At first glance, Soraya Darabi and Marina Hadjipateras might appear an unusual venture capital cofounder pair.
Darabi’s career took off in the small world of New York techies of the late 2000s, managing The New York Times’ early forays into social media and a digital-first world before cofounding several startups. Hadjipateras, meanwhile, was making her name in Greece, South Korea and the Philippines, representing her family’s shipping and helping guide it public.
But as cofounders of TMV, formerly known as Trail Mix Ventures, the two former college classmates fit. “Our networks are completely different, and therefore complementary,” Hadjipateras says. “We have the same hunger and drive, and viewpoint on the world.”
Now with a new $64 million second fund backed by financial giants including Bank of America and J.P. Morgan Asset Management, Darabi and Hadjipateras are looking to take TMV from “indie rock VC” to institution. Word of TMV’s new fund was first reported on Saturday in the Midas Touch newsletter.
TMV’s origins trace to 2016, when Darabi and Hadjipateras, who had met studying abroad at Georgetown, decided to join force. Darabi had appeared on the cover of Fast Company in 2010 and cofounded Foodspotting guide and ecommerce brand Zady; she was looking to formalize her investing after personally backing companies including medical scrubs seller Figs, mattress maker Casper and home food service Hungryroot. Hadjipateras had returned to the U.S. from her operations work overseas to guide Dorian LPG to a public offering, building out its investor relations and compliance; she was looking to set up a family office to invest in startups herself. Both were interested in “triple bottom line” companies, ones that put as much focus on social and environmental impact as they do business success.
At first, their focus turned to three sectors: technical and sustainable solutions, the care economy and the future of work. Making about two dozen investments from that initial fund, the two backed billion-dollar companies including healthcare provider Cityblock, Kindbody in women’s health and fertility and holistic medical business Parsley Health. The firm added two long-time venture partners, Evan Wray, a Forbes Under 30 alum and the CEO of Mavely; and Darshan Somashekar, an entrepreneur who sold a startup to Chegg, along the way.
Despite its initial name and founders’ backgrounds, Trail Mix Ventures didn’t focus on media, shipping or food. One exception is Nautilus Labs, a company providing software for shippers that TMV backed with its first fund. CEO Matt Heider says that early on, Hadjipateras helped the startup gain its first customer, among a few early ones, while making key industry connections. But it’s TMV’s shared priorities around making a global impact beyond financial outcomes, Heider says, that has made the firm a particularly strong fit. “If you are someone who really believes in building a business that is purpose-driven in that way, there aren’t as many VCs out there who believe in that as well,” he says.
At holistic medicine provider Parsley Health, founder Dr. Robin Berzin took an investment from TMV in her seed round in 2017. Darabi tested the product early on, leading to Berzin briefly serving as her doctor. “I could tell she was going to be a super connector,” says Berzin. When Parsley raised its Series A the following year, Darabi and TMV were there to evaluate term sheets and vet prospective investors. “They have an incredible record of investing in women-led and women- co-led companies,” Berzin adds. “They’re thoughtful and proactive without being overbearing.”
Today, TMV has grown to include principal Emma Silverman and Lucas Turner-Owens, who is joining full-time as a principal soon, as well as a CFO, creative director and others. It lost the original name: “if you found a company that has food in the name, you’re going to see a lot of chia seed and pistachio milk startups,” Darabi admits. The firm has added financial inclusion and mobility as two areas of focus, while also helping launch a community for women VCs, Transact Global. One in three businesses in TMV’s portfolio are female co-founded, and a majority are co-founded by a founder from an underrepresented background.
Raising a second fund, however, was not the smooth path that Darabi says she’s sick of hearing peers claim to have experienced. When Covid-19 shut down their ambitions to fundraise from limited partners in Europe, the duo paused to focus on their portfolio’s needs in mid-2020; Darabi also gave birth to a daughter that summer and went on leave. Reengaging that fall was a slog. “You have to get up every day and act like you haven’t been rejected five times, and keep going,” says Hadjipateras.
But by January 2021, TMV had raised a first close and started investing, writing 22 checks over the course of the year, looking to typically invest $1 million to $1.5 million for ownership of about 10% in seed and early-stage startups. Closing out the fund got easier as banks signed on. TMV was one of the first investments made by Project Spark, J.P. Morgan Asset Management’s $50 million initiative to back emerging managers of diverse backgrounds. “TMV stood out as a cohesive team with complementary expertise as operators with extensive networks enabling them to add value to the founders they invest in,” wrote Jamie Kramer, Head of the Alternative Solutions Group and Project Spark’s investment committee chair, in a statement.
One key to success for TMV: communication. Many funds simply send dry quarterly or annual updates with lists of their investments, says limited partner Randy Reddig, a former member of the founding team at Square who has backed TMV and co-invested in its special-purpose vehicles for its emerging winners. “They take it a step further, and it helps us feel closer to them as managers, so we’re excited to back them,” he says. “They’re messaging and building their brand in a way that isn’t just GPs sniping at each other on Twitter.”
That’s partly why, after years of not taking salaries and being told they’re not a $100 million fund, TMV’s partners are cautiously optimistic about goals of which financial returns are just one part. “With our limited partners and with our founders, we are just quietly trying to under-promise and over-deliver,” says Darabi. “If we get that bit right, then we get to stay in business.”
By Alex Konrad for Forbes