To build a lasting company, founders (and the folks who join them on the startup journey), need to learn how to do a tremendous range of things: build a fantastic product, raise money, hire great people, figure out pricing and packaging, manage well, develop new employees, run a board meeting, evaluate performance, run all-hands meetings and offsites, assemble a top-notch exec team — the list truly goes on and on. At its core, entrepreneurship is a journey of problem-solving.
At First Round, we’re as much builders as we are investors — our customers are the special founders who partner with us, and we build tailored programs, tools, communities and playbooks for them to lean on as they tackle all of these company-building firsts. We’ve assembled an incredible operating team to support these founders on everything from finding your first customers to your first marketer and everything in between.
And over the years, Whitnie Narcisse has had an outsized impact on how we build for this incredible group of founders. Put simply, Whitnie’s tireless commitment to our community of founders and our team members has made First Round a better institution. We’re thrilled to announce her promotion to Operating Partner.
With this milestone, we wanted to take the opportunity to look back on some of the incredible work that Whitnie has achieved in her time here — and how she’s lived out our values along the way. There is no better person to pull into a brainstorm or a whiteboarding session — to dream up innovative projects that we could try out, and then get into the nitty-gritty tactical details to make those ideas a reality.
Even the very first project Whitnie tackled when she joined First Round has staying power. Whitnie spent her first two years building out First Round’s Expert Network, which now includes over 700 experts with everyone from growth marketing gurus to pricing pros and tax specialists. If founders have an unanswered question, there is an incredible group of advisors with the First Round seal of approval to meet those needs — rather than founders trying to puzzle it out on their own.
Whitnie treats the little things like the big things — sweating the small details and maintaining a high bar for excellence. Seeds that Whitnie planted and cultivated at First Round include our fan-favorite Fast Track mentorship program — which matches seasoned startup leaders with early-stage operators for 1:1 guided mentorship. Whitnie piloted the program back in 2016, with just 20 mentor/mentee pairs. We now have 12 Fast Track cohorts under our belt, with a whopping 3,000 mentorship pairs that have gone through the program (and counting). In true “give away your legos” fashion, Whitnie encourages other folks at First Round to grow their own careers and take on these programs to make them their own — like mentoring our Senior Community Manager Julia Govberg, who started as a First Round intern and now runs our Fast Track program.
Whitnie also helped create programs tailored to the needs of specific startup roles, including Founding Designer Track and Product Program to bring small groups of folks in these early startup roles together for community and curriculum. A recent addition to the lineup includes Recruiter Track, a beginner program specifically geared towards folks looking to make a career change into startup recruiting. Here at First Round, we make speed a habit — and Whitnie is always the first to raise her hand and transform a kernel of an idea into a fully-fledged program and a cornerstone offering.
And as First Round Founding Partner Josh Kopelman is fond of saying, “we owe founders our unvarnished advice and unwavering support.” Over her seven years at First Round, Whitnie has become a trusted advisor for leaders across our community, not just serving as a sounding board for the most significant milestones, but for every up and down in between. She prides herself on being the first call or text when a founder needs a dose of advice for a new hire that isn’t quite working out, or when runway is getting tight. She’s a cheerleader when founder doubt creeps in, and an empathetic ear when burnout lurks around the corner.
In addition to sharing her trusted counsel in one-on-one touchpoints with First Round founders, Whitnie also facilitates opportunities for founders to form deep bonds and connect with one another. She leads our Founder Forums and Founder Retreats, intimate events that bring folks together to share some of their thorniest problems with others who understand the burdens on an entrepreneur’s shoulders. As Alexa Grabell, founder of Pocus, shared about a recent Founder Retreat: “This is 100% the most meaningful and insightful thing any investor could ever do. I learn more in these short three days than in weeks of founder life.”
Now as an Operating Partner, the nuts and bolts of Whitnie’s role won’t change all that much. Internally, she will continue to lead many of our First Round operating teams, including People Ops, DEI, and Recruiting, as well as all of our founder services, including our Talent team (which sources critical early hires for our portfolio companies), Community & Technology (including First Round Network, our private online platform for First Round companies), and Go-To-Market (sharing actionable expertise for building a revenue engine). And she will continue to be a trusted resource for entrepreneurs as they build from 0–1 and beyond.
It’s hard to imagine where First Round (and our incredible founders) would be if Whitnie hadn’t sent a cold email to email@example.com many years ago. And we’re thrilled for all that’s still to come as she continues to leave her mark on the First Round community.