Why we’re excited to add this former founder, GTM powerhouse, and investor in Ramp, Ro and ScaleAI, to our team.
Today, we’re thrilled to share that Liz Wessel has joined us as First Round’s newest Partner.
On the rare occasions that we add to our small, tight-knit partnership, there’s a long list of qualities on our wish list. At First Round, our singular focus is on helping founders go from idea to product-market fit, so we look for someone who’s both experienced in and fired up about helping companies get from 0 to 1.
The partner needs to be someone early-stage founders will turn to for advice, someone who can share incredibly tactical guidance from their own company-building experiences and the patterns they’ve seen from supporting startups of all stripes. Their work ethic and drive to win needs to be rivaled only by their kindness.
To put it plainly, we’ve got a high bar. But Liz clears it by a wide margin. We were immediately taken with her go-to-market chops, her deep well of empathy and unwavering support for fellow founders, and her impressive angel investing track record — and we’re convinced that she’s an incredible partner for founders who are just getting started.
Her own “getting started” story demonstrates why. Similar to many great founders and investors, Liz had an entrepreneurial streak from her earliest days. In elementary school, she’d take the $2 bills her dad gave her for candy money and trade this “rare” currency with her classmates for $5. Later while studying at Penn, she launched various businesses and side projects. After graduation, Liz joined the storied APMM program at Google, where she marketed products that reached billions and moved to India for a year to build the company’s brand and product awareness in areas that were just gaining access to technology.
But Liz still felt the entrepreneurial itch to start a company, and so at 23 years old, she left Google and teamed up with her college friend to start WayUp. She spent the next seven years as co-founder and CEO, fully enveloped in the company-building grind as WayUp became a leading early career recruitment platform. The B2B2C product has been used by seven million candidates and thousands of employers. Liz raised over $40M from firms like General Catalyst and Index Ventures, scaled a team, and merged the business with Yello in 2021.
But as is the case with all company-building journeys, if you dig deeper, there are all the blips beneath the headlines: The challenges of learning founder-led sales and moving from SMB to enterprise. The difficulties of troubleshooting churn and building out customer success. The rush of scaling quickly, followed by the big decision to exit the business after years of effort.
In our view, it was these experiences that made Liz such a successful angel investor, equipping her to pick apart all the challenges a company could run into and lend the targeted support founders truly need. While hard at work on her own business, she began building a remarkable portfolio. To date, she’s backed over 40 companies, including Ramp, ScaleAI, Ro, Artera (fka Well), Snackpass and FreeWill — all in the earliest days. In our experience, there aren’t too many founder-turned-angel investors with those early wins under their belts.
After WayUp’s exit, Liz joined Y Combinator as a Visiting Partner. In addition to interviewing and picking companies for the batches, she dove headfirst into founder support, earning a reputation as something of a “GTM whisperer.” She spent her days in back-to-back office hours sessions reviewing sales pitches, refining positioning, helping with pricing, and counseling YC founders on all things enterprise sales, B2B marketing, storytelling and fundraising.
Between her personal investments and her time at YC, she’s advised more than 180 companies. She’s built a standout track record in the enterprise space, establishing herself as a GTM maven, and solidifying a special talent and strong passion for helping with those messy early days.
After getting to know her better and speaking with those who’ve worked with her closely, we’re certain that Liz is the investor who will make the biggest difference on founders’ cap tables — particularly for those domain experts and technical or product-oriented builders looking to more effectively sell to customers and get to their first million in revenue faster.
- Founder DNA: Liz is a founder who’s been in your shoes very recently, so she knows your challenges backwards and forwards. There aren’t all that many folks who’ve both spent the better part of a decade building their own business and are now focusing purely on early-stage investing. If you’re looking to stick it out through the ups and downs from inception to exit, there’s no one better to have in your corner. Whether you’re looking to avoid the hiring traps first-time founders often fall into, or seeking guidance on how to rally your team in tumultuous times, Liz has still-fresh experiences to tap into.
- Unmatched work ethic: Over the years, we’ve found that the best additions to the First Round team have had a competitive streak — and an intense work ethic to back it up. Liz has that in spades. If you backchannel her references (as we spent a considerable amount of time doing this year) you’ll hear one consistent theme: She will outwork any investor on your cap table. More specifically, we heard things like, “She was in the top 1% of founders in terms of what she put into the company,” “Liz is the hardest working person I’ve ever met,” and “She’s an insanely motivated person. That is her defining quality.” Whether it’s building her own company or backing startups from Day 0, Liz has never seen her role as something to clock in and out of — which makes her a perfect match for founders who have that same drive. If you’re looking for someone to spend the weekend helping you overhaul your Series A deck or take that late-night call to game plan after an exec unexpectedly leaves, Liz is the one you want on speed dial.
- GTM powerhouse: Liz is a secret weapon for founders who’ve never sold a day in their lives. She’ll coach you through everything from lining up those first few sales calls to getting creative with your marketing to making your first GTM hire. She also has a special knack for storytelling, for pulling out the voice of the customer and polishing up your positioning so that it’s compelling — no matter the sector.
- Hands-on help with the 30,000-foot strategy and the 3-inch-level work: We were particularly drawn to Liz’s ability to toggle between supporting founders on both strategy and tactics. Her experience as a founder and investor make her the perfect sounding board for those “one-way door” decisions, including navigating M&A options, pivoting the product, managing thorny board dynamics, and choosing the right follow-on investors. And instead of the “let me know how I can help” tropes, Liz can dive right into the weeds — whether it’s watching Gong calls and giving you feedback on your pitch, reviewing conversion rates in your sales funnel, interviewing early sales reps for you, or brainstorming viral marketing campaigns. Count on her to share incredibly tactical advice, whether you’re a technical founder who’s never sold before or you’re scaling sales to the next level.
- Focus on unlocking advantages for others: Reading the descriptions in the bullets above certainly paints a picture of intensity. And as XN’s Gaurav Kapadia eloquently put it, some think of kindness and rigor as being at odds. But like other First Rounders, Liz proves that to be a false tradeoff. Across the board, we consistently heard from her references that “She’s a top-tier human” who’s “open and kind.” Her commitment to collaboration and dedication to building wider doorways and longer tables makes her a perfect addition to our culture.
We are confident that she’ll be an amazing partner and we could not be more excited to welcome her to First Round’s investment team, and to our San Francisco office.
If you’re building a company and think Liz could help, please get in touch with her here: liz dot wessel at firstround dot com.
Photography by Bonnie Rae Mills.