defy gravity.

We bring more than 40 years of investing experience to help you navigate your growth.

our team

Culture matters. We built our firm with a strong emphasis on culture and a deep respect for you, the entrepreneur. We value accessibility, authenticity, and collaboration.


Team based investing. We believe that team based investing leads to smarter investing. By combining our complementary skill sets, we can better help our portfolio companies. Neil is dedicated to helping companies grow their customer base, impact their marketing and make strategic connections. Trae understands what it takes to iterate on product, refine the strategic company narrative, and build out great teams. Brian applies his growth expertise and entrepreneurial roots, helping companies scale through every startup stage. On the operations side, Purvi, our Chief Financial Officer, oversees all things finance and makes sure that we’re using data to drive our business decisions. Phebe, our Chief of Staff, makes sure that everything runs smoothly and she can make virtually every tough problem disappear. Get to know us better.

Web Neil Sequeira
Neil Sequeira Co-Founder & Partner

I am a co-founder and partner at Defy.  My passion is working hand-in-hand with entrepreneurs as a confidante to help them bring their visions to reality—from acquiring their first customers, to growing their team, to successful capital raises and exits and hopefully to changing the world. I have sat on more than 40 company boards, developed a broad network from industry experience, backed repeat entrepreneurs multiple times and returned significant capital to investors.  At Defy, I am the lead investor and board member in Airspace, The Dipp, Genemod, Honorlock,, Securly, SoundCommerce and Visor and led Defy’s investments in Boom, Mixhalo, Nautilus, NiftyGames, Pawlicy, Reveal, Shujinko, Skubana, Triller, WhyLabs and a number of others.  Prior to building Defy, I was a managing director at General Catalyst Partners for 11 years. Over my investing career at GC, I was the lead investor and board member for a number of companies including Vitrue (acquired by Oracle), Elemental Technologies (Amazon), HotPotato (Facebook), ThisTech (Comcast), Cozy (Costar), Boxee (Samsung), Highwinds (StackPath), Bustle, The Honest Company, Singular and many others.

My passion is working hand-in-hand with entrepreneurs as a confidante to help them bring their visions to reality.

Before joining General Catalyst, I was a managing director at TimeWarner Investments and a founding member of AOLTW Ventures where I led investments and was a board member of companies including Arroyo Video Solutions (Cisco), Entropic Communications (ENTR, then MXL), EverydayHealth (EVDY, then JCOM) and a number of others. My career began at Goldenvoice Presents in the early 1990’s, followed by Accenture, Goldman Sachs & Co and CMGI.

I earned a B.A. in Business Economics from the University of California, Santa Barbara and an M.B.A. from the Harvard Business School. I was born in Oakland and raised in San Jose by immigrant parents who both put themselves through night school and embraced the American dream, with my father becoming a 30-year IBM engineer and my mother a 25-year lawyer for the U.S. Government. This upbringing made me appreciate the value of hard work, learn to code at age 8 and fall in love with the Valley—it also instilled in me a lifelong passion for the A’s, 49ers, Sharks and Warriors. My wife Julie and I love spending time with our son and twin daughters, traveling with them, coaching sports, or most often acting as their chauffeur.

For me, Defy represents a dream realized. I feel incredibly lucky to have Trae as a partner and that our other founders, Purvi and Phebe, are long-time colleagues and friends.  Our amazing Sage’s are all former portfolio company CEOs and great friends for more than a decade.  I am always eager to connect with passionate souls and kindred spirits.

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OurTeam_Trae_300 Trae Vassallo
Trae Vassallo Co-Founder & Partner

I am a co-founder and partner at Defy. As an engineer, an entrepreneur, and an investor, my passion is collaborating with the world’s best entrepreneurs. I was previously a general partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Over my 17-year investing career, I invested in a number of leading companies including eero (acquired by AMZN), Nest Labs (GOOG), Dropcam (GOOG), Aggregate Knowledge (NSR), and Opower (ORCL). A “design thinker” and engineer at heart, I thrive at the intersection of great products and big markets.

A “design thinker” and engineer at heart, I thrive at the intersection of great products and big markets.

Before joining KPCB, I was a co-founder of Good Technology, a KPCB portfolio company that provides end-to-end wireless email services to the enterprise. I began my career at IDEO, where I developed ground-breaking products for companies including Palm and Dell. I hold 13 patents across a broad array of technologies and disciplines.

I co-founded and co-manage Equity Summit, an annual event to connect the world’s best LPs with underrepresented GPs. I also co-authored the study “Elephant in the Valley” to help highlight the underlying data around the experiences of women in technology.

I earned a Bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree in mechanical engineering with honors from Stanford University and an M.B.A. from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. I participated on the Trust of the Stanford Business School and as an advisor to the Mechanical Engineering Department at Stanford. In addition to working with inspiring entrepreneurs, I am committed to empowering women in technology and enjoy adventuring with my husband, Steve, and three children.

I was born and raised in rural Minnesota, accepted Stanford sight-unseen and met my husband while learning to use an oscilloscope in robotics class. As a lifelong learner, I constantly challenge myself with new activities including guitar, kite-surfing and gymnastics. The process of starting something new, failing and trying again, is what learning and growing is all about and it’s also why entrepreneurs are my favorite people.

I am thrilled to combine my love of technology, entrepreneurship and investing with the creation of Defy. A special thanks to my husband, Steve, for introducing me to Neil, which catalyzed the founding of Defy. I am honored to be part of this truly special team.

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Brian-Defy-Headshot-3 Brian Rothenberg
Brian Rothenberg Partner

I am an investment Partner at Defy. As a former founder, operator, and executive from startup creation through IPO, I deeply understand and appreciate all of the ups and downs along the entrepreneurial journey. I thrive at the intersection of strategy, product, growth, and analytics; with an emphasis on how we lead and empower our people to drive the best outcomes. I love working beside the incredible entrepreneurs who make this happen, defying all reasonable expectations in creating a new reality out of a unique insight and vision.

I love working beside the incredible entrepreneurs who make this happen, defying all reasonable expectations in creating a new reality out of a unique insight and vision.

Before joining Defy, I spent over 6 years scaling Eventbrite from a startup into the world’s largest event technology platform and live experiences marketplace. As Eventbrite’s first VP of Growth, CMO, and VP/GM of the company’s largest segment of revenue, I helped to scale the business more than 10x globally to $300M in revenues, and through our IPO (NYSE: EB) with a nearly $3B market cap. To stay close to the early-stage as Eventbrite outgrew its startup roots, I spent years advising and investing in dozens of startups both independently, as well as through First Round Capital’s Angel Track & Expert Network, Sequoia Capital’s Scout program, and YC’s Growth Council.

Prior to Eventbrite I co-founded SkillSlate, a VC-backed local services marketplace, building the business through our acquisition by TaskRabbit (later acquired by IKEA). I joined Yahoo! in its first ten years, where I helped to build several of Yahoo!’s early businesses as the company’s youngest Product Manager. I started my first business from my freshman dorm room – an early online ticket brokerage company called EventTicketsNow.

I attended USC where I studied entrepreneurship and marketing. I played for USC’s lacrosse team, where I was a four-year starter, two-time team captain and president, defensive MVP, and two-time recipient of the team’s “Trojan of the Year” award for positive impact on the overall program. I was also honored to play for Team USA West, representing our country in the 2004 International Games. I later resumed my academic pursuits earning my MBA in finance and general management from NYU’s Stern School of Business.

As a rare fourth generation San Franciscan, I love building our life here with my wife Kelly, our children Chase, Charlie, and Brooks, and our dog Addie. On nights and weekends you can find me coaching our kids’ sports, enjoying good food and red wine, snowboarding, playing guitar, or grinding through a CrossFit workout.

There’s one truism I’ve found to hold time and again – it’s all about the people. As such, I am truly honored to be part of this special Defy team.

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Bob-Rosin Bob Rosin
Bob Rosin Partner

I am an investment Partner at Defy.  As a founder, serial entrepreneur, and former leadership team member at Skype, LinkedIn, and Stripe, I’ve experienced all facets of startup life from founding companies, to raising capital, scaling growth, partnerships, and M&A. I am excited to partner with and mentor the next generation of founders in category-leading technology businesses. In addition to my work as an entrepreneur and executive, I’ve been an active angel investor and advisor to companies including Stripe, Workato, Tenor (acquired by Google), Cursor Data (Data Robot), MindMeld (Cisco), Instawork, Tonal Fitness, Accord, TruePlan, Prairie Health, Capchase, Curated, Catch, and Ava.

I know how hard it is to build a company from zero and to build a team, create a company culture, evangelize the first customers, create a winning product, and make the thousands of decisions involved in shepherding a company to massive scale.

My three startups were each pioneers in the development of key technology trends: internet infrastructure, mobile computing, and video communications. At Bang Networks, we developed the first global infrastructure for dynamic content delivery on the Internet.  OQO had a radical vision that one day we would all carry an internet-connected computer in our pocket.  And Qik was the first breakthrough video calling app on phones. Through these experiences, I cut my teeth not only on building companies, but in creating new markets as well.

After Qik was acquired by Skype, I was tasked to lead their business development function which became a platform for me to accelerate user acquisition and revenue growth.  After Microsoft’s $8.5B acquisition of Skype, I stayed on as GM and learned to appreciate execution at massive scale.

Next, I joined LinkedIn as VP of Business Development and reported to Jeff Weiner as a member of the Product Executive team, which was truly a masterclass in operating excellence. Above all, it taught me the power of building a mission-oriented culture and of putting members first. It was a privilege to drive growth to hundreds of millions of users, help us scale to $7B in SaaS revenue, and manage hundreds of thousands of developers participating in our API program.

After Microsoft acquired LinkedIn for $26.2B, I moved on to join the executive leadership team as head of partnerships at Stripe. At Stripe, again I had the opportunity to learn from some of the greatest entrepreneurs of our generation. While diving deep into the world of payments, managing hypergrowth at Stripe also taught me of the power of building for developers, achieving leverage through partners, and imbuing all activities with deep rigor and quality of thought.

Earlier on, I started my career by living in Japan for five years, where I passed the Level 1 Japanese language proficiency exam and was a columnist for a Japanese national newspaper while working at Sony Corporation. I earned a second-degree black belt in Aikido, am the first author on 10 granted patents, and was the winner of the Dubilier Prize for Entrepreneurship at Harvard Business School. I’m the proud father of two daughters, the best prize of all.

I’m thrilled to be a part of the incredible team at Defy Partners to mentor and support the next generation of great company builders.

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OurTeam_Purvi_300 Purvi Shah
Purvi Shah Chief Financial Officer

As the CFO for Defy, I’m responsible for seeing every dollar that comes in or goes out the door. What makes my job fun is that I get to wear many hats in a dynamic environment that supports great founders and their companies.

Before joining the firm, I worked at General Catalyst for 11 years as a Fund​ Controller. Prior to that, I worked in Mutual Funds at both Investors Bank and Trust and State Street Research.

In my spare time, I love to take spin classes​, read and spend time with my husband and ​two​ kids.

I get to wear many hats in a dynamic environment that supports great founders and their companies.

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OurTeam_Phebe_300 Phebe Chen Tran
Phebe Chen Tran Chief of Staff

As Chief of Staff, my priority is to ensure that everything is running smoothly. I enjoy working closely with the talented community of entrepreneurs, friends and the Defy team.

Before joining Defy, I was at Sequoia Heritage and General Catalyst. Prior to that, I worked alongside the compliance and financing team at Draper Fisher Jurvetson.

I am a rare species of SF Bay Area natives, born and raised, as well as earning my bachelor’s degree from Santa Clara University. Along with my husband and daughter, I love to experience and taste all the cultural pockets of home and abroad.

I enjoy working closely with the talented community of entrepreneurs, friends and the Defy team.

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IMG_3578 Hayley Korman
Hayley Korman Associate

As an associate for Defy, I help the team find, qualify, and analyze potential investment opportunities, as well as support our portfolio companies.

Previously I worked at Splunk, Tinder, and GoPro, and have experience in analytics, sales, marketing, and business operations in high-growth environments. At Splunk, I owned the entire sales cycle, from prospecting whitespace to closing deals and consulting post-deployment, and averaged 258% goal attainment. At Tinder, I was the first intern and worked throughout the organization when it was small and growing quickly.

I grew up in California and moved to Colorado to attend Colorado College, where I studied quantitative economics. After graduating I relocated to Washington DC to work with the public sector and recently made my way back to San Francisco.

In my free time, I like getting outside, being active, and reading (always taking recommendations at

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Madison Headshot_007 crop (1) Madison McIlwain
Madison McIlwain Associate

As an associate at Defy, I work alongside our team to source, invest in, and help amazing companies grow.

I am passionate about retail innovation, supply chain, and consumer technology. Formerly a product manager at Gap Inc, I managed a team of over forty engineers modernizing our order management system and customer communication channels. There, I drove numerous technology initiatives, such as enabling SMS communication for customers and launching our first website-wide chatbot. At the end of 2019, I spoke at Dreamforce on the value of integrating thoughtful automation into the customer service experience. Before Gap, I worked at Rent the Runway and an AI start-up working to create a shoppable virtual closet.

Amidst the “retail apocalypse” and ever-shifting consumer behaviors, it is invaluable that big and small companies alike leverage innovative technology to disrupt themselves. I am thrilled to be a part of the Defy team, investing in disruptive ideas across all sectors.

I earned a B.A. in history from Dartmouth College with a minor in human-centered design from the engineering school. I believe in the value of applying human factor psychology and engineering principles to iteratively design better products and experiences. I take this approach to finding and working with awesome entrepreneurs.

A California transplant from Seattle, I love running in the sunshine, traveling, and continuing my search for the perfect cup of tea.

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Adam-Park Adam Park
Adam Park Analyst

While on a leave of absence from Harvard College, I am serving as an analyst for Defy. I work closely with the team by sourcing investments, conducting research and supporting Defy’s portfolio companies.

I am passionate about observing and analyzing the ways in which technology interacts with our lives. At Harvard, I study philosophy with particular interests in epistemology and the philosophy of language.

Outside of philosophy, I have a particular interest in compliance, having previously worked as an intern in a compliance group and having spent this past summer researching the industry as part of a project for Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center.

A Washington, D.C.-area native, I am now in Allston, MA, living in a house that holds 7 friends and 3 aspiring companies. In my free time, I am an avid ultimate frisbee player and a wannabe bike enthusiast.

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defy sages

A “sage” is someone wise through reflection and experience and we thought that perfectly encapsulates what these active operating executives bring to Defy. As talented multi-time operators, seed investors and current CEOs, Defy Sages bring their operating experience, domain knowledge, and networks to help our portfolio.

Brian_Lee Brian Lee
Brian Lee Defy Sage

Brian is one of the world’s leading experts in building consumer and commerce brands. He’s a reformed lawyer who saw the opportunity to revolutionize the legal market to help people who couldn’t afford or deal with the traditional system by creating LegalZoom from scratch. As the first CEO, he grew revenue to well over $300m and successfully sold the company multiple times.  As a serial entrepreneur, he with his wife Mira, co-founded ShoeDazzle as a revolutionary way to customize fashion. He grew the company to $100m in revenue and merged it with JustFab. Following the birth of his first child, he partnered with Jessica Alba and Christopher Gavigan to create The Honest Company, the leading healthy product company in the world. As CEO, he grew the company to $300m in revenue in 3 years.

Most recently Brian co-founded and partnered with Kobe Bryant on the creation Art of Sport and several other emerging companies. Brian was named one of the “25 most notable Korean-American entrepreneurs” by Forbes magazine in 2009. In 2014, he was commended as the Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year by EY Entrepreneur of the Year.

Before his startup career, Lee was an attorney with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and a former manager at Deloitte. Lee attended Servite High School in Anaheim, graduated with at B.A. in Economics/Business from UCLA and received his J.D. from UCLA School of Law. Brian has been a close friend and supporter, working with the Defy team for over a decade.


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Sujal_Patel Sujal Patel
Sujal Patel Defy Sage

Sujal is a leading technology executive with deep expertise in networking, infrastructure and security. Sujal founded Isilon Systems in 2001 with the vision that the rapid proliferation of unstructured, file-based data would necessitate a shift away from traditional storage architectures and toward a new, scale-out paradigm. In 2006, Isilon completed one of the most successful initial public offerings of the year, with a market capitalization in excess of $1 Billion.  From 2007 to 2010, Sujal, as CEO, led Isilon during a period of profound growth, improving operating margins from -37.5% to +20%. Isilon was acquired by EMC in December, 2010 for $2.5 Billion, the largest acquisition in EMC’s history. Sujal served as the President of EMC’s Isilon Storage Division from the acquisition until November, 2012, driving significant revenue growth, market expansion and organizational scale. Prior to EMC and Isilon, Sujal served in various engineering roles at RealNetworks, Inc., in part as chief architect behind the company’s second-generation core media delivery system.

Sujal holds nineteen patents in the areas of storage, networking, and media delivery, is a well-known speaker on entrepreneurship, and has received a variety of industry awards.  He graduated from the University of Maryland College Park in 1996 with a degree in Computer Science. Sujal first worked with the Defy team 10 years ago and has continued to collaborate with us over the years.

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Ben Wolin Ben Wolin
Ben Wolin Defy Sage

Ben is a leading technology executive with deep expertise in digital health. Ben was the founder and CEO of Everyday Health, a leading provider of digital health marketing and communications solutions. He was able to grow the business from a seed stage startup in 2002 to a publicly traded business in 2014, and ultimately to being the leading competitor to WebMD. Everyday Health went on to acquire a number of SaaS companies in the medical space, along with expanding and diversifying into digital media, before J2 Global acquired the company in 2017 for roughly half a billion dollars. Prior to founding Everyday Health, Ben worked at Beliefnet as their VP of Production & Technology.

An experienced public company board member, Ben currently serves as the Chairman of the Board for Rockwell Medical and as a board member of Dance Biopharm, Diplomat Specialty Pharmacy, SourceMedia and Covetrus. Ben has been a close friend and supporter of the Defy team for the past 20 years, as Neil previously served on his board at Everyday Health. Ben has acted as a valued advisor and most recently, co-investor in a number of companies.

Ben graduated from Bowdoin College with a B.A. in History. He spent the last two and a half decades building companies in the heart of New York City and recently moved to Boulder, CO to start a new adventure with his wife and two daughters.

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Steve Miller Steve Miller
Steve Miller Defy Sage

Steve is an entrepreneur with deep experience building network infrastructure companies including content delivery networks (CDNs), virtual private networks (VPNs) and a variety of other IP based software services. Throughout his career founding, leading, and building companies, Steve has established a culture that is rooted in entrepreneurialism and a passion for technology and service. Over the past 10 years, he has raised over $800 million in debt and equity financing. Steve has twice been named a finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award and has accepted top honors in the SMART Awards.

Steve began working with the Defy team 14 years ago, as Neil sat on the board of Highwinds from the inception of the CDN. The company grew both organically and inorganically as Steve completed five acquisitions before the sale. He built the company into an IP services powerhouse by creating one of the world’s fastest CDNs, a massive GDN for global gaming customers and a variety of consumer applications. He built the company profitability, which differentiates it from most of its competitors.

Steve’s extensive experience in the software industry includes executive posts at Openwave and bCandid, among others. In these roles, he led an aggressive entry into the enterprise IP services software market, driving sales initiatives and winning business with the world’s leading telecoms and ISPs. He currently sits on the boards of Defy portfolio company HonorLock and the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in business management from the University of Alabama (Roll Tide!). Most importantly he is a new father and enjoys spending every moment he can with his family.

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