With Eye on LA, Putin Advocate-Turned-VC Raises Second Fund

The world of venture capital is filled with interesting characters, and Masha Drokova is certainly one of them.

Born and raised in impoverished rural Russia, Drokova was a pro-Putin youth activist who led a Kremlin-backed group that intimidated opposition figures. In 2014, she immigrated to the U.S. where she started doing public relations for startups like Hotel Tonight and Houzz. And then in 2017, she became a VC starting Day One Ventures in San Francisco.

The firm is announcing the close of its $50 million second fund Tuesday, which is more than the double the size of its first fund. The majority of the capital comes from tech founders hailing from more than 10 countries, according to Drokova.

In a recent interview, the 31-year-old Drokova said it has been nearly a decade since she's lived in Russia. She says she no longer follows the country's politics and has no opinion about President Vladimir Putin. She says her background has never hindered her ability to make deals.

"I left politics when I was 18 or 19," Drokova said. "I think smart people understand I was a kid and that was just part of my experience and learning."

Drokova is more eager to talk about her firm, which uses her PR expertise to improve companies that she calls "consumer obsessed." Day One gets its name from Jeff Bezos' famed 2016 shareholder letter where he decrees companies should avoid stasis at all cost and always embody the mentality of a hungry startup just beginning.

Drokova says scrappy startup founders should empathize with her story.

"I grew up in a small town in Russia where the average salary is $200 a month and in a way it's a journey similar to something that early-stage entrepreneurs have to go through as they start a new company," Drokova said. "I haven't gone to Stanford. I wasn't working for Google or Facebook. And it proves that America is a country of opportunity, because even with this noncommercial background, I managed to create the firm that invested in a number of very successful, fast-growing companies alongside the top VCs."

In April, Day One Ventures hired Drake Austin Rehfeld, a former Snap product lead, as an L.A.-based principal.

Drokova says L.A. companies are often a good match for the firm's consumer focus.

"We like that they have close touch with consumers because you can do lots of experiments with consumers and big companies like Snapchat created a good foundation," she said. "I think it's also a very diverse city, which creates opportunities to start companies that have more inclusive products."

Though Day One Ventures is based in San Francisco, about 15% of the dozens of startups it has backed are based in Los Angeles. Standouts include Snafu, which uses AI to predict which artists will break out, Octi, which uses AR to create a social shopping experience, and Yumi, a child nutrition company.

"It's rare to find investors who fundamentally understand the value of storytelling," said Evelyn Rusli, co-founder and president of Yumi, explaining why she accepted funding from Day One Ventures. "They were immediately helpful and great to work with."

When asked what she thought of Drokova's past, Rusli seemed taken aback by the question. After a pause, she declined to comment.

Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.

It's almost 90 degrees outside in Los Angeles as lines of cars pull up to Dodger Stadium, home to a mass vaccination site that opened Friday.

"Please make sure that they're not under the sun in the cart," Edith Mirzaian is telling a volunteer as she directs the person to put ice packs on coolers that hold up to 20 COVID vaccines. Mirzaian is a USC associate professor of clinical pharmacy and an operational lead at one of California's largest vaccination sites.

Dodger Stadium alone — once the nation's largest COVID-19 testing site — is slated to vaccine up to 12,000 people each day, county and city health officials said this week. Officials plan to finish vaccinating some 500,000 health care and assisted care employees by the end of this month before opening appointments up to people 65 and older.

Mirzaian is desperately trying to make sure that the vaccines don't spoil.

"We have to be the guardians of the vaccine," she said.

Earlier this month, hundreds of vaccinations were lost after a refrigerator went out in Northern California, forcing the hospital to rush to give out hundreds of doses. Mirzaian's task tells a larger story of the difficult and often daunting logistical process required to roll out a vaccine that requires cold temperatures.

"You know they can't be warm so just keep an eye out," she gently reminds the volunteer.

The volunteers and staff from USC, the Los Angeles Fire Department and Core Laboratories prepared enough doses to vaccinate around 2,000 residents on Friday and they plan to increase capacity each day after.

Local health officials are holding the vaccination syringes in coolers after they leave the air-conditioned trailers. The coolers are then covered in ice packs and wheeled on carts to clinicians administering shots to health care workers and nursing home staff eligible under the state's vaccination plan.

"Vaccines are the surest route to defeating this virus and charting a course to recovery, so the City, County, and our entire team are putting our best resources on the field to get Angelenos vaccinated as quickly, safely, and efficiently as possible," said mayor Eric Garcetti in a statement announcing the plan.

Health officials around the world are racing against time as the virus mutates and poses greater dangers.

"We have a little bit of borrowed time here right now because these variants are not here in great numbers from what we can tell," said Susan Butler-Wu, an associate professor in clinical pathology at USC's Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Curbing the spread of the virus is a vital way to prevent mutant strains from developing, she said.

Mirzaian, who arrived at the site before it opened at 8 a.m., said that there were logistical challenges as volunteers scrambled to assemble what will likely be the hub of the region's vaccination efforts.

"It's challenging to make sure that everyone knows what the process is and what we're doing and what to tell the patients who receive the vaccines."

After a few hours, the procedure moved quicker.

Residents have to show identification and proof of employment before they're taken through a list of pre-screening questions and given the vaccine through their car window. They're required to then wait for 15 minutes while clinicians monitor them for side effects.

Mirzaian said the process took each car about an hour. While eligible residents can walk-in for vaccinations, she recommends they make appointments so that enough doses are made available each day.

"As long as people have their appointments, they will get in," she said. "We are ready. We are like an army ready to give vaccines."

Snap promoted executive Ben Schwerin to be its new senior vice president of content and partnerships, as the company seeks to grow its content business to challenge rival TikTok.

As part of the reorganization, Chief Strategy Officer Jared Grusd, who previously oversaw content, will become a strategic advisor to Snap CEO Evan Spiegel.

Read more Show less

As a casting director, Lacey Kaelani has a leading view on Hollywood's content pipeline. Based on what she's been seeing on her venture-backed casting platform, Casting Depot, prepare for a deluge of unscripted shows.

"It's all gonna be handheld videos where everything looks like a Zoom call," she said. "Dating shows, talk shows, food competition shows – that's what was cast and is going into production."

The Casting Depot launched its latest beta version on Friday, with a "six-figure" investment from global venture capital firm Antler. Its board includes leaders from companies including CAA, Airtime, iHeartMedia, WorkMarket and IAC.

Read more Show less