One of Silicon Valley’s buzziest venture capital firms, Andreessen Horowitz, has hired its first female senior investing partner, putting to rest a series of questions that have dogged the all-male general partnership for years.
The high-profile firm said Monday that it had hired Katie Haun, a former federal prosecutor who has been advising startups focused on the cryptocurrency industry, as its eleventh general partner. Haun will join Chris Dixon, Andreessen’s other top crypto investor, as part of a major new push by the blue-chip firm into the sector full time.
As Recode reported in April, the firm was working this spring to create a new fund to focus solely on crypto deals. It’s a big move — not just because it is an expansion of Andreessen’s mission and structure, but also because rival venture capitalists are closely scrutinizing the firm, given its profile, to see whether it makes sense for them to launch similar crypto-focused investing platforms.
Andreessen confirmed its effort on Monday, describing a $300 million fund that would invest in startups, digital currencies and crypto-related projects known as initial coin offerings. All future crypto deals by the firm will come from this fund, which closed on Friday.
Dixon acknowledged in an interview that the fund was a bit of a reputational and financial risk for the firm, which started in 2009. But the venture capital firm has been one of the leading investors in blockchain, the core technology in cryptocurrency, beginning several years before it became trendy in Silicon Valley.
“I would argue that going heavy into crypto was already kind of risky. I think it’s working out well,” said Dixon. “This is not a marketing thing to have a separate fund here. There are genuinely reasons to have it.”
The main catalyst, Dixon said: Funds are not allowed to have more than 20 percent of their assets in what are known as liquid securities, such as cryptocurrency, noting that Andreessen’s existing fund had “basically run up close” to that figure.
Haun and Dixon both serve on the board of Coinbase, one of the most valuable cryptocurrency startups in the U.S. Haun will remain on the board, but said she will still technically serve as an independent member rather than as an Andreessen representative.
Haun has no formal venture capital experience, although she noted that she has made some small personal investments and has served as a port of call for crypto startups trying to get a read on the regulatory environment. Haun made her name by leading a federal probe into corrupt agents who stole bitcoin while they served on a different federal investigation, the Silk Road Task Force.
“Leaving the government really enabled me to double down on this,” she said in an interview.
Haun is certainly qualified — she teaches a well-regarded course on cryptocurrency at Stanford and is part of a rising class of hyper-networked movers and shakers in a brand-new, exciting part of tech.
But the hire is likely as consequential for diversity as it is for crypto. After years of scrutiny, venture capital firms have been sprinting in recent months to hire female partners, especially if they previously had zero women VCs. And, if you ask women in the industry which firms stood out as lacking diversity among general partners, it wouldn’t take long to hear Andreessen’s name mentioned — in no small part due to how the high-flying firm has consistently and vocally challenged the established pecking order in Silicon Valley finance.
Nonetheless, Andreessen and Haun are generally downplaying the importance of her hiring for women in the industry. When asked if she recognized this as an important moment for the firm given its lack of prior female general partners, Haun declined to weigh in.
Dixon noted that gender diversity is “definitely something that we need to improve on.”
The firm has drawn headlines as it tried to explain the lack of women in its upper ranks of investing. Marc Andreessen, one of the most famous venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, has said that top women have over the years repeatedly turned down job offers to join the firm. Sources said that has included top Google cloud exec Diane Greene, for example.
Instead, the firm has tried to focus on the number of women on its staff in a variety of roles and at all levels — which it maintains is more than half.
“This is the thing about inclusion that you have to be careful about: If you are hired because you’re a woman, that’s just problematic,” firm cofounder Ben Horowitz said in an interview with Recode editor Kara Swisher in 2015. “But if you get hired because you perform better on the critetia that we have, then once you get in people are going to know you’re there because you’re better on the criteria than the other candidates.”
He added, despite attracting some controversy at the time: “The firm would get a lot more credit — a thousand times more credit — if we had one general partner who was a woman rather than if I’ve got 53 percent women in the firm. It would be great if we could attract a great woman to be in that position, or a great anybody — I don’t care who they are. But for that to be a goal — why should it be a goal?”