out DCFs as we potentially consider getting acquisitive in the future as well as having that as an internal basis of assessing competitors. 

Oct 27, 2021 - 3:03pm

Of all the organizations where you can make a transition from CorpFin/StratFin/FP&A to Corp Dev, I think that a startup is where it is most likely to happen. These are the scenarios that I generally see playing out:

(1) If your organization does not have a dedicated CD team, your StratFin team could ultimately evolve to encompass that role (that's what happened with my team). However, this transition might happen slower than you expect depending on your startup's stage. Your company may not be at the point where they need to consider inorganic growth opportunities to drive incremental value. 

(2) Make a name for yourself. This is what I love about startups - you can make a lot of noise as a junior employee and get noticed by people really high up. Become a modeling rockstar, drive XYZ initiative that brings revenue opportunities or cost savings to the company, etc. Ultimately things like this get noticed and if you network internally there will be opportunities for you to transition to a CD role. 

I will say that there is obviously bias towards being in a transactional/M&A type of role given this is WSO (trust me, I've been there before), but I don't think it's very common for a startup to be highly acquisitive nor for Corp Dev to be a big focus for a startup. I think there is a lot of value being in a operating role and becoming familiar with the inner workings of the company like the back of your hand. 

Oct 27, 2021 - 3:51pm

Hi @Big Hero 6ix, first of all thank you for doing an AMA. There are very few folks who have a background similar to yours, despite each role you have held being incredibly sought after. Plus making it into VC without an MBA is impressive on its own. 

I have two questions for you: 

1. What advice would you give to someone looking to follow in your footsteps, or in a similar path (e.g., CD to PE/VC)? I mentioned above but I am going to start in CD within the next month or so. 

2. What made you decide to leave CD, and how do you feel about that decision looking back on it?

Oct 27, 2021 - 5:36pm

Happy to help, hope my responses have been helpful - these are some good questions:

1. I was in your shoes at one point, trying to plot out a path from Corp Dev to PE (you can check out some of my earliest threads on that haha). The reality is that it is extremely hard without FT IB experience, so I would suggest that you also consider other opportunities as well. That being said, if you truly want those types of roles, seize any opportunity to apply for them. During my Corp Dev stint, I did receive a couple of PE interviews at LMM firms just by applying to postings on LinkedIn. However, you have to be patient, don't expect to follow the same 2 years and out path like IB analysts. It took me 4+ years to get here!

2. Ultimately, I came to the realization that CD at my company wasn't as sexy as I originally thought. Sure M&A was big focus compared to our peers in the space, but we weren't the real decision makers within the company. I wanted to be somewhere where I could be in the driver's seat and learn the inner workings of a company. Even most of my older colleagues in CD wanted to make moves into P&L ownership type of roles like product management, commercial strategy, etc. In retrospect, I felt like I made the right decision - I believe that my StratFin experience has been more valuable than my CD experience. Learning how to build/run a company firsthand has been more fulfilling to me than running an M&A process. 

Oct 27, 2021 - 6:12pm

Your responses have been extremely helpful. I greatly appreciate the time and effort you put into your responses. I am starting to understand the value of a strategic finance role and how coupled with a corp dev background it would make you a strong candidate for certain PE / VC roles. Sounds like with Strat Finance you get a lot more granular and then actual propose solutioning (e.g., to grossly overly simplify what you do, maximize revenue while simultaneously developing cost cutting strategies that dont result in product/service quality declining). 

I have always wanted to go the LMM PE route, and have a few connections in the space. Understood regarding the patience element, and I appreciate you reinforcing that. 

Lastly, I have a feeling that CD wont be everything I thought it would be either. Only time will tell though. 

Thank you again for sharing your perspective. 

Oct 27, 2021 - 4:35pm

Do VCs do any actual forecasting/valuation or is it a bunch of long-dated deep OTM call options on people/ideas hoping you hit the 50 bagger every now and then? 

Oct 27, 2021 - 6:01pm

A lot of the forecasting work is around market sizing, penetration, and revenue projections and then valuation is usually based on comps, but it's really garbage-in, garbage-out type of modeling. We try to understand the market opportunity, product-market fit, and whether these guys are right people to execute on the idea. At the end of the day, we do get a lot of at-bats and hope we do hit the home run, but we try to minimize how many at-bats it takes before we get the homerun. That's the art of VC that I'm trying to learn right now.

Oct 27, 2021 - 6:03pm

Hey, thanks for doing this, I've been reading with great interest your comments in the forum, for quite some time. Always really informative and helpful.

I will soon start as an intern in Strategic Finance in a 1000+ employees company (my previous work experience was in Accounting) and I'm really looking forward to that. My question to you is: what would your advice to excel in the role be? Anything I should prioritize in my initial period, in order to get up to speed quickly and do a good job with it (can be both technical or soft-skills)?

Thanks in advance!

Oct 27, 2021 - 11:50pm

In terms of hard skills, one thing that can make you stand out as an intern in any finance role is your mastery of Excel. I have worked with people who have been genuinely impressed with my Excel skills and this stuff looks good as an entry level employee. Here are a few actionable things you can do to start honing the skill now (extra points if you can apply this in an on campus job, project, or internships

- Ditch the mouse now and become best friends with the Alt key. Tap that key and your Excel ribbon will light up with all the keystrokes necessary to do any action. You will be slow at first, but you'll get used to memorizing keystrokes and you'll be whizzing through spreadsheets in no time 

- Make your spreadsheets extremely well organized and pretty. This will make it very easy for people to audit your work. Use headers to mark different sections, break out calculations into multiple lines to show the logic instead trying to stuff it into one cell, follow the usual investment banking font coloring (blue for hard codes, black for formulas, green for references), and for the love of god never Merge and Center cells (format and center across selection)

One skill I really regret not picking up was getting good at SQL (not needed in my current job, but I'm slowly learning for fun). You'll probably be querying data from large datasets and knowledge of SQL will help you get that data and understand how things are stored in your company's database. Bonus points if you can combine this with Python. Would highly recommend taking a course if you haven't done so already. The SQL syntax is pretty easy and you should be able to run simple queries in no time.

in terms of soft things, I would say the best thing an intern can do is to show an eagerness to learn. Take it as an opportunity to figure out whether this is a place where you want to start your career and absorb as much useful info as you can. Even if you find out this isn't the role for you, make sure to create tangible experiences that you can back on and reference in future experiences.

  • Associate 3 in PE - Growth
Nov 3, 2021 - 2:03pm

Fellow Strategic Finance senior here. The job was through a recruiter and I don't think I've seen them advertised.

Comp base was higher than a 2nd year analyst at an Ibank.

I can't recommend it enough for those who can make it.

Highly recommend if you like to be involved with all areas of the corporate finance dept.I'm at a firm with 5k plus employees, not a startup.

  • Analyst 2 in IB-M&A
Nov 10, 2021 - 7:01pm

Were you previously in banking and switched over? And if so, how long were you in before making the jump?

Nov 12, 2021 - 12:24pm

OP, thanks for the thread and responses, they were helpful to parse through. I'm currently a finance manager at a pre-IPO company (hired before series D) and my primary focus is strategic finance (revenue builds, product margin analysis, new product roll out, new program analysis and structuring, data structure implementation for new programs and products). Ultimately, I'd like to move to VC as my ultimate interest lies in investments (I was in ER before this). Do you think it's necessary to move to Corp Dev to be more attractive for VC?

I may be able to do so at my current company as I'm pretty well regarded (promoted from Analyst to Manager in ~6 months) and we have a small (3 person) Corp Dev team that is looking to add heads in the next year. 

Array

  • 3
Nov 13, 2021 - 12:31pm

Glad you found this helpful, happy to give you my POV on this:

Short answer to your question, I don't think it's necessary to move in CD, but obviously this comes with a lot of caveats. From my time recruiting for VC and talking with people in the space, I found that there are primarily 2 types of backgrounds: high finance/consulting vs. startup operators. Both of these categories are valued for different reasons and can help you understand why moving into CD at your current startup is/isn't necessary.

Starting with the high finance/consulting folks, my impression is that the value these folks bring is in the number of reps they have in the deal execution process or broad frameworks for understanding a market landscape. Unless you have that background from a prior role, I think that you will be at disadvantage going into CD at your startup compared to people coming from high finance/consulting.  At your startup's stage, I'm guessing that leadership is just starting to consider inorganic growth opportunities, but I doubt you guys will have a large enough war chest to make a large number of acquisitions for someone to build comparable deal experience to a banker. You may also be spending some time in CD evaluating new markets like a consultant, but again, it will be hard to build up the reps unless your company is going to be very aggressive in M&A. 

Given your role, I think where you can add a lot of value to your experiences is by tacking on more operational experience. Based on your description, it sounds like you're getting a taste of this already. What VCs look for from operators (and consultants to some extent) is whether this person has experience identifying value creation opportunities AND has experience successfully executing these initiatives. When it comes to early stage investing, I'd say that a lot of the times the idea behind a startup isn't that unique... where the differentiation comes from is whether the team behind the startup has a unique vision to grow and can execute the plan. The idea is that if you were a successful operator in a prior life, you can hopefully identify the same type of people in other startups. I think it would be a very good differentiating factor if you have an opportunity to join a type of team where you're driving top-line growth (e.g. Product, Growth, etc.) vs. CD. 

Hope my thoughts continue to be helpful here. 

Nov 15, 2021 - 11:55am

Thanks and understood. Don't even know where I would begin as far as moving into Product given my non-STEM background. I'll keep my eyes open though.

Array

Nov 15, 2021 - 3:03pm

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