A career in VC is a career in changing the world

A career in VC is a career in changing the world: an interview with Marcin Hejka

“VC is not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” claims Marcin Hejka, Co-Founder and General Partner at OTB Ventures, as well as a speaker at the VCLeaders Academy. With 20 years in the VC sector under his belt, Marcin specializes in Central and Eastern European technological companies, investing in AVG, Mall.cz, Yandex, WP.pl and others.

He began his career in investment banking, moving to private equity and working at Intel Capital between 1999 and 2017, first as the Investment Director responsible for Central Eastern Europe and then as Global Investment Committee Member, VP, and Managing Director responsible for Europe, Middle East, Africa, and India. Marcin left Intel Capital to co-found OTB and has recently announced closing a $100m Series deep-tech A/B fund. 
VCLeaders’ Paweł Michalski sat down with Marcin to find out what has kept him passionate about VC all these years.

Paweł Michalski: How did you get into venture capital?
 
Marcin Hejka: I started my career in investment banking back in the 90s. Then I spent five years in the private equity industry at a young age, which was an exciting experience. Imagine a 25-year-old sitting on a board of a publicly-traded bank - that was a very different time and age. But it was also quite volatile.
 
In 1998 the Russian crisis changed the strategy of certain LPs who decided to move out of the region. I spent another year negotiating exits from their portfolio investments and considering my next move. Back in those days, every PE was a generalist and I thought the time of generalist investors was coming to an end. I wanted to become a specialist and technology looked very enticing to me. I was very lucky – in 1999 Intel Capital opened up in Europe and decided to open an office in the CEE region. I simply grasped the opportunity and became Regional Investment Director and the first Intel Capital employee in the CEE region. 
 
My key expectations towards Intel was learning new skills. And it was the best possible school! But I certainly didn’t expect to spend almost 20 years at the company. This might sound trivial, but I stayed for the opportunity to learn and then for the people I worked with.
 
Intel Capital was exceptional in both regards - you could learn something new every single day. I was spending much of my time traveling between the headquarters in Santa Clara, offices I was responsible for including London, Tel Aviv, Munich, Moscow, Mumbai, Bangalore, etc. Over time my region has become the best performing geography for Intel Globally, which helped me to grow within the organization. Eventually, I ended up being responsible for one-third of Intel Capital’s Global investment activity and managing one-third of Intel’s Global portfolio. I decided I needed new challenges. In 2017, we started OTB with my friend Adam, who had a wonderful career as an entrepreneur and executive. I’m very excited about what comes next! 
 
PM: What do you wish you knew before becoming a VC? 
 
MH: The first thing that comes to my mind is: always think a few steps or years ahead! VC is a long term game. During the first years of my VC career, I was focused on founders and technology first and foremost. You could imagine how excited I was. But these two are not enough to succeed.
 
You have to think about the future of your portfolio company: who would invest in the next round and how probable that is – these are the questions I’m asking myself a lot. In any case, pursuing a career in venture capital has been my best professional decision. 
 
PM: What do you think are the skills that the job requires? 
 
MH: First of all, you have to be a lifelong learner. I’ve been doing this for more than 20 years now and I’m still learning something new almost every day. The tough part is learning quickly - which often means reading through a pile of documents on your desk just to be able to understand what your next meeting is all about. 
 
Second of all, you have to have a lot of humility. I mean it. Market powers are much more powerful than your grit, assets or ambition. Sometimes you have to throw in the towel. Even the greatest investors fail, and it’s never easy. 
 
Last but not least, and this is related to my previous point, be ready to make mistakes. It’s not a sin to fail, but it’s a mortal sin not to learn from it. 
 
PM: How does a typical day look like for you? 
 
MH: Actually, no day is “typical” for me. I try to be at our office around 8:00 am, which is quite early considering I live outside of town. My rule of thumb, at least for the last couple of months, has been to spend one-third of my time doing portfolio management, one-third on deal sourcing and execution, while the remaining one-third on fundraising.
 
Since we’re done fundraising, I expect to spend 50 percent on portfolio management and 50 percent on doing deals. If there is no urgent business to attend, I try to log out at around 7 - 7:30 pm.  
 
PM: What is the most challenging part of your job?
 
MH: VC is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. You can assume that anything that can go wrong will happen quickly and you should get used to waiting for the good part. At Intel, we used to say that you can only judge an investment manager after four years at a job. 
 
PM: What was the most satisfying moment of your VC career so far? 
 
That is quite easy: my first unicorn, AVG. I was with the company from the very beginning. I did the first round, joined the board, participated in the IPO preparation and execution. Taking part in the whole journey was very rewarding. 
 
PM: What advice would you give to those in the VC industry?
 
MH: My advice is: be humble, curb your ego, limit your expectations. VC is a wonderful career. You’re spending your time with the small percentage of society that is changing the world and has a real impact - if not for these people, the world would have been so much less than it is now. 
 
You might find other careers, ones that are less stressful and offer you more free time, but I don’t think there is one more interesting than venture capital.