When venture capital firm First Round announced that it would be opening up its process to find its next partner in a bid to tap a more diverse talent pool last July, the firm wasn’t sure what the reception would be. But more than 600 people applied in the following months. And one—ex-Stripe and Mixpanel manager Meka Asonye—has now joined the firm as its newest investment partner.
As a First Round partner, Asonye says he will take a generalist approach but expects to invest especially in fintech and SaaS, where he has expertise, working with companies that need a go-to-market boost and helping them convert early sales leads or decide when to bring on their first sales hire.
First Round had never run a formal hiring process for its partner roles, which are relatively few (the firm now has six partners) and brought in historically through its networks. As the VC industry grappled with its own lack of diversity in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, a blog post by Kapor Capital partner Brian Dixon, one of the few Black investment partners in Silicon Valley, struck a chord, says partner Bill Trenchard, specifically one line: “If you do not publicize the jobs that are available at your venture firm, then you are intentionally being exclusionary.”
Asonye actually knew First Round already. Having grown up in the Chicago area the son of Nigerian immigrants, Asonye attended Princeton and Harvard Business School and spent four years managing player development for the Cleveland Indians in Major League Baseball before heading to San Francisco to work at Bain & Co. In 2016, he joined Stripe, the online payments startup that recently raised funding at a $95 billion valuation, where he worked as head of sales and customer success for its startup and small business sales group. It was there that he joined First Round’s angel investing program in 2019, a program that provided instruction, networking and expertise to tech executives to become personal investors themselves.
While he moved to data startup Mixpanel to run sales in 2020, the experience got Asonye investing, first in his then-roommate, whose startup, corporate directory service Rimeto, was acquired by Slack last year. “I just started to realize that I really, really enjoy working with early-stage companies,” Asonye says. “I just love the energy that comes from working with a superpassionate founder who’s, like, there’s this problem, and I’m going to make it better.”
Asonye says if First Round hadn’t opened up its application process or sought him out, he’d probably still be working at Mixpanel. At First Round, the partners considered more than a thousand potential candidates, 600-plus of them from direct outside applications like Asonye’s.
To run that process, the firm surveyed its founders about what they were looking for in investors to determine skills it wanted to prioritize early in the process, then ran “simulations” to see how candidates handled mock inbound from startups—how fast they responded, which they flagged to meet and which they forwarded on. Candidates like Asonye also sat in on founder meetings over Zoom. “It was very time consuming, like running a gauntlet, but we had a bunch of candidates that did exceptionally well,” says partner Bill Trenchard.
With partners Chris Fralic, Rob Hayes and Phin Barnes all stepping back in recent years, First Round is still actively looking to add another partner, says Trenchard, continuing its open process. “Some venture capitalists say, we haven’t found anyone qualified, and it’s, like, ‘Is that because those people don’t exist, or is because of your process?’” Trenchard says. “It’s too easy to rely on your network.”
Asonye’s advice for firms looking to follow First Round: Make sure the people you bring in are coming in on equal footing. At First Round, that means Asonye wanted to make sure he was joining with a comparable financial upside and seniority track as its other recent hires such as Todd Jackson, a partner hired last February. “It’s important your process is clear, transparent and standardized,” he says.
And while Asonye says he’s proud to add to the ranks of Black VC partners in Silicon Valley, he’s eager to get to work. “I’m a Black investor. I know that representation matters, and that as an industry we need to be better about hiring more people, getting more diverse cap tables and building out a more diverse network. And I think First Round is thinking about that in lots of ways,” he says. “But for me, I’m just thinking about how I can be a successful investor, and how I can partner with the next billion-dollar company.”
Forbes – Entrepreneurs