Adding to First Round’s Investment Team
Ever since our founding in 2004, we’ve been laser-focused on investing in pre-product-market fit companies very early in their lifespan. We’ve since had the privilege of partnering with generational companies in vastly different spaces — like Looker transforming data, Uber shaping modern transportation, Roblox expanding the gaming universe, Notion bringing a fresh take to productivity and collaboration, and Mirror tackling virtual fitness (just to name a few).
But while we’ve tended to apply a generalist lens to early-stage investing, when you take a step back, you don’t have to squint to see that our investments tend to cluster around a few key areas, such as application layer SaaS, healthcare, consumer and marketplaces, fintech and technical infrastructure (data tools, developer tools and AI/ML).
Ultimately, we’ve approached the age-old question of whether to be specialists and generalists as a balancing act. In our experience working with over 400 companies, so many of the challenges are the same regardless of the space you’re building in — whether it’s the struggle to make those first few hires, the difficulty of developing your initial product positioning, or the obstacles to closing your first several customers and getting to product-market fit.
But there’s no denying the value in specialized knowledge. For example, healthcare founders need help with everything from keeping up with the latest legislation (like the Cures Act or the new price transparency ruling) and anticipating complex sales and partnership cycles, to knowing when to bring hospital leadership into the conversation, and understanding nuanced, evolving payment models and billing acronyms (FFS, VBC, DRG, CPT, and ICD-10 are some of our favorites).
Or in the case of founders building new infrastructure or developer tools, it’s immensely helpful to lean on investors who can assist with everything from distributing early prototypes to their network of engineering leaders for feedback and providing guidance on growing a developer community, to sharing context around shifting trends in open-source software, and making introductions to those elusive MLE or DevOps candidates.
As we’ve tried to balance advice on the nuts and bolts of company building with bespoke, sector-specific support to deliver the most for the founders we back, we’ve naturally moved a few ticks closer to a more specialized approach over the last five years — especially as we’ve grown as a firm and added to our partnership.
As an example, take how we’ve built up a large and thriving healthcare community with investments like Flatiron Health, Rupa Health, PatientPing, Forward, Nomad Health, Alma, Thirty Madison and over twenty other companies, with Josh Kopelman and Hayley Barna leading the charge. Or how Bill Trenchard and Todd Jackson have built up our focus on supporting founders building the latest data and dev tools, leading investments in Looker, Labelbox, Omni Analytics, Kubecost, and others.
Outside of making new investments, we’re constantly looking to level up our ability to help founders with their industry-specific challenges. We’ve connected companies we’ve backed with specialized support from developer relations experts and healthcare experts (bringing on Dr. Regina Benjamin as our Healthcare Expert-In-Residence, as well as experts from payers, health systems, and digital health companies). We’ve also created custom-tailored events, from putting on larger Healthcare Unconference formats and more intimate forums for entrepreneurs exploring ideas in AI, to hosting carefully-crafted customer development salons at our offices.
As an extension of that more specialized work, we’re excited to publicly share that we’ve added two new investors to the team in the last year to support our sector-specific expertise: our first dedicated Healthcare Investor and Infrastructure & AI/ML Investor.
Lauren DeVos has joined us as a Healthcare Investor. Lauren started her career on the bench, working in research at the intersection of nutrition, genomics, and cancer. She leveraged that deep expertise in her next roles at Fletcher Spaght and Rock Health, where she focused on innovation in new markets, product strategy and M&A.
She also has zero to one startup operator experience, joining Solv Health as the care marketplace’s first business hire. Starting on the GTM side and helping to grow the company through its Series C, Lauren worked to build the product foundations that would help millions of people find real time virtual care, COVID tests, and vaccines.
Before joining First Round, Lauren also spent time at Noom, where she helped launch a beta clinical program designed to expand access and improve outcomes for users with chronic conditions. She earned her dual MBA/MPH from UC Berkeley. Now at First Round, Lauren helps spot founders with fresh, transformative ideas in the healthcare space. She will team up with our partners as they evaluate cutting-edge healthcare companies across tech-enabled care delivery, bio, infrastructure, fintech, data, and care marketplaces.
James Wu also joined us as an Infrastructure & AI/ML Investor. James’ vast experience includes a stint in academia, conducting AI and data security research with grants from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense. During this time he also dipped his toe into investing, working as a VC fellow supporting early-stage portfolio companies. This gave him a taste for entrepreneurship, so he co-founded AdaptiLab, aimed to help companies scale their ML and data science teams. The company counted Fortune1000s and unicorns in their customer base and was later acquired.
James then joined Amperity, where he led the company’s new machine learning projects and tapped back into his academic background, contributing to patents and research papers. James earned his Computer Science and Statistics degrees from Duke. Now at First Round, James works closely with our partners as they uncover new opportunities in the AI/ML, data infrastructure, devtools and security spaces.
We’re thrilled to have Lauren and James as trusted voices on our investing team as we continue to deepen our industry expertise and support the very best founders as they build from 0 to 1 — and beyond.
Photography by Bonnie Rae Mills.