We are thrilled to share that Diarra Smith started last month as Ada’s new Head of Portfolio and Brand. This is a really important role for Ada Ventures as the organisation grows and Matt, Xun and the whole team are all delighted that we have found someone who is so talented and mission-aligned to lead this part of the business.
How did we meet Diarra and what was the process that led to him joining?
We first met Diarra through the recruitment process for the Head of Operations in Autumn 2020 when we hired Xun (which you can read about here). Diarra was originally made aware of Ada through one of our investors, Joe Shamash at Big Society Capital back in 2019 before we launched (thank you Joe!).
We loved the fact that Diarra had been working with founders for 10 years — supporting, advising and helping them bring products to market, as well as scouting early stage start-ups and working to support the 3,000+ SMEs in the portfolio of a FTSE 250 company. Moreover, he radiated positive energy and had a clear passion for creating pathways for underrepresented founders into tech.
We unfortunately weren’t able to hire two people at the time, so Diarra didn’t get the job. However, we suggested staying in touch. To his great credit Diarra did stay in touch with us and built a relationship with us despite this initial disappointment. Several months later we discovered that Diarra had some time available and could support Ada with delivering some key projects, including AdaCon 2021 and our AGM. He was doing this alongside his role leading the venture and portfolio support function at Year Here, a Social Impact Venture Builder.
In parallel, Matt and I were working on raising our second fund. A big objective with this second fund was to build out a great product to support founders in the Ada portfolio.
We therefore began a search for a Head of Portfolio to join ahead of Fund II.
We were looking for someone who could:
- Lead on creating a five-star experience for the founders who join the Ada Portfolio.
- Leverage our network for the benefit of the portfolio companies as they go through the important pre-seed to seed and seed to Series A transitions
- Productise the key elements of portfolio support that we offer to portfolio companies so they can scale without needing 1–2–1 support
We met some excellent candidates, some of whom we are still hoping to work with longer term. However, none were quite right for what we needed.
When Matt and I went back to the drawing board and reflected on the process, we realised that Diarra’s skillset was a great match for what we were looking for. Plus, Diarra had fantastic instincts for brand and communications that we felt could really supercharge our visibility and messaging to founders, angels and the wider ecosystem.
We approached Diarra about a combined Head of Portfolio & Brand role and fortunately for us, he was still excited about the possibility of joining the Ada team. We were fortunate to be able to increase Diarra’s responsibilities within the business whilst I was on maternity leave between December 2021 and January 2022. This acted as a great test case for the new role.
It took several months to co-write the job description together and to work through the timings, but we are delighted that Diarra has now started full time in the business.
In just a few short weeks he’s already taken control of our brand messaging, including undergoing a review of our brand pillars and wider messaging house.
He’s also run a series of events for Ada’s portfolio companies, including supporting some of them to develop a ‘default alive’ financial plan. He’s also brought together an event with Ada LP Arlan Hamilton, put his energy into a campaign for promoting disabled entrepreneurs and much more.
A few fun facts about him so you can get to know him better. Diarra read philosophy at the University of Toronto. He was born and raised in Bermuda and has spent significant time in Canada and Berlin. He is the London Ambassador for RAHM, who bring together outstanding present and future LGBT+ leaders in the world.
We can’t wait for you to meet him and we are thrilled that he is now an even bigger part of the Ada family.