It’s My First Day at First Round
By Hayley Barna
I’m excited to share that I’ve joined First Round Capital as a Venture Partner in New York City. Starting today, I’ll be looking for new seed investments and working closely with founders in the First Round community.
But let’s be clear — this career move isn’t big news. I’m not the first founder to go into investing. In fact, I’m picking up where another awesome founder left off (wishing Wiley Cerilli lots of luck with his new project!). So this piece isn’t just another, “I changed jobs” announcement. Rather, I want to use this moment to make a public commitment to being a certain type of investor — the type of investor I loved working with as an entrepreneur.
I’m fresh off the heels of six years as a founder. I know how it feels to be told “no” during a fundraise and how often those rejections come along with rationales you vehemently disagree with. It’s hard to feel like your fate is in the hands of people who know so little about you, your business and your market. I can still vividly remember the stress of late night pitch preparation — and then the distaste of being confronted in the meeting with a group of well rested smiles, healthy tans and uninformed questions.
I’m bound to make mistakes in this new role, both in my investment decisions and how I handle conversations with entrepreneurs. But I commit to being authentic, open minded and empathetic to the founder’s fundraising experience.
I can’t think of a better place to do this than First Round, which led the seed round in my company Birchbox, and has always put founders first through good times and bad. As first-time founders in 2010, raising our seed round was a bumpy road (to say the very least). We didn’t know the lingo, made tons of rookie mistakes, and wasted time talking to the wrong people who were all too happy to string us along. After too many cookie-cutter, deflating conversations, meeting Phin Barnes and the team at First Round was noticeably, hearteningly different. Seeds have different needs, and it was clear they understood where we were, where we wanted to go and how to help us get there.
Phin and the other First Round partners were unphased by our unknowns. Instead of poking holes in our ideas and asking for data we didn’t have, Phin focused on the size of the opportunity, the vision and our ability to execute against it. He knew every assumption in our operating model was probably wrong (he was right), but liked that we hustled on our beta and had scraped together all the data we could. He was okay taking on the risk of first-time founders with no industry background because he valued our intuitive understanding of our customer — plus he had been a first-time founder once himself.
After we signed the term sheet, First Round helped us through the critical first months of our business. Their support was already game changing five years ago — now there’s an entire team of people dedicated solely to helping founders get new businesses off the ground. Back then, they shared solid actionable data about unsexy but necessary building blocks like compensation and benefits administration, Phin introduced us to key hires (like our brilliant CTO Liz Crawford), and they connected us to other founders in their portfolio at similar stages of growth, like Dave and Neil from Warby Parker, to share with and learn from each other.
Having “grown up” as a founder in New York, I’m especially excited to be stepping into this new role in this city. When we started Birchbox, despite the siren song of California weather, we knew our business couldn’t be built anywhere else. The confluence of media, beauty, and tech all in one place made this city fertile ground for our unique business model. When I started angel investing last year, I was inspired by the local founders in this city and their world class ideas, making it all the more frustrating to hear they had trouble finding local investors to lead their rounds and set the terms. With so many fantastic businesses being founded here, there should be more full-time New York City-based institutional investors actively leading seed deals. I look forward to being on call to help meet this demand.
I’m taking this role as a Venture Partner at First Round in order to serve the founders of New York. This responsibility will guide me on a daily basis. I’m not the most seasoned investor, but I do know that given my recent experience on the other side of the table I can be accessible, practical and honest.
Founders, I look forward to meeting you, learning about your vision for the future and seeing if First Round can help. And at the very least, I’ll be happy to share my story.