How I landed here…
Currently doing a 6 month internship and I’ve penned some thoughts 2 months in.
Like most people in venture capital (VC), my route wasn’t linear.
During my second year of undergrad I built a start-up bridging inspiration, discovery and e-commerce for fashion customers — think Thread.com. I raised a modest round then I dropped out of uni and ended up building a unicorn…
In reality, I completed final year and then had no real clue what I was going to do after my final exams. Everyone else I spoke to was heading off to New York for training for their flashy bank roles. I decided to double-down on what I was curious about. I worked in retail with the goal to figure out what was broken and then solve it with the cash I’d raised from grants and angels.
After about 2 months and a bit of diligence, serendipity and luck I ended up as COO at The Drop and returned my funding. Fast-forward 18 months, we’d raised £1M but couldn’t quite get the metrics to get to Series A. It was a pretty exciting first 18 months of post-uni life. Striving to get to PMF inside Forward Partners, brand strategy meetings with Sir John Hegarty and building a supply-chain across 3 continents. A much better fit for me than the number-crunching tasks my banking mates were doing.
While at The Drop, I had developed a strong interest in joining the nascent but budding tech eco-system developing across Africa. I overheard a conversation about M-pesa -a peer-to-peer payments platform- between the Founders Factory Africa team on a Friday evening (The Drop was now in Founders Factory). Over the weekend I did some desktop research and was blown away by the technology’s scale and sophistication, and recognised the size of the opportunity to innovate across the continent. I felt my time at The Drop was drawing to a natural end. I met with as many investors, founders and friends of founders connected to the continent as I could. The Garage Soho, investors in The Drop, had put £2M into Sure Chill and put me forward to the CEO for an open role to lead their latest division. I decided to join Sure Chill — providing proprietary cooling technology that used water as a power source, as a Managing Director.
We’d seen some success using our technology in the vaccine cold-chain; we’d helped deliver over 1,000,000 vaccines and the entire vaccine network in Mali was cooled using our technology. However, we hadn’t proved a mass-market proposition for our technology. I was responsible for launching our off-grid refrigeration division for residential customers. We’d leverage the success of the division to go and raise a bigger round later in the year. I joined in January and had qualified the largest distributor of white-goods in East Africa, we were in late stage discussions with the largest solar-home systems providers and built a solid pipeline. Though, Chinese New Year hit late January and workers never returned due to Wuhan closing down for lock-down. Commercial discussions couldn’t progress. We decided amicably to part ways as there was a freeze on negotiations for the foreseeable future and I missed the fast-paced, quick-decision making early-stage start-up environment.
Through these different roles and experiences I got to understand how tough but satisfying it is to start and scale companies. I also noticed that different start-ups were struggling to obtain growth and there were patterns in what wasn’t working.
I started thinking about VC.
Why did I go into VC?
I’d had a blast and I started thinking about what really matters to me and what drives the curiosity that had characterised my choices so far.
Three main reasons:
Leveraged impact to solve the planet’s largest problems; I get to work with inspiring entrepreneurs and improve humanity’s productive capacity. VC offers me a disproportionate reward for each unit of effort vs impact on humanity. I think it’s a highly efficient use of my limited time on earth given that ambition.
I believe businesses exist to solve problems efficiently and due to the power laws of VC, start-ups have to have the scope to be worth £1bn. In my opinion, invention and innovation guided by financial reward leads to the most valuable type of invention, most of the time.
My career is characterised by my curiosity, I’m most curious and excited when working on the edge. However, it’s difficult to evaluate the viability of things that haven’t been done before. VC gives me the framework to evaluate these ground-breaking ideas.
Why Playfair fits.
The Angel DNA
I didn’t fully understand what this meant but I kept hearing it when I was doing due diligence work on Playfair. In my own words, it begins with our Chairman and sole LP, Fede. You can find more on Playfair’s founding story here, but TLDR; we were founded by an Angel. Our managing partner Chris, our associate Henrik, and our chairman of our IC, Simon, collectively have over 40 years of angel experience.
This angel DNA means we’re:
founder-centric — we really are!
spending hands on time with founders and supporting them in numerous ways e.g. sales strategy, hiring plans and actively interviewing candidates
making quick decisions as there’s no bureaucracy
The All-star Team
No-one’s paying me to say this but the team are pretty awesome. There’s not the ego, politics or hierarchal nature that you’d expect in a fund. Everyone’s also incredibly intelligent and really enjoys their work. From each person I’m able to learn something that I think is invaluable to me becoming a better investor.
In reality as a VC you’re wrong a lot of the time so different perspectives and mental models are welcomed to reduce that delta of what is right vs what we think.
What am I doing?
Pictured inside Warner Yard
I’ll categorise my activities into internal Playfair work and deal flow.
Internal Playfair work
Social media: it’s important our value and culture is communicated to stakeholders through everything we publish — we also do a lot of work supporting our founders and portfolio companies.
Research: as a sector agnostic fund we see a lot of varied deal flow. We observe exciting trends and I get to do shallow-dives into areas where the opportunity interests us to develop our own thesis. In the next month, I should be publishing a blog regarding the largest wealth transfer to date and the opportunity that presents so stay tuned.
Screening: managing cold-inbound (100+ weekly) through our open ‘pitch-us’ form and taking 1st pitch calls or distributing relevant companies to team members who I think may be better suited to take it.
Demo Days & Pitch Events: sourcing deals and advancing interesting opportunities.
Due diligence: memo work — doing deep-dives into competitive landscape analysis and market sizing for our Investment Committee (IC). Just last week some competitive landscape work I did for an IC was commended by the founders and the rest of the investment team.
On reflection, the due diligence work and market research has been some of the most exciting parts of my role, aside from speaking to founders.
Coming into VC and seeing how large sums of money exchanges hands juxtaposed with catch-ups with child-hood friends and walking the streets where I live, I recognise there’s a whole world out there where VC land doesn’t reach.
Due to the power-laws in VC, existing disparities grow exponentially when you consider where most of VC cash goes. I’m still trying to figure out what I can do to help solve this and pay it forward. This is why Playfair’s Female Founder Office Hours is so important. During lock-down I wrote an ebook to solve information asymmetry for first-time retail investors and have helped 1000+ households since launching.
While I figure it out, I’ve been taking my learnings and helping founders adhoc and when I don’t know the answer, I leverage my position to get answers from an incredible team of investors. I received this message this weekend and it made me smile — it’s a small cheque but it goes a long way. This is a black female founder — one with a mission too, so watch this space!
About the Author
Investor at Playfair Capital | Ex-COO & MD at Venture-backed start-ups