Dear aspiring KPCB fellow,
I’ve been there before. Almost a year ago in fact. Relentlessly searching the web, trying to find as many resources online on how to nab a spot in the much coveted, quite selective KPCB fellows fam.
No matter. I’d love to help you out.
First off, what is the KPCB fellowship?
Think of KPCB as the matchmaker and the fellowship as a summer fling. KPCB matches you with a company under their portfolio (based upon mutual interest), which you’ll work at for the summer (or for at least year, if you’re a product fellow). You’re treated by the portfolio company as any other employee – with comparable compensation, mentorship, perks, and all that jazz.
On top of that, throughout the summer, KPCB hosts a wide range of events for all the fellows! We had inspirational talks from founders like Jini Kim and Patrick Collison and from KPCB legends like John Doerr and Mary Meeker. We also shot each other with paintball pellets, went on a trip to Angel Island on a boat, and kayak-ed the vast waters of Sausalito.
Tech stuff, huh. What if I’m not an engineer?
Awesome. You don’t have to be. The fellowship, in its early years, did start off with just the engineering program. Now, while the engineering fellows are the majority, there are also designers and product people who come on board as fellows.
The Engineering and Design fellowships pair you with a summer-long internship, while the Product fellowship offers you a year-long Product Management full-time position. Throughout the year, Product fellows continue to attend Product events hosted by KPCB.
Cool. I wanna join! How’s the app process?
All right; the fun part. A fellow highlights it really well here, specifically for the engineering process, but similarly for everything. I’ll note the process for myself here.
Phase 1: The Initial Screening
I applied for both the Product and Design fellowships.
In January 2017, during the Product and Design fellowship deadlines, I:
… wrote an essay answering, “What impact do you want to have in the world and why?” (500 words max) and talked about my dreams of impacting the Philippine and Southeast Asian economy through technology.
… submitted my resume.
… complete 2 challenges (one for product, one for design).
… for engineers is to solve a coding problem (usually creating a hash map).
… for designers is to redesign one of the portfolio company’s products. I redesigned Handshake’s dashboard.
… for product people is to write an article/make a video answering, “What is your favorite product and why?” I talked about DuoLingo.
I submitted my apps and crossed my fingers on both hands (one for each app!)
Phase 2: The First Interview
Alas! I get two emails. Aw yeah, I passed both screenings.
I was to schedule interviews from someone at Handshake for design and someone at a smaller, stealth startup for product. These interviews were meant to test me on my technical sense (if I had good design intuition or if I had a good product sense; for engineering, probably whether I could solve a technical problem), and my overall fit for the program.
Did Mika make it through both programs? Find out in the next phase!
Phase 3: The Confusing Part
I passed product, (yay!) but not design (it’s okay!). At this point, any company hiring for that position can contact you. All the companies may reach out to you, or none of them do. You can get several offers, 1 offer that gets you in the program, or none at all. Now’s the chance to woo your interviewers!
My first interview with the smaller startup (which turned out to be Ripcord!) went great already and so we continued the conversation from the get-go.
Phase 4: The Offer
If a company hands you an offer, then you’re also officially a fellow!!! Hooray. My offer letter took a while because Ripcord was busy with their launch out of stealth. I ended up being the last fellow to join the cohort. The negotiation of salary, perks, etc. was out of KPCB’s hands, and was now between me and Ripcord.
How do I dazzle the app readers?
Andy Chen, founder of the KPCB Fellowship program talks about this really well: “The application process is focused on evaluating what you can do, how you do it, and how big you can dream. In other words, technical brilliance, teamwork mentality, and a passion for having meaningful impact in your work.”
Read more on his take on the application process here. It helped me a lot!
Here are some extra secrets I’ll let you in on:
Secret #1: You can apply to any and all fellowships categories (hey, I applied to 2!), if you’re that talented! Just make sure you don’t spread yourself too thin when doing so!
Secret #2: Reach out to an alum! The apps are screened by KP alums, so it could up your chances, especially if the fellowship category you’re applying to is small. But also, it gives you gr8 perspective from someone who’s gone through the process and succeeded. (Also… ask for a referral.)
Secret #3: Get through the other way around. Some fellows apply to an already existing KPCB company while simultaneously applying to KPCB. If you already have an offer with a KPCB company, then it’s simply a manner of asking KPCB if the offer can equate to becoming a fellow as well.
Secret #4: Read KPCB’s values. Read them again. We place high importance on those values when reviewing applications, so make sure you highlight ways you align with them.
Secret #5: Find a way to stand out. Write your code in several languages. Design a product with an extreme use case. Review a product via song. Whatever it is, do it well and go beyond.
Secret #6: Really tell me who you are. Don’t fake the “impact you want to make in the world” essay just cuz you can make it sound impressive. Tie it in with your story. Make it genuine. Tell me why you want this fellowship but why you deserve to be in it. Tell me how you’ll take the fellowship beyond the summer.
Secret #7: The technical skills are important for sure. So make sure you show me your design process or write good, clean code or demonstrate fantastic product sense. BUT what’s equally important, but often neglected, or ways you proved leadership and proof that you’re going beyond to reach your dreams, to one day make impact in the world. We love candidates who show that they started from the bottom now we here or organized a mentorship program for underprivileged youth or studied philosophy but learned design and code themselves. Wow us with your passion and unique story and show it in different parts of your app!
But what is the KPCB fellowship really?
If you ask a current fellow what they treasure most about the fellowship, it’s less so the talks or the trips or the free food from all the spontaneous company visits (tho all those are fantastic, too!). It’s that we have this AMAZING community of mentors, but more importantly, friends to last a looong time. It’s the fact we were able to organize weekly Wine Wednesdays, spontaneously go to an Escape the Room in the middle of the Tenderloin, plan several trips to Yosemite and Tahoe, call each other up whenever we needed advice on how to best deal with our managers, visit each other’s office to avail of the free food, support each other’s end-of-the-summer presentations, no matter how late the start time.
I come from a liberal arts background (not your typical Silicon Valley feeder school; not an Ivy league, not a CS major). I’m an international student (struggling 10x harder to get a job because of visa woes). I am a woman of color (trying to make a difference in a predominantly male industry). But because of the fellows program, I now have access to a plethora of people, resources, and opportunities that can help make my ultimate dreams come true.
In a kickoff event for our Product Fellows class, Andy Chen, the founder of the fellowship talked about privilege. Privilege isn’t about the money. It’s about access. It’s about this community that we formed over the summer that will stick with us through the years. And I want to extend this privilege and access to others, too. What I’m saying is, no matter what background, you can be a part of this fellows program! And in one way or another, I hope this post helps you get there.
Good luck, friend!
With a heart full of KPCB love,
Mika (KPCB Product ‘17!)
P.S. I am SUPER happy to help you out. Ask me directed & detailed q’s (not just generally “tell me about ur experience” or “how’s the application process” because I already told you on this post!!!) via email (email@example.com) and I will answer, I promise.