I would love some clarification on VCs. I'm trying to "follow the money", if you will. A few questions answered on this subject would help me greatly.
I'm most interested in #1 and #2, so any insight into the VC world relating to those questions would be fantastic.
Thanks in advance.
There are two tracks to become a VC.
What usually doesn't work is getting a job in a VC firm as a principal (meaning a young MBA with limited operational experience). It's a dead-end job in most cases, in the sense that it will not lead to a partner position (but it can lead to many interesting openings in hot startups).
My take on all of this? If you truly have the entrepreneur spirit, then start your own VC firm, don't wait for anyone else's approval. That's the entrepreneurial way.
Start with a very small fund, be succesful over a few years, then other rich people will start giving you their funds to manage. For instance, Y-Combinator put together AngelConf earlier this year for people who want to become angels.
If you invest in 10 startups, once a month, at $10K per startup, you may get some good returns within 3 years. That's a $100K investment, doable after a few years of savings working for a corporate job.
One common way to become a VC is to start up a business, get funded, and have a successful exit. Then the VC firm involved will sometimes bring the founder on board as an “Entrepreneur-In-Residence”; from there, it really is about climbing the corporate ladder. Easy, right? :)
You're right that VCs are usually managing other people's money. In venture capital and private equity, what the entrepreneur rarely sees is the fund raising stage, in which the VCs go around to various institutions and HNWIs (high net-worth individuals) to get the financial commitments that ultimately form the investment fund.
In terms of the VC's relationship to the startup: when they invest, they are buying equity (that is, a stake in the company), but they are usually also getting much, much more. They get preferred stock, which comes with whatever rights they can negotiate. They nearly always are first in line in any cash-generating transaction, so that their coffers are filled before the entrepreneur sees penny one. They generally position themselves so that you have to come to them for the next round of financing, should there be one. And, as you noted, they ensure that they control at least as much of the board as their equity stake permits.
These are all reasons why, as I've noted elsewhere, it is vital to consider other approaches to raising capital, in addition to looking at VCs.
A couple of noted VCs have answered this question well. Most recently, Seth Levine: http://www.sethlevine.com/blog/archives/2008/04/how-to-get-a-jo.php