Investment partners Trinity Donohugh, Jasman Singh, and Sreya Parakala answer questions on applying to Dorm Room Fund and how best to stand out.
Tell me about your background and why you applied to Dorm Room Fund.
Trinity: I joined DRF back in November. I’m a rising senior at Stanford majoring in Computer Science and History. Most of my background has been in tech, both on the strategy side and on the engineering side. I actually had interviewed for DRF my Sophomore year and did not get a place on the investing team. I interviewed again my Junior year, which was when I joined.
My background has been on the engineering side. Prior to Stanford, I did work on an EdTech project and realized there’s so much you can learn building something from scratch. I felt that there was just so much support that can also be given on the other side. When I came to Stanford, I thought DRF was such a cool concept because you’re encouraging people to stay in school while still working on their startups. A lot of venture capital firms tell students that we will fund you if you drop out, and DRF is different because it still supports you. I see this huge value in still being a student when building something. When I came to Stanford excited about technology, I felt that technology was the future, but I didn’t feel challenged in thinking about how businesses work. Engineering is very focused on products, so you can miss the debates on the other side.
Jasman: I’m a rising junior at Princeton. I study Public Policy and International Affairs. Like Trinity, I also did not get in on my first time. I’m also a second time admit, which just means there’s a lot of chances.
I applied to DRF initially because when you looked around to see where the smartest young people were, what they were working on, where they were coming from and how they all knew each other, the answer always somehow seemed to involve Dorm Room Fund. I was like, “Alright, I keep hearing this name.” Everyone’s smart, and people I know think highly of it. So why don’t I give it a try? I applied without ever having worked at a startup or having any technical experience, and they were like you should go work at a startup.
Generally, I saw it as a great entry point to access a lot of really cool opportunities. The skills that you pick up here in terms of evaluating companies, thinking critically about what something is, and where it might go is something that’s a skill that you’ll carry on with you even beyond Dorm Room Fund.
How much venture capital experience do you need, seriously?
Jasman: You don’t need to be an expert in VC. You don’t need to know what company just raised their Series A or the market map of EdTech in your head. You don’t need to be like reading every Andreessen article. But generally, you should have a viewpoint on a business. If you think about it, you should have a reason for that viewpoint. You might say Amazon is going to do well, and the next question is “Okay, why is Amazon going to do well? What are the factors that you think are going to lead Amazon to do well?” We have a portion of the interview process dedicated to the case study, which is a mock startup pitch. Being able to boil that down to a couple of core questions or concerns that you need to know about the business and say, “Hey, I think this makes sense to invest in or this doesn’t make sense for x, y, and z reasons” is useful. I started figuring out how startups work by asking myself when I saw a company how do they make money? Who are their customers? And who paid out of their customer profile?
Trinity: You don’t need to have any experience at all. The number one thing that was really important was to have a viewpoint on something and be able to back that up. Even if someone challenges you on that point, you have to be able to have points to back that up and be able to explain that in a clear and concise way.
What can I expect to do as an investment partner?
Trinity: We have inbound teams, and we also will go out and source companies. For the San Francisco team, we’ll source companies in the San Francisco area or on the West Coast. Sometimes, if we don’t have an expert – San Francisco sees more tech companies whereas Philly sees more consumer companies – we’ll go to a partner on another team.
How should I prepare for my application?
Trinity: Have in mind industries or sectors that you’re either really interested in or think there are huge growth opportunities. Have examples of companies in those spaces and reasoning to back up the growth behind that sector. Also, be yourself. What’s valuable about Dorm Room Fund is that people bring in their own perspectives.
Jasman: During the interview process, you meet six or seven partners if you make it to Superday. Each coffee chat is a chance to share more about who you are and how it shaped the way you think. It’s important for us to have different backgrounds because without that, we can’t diligence things. We can’t think critically about what the implications of a new product will be. We would not fund successful companies if we didn’t have a holistic set of viewpoints. So all that’s to say is you should not be discouraged at all if you have a nontraditional background. Second, being yourself is not always good advice but for Dorm Room Fund purposes, it really is.
Sreya: The first interview round is a casual 20 minute coffee chat. We learn about your experience and understand why you’re interested in Dorm Room Fund. Then you’ll do a second round that’s different from the partner in your first round. They’ll dig into a few areas that they want to learn more about you. It’s also 20 minutes, and the first two interviews happen about a week from each other. Then for Superday, it’s the final round. This happens a week or a week from the second interview. That’s a much smaller pool than the first two rounds, and it’s about 90 minutes. There will be things like them asking about your industry interests or evaluating a deck, diving into your experience in venture capital and how you build connections. A week later, you find out if you got in through a phone call.
Do you prioritize people with a master’s degree over undergrads?
Sreya: The aim is to actually have a very good mix of people per region. We think about value in terms of you as a student in your current community, rather than if you’re an MBA student or an undergrad. Most of our teams are very conscious about making sure that they’re not overwhelmingly MBA students or overwhelmingly undergrad, but still take into consideration the stage you are in life.
Jasman: We really try to get a good mix of students across all ranges. So we’ll have PhDs, law school students, MBAs, grad students, undergrads, and typically the team split is somewhere close to 50/50. If not, then close to that split. Roughly, there are 12 to 15 partners a team, which means if you do the math, anywhere from six to eight partners split into grads and undergrads.
How many people per team do you accept?
Jasman: It depends on a team. There’s no hard limit. We are flexible in the number of total teammates per team, and it can range from 12-16. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have leeway. So we could do one less, we could do one more. It really depends on the pool.
Sreya: I also think now that we’ve gone national, which wasn’t the case a couple of years ago, we’re recruiting from a much more diverse geographic range, rather than the hubs of Boston, New York, and San Francisco. We try to get as many applicants as we can in the first round, then it sort of narrows as you go from stage to stage.
How do you meet people from other investment partner teams?
Sreya: There’s a level of being proactive, but that’s not to say your relationships are siloed to your own team. We have an all-hands thing called “All DRF” that we do every year, which I helped organize for this year and realized was a great way to meet people.
Trinity: If you are based on the West Coast, you’ll meet with partners from the San Francisco team. Summer team is a great opportunity to meet investment partners and the broader DRF team from every single team.
What’s one of your favorite memories with Dorm Room Fund?
Jasman: We as an investment team have been remote this year because of COVID. We’ve been meeting every week remotely over Zoom and having our investment meetings and pitches. Earlier this year, we got together in Philly for the first time and that was awesome. It was great to have fun with the team in person because the community and friendship aspect of DRF is really valuable even more so than career or professional opportunities.
Trinity: With pitches, a lot of the time it’s pretty clear some groups of people who are super pro the company, some groups who are not, and we’re kind of debating it out. But there was this one company that we had been debating for an hour and a half. No one had a strong opinion. Basically, all of us were silent at the end, which never happens. It was a shocking moment because I was so inspired by a lot of the people on the team, and it was crazy that we just could not, after hours of debate, come to a decision. Within 24 hours, everyone on the team had gone out on their own, reaching out to their own contacts, to bring answers to the questions we were debating. For me what makes the DRF family amazing is everyone’s willingness to hop on a call to answer any questions or help me think through any debates I have any time.
Written by DRF head of content, Anne Wen. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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