Elevating Startups: The Pivotal Role of the Head of Platform in VC

Aaron Bailey
October 2, 2023
In this blog post, we examine the role of Head of Platform and take a look at why the role is important to the future of venture capital...

Elevating Startups: The Pivotal Role of the Head of Platform in VC

In the dynamic realm of venture capital (VC), staying a step ahead is paramount. As the landscape of VC transforms, so do its integral roles.

One role that has notably risen in prominence is the Head of Platform.

Serving as the bridge between the VC and its portfolio companies, the Head of Platform provides guidance, fosters connections, and acts as the backbone that many budding companies rely on during their growth journey.

Yet, not every VC firm has embraced this role, leading us to wonder, why?

In this article, we'll delve into the intricacies of the Head of Platform position, shedding light on its essence and the immense value it brings to both VCs and their portfolio entities. We'll also explore its potential trajectory and why we foresee it becoming a cornerstone in VC team dynamics.

Continue reading to unravel the nuances of the Head of Platform role...

Understanding the Head of Platform Role

The venture capital landscape has always been dynamic, with roles evolving to meet the changing needs of startups and the broader ecosystem. 

One such evolution has led to the emergence of the Head of Platform role.

But what exactly does this role entail, and how did it come to be?

Emergence and Role of the Head of Platform

Historically, VC firms primarily provided financial support to startups. However, as the startup ecosystem grew more competitive, there was a realization that money alone wasn't enough to differentiate. 

This led to the birth of the Head of Platform role, designed to offer a more holistic partnership to portfolio companies. 

The Head of Platform is not just another title in the VC hierarchy. 

It signifies a shift in how VC firms engage with their portfolio companies, ensuring they have the tools, resources, and connections they need, beyond just capital.

Beyond Financial Support: The Multifaceted Role

While traditional roles in VC firms, like investment analysts or partners, focus on financial transactions and investment strategies, the Head of Platform operates in a different realm.

Their focus is on non-financial support, ensuring that the operational, strategic, and developmental needs of the startups are met. 

Due to the diverse range of subjects the Head of Platform needs to manage, it requires a unique skill set. 

Galina Ozgur, Vice President of Platform at H/L Ventures, emphasizes the multifaceted nature of the role:

'Being successful in Platform demands a unique blend of systems thinking, strategic insight, and hands-on operation, all underpinned by a flexible mindset and a high EQ.'

This is also the opinion of Olivia O'Sullivan, Head of Platform and Forum VC who says:

At their best, a Head of Platform builds the horizontal foundation for the fund. Their strategy, and work, should help power the fund's ability to source and invest in world-class startups and enable those companies to be successful.

The Advantages of Having a Head of Platform

With the role growing in popularity and more and more people finding their way into Head of Platform roles, there is a growing understanding of the benefits the role brings to their portfolio companies.

But what are the main advantages that make a Head of Platform an integral role for VC firms?

1. Community Management

The first major benefit that a Head of Platform brings to portcos is the overall management of the community of companies that make up their investment portfolio.

Although broad this community advocacy that a Head of Platform brings can be put into three distinct categories:

  • Deepening Connections: A strong community isn't just about numbers; it's about the depth of connections. The Head of Platform ensures that the interactions within the community are meaningful. By curating events and workshops tailored to the specific needs and interests of founders, they foster genuine relationships and collaborations.
  • Feedback Loops: These community events also serve as a platform for startups to receive feedback on their products, strategies, and ideas. This iterative feedback loop can be invaluable for startups in their early stages.
  • Alumni Networks: Startups that have moved on from the VC's portfolio can still be part of the community. The Head of Platform can facilitate an alumni network, ensuring that even past portfolio companies remain engaged and can contribute their experiences and insights.

2. Tech Stack Advice

A significant aspect of a startup's expansion involves integrating the appropriate tools into their tech stack, propelling both efficiency and growth.

In the capacity of the Head of Platform, one remains abreast of the newest technological breakthroughs. This knowledge encompasses not just the available tools but, crucially, the special offers and discounts tailored for startups, ensuring they get premium tools at more affordable rates.

Below are some ways the Head of Platform proves invaluable to portfolio companies in refining their tech stack:

  • Customized Recommendations: Beyond general advice, the Head of Platform offers tailored tech stack recommendations based on the startup's industry, growth stage, and specific challenges.
  • Pilot Programs: By leveraging relationships with tech vendors, the Head of Platform can often arrange pilot programs or trial periods for startups, allowing them to test tools before making a commitment.
  • Savings and Efficiencies: As mentioned earlier in this paragraph, they can also evaluate the current tech stack of a startup, and offer up alternative discounted solutions that can save the startup money, and extend their runway.

In short it's not just tech stack advice, but broadly placing the infrastructure around startups to ensure they succeed.

Paul O’Brien of  Mediatech Ventures adds to this

“ Driving Platform for VCs, I hope, means ensuring that startups have available to them all the critical infrastructure that founders themselves probably don't understand, can't easily scope, and likely can't afford.”

3. Recruitment

As a startup grows, so does the need to grow out the team, as Head of Platform you also have the responsibility of helping founders as they think about growing and scaling out their teams.

Head of Platforms being benefits to portcos in the following ways:

  • Culture Fit: Beyond just skills and experience, the Head of Platform understands the importance of culture fit. They can help startups identify candidates who align with their values and vision.
  • Training and Onboarding: Recruitment doesn't end with hiring. The Head of Platform can also provide resources and best practices for effective onboarding and training of new hires.
  • Retention Strategies: Attracting talent is one thing; retaining them is another. The Head of Platform can advise startups on retention strategies, ensuring they keep their top talent engaged and motivated.

4. Networking

Strategic Introductions: Networking isn't just about quantity; it's about quality. The Head of Platform ensures that startups are introduced to the right individuals and organizations that align with their goals.

Global Reach: With the startup ecosystem being global, the Head of Platform can facilitate introductions beyond local boundaries, opening up international opportunities for startups.

Follow-up and Nurturing: Networking is an ongoing process. The Head of Platform can guide startups on best practices for follow-up and relationship nurturing, ensuring that initial introductions translate into lasting partnerships.

5. Marketing & People Practices

Data-Driven Marketing: In today's digital age, marketing is as much an art as it is a science. The Head of Platform can guide startups on leveraging data analytics for effective marketing campaigns.

Employer Branding: To attract top talent, startups need to position themselves as employers of choice. The Head of Platform can advise on employer branding strategies, ensuring startups attract and retain the best.

Organizational Development: As startups grow, organizational challenges can arise. The Head of Platform can provide insights on organizational structure, team dynamics, and leadership development, ensuring that startups scale smoothly.

Patrick Lahue, Head of Platform adds additional context to this saying 

"As it relates to our portfolio companies, we really look to add value across every dimension that an early stage company might need help with. From helping fill top of funnel for talent searches, to tapping our firm's network for BD introductions to connecting our founders with tried and true ecosystem partners (e.g., external CFO, marketing agency), my goal is to help our founders get to their next phase of growth as effectively and efficiently as possible”

The Broader Impact on the VC Ecosystem

The role of a Head of Platform goes beyond supporting individual startups.

It also has a broader impact on the VC ecosystem as a whole. 

By providing extensive support to portfolio companies, a Head of Platform enhances the reputation and success rate of the VC firm, as well as taking some of the time intensive tasks away from the partners of the firm.

Laura Clifford, Us Platform Lead at Northzone adds some more detail here saying

“ You're also there to provide the capacity or expertise that the investment team doesn't have, so it's important to be directly plugged into their portfolio challenges, with strong communication and conviction in the value of your support”

This, in turn, attracts better deals and higher-quality startups, leading to more successful exits and increased returns for the firm.

Furthermore, the support provided by a Head of Platform creates a ripple effect within the VC ecosystem. 

As startups thrive and achieve success, they become valuable partners and references for future investments. 

This positive cycle strengthens the overall ecosystem and fosters a collaborative and supportive environment.

The Risks of Not Having a Head of Platform Role?

We talked about the myriad benefits of VCs having a Head of Platform role, but many still fail to hire for the role.

For those that don't, what are some of the risks they potentially expose themselves to as a result?

Missed Growth Opportunities

Without a dedicated Head of Platform, startups may miss out on valuable growth opportunities. The guidance, networking, and support provided by this role can significantly accelerate a startup's trajectory. Without it, startups may struggle to navigate challenges and seize opportunities.

Lack of Cohesiveness

The Head of Platform plays a crucial role in fostering a sense of community among portfolio companies. Without this role, there might be a lack of cohesion and collaboration among startups, leading to missed synergies and potential partnerships.

Reduced Competitive Edge

In an increasingly competitive VC landscape, firms that don't have a Head of Platform may find themselves at a disadvantage. This role can be a differentiating factor for startups when choosing which VC to partner with.

Strain on Other Team Members

Without a Head of Platform, other team members in the VC firm might find themselves stretched thin, trying to provide the support that a dedicated Head of Platform would offer. This can lead to burnout and reduced efficiency.

Reputation Risk

VC firms that don't invest in a Head of Platform might be perceived as less committed to the success of their portfolio companies. This can impact the firm's reputation and its ability to attract top-tier startups.

The Future of the Role

The venture capital landscape is in a state of constant flux, shaped by technological advancements, market dynamics, and global economic shifts. As this landscape evolves, so does the role of the Head of Platform. 

Here's a more detailed look at what the next 5-10 years might hold for this pivotal position.

1. Adapting to Technological Disruptions: The rapid pace of technological change will undoubtedly impact the role.Heads of Platform will need to be at the forefront of understanding emerging technologies, from AI and blockchain to quantum computing. Their ability to guide startups through the maze of new tech will be crucial.

2. Globalization and Cross-Border Collaborations: As startups increasingly look beyond borders, the Head of Platform will play a vital role in facilitating international collaborations, understanding regional market dynamics, and navigating regulatory complexities.

3. Emphasis on Sustainability and Social Impact: With a growing emphasis on ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) factors in investments, the Head of Platform will need to guide startups on sustainable practices, social impact, and ethical governance.

4. Deepening of Specialized Expertise: As industries become more complex, there might be a trend towards having multiple Heads of Platform with specialized expertise in sectors like health tech, fintech, or agritech.

5. Enhanced Role in Crisis Management: Startups often face unforeseen challenges, from market downturns to global crises like pandemics. The Head of Platform will play a crucial role in crisis management, helping startups navigate turbulent times.

6. Continuous Learning and Upgradation: The need for continuous learning will be paramount. Heads of Platform will need to invest in their own professional development, attending global conferences, workshops, and courses to stay updated.

7. Strengthening the VC Brand: As the first point of contact for many startups, the Head of Platform will play an enhanced role in brand building for the VC firm, ensuring it's seen as a partner of choice for budding entrepreneurs.

Allie Mullen, Director of Platform at Wireframe Ventures encapsulates this well saying “I believe the future of Platform is truly limitless and collaborative. This role has been around for 20 years, but has only grown exponentially in the last few. Firms have caught on that Platform is not just a value-add, but is now actually table-stakes. Founders desire and expect post-investment support.”

Head of Platform: The Future for VCs

In the dynamic world of venture capital, the Head of Platform stands out as a game-changer. This role, bridging VC firms and their portfolio companies, has proven to be more than just a support function—it's a driving force for growth and success. 

As the startup landscape continues to evolve, the importance of the Head of Platform becomes even more pronounced. 

They not only guide startups through current challenges but also help them navigate future opportunities.

For VC firms aiming for consistent success and impactful investments, the Head of Platform is not just beneficial—it's essential. The future of venture capital will undoubtedly be shaped by the effectiveness and evolution of this vital role.