In her role as chief of staff at Pantera Capital, a venture capital firm that had $5.8 billion in crypto assets under management at the end of last year, Emma Rose Bienvenu balances providing operational support for the firm with helping portfolio companies navigate the turbulent waters of crypto regulations.
Bienvenu joined Pantera in April 2021 as digital asset prices rallied and crypto-specific venture capital funds launched with new record sizes. Aset prices pulled back at the beginning of 2022, but that had little impact on VC investments.
“It’s not slowing down at all,” said Bienvenu. “I think there’s a good case study here. If you look at the crazy returns we posted over the past two years, those kinds of returns only come from deploying in a bear market.”
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Founded in 2003 by Tiger Management alum Dan Morehead, Pantera Capital started as a global hedge fund before making the switch to digital assets a decade later. Portfolio companies have included payments company Circle and crypto exchange Coinbase (COIN), among many others. The firm had experienced over a year of “hyper growth” at the time Bienvenu joined in 2021, she said.
Bienvenu initially served as chief of staff for Pantera Co-Chief Investment Officer Joey Krug before her responsibilities expanded. Bienvenu’s role now includes working with the investment team, tackling operational problems that arise and helping out portfolio companies, who often have young founders new to the world of business.
Bienvenu said operational support for founders includes business basics like creating an organizational chart and formulating a hiring process. Pantera also helps the startup craft a platform services group so that the technology can scale with the company.
Last year, digital asset prices rallied and Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) and Paradigm launched record-breaking crypto funds. Did the asset price pullback at the beginning of 2022 slow venture capital investments?
“These are 10-year vehicles, so that capital is locked into the space in a way that it hasn’t been before. I think you’re going to see that really smooth the volatility over time,” said Bienvenu.
As crypto fund sizes grow, an increasing number of firms, including a16z and Sequoia Capital, have filed to become registered investment advisers (RIAs) – a move that skirts regulations that cap cryptocurrency investments for venture capital firms at 20% of a given fund.
Asked if Pantera plans to become a registered investment adviser, Bienvenu declined to comment.
Women in crypto
Earlier this month, Bain Capital launched a new $560 million crypto fund, coincidentally on International Women’s Day, and drew backlash for the accompanying picture of the fund’s all-male team. The controversy renewed questions about diversity in the crypto industry.
“I think that there’s a reflexive assumption that the fact that there aren’t many women [in crypto] means that it’s a hostile environment for women,” said Bienvenu. “And, anecdotally, I could not find that to be farther from my experience. I’ve never been in an environment that’s so purely meritcratic.”
However, Bienvenu said to dispel the myth the crypto ecosystem should work to broadcast that it is open to women.
“I think the lack of women is a broader issue,” she continued. “There are so many engineers in the space, even investors and [chief financial officers] and others in non-technical roles. And women are just really underrepresented in that [developer] group.”
Bienvenu uses her background as a lawyer to tackle regulatory issues, a role few in the public sector want to take on because of the risks but that she views as a kind of public service.
“I don’t think of it as lobbying for any particular policy agenda, but there’s such a lack of understanding on the part of the regulators and elected officials on just how the tech works,” she said. The results are policy proposals that anyone who understands the tech would see as unworkable or unenforceable.
Asked how she advises companies on navigating a regulatory environment that’s constantly in flux, Bienvenu said, “Honestly, it’s a challenge.”
Bienvenu said an important part of the process is sitting down with the startup team to make sure they at least broadly understand what regulatory areas they’re operating in, what laws currently exist and how Pantera expects the courts and regulators to decide on key decisions in the area. Pantera then helps portfolio companies devise a product roadmap that accounts for the regulatory uncertainty.
“If we do it carefully, we’ll minimize the disruption down the line when the legal questions do get figured out,” explained Bienvenu.
Emma Rose Bienvenu is speaking at CoinDesk’s Consensus festival, which runs June 9-12 in Austin, Texas.