When Ashley Cravens joined Uncork Capital as their first employee 12 years ago, she was immediately thrown into the trenches of venture capital, working to build out infrastructure and back-end support that didn’t exist yet. This is a common situation for new Heads of Platform, not just at Uncork, but at any VC.
"Twelve years ago, the VC Platform function didn’t really exist, a few firms were doing interesting things to assist the portfolio outside the funding/partner relationship, but few and far between," says Ashley. "As a one woman team, I focused on building the community through events which was the easiest and quickest to implement."
"Obviously, twelve years later, VCs have built platform teams to support the portfolio in all facets of their business. Companies like Getro were created for VC’s to support the portfolio. It's really evolved over the years."
Day-to-Day as a Head of Platform
Today, as Uncork’s Head of Platform and Operations, Ashley still spends much of her day-to-day in the trenches, building the platform from the ground up and assisting portfolio companies with introductions to business development contacts, support providers, creating educational series, data pulls, introductions to media, and negotiating discounts just to name a few. "I don’t think I have a typical day," says Ashley.
"We have an a robust event platform, we host two large summits a year, 24+ Masterclasses, networking parties, targeted dinners and more for our founders, there's always something on the event side of things. I assist with recruiter introductions, candidate searches, speaking opportunities, and media introductions. My role is very ‘jack of all trades.’ I wear many different hats. In a perfect world, the day would be structured, but it doesn't really ever work out that way."
Unlocking Value For Portfolio Companies
One area where she anticipates change coming soon is with Uncork’s recent hire of a Head of Talent, Adriana Roche. "We like to teach our founders to fish, not fish for them," says Ashley. The new Head of Talent will fill a strategic role at Uncork, helping portfolio companies with playbooks, networking, and people advice so they can hire and unlock talent to accelerate their success.
This new role will provide additional value to Uncork’s portfolio companies, something that Ashley believes will be even more important for VCs moving forward. "I think that when many of the funds are selling themselves to portfolio companies, it’s important for founders to see the back-end side of things, and what other ways they can assist and support the portfolio. Founders and funds have come to the realization that having a good people strategy and useful tactical advice is table stakes and those that don’t provide this are falling behind."
"The platform is a high-value add, but with every fund having a platform team with the same perks, benefits, offerings, etc, funds need to really focus on what differentiates them to create a competitive advantage."
Networking and Support for Heads of Networks
As VCs begin to figure out exactly how they can do that, Ashley recommends that fellow Heads of Platforms and Networks find groups and communities to join that can support them.
"When I first started, there was zero network. There weren’t platform groups, operator groups, nor talent groups. And so now if you're coming into the role, the first thing to do is sign up for the groups. The amount of knowledge sharing is phenomenal," says Ashley.
"Many times it’s a lonely role. You might be the only only person at the fund in this function and feel completely alone. But you are not, there are so many people in the exact same position as you. When I joined Let’s Talk Ops, I met hundreds of people in my role facing the same challenges, figuring out the same solutions and they were all willing to help me along the way. It was the best possible thing that I could have done for my career."
Let’s Talk Ops is co-managed by Ashley. It brings together the top operational and cross-discipline talent fueling the venture capital industry. This includes roles like Head of Platform, Head of Operations, Head of Community, and more. With five chapters and more than 100 members around the US, Let’s Talk Ops can help operations and community builders at VC firms find the support and tools they need to be successful in their roles.
We are so grateful to Ashley for sharing her time and knowledge with us as a part of our interview series. We also encourage you to check out Let’s Talk Ops! Thank you Ashley!