How Venture Capitalists Make Money

Today’s VCs are so well compensated that the only question is whether they end up rich or crazy rich

Gary Rivlin
Marker
Published in
4 min readMay 29, 2019

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Photo: Douglas Sacha/Getty Images

AsAs careers go, venture capital can seem an enviable one. Like Hollywood casting directors, VCs spend part of most days dressed casually, sitting around a conference table and sipping bottled water, auditioning entrepreneurs one hour at a time. VCs boast that even when they’re meeting with companies they don’t end up funding, they get to spend their entire days meeting with intelligent, engaging people with unique ideas about the future.

But of course, the money is a big draw. In theory, VCs are like the entrepreneurs they back: They grow rich only if enough of the companies in which they invest flourish. In reality, today’s venture capitalists are so well compensated on the front end that the only question is whether they end up rich or crazy rich.

The key to a VC’s wealth is the “carry”: The percentage of the winnings that the partners take before distributing the profits to their investors. Twenty percent is standard, but some top firms take a 25% or 30% share. So for every $100 million generated in profits, the partners take a $20 million to $30 million cut before distributing the rest among their investors.

A successful VC for a…

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Gary Rivlin
Marker
Writer for

I’m a long-time journalist, ex of the New York Times, and author of 7 books. In 2017, I shared the Pulitzer as one of the reporters on the “Panama Papers.”