Tom Dwyer – life after being a Student VC
Tom Dwyer, talks about how networking at University helped him get his career off to a flying start and being Campus Capitals first “wild card”
So tell me, before joining Campus Capital VC programme how much did you know about venture capital?
I’ve always been interested in tech and starting a business, even before University, I’d started running my own businesses, but I knew very little about venture capital. I’d listened to the 20 minute VC podcast but it was through the Sheffield University Business Centre and meeting Samantha that I found out more.
Samantha was my business mentor at the start-up hub, she helped me to formulate a business plan. She was the one who suggested I look into Campus Capital student VC programme.
What is the interview process like?
The funny thing is, it’s one of the only interviews I’ve ever had, everything else has been through referral and networking. The interview was with Samantha, Michael and investment board members. It sounds daunting. But it was actually more of a chat, about how I solve problems and work with other people. I could tell I was a bit of a wild card for them, as I think they were initially looking for someone really academic, but I’ve always been intune with people and my entrepreneurial mindset was a good fit.
How did your first pitch with a founder go?
I’m not going to lie, it was a little nerve wracking. But it wasn’t like we were just thrown in at the deep end, we’d had coaching and mentorship from Samantha and Michael. I had a good understanding of the right questions to ask from the coaching, so that helped me to form a structure. I still use the same structure today – find out about the person, product, market and vision. I found that opening the conversation with “so tell me about yourself” was a great way to get people to open up.
It also really helped that the founders were respectful and took it seriously. Campus Capital have a good reputation in the growth business sector, so people knew we could help their business and not just with investment. The great thing about Campus Capital is that it’s not ‘dumb money’, due to the diversity in the team we were able to give founders great advice and feedback. Even if it was a no, we would spend a lot of time explaining why.
Sounds like a great experience, so what happened later?
It was a great feeling of ‘wow’ after talking to someone so passionate. We all compared our notes after the meeting and Michael and Samantha helped us to evaluate.
During my time as a student VC I had around 15 meetings with founders. There was a lot of ‘no’s’ at first. You get pretty good at writing up and explaining why you won’t be investing. It’s a really useful and collaborative experience. I think around 3 got carried forward and you got such a buzz out of being part of someone’s growth plan.
What positives did you take away from your experience?
Having the role of VC in front of a founder gives you confidence. You have 3 to 4 key people in the room and they want to know your opinion, it’s very empowering and a whole other world from academia.
It’s the first time I experienced the power of a diverse team, it’s a very collaborative way to work and you can draw upon the experience of people with different backgrounds, lifestyles and interests.
It’s a very addictive feeling, once I’d experienced it I knew the investment world was for me. Campus Capital gave me the chance to experience venture capital first hand, and it helped me to shape my career.
What are you doing now?
Building the world’s largest community of B2B software as a service (SaaS) investors, by organising and delivering events and networking opportunities. My aim is to bring together the global SaaS community in deal-flow and co-investment discussions. My job is really diverse, I can be doing anything from organising Investock, the world’s largest SaaS-focused gathering of VCs to meeting with top investors and founders. By organising events, I’ve got to meet some really interesting people and build a strong network.
My time at Campus Capital really helped me gain the confidence to get into events. After University, I found that I talked about my time as a student VC more than anything else. It helped to make me a more rounded person, I had my degree but I also had real business experience and had sought out additional training. This impressed my current employer.
What advice would you give to students?
Getting involved in events was a game changer for me, it’s the ultimate way to network and it’s a different route into investment.
One of the most important lessons Campus Capital taught me is the importance of networking. A lot of students will think networking is something to do after university, but it’s crucial to start at University, it’s a valuable life skill and as really helped me.
Start to build your student network through the Campus Capital Academy Network