On June 22, I attended First Round Capital’s first offline event for the Network+Women group in New York City. A refreshing evening of presentations and conversations, the event allowed women working across First Round’s portfolio to connect in person and learn from each other’s experiences.
First we heard “leadership stories at light speed” from three leading women in tech: Hayley Barna, co-founder of Birchbox and a venture partner at First Round; Brynn Putnam, founder and CEO of PRISM; and Melissa Goidel, former CRO at Refinery29 and founder of HeartWired. For stories delivered “at light speed,” they were dense with insight.
Hayley shared a question she often receives: “Did you always know your path?” The answer, she said, is no. Her career wasn’t premeditated. The process has been one of trial and error, teaching her to focus on keeping doors open, learning with good people and optimizing for learning. In terms of work-life balance, she advised that we be present and plug in when we work, but make time to unplug for life. As the former co-CEO of Birchbox, she sees a healthy work-life balance as important not just for herself, but for her team and her greater impact on the company culture.
Brynn spoke to the importance of defying convention and expectation—something she knows a little bit about, having found her way into tech from the grind of the New York City Ballet, where she used to be a ballerina. Among other things, she emphasized that you can build a business backward and still be successful.
Melissa shared many nuggets of wisdom. Having hired over 200 of Refinery29’s 450 employees, she’s learned that grit and gratitude are the qualities she values most in a teammate. She suggested you ask yourself “why, why, why?” in any new meeting or project, to figure out your motivation, purpose and contribution. She also advised against layering commitments—it will inevitably drain you, no matter how much you think you can handle. Finally, she emphasized that while decision-making is a lonely responsibility, leadership is intrinsically other-centric.
After these stories, we broke out into smaller sessions on career and life topics including: how to navigate career growth, startup and family life, scaling with your company, being a good boss and best practices for recruiting. In these sessions, we raised questions, shared our experiences and offered advice in confidence.
What sticks with me most, though, are the lessons I learned from Hayley, Brynn and Melissa as they got deeply personal about their careers. All in all, it was a thoughtful, inspiring evening and one I’ll be thinking about for months to come.