How to succeed in venture capital without really trying is anything but easy

How to succeed in venture capital without really trying is anything but easy

B2B software specialist Dawn Capital is on a tear. In 2021 alone, the London-based firm launched its second later-stage fund at $120 million in late July, and added 10 new companies to the portfolio. If this wasn’t enough to crack open the champagne, in late June, Dawn saw portfolio company Tink acquired by Visa for a whopping €1.8 billion. Not a bad year.

And while the numbers speak for themselves and are more than fine and dandy, Dawn Capital has set itself apart from an already crowded VC world by way of fostering a homegrown pool of talent. That same July, the firm promoted from within, with Mina Mutafchieva rising to Partner level and Dan Chaplin to Principal, and less than two months later announced the appointment of Evgenia Plotnikova to the rank of General Partner, thereby making her the youngest woman promoted internally to the position of General Partner in Europe.

And so it would seem that this philosophy is at it again, with Dawn Capital elevating 32-year-old Henry Mason to the Partner ranks. On any given day, this might seem like a standard promotion within a respected investment firm. However, upon further inspection, it’s anything but.

With many a VC hailing from either a finance or an entrepreneurial background, or in some cases, both, Mason accounts for Dawn’s wildcard, their left-fielder, as he holds a Ph.D. in Greek language and literature; from Oxford University, none-the-less. Now while he might have a face that launched a thousand ships, or Vulcan, Harbr, Quantexa, Onna, Element, and Garrison, as the case may be,  it got me to thinking, there must be more going on here than meets the eye.

With the Great Resignation on the minds of both workers and employees, and coming from a music background myself, (Eastman School of Music, and the Juilliard School), I got to thinking, if Henry Mason can do it, maybe I can succeed in venture capital without really trying.

"You can be leftfield, you can be whatever you want, you can be your own thing.” - Henry Mason

“My Ph.D. dissertation was about tech disruption. Specifically writing. In 8th century B.C., what and how did this technology affect society? How did it disrupt the status quo? When you think about it, one of the driving forces behind the humanities is the underlying principle of our advancement as a species, so the leap to tech isn’t as vast as you might think,” explained Mason.

And like many of us, it would seem that the world of all things tech grabbed a hold of Henry, and hasn’t let go since.

At the beginning of 2016, Mason joined Farsight Consulting, a London-based firm that specialises in a number of projects including public sector services. A short five months later, Mason was holding down dual roles as a consultant with Farsight and overlapping work as a Business Analyst with the U.K.’s Ministry of Justice.

“I was working on classic enterprise problems. Cybersecurity, what are the next shifts in the industry, how do we best alleviate silos? During this time, the name Dawn Capital kept showing up on my radar.”

And so in late 2016, Henry Mason got his foot in the door with Dawn, starting out in the classic fashion: as an analyst.

“Obviously, one of my biggest blind spots was that I came in the door with zero financial training, but I really think this is where my academic background helped. I am the textbook example of learning through doing,” said Henry. “If there was a financial model being worked on, I wanted in on it. If there was a discussion being had, I was taking notes. Lots of notes.”

He’s not joking either, as I asked Henry about his seemingly old-school methods, “You should see the collection of notebooks I’ve picked up at tech conferences throughout the years. The spines are either broken or overflowing with additional pieces of paper.”

“One thing that really helped me get my head in the game was to replicate the models being worked on, and then have my seniors check my work.”

Now if you’re playing along at home, you’ll note that we’ve now been provided with a fairly clear roadmap on how to self-train to understand the numbers involved in the venture capital world, but what about the ever-so-often requested/required value add?

As seems to be de rigueur at this time of the year, the news of this firm launching that fund and that fund being launched by this firm, each one is seeking to differentiate itself from the others by way of “previous entrepreneur experience.” Cherry Ventures, Luminar Ventures, and Dutch Founders all come to mind.

“Speaking at the firm level, I can say that we’ve made a very conscious effort to build a diverse team. You can see this in our commitment to maintaining a 50/50 gender balance across the board,” said Henry.

“This diversity further extends to what we can offer founders. Different founders need different types of advice at different stages. Sometimes that can be facilitating a conversation between a Series D founder to a Series A founder, but other times that might be assisting in analysing a potential new market fit, or helping to find experts in a certain field and making the introductions."

Well alright then Mr., or should I say Dr. Mason, I’ve only one question left, “Is Dawn Capital hiring?”

With a chuckle and a smile Henry is quick to reply, “Right now we’re building up our presence in France and yes, we’re always looking for great talent.”

So while I've got the leftfield background, and a stockpile of tech conference branded notebooks just waiting to be filled, until my ... my ... ummm, je ne sais quoi, is up to speed, I think I’ll remain right where I am; Because as Henry Mason has shown, success is anything but easy.

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