Union Square Ventures (USV), a prominent New York-based venture capital firm, recently announced that it has hired its first ever general counsel. The firm has invested in over 100 companies since its founding. It has been a particularly active investor in the crypto space.
Samson Mesele joined USV at the end of April as general counsel. Mesele was previously a corporate attorney for just over six years at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, one of the most prestigious law firms in the world.
“I am delighted to join Union Square Ventures as General Counsel. I am joining the team at an exciting moment. We are pursuing many complex investments across our web and mobile, crypto and climate platforms; our team is thinking hard about structures that make sense for our portfolio companies and our limited partners,” Mesele remarked.
Mesele specialized in complex merger transactions and investment deals while at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. He is a graduate of Yale Law School and Duke University. Two other former lawyers work at USV, John Buttrick and Andrew Weissman. Both individuals have law degrees but work in purely business roles at USV.
At Some Point, Venture Capital Firms Need General Counsel
Before reaching a certain size, venture capital firms and startups often rely on outside counsel for their legal and compliance functions. Union Square Ventures, which was founded in 2003, waited a particularly long time before hiring a general counsel.
Venture capital firms looking for a general counsel or associate general counsel often look for lawyers with 5-15 years of experience at a prominent corporate law firm or as in-house counsel at an investment advisory firm. The role requires a broad awareness of different areas of law. It is especially important to be knowledgeable about the rules and regulations applicable to investment advisors. There are also sometimes changes in laws, whether it be a California law or a federal law. This requires staying up to speed with the latest legal developments.
Beyond legal knowledge, venture capital firms are looking for in-house counsel with wide ranging skillsets. Being able to juggle a number of responsibilities, think strategically, and work collaboratively are essential qualities of a general counsel.
A Challenging Role
Melissa Marks, a partner at the technology startup-focused law firm Gunderson Dettmer, has observed both the upside and challenges faced by general counsel of high-growth startups and venture capital firms. In her role as an outside legal counsel, she works closely with the in-house legal teams at many startups and venture capital firms. She states, “I think the biggest challenge for lawyers in this space is what I called the “yesterday expectation.” As you may be the first attorney that they’ve ever worked with, they may not have an appreciation for all the things that you do, and the amount of work that some “asks” will take. There’s sometimes an expectation that everything be done yesterday, which can be challenging.”
USV prides itself on its collegial culture. The venture capital firm has pillows around its offices imprinted with the message “Be nice or leave.” One of the key underpinnings to the way USV operates is that it is essential to start with culture, values, and a commitment to creating a fantastic workplace. The new general counsel will fit in.
Founded by Fred Wilson in 2003, USV initially focused on investing in early-stage IT companies in the United States. In 2007, Albert Wenger joined USV as a managing partner. Wenger led the VC firm’s investments in companies such as Etsy, Twilio, MongoDB, and Behance. USV manages over $1 billion across seven funds.
In more recent years, USV has been a major investor in blockchain startups. In 2013, USV invested $2.5 million in Coinbase, which was then only a one-year-old startup. The investment was part of Coinbase’s Series A financing round. Coinbase has recently seen its valuation soar to over $80 billion since its public debut on the NASDAQ stock exchange in April. It is also now the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the United States. At the time of Coinbase’s public debut, USV’s stake in Coinbase hit $4.6 billion.
USV has also invested in a number of other blockchain and cryptocurrency startups. USV plans to allocate 30% of a $250 million fund it raised in January 2021 toward crypto-related investments. The venture capital firm has stated that its investments “will include holding tokens directly as well as equity in early-stage blockchain-related projects.”
Other Recent General Counsel Hires
A number of other notable venture capital firms have recently hired their first general counsel. Menlo Ventures, a prominent Silicon Valley venture capital firm, recently brought on board Deborah Carrillo to be their first general counsel. Carrillo previously was a partner at the law firm Pillsbury Withrop Shaw Pittman, where she practiced corporate and securities law.
As the legal and regulatory compliance issues facing early-stage startups continue to increase, we will likely see more venture capital firms hiring general counsels.