Setting the Record Straight

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On April 19, Crain’s published an article regarding the closing of MATH’s second early-stage venture fund, the title of which was “Henikoff-led venture fund raises $46 million.” On the one hand, this is good. We worked with Crain’s to receive media coverage for the successful closing of our second fund. But on the other hand, Crain’s got the title and tone of the article wrong.

While Mark and I were both left out of the title, he was mentioned as a founder while it was noticeable that my name came at the end. Samara Mejia Hernandez, the fourth member of our investment team, was left out completely. I received many texts and phone calls concerned that the article was biased in favor of the two men on the team; that it devalued the two women on the team. The most common comment was “WTF?”

We asked Crain’s to correct the headline but were told that the editors believed that Troy’s name was “more recognizable than ‘MATH’ to readers.” This may be true and there may not have been any intent to devalue women on the team; but, the article fundamentally misrepresents who we are as a firm.

Because Mark and Troy are the founders of MATH, most people assume that I am a junior partner.  They believe I have the title but no real seat at the table. Here are just a few examples:

  • A few quarters ago, at a local breakfast meeting of partner-level VCs in Chicago, I was taken aside by one of the more established VCs in the community who whispered that he would help me negotiate my position with Mark and Troy. That it would help us in fundraising if the ‘optics’ appeared fair for us since I was a woman. 

  • I have had multiple founders and Limited Partners ask with a somewhat challenging tone, “Are they going to change the name?” (the MA is Mark Achler and TH is Troy Henikoff).

  • Many of my VC sisters go further—urging me to start my own firm. They assume I will not be able to build a strong individual brand inside MATH. They feel that I will always be overshadowed by Mark and Troy and that I will have to hang my own shingle to get recognition in the industry. 

When an article like Crain’s comes out, these well-meaning voices get LOUDER. So, allow me to set the record straight.

MATH has three, equal Managing Directors running the firm – Mark Achler, Troy Henikoff, and me, Dana Wright. We are equal in responsibility, decision-making, compensation, carry, and share of the management company. This does not mean that we are the same or that we always agree. We have shared values but different strengths, weaknesses, and personalities.

This structure is central to who we are, how we operate, and how we manage the fund. It allows each of us to bring our unique, individual strengths to bear for the benefit of the fund overall and for our portfolio companies – regardless of who sourced the deal, who sits on the board, or who leads the investment day-to-day.  We believe this structure improves our decision making and our ability to provide insight and guidance to our portfolio companies.

In terms of optics about fairness, we prefer actual fairness.  We make decisions as a team.  Because we are a small team, we do this quickly, usually with some lively debate.  I do not negotiate with Mark and Troy – we decide how we want to allocate funds and then we divide the remainder by three.  It feels fair to me.

With regard to the name, we discussed as a team whether we should keep MATH or change it.  I felt the strongest about keeping the name.  It is our brand; it represents more than just the initials; and, it honors that Mark and Troy founded the firm. We are keeping the name.

On the point of starting my own firm, I reject the idea that I cannot build my own distinct brand and reputation within MATH. I celebrate and encourage those women (and men) who want to start their own firms. I also celebrate those that have found firms that allow diverse points of view an equal seat at the table. I have partners that value and respect my opinion. We have a compensation structure that reflects and rewards us working as equals. We put team above individual. We are not perfect, but we get it more right than wrong.

As a team, we constantly remind each other of the inherent bias and inequality of opportunity that exist for so many entrepreneurs. We actively challenge and hold each other accountable in every comment, situation, pitch meeting, etc. to be better. We participate in organizations, speaking engagements, events, and panels that are inclusive.  And, in the future, we commit to working closely only with those publications that will respect the type of firm we are building and represent us appropriately to the outside world. 

For me personally, I will begin more direct communication to the outside world, allocating more time to writing and sharing my ideas. I will keep my energy on challenging and coaching our portfolio companies. I will work closely with founders to help them build skills that will create velocity and scale in their businesses. I will continue to push our team to take more risk and be more aggressive on deals. I will analyze every possible way we can improve fund performance and add more value to our LPs.  Most of all, I will continue to build my legacy at MATH - remaining motivated and driven to be one of the highest-performing, most sought-after VCs in the region.