Finding My Best of Both Worlds
By Hayley Barna
Almost two years ago, I enthusiastically joined First Round as a Venture Partner knowing it was a time-boxed experiment. I had an open mind and was comfortable not knowing what would come after — starting another venture-backed business, running a neighborhood flower shop, or embarking on a longer career as a VC.
Today, I’m thrilled to share that I’ve committed to a long-term career as a General Partner with First Round in New York City. As the first Partner to join after being a CEO in the First Round Community, I’m humbled and grateful for the opportunity.
When I embarked on the Venture Partner experiment, I made a pledge to use my time here to serve the founders in the NYC ecosystem by being honest and practical. I know firsthand how frustrating fundraising can be, and I’ve felt how lonely it can be in the CEO’s seat. I’ve aimed to use my founder experience as a source of empathy, not as a prescription for the right way to do things. Often that means I listen more than I advise.
In all this listening, I learned a lot from the founders I work with. But the most important lesson I gleaned during my time at First Round is that I love seed-stage investing — just as much as operating.
The best thing about working at First Round is that I’m not forced to choose between investing and operating roles. As a founder, I relished brainstorming, executing and iterating on ideas—having the ownership and accountability to create results. As an investor, I appreciate the leverage I have to contribute across multiple companies, share learnings, make connections and provide resources. I can still do both at First Round. Because we operate as a startup and treat venture like a product, we’re constantly launching and evolving new tools and offerings for our portfolio companies and the broader community. Alongside my partner Brett Berson and the First Round Platform Team, I’ve helped launch new initiatives like our Co-Ops, the Product Program in NYC and the women’s group within First Round Network (read more about that here). Because of our unique, entrepreneurial approach to investment, I don’t ever have to stop building.
So far, I’ve led a handful of investments for First Round, partnering with both first-time and experienced founders. The joy of being able to make that call to say “we’re in” is amazing, but that’s only the beginning of the journey. The most rewarding moments for me have been in the small, positive interactions where I can help navigate difficult decisions or offer support informed by my own experience as a founder. I’ve seen the dark sides of leading a startup — it’s not all unicorns and rainbows — and I know that real service is helping create products that delight customers, getting to a successful launch and supporting their next round of funding.
I’m so appreciative of the opportunity that First Round gave me with this “try before you buy” Venture Partner experience. Given that I co-founded a business built on the principles of sampling, it’s poetic that I’ve applied it to my career. Thank you to Brett, Bill, Chris, Josh, Phin and Rob for exposing me fully to this job from the day I joined. Participating in strategic discussions about the future of First Round opened my eyes to the company and legacy to be built, not just the investments to be made. Working alongside you, I’ve learned that venture can truly be a collaborative and creative endeavor.
Having been a part of the First Round community for seven years, both as a founder and a member of the investment team, I’m wholeheartedly thrilled to take the next step as a General Partner. I look forward to continuing to build our firm in the service of founders like me. If you’re a New York based founder please reach out to me (firstname.lastname@example.org). I’d love to hear about your journey to becoming a founder and how I can help you succeed.