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

Ben Bergman

Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.

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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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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AmazeVR Wants You To Attend K-Pop Concerts Virtually

Kristin Snyder

Kristin Snyder is an editorial intern for dot.la. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.

AmazeVR Wants You To Attend K-Pop Concerts Virtually
Photo courtesy of AmazeVR

Virtual reality startup AmazeVR now has $17 million to further expand its VR concert experience.

The West Hollywood-based company’s latest funding amounts to a bet that virtual shows, a staple of the pandemic, are here to stay. Mirae Asset Capital led the Series B funding round, with Mirae Asset Financial Group subsidiary (Mirae Asset Venture Investment), CJ Investment, Smilegate Investment, GS Futures and LG Technology Ventures investing again. Mobile game maker Krafton joined the group—but South Korean entertainment company CJ ENM’s stake reveals AmazeVR’s plans to expand into K-pop world.

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