It's important to express yourself clearly. Can a reader who knows nothing about your firm or your role at the firm read your application, then turn to someone else, and describe you well enough to get that person excited about you?
There have been past candidates who would have benefited from and contributed to Kauffman Fellows, but who did not convey how great they are. We were both the poorer for it.
We want to feel connected to you. Your willingness to share important experiences in your life—and convey why they have been meaningful, joyous, torturous, or pivotal—will draw us in and will make you stand out. Hobbies like handling (live) alligators, running a craft brewery, or doing stand-up comedy on the weekends are all legitimate topics, if you can relate that activity to how it has shaped your character and defined who you are. Avoid rehashing the accomplishments we can read on your LinkedIn page and opt instead for something that will make us say, "Now there's an interesting candidate."
Kauffman Fellows is primarily a mastery program to help already-successful venture investors hone their skills in order to enhance entrepreneurs' impact. As such, we give weight to your investing experiences as a venture capitalist, corporate venture investor, limited partner, private equity manager, family office manager, or angel investor.
The number of years as a full-time investor isn't as important as the role you have played and your accomplishments—that number doesn't tell the whole story. The number of deals you've led and the number of board seats you've held, however, gives us a general idea of your level of experience and the knowledge you can share with the class. If these numbers don't paint the whole picture, we invite you to tell us more. We are most interested in the impact you have had on investment decisions.
At the same time, we recognize that the innovation ecosystem is comprised of more than just investors.
We actively seek and have been enriched by exceptional Fellows who hold non-investing roles. Exceptional. What does that mean? People who have had or have the potential to create a big impact on their ecosystem; who have already accomplished impressive goals; who, though they may not be investors, have spent significant time understanding venture investing in the service of others. We have welcomed ecosystem-builders in emerging markets, policymakers, managing directors of accelerators, trade association executives, COOs at VC and LP firms, and a VC firm data scientist. These Fellows represent a small but essential part of our society (12% in Class 22), and bring diversity of thought to the conversation.
Although it isn't the most critical element, we look at your venture firm. Is the firm investing its fourth fund or its first? The benefit of working at a firm that has raised four funds is, well, that they know how to raise funds and stay in business. We assume that the partners at the firm embrace and can share with you—either explicitly or via observation—best industry practices, and that the firm has an excellent deal flow, has an excellent reputation among entrepreneurs, works with great co-investors, and so on.
The firm's track record is also considered in terms of the number of portfolio companies they've invested in, capital efficiency (exits/capital invested), network centrality (connections to other firms), investment discipline (anecdotal), and most importantly, how honorably they do business. So we give some weight to your application if you work at a top VC firm, or a top accelerator, family office, corporate VC department, or other highly regarded organization.
On the other hand, if you are the founder or co-founder of a fund, we recognize that that takes guts. You are not just an investor, but an entrepreneur. You know how to take a risk and put it all on the line. You started a fund to serve a certain sector—maybe an underserved one. So, we give some weight to your investment thesis: why it is unique and why are you the one who will succeed in executing it.
Finally, we come to the most important element in the selection process: you, the complete person, the human being.
We are looking for honesty, self-awareness, and insights you have about yourself after past successes and failures, resilience to spring back from failure, and the optimism to imagine a different future. Unlike a typical job application, your honesty about your flaws is attractive to us. We are not looking for platitudes: "My biggest flaw is that I work too hard" or "I give 110% effort to every project." Take a risk. Be open.
We are looking for people with intellectual curiosity and an openness to different points of view. People who have integrity, authenticity, vulnerability, empathy, gratitude, and humility. We have observed over the past 20+ years that Fellows with these traits relate to others in ways that can lead to deep levels of trust, fostering satisfying partnerships and lifelong friendships.
First, candidates are nominated by Kauffman Fellows, Kauffman Fellow Mentors, Faculty, or Board members, or the candidate’s Managing Director (if applicable); if such nominations are not attainable, the candidate may self-nominate.
All nominations are carefully reviewed. Selected candidates are invited to participate in this second phase by completing our online application and submitting two recommendations.
Candidates with strong applications will then be invited to participate in a series of interviews with Fellows and the KF executive team—in person, when possible, or via online video.