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

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.


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