When Dan Chaplin joined Dawn Capital in 2018, the B2B software-focused VC firm had been around for 11 years but still had a relatively small workforce. Today, Dawn’s team has expanded to 35 people.
“I was looking for something where I could make an impact. On day one, I probably wasn’t expecting just how much of an impact I’d be expected to have,” said Chaplin, who was recently named the firm’s youngest partner. “But that was kind of good because I was forced to hit the ground running.”
At 29, Chaplin is the only partner under the age of 30 at the London-based firm, which he joined as an associate after working on M&A deals at JPMorgan for two years. His latest promotion is his third in five years, during which time he has deployed nearly $300 million to start-ups across Europe.
Naming Chaplin as a partner speaks to Dawn’s “apprenticeship model,” said partner Joshua Bell, who is co-head of fintech and digital assets with Chaplin. Half of Dawn’s general partners and 70 percent of its partners have been promoted from within, according to the firm.
Dawn’s culture is set up to ensure the decision-making process is transparent and one that supports not only its LPs but also its founders, Chaplin noted. “Career advancement for our young people is a by-product of that because we basically want everyone’s views heard around the table.”
He added, “Our investment committee discussions all involve everyone in the investment team, and you’re expected to have a voice as soon as you join. That’s what helps promote people’s careers, is when they can really feel they’re part of that decision-making from their first day.”
Dawn typically makes initial investments in companies’ Series A rounds, writing checks for around $20 million and then continuing to invest in many of them through subsequent rounds toward an exit.
As a B2B-focused investor, Dawn looks for “tech platforms that help to make transacting and storing value for consumers and businesses as easy as possible,” Chaplin said. “I think that’s where there’s been a lot of development and investment – more over the last five years. We’ve really profited from that.”
One of Dawn’s investments, Tink, an open banking platform, was sold in 2021 to Visa for just over $2 billion. Even though Chaplin didn’t lead the investment, he said it felt great “seeing a company that we invested in 18 months earlier really achieve a significant amount in a very short time period [with] fantastic execution.”
He fondly recalled his early experiences on deals and serving on portfolio company boards, including Cover Genius, which makes an API to enable any digital platform to embed insurance sales into its sales process.
“Doing my first deal was fantastic,” he said. “It gives you a real fire in your belly to win in competitive processes. That kind of culture is good to have in any organization.” After joining a company board, “you generally ease your way into board meetings and as you gain experience you become more confident to add input,” he added.
Dawn has invested in 20 companies across the United Kingdom and Europe, with one exit so far, from its most recent vehicle, Fund IV, which closed on $400 million in 2020. The fund is fully deployed on new deals but still has capital in reserve for follow-on investments. Dawn is currently raising its fifth fund for an undisclosed target amount.
Chaplin said he is grateful for Dawn giving all of its team members a path to partnership and wanting them to succeed. “It’s up to all of us to nurture that talent and make sure that people have as much exposure to founders and teams and to exceptional people as they can early in their careers so they can build that kind of experience,” he said.