Dafina Toncheva’s Impressive Journey from Communist Bulgaria to Silicon Valley
There are few women working in tech and even fewer women working in Venture Capital. And women partners at Venture Capital Firms focused on technology? Fewer still. But that’s not all that makes Dafina Toncheva (Partner, Tugboat Ventures) extraordinary. From her 1550 SAT score to her co-authoring multiple key patents while working at Microsoft, there’s no denying her intelligence. Now she’s using her brains, tech background and business acumen to help Tugboat Ventures
“help the highest potential entrepreneurs bring their dreams to life.”
TechFemme: How on earth did you get from Bulgaria to Silicon Valley?
Dafina Toncheva: I left Bulgaria when I was 18. I grew up in communism in a country that was very isolated form the western world. No one in my family had ever left Bulgaria. My parents were doctors that made $150 per month. They worked hard with prestigious jobs but the returns weren’t there. So I explored opportunities abroad.
TF: How did that bring you to the USA?
DT: I sent handwritten letters to 100 colleges asking them how to apply and they all responded with standard application forms. So I took the TOEFL, SAT, SAT2 in the capital, which was a 3 hour drive away. I prepared for the tests with a 15 year old test prep book that I checked out of the library. Because the tests were so expensive, I could only take them once. I worked so hard to make sure that I did the best I could with that one chance. I applied to 50 schools, asking them to waive the application fees, and got accepted into 13 of them.
TF: How did you get into technology?
DT: In 1998, I started at Harvard, majoring in Computer Science. It was a huge change for me. Everyone around me had 10+ years of programming experience and it was my first time owning a computer. I was there on full scholarship but everyone else was so rich, and so smart. In my 3rd year, I got an internship at Microsoft and went on to work there full time after graduation. I was a developer for 2 years and a program manager for 2 years.
TF: How did that path take you to the Venture Capital world?
DT: I decided to get an MBA because I wanted a solid business foundation. I decided to go to Stanford, thinking that I was going to join a startup. I took an entrepreneurship class in which all students that wrote business plans got paired up with VC’s. Mine offered me a job. The offer was a 2 year position to shadow and learn with Ray Rothrock at Venrock. Then last year, Dave Wharton at Tugboat Ventures offered me the rare opportunity of becoming a partner.
TF: What do you like best about your job at Tugboat Ventures?
DT: I love meeting entrepreneurs. Every one of them knows more than I know. I learn from them all the time.
TF: Approximately how many of the entrepreneurs that you meet are women?
DT: Unfortunately there aren’t enough. I meet very few female technology entrepreneurs through my work.
TF: Any ideas why?
DT: I think it’s a broad social issue. We can’t identify just one or two reasons why things are the way they are. I don’t know why more women aren’t interested in becoming entrepreneurs. But there are certainly many opportunities for women if they want them.
If Dafina says it, then I believe it. So now, it’s a matter of figuring out how to expose girls and women to these types of opportunities. I refuse to believe that women don’t want them. It has to be a matter of letting women know that entrepreneurial ventures , especially tech ones, are worth exploring, if they’re interested. And that there are resources and opportunities to help them along their entrepreneurial journeys.