Meet Athena member Devon McDonald, a people expert and Partner at OpenView Venture Partners
Over the past 12 years at OpenView, a VC based in Boston, Athena member Devon McDonald has shaped the firm’s value-add platform and led efforts in marketing, recruiting, and sales support for the firm’s portfolio companies. Today, Devon is also the “People Leader” at OpenView, leading strategic initiatives for the firm related to internal hiring, onboarding, and ongoing employee development.
Read on to learn more about Devon’s experience as a woman in venture capital, how companies can support working mothers during the pandemic, and her advice for women rising through the ranks at VC.
Give us an overview of your executive journey.
For the first few years out of college I worked at an executive recruiting firm in Boston, Michael Page. This role was a great first job out of school because it gave me an incredibly thick skin and forced me to step out of my comfort zone in dealing with people.
I came across OpenView Venture Partners through a mutual connection and I fell in love with the model. In my first few years at the firm, I worked directly with OpenView’s portfolio companies to help build out inside sales teams and optimize sales and marketing programs more broadly for these young teams. This role was truly like getting an MBA in software start-ups. I got to see the good, the bad, and the ugly (and by ugly, I mean the internal friction and chaos that often comes with rapid growth). I worked with so many amazingly talented people, and learned so much by being in the trenches.
In recent years at OpenView, I’ve built out our value-add platform which today consists of nearly 20 people, and have spearheaded initiatives like launching our executive network program which we call our “ecosystem.”
My role at OpenView has evolved over the years because I have adopted a mentality of asking more. What can I build next that can make an impact? How can I step in and fix this issue? That mentality supported my progression to my current partner role leading the platform and expansion team. That said, I knew in my original recruiting role that working with people was a passion that would never die; understanding strengths and developing connections is essential, regardless of industry-and this remains a huge component of my role today.
How did you differentiate yourself as you transitioned from being a recruiter to a prestigious role at OpenView?
As an agency recruiter at Michael Page, I had a few prominent VC clients. Their most desirable candidates went to Harvard, had investment banking pedigree, and a quantitative mindset. But OpenView valued a different persona: grit, adaptability, drive, and an entrepreneurial mindset. I used these traits to get my foot in the door and move up over the years.
How can companies better support working mothers, both personally and professionally, in portfolio advisory companies?
2020 has been all about the need for adaptability. Parents at home with young kids doing virtual learning are facing a totally new environment and so much additional stress. As a mom myself, I would be lying if I told you that this year has been easy. My advice to companies during this stressful time is to set really clear and realistic goals for your team members. Give them more flexibility with figuring out how to get the job done in ways that will work for their lifestyles. Focus less on the standard “9 to 5” schedule and understand that there may be gaps on people’s calendars as they are dealing with personal matters-like helping their kids get set up on the midday zoom calls! In regards to supporting working mothers, it sounds simple: be proactive with reaching out and asking how they are doing and how you can help (and not just over text/Slack). Make an effort to make a call, and be human.
What brought you to Athena?
My primary goal in joining Athena was to build a network of exceptional female executives. I get energized when meeting exceptional people, and at Athena, I get access to women with successful careers. I enjoy extending introductions between Athena and OpenView and watching these relationships blossom. I hope through Athena, I can continue to develop my own professional goals, and hone the skills needed to prepare and be a strong contributor in the boardroom.
What is the unique value that you bring to the boardroom?
I have the ability to identify gaps in an organization, especially in talent. The people side of scaling a business is where I add value. My experience in advising on people-related matters and executive connections is the root of a business’ success. There is nothing more important than having the right people in an organization when scaling.
Dealing with people can be difficult. What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
A major challenge occurs when someone in the organization is not the right fit anymore. The ability to be transparent about their shortcomings and give them a chance to make improvements is where most managers differentiate themselves. Exiting underperforming employees is arguably the most challenging job because of emotional attachments to people. That said, it’s never a good idea to keep an underperformer or toxic player in your team-it will derail growth and hurt your business overall. The key is to be human, have empathy, but make the move.
What advice would you give to women considering a transition into the world of investing?
Put yourself out there and connect with people in the industry as a first step. You will develop new relationships but also you will learn so much about different styles of investing, and get a better sense of the role/all that comes with it. At the end of the day, relationships are the most effective way to open new doors for yourself.