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The best entrepreneurs have a choice.

29 Oct 2020 By Alliott Cole

The most talented entrepreneurs will always have a choice as to where they source their capital. As investors, we have to earn the right to be on their shortlist. Knowing this shapes our approach to backing the individuals and teams who will build the companies that will change the world. 

Pioneers 

We’re clear about the kind of people we want to back. We use the term ‘pioneers’ very deliberately to carve out that subset of entrepreneurs (already a rare breed) who are breaking new ground. They’re the ones who are venturing into unfamiliar territory – the places that seem anything but sensible, acceptable or comfortable. Live gigs in your living room (Sofar), clinical grade CBT delivered via a cartoon character (Big Health), financial advice by text (Stackin), or a pelvic floor exerciser (Elvie) did not float down the main stream of business evolution: they were branching out and carving new channels. Backing them felt slightly uncomfortable, but in the best possible way. These teams buzz with the excitement of new possibilities. In order to attract this order of entrepreneur, it pays for us to assess our priorities. First comes the entrepreneur, then our co-investors and then us. Why? Because we’ve found that if you get the top two right, the rest takes care of itself.  

Relationships 

Being upfront about our position and being easy to deal with sounds banal when you say it out loud, but it’s powerful in the long run. One of our longest-standing relationships stems from the 2008 crash. As Lehman Brothers collapsed we were in the process of backing Zoopla. When others pulled out, we stuck by our term sheet, we didn’t tighten the screw, we didn’t halve the price. This was a deliberate decision to trust the exceptional individuals behind the company, over and above the short term disaster of the moment. It paid off many times and our relationship with that whole family tree of outstanding entrepreneurs (Alex ChestermanWilliam Reeve and Graham Bosher among them) continues to thrive years later. 

Since then we’ve continued to revere the long view: our decisions have one eye on the present, and another on the long term impact. Patient capital isn’t just about believing in the potential of a pioneer and their team, it’s about nurturing the relationship through all the inevitable highs and lows of the journey.  

UK, Europe, the World 

Europe has reached an entrepreneurial tipping point. There now exists a potent mix of research and innovation, talent, experience, and domestic and international venture capital. With this has come – at last – the belief and ambition to build businesses worth hundreds of billions. 

Since we started in 2008 we’ve become one of the largest, most active funds in Europe. Today we need a greater depth of specialism necessary to attract true pioneers in the fields of health, deep tech, money and consumer. These, four areas, we believe, are the sectors that have the most potential to change the world. We haven’t let lockdown stand in our way and we’ve expanded our wider portfolio team by 45% with 9 new hires. Each new member of the team is bringing fresh perspectives and experience, enriching our ability to back the people who are ready to address the world’s toughest challenges. This is a time of demanding change and urgency – in other words, perfect conditions for pioneers. 

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