Izzy and I caught up over tea at The Lanesborough and I suggest you get a cup yourself as she has achieved so much in her career it was hard to squeeze it all in this blog! Izzy has lived in San Francisco, New York and London and has been in tech her whole career. She founded two tech PR firms, co-founded two software startups, was an active angel investor before traversing into institutional investing. Currently she is head of venture capital at White Cloud Capital investing in early stage tech companies in the education and health verticals. She is also a mentor for BBC Labs, Entrepreneur First and is on the London advisory board for Astia - a community of experts committed to accelerating the funding and growth of high potential, high-growth, women-led startups. She radiates poise, charm and aplomb and her curiosity and gusto is infectious - have a scroll!
Current Job Head of Venture Capital at White Cloud Capital
First Job Graduate at Teather & Greenwood
Go to meeting spot The Wolseley or The Grazing Goat
Favourite book Jim Collins – Good to Great
Necessary extravagance Weekend breaks and lots of travel
Favourite place in London Old Spitalfields Market and Borough Market
Favourite animal on your farm Brown Ryeland Sheep
Female inspiration in business Angelina Jolie
Top networking tip Go out and meet as many people as possible and stay true to your values
Serendipitous or fantastic foresight - you have been in tech all your career! Tell us a little bit about your beginnings in tech?
Total luck! After initially starting my career in banking I moved into financial PR; it was 1999 and we were just doing loads of tech IPOs - so it all happened by chance. It was a really exciting time and I loved the buzz of financial transactions - we were involved with many of the great initial IPOs – before the market crashed in 2000.
You founded two corporate/tech PR firms - what were some highlights and takeaways from these experiences?
When I first started my PR agency tech was in its infancy in the UK. Although there were multiple agencies doing tech PR they were focused on tech trade press. My business partner and I identified a big opportunity to deliver strategic corporate PR for the tech world - bring in the team’s experience of banking, investor relations, M&A and financial PR knowledge to tech start-ups. Working with some of the most innovative companies and entrepreneurs in the world was energising and inspiring and living between NYC, London and San Francisco seeing all three markets develop was exhilarating.
As Steve Jobs famously said you can only connect the dots looking backwards and it amazes me how much the tech scene and PR has changed over the past decade and particularly in the last five years. PR has totally changed. Agile digital marketing approaches and companies like Hubspot/Marketo have totally transformed marketing – it’s all about campaigns, content, growth hacking, lead generation, digital and nurture. The days of siloed PR have gone.
Does PR have any role to play in the marketing remit for your portfolio companies?
Yes, of course but in a different way to in the past. It’s not my key focus for any portfolio company these days. I focus my portfolio companies on three key objectives:
- Build a billion dollar brand
- Build platforms for growth (e.g. your Salesforce/Marketo/Hubspot) to understand your data and metrics easily)
- Sales and marketing alignment.
Digitalisation of marketing means companies can optimise their sales funnel using Hubspot and Marketo, qualify lead generation and measure ROI for every marketing channel. This is vastly more attractive to cash conscious startups. I still believe in PR but only as part of a whole marketing campaign mix to achieve that elusive elixir.
You were part of the founding team of two software startups - what was the catalyst to co-found each and what did you take with you into your subsequent investing career?
Both came out of seeing a gap in the marketplace - my co-founders were part of my network and we pulled together teams that could execute on an idea. One we developed very quickly and sold in 8 months with great inbound marketing. US competitors were receiving a lot more funding and the reality was that we were going to get left behind. Faced with a short runway we accepted a great offer to sell quickly and get out.
Both have been a fantastic learning ground and give me the invaluable experience of the ups and downs of building technology and being part of a startup. As an investor I am empathetic to the emotional journey that goes with being an entrepreneur, particularly from a female perspective as we take things very personally if things don't go right!
Why did you enter the investment paradigm?
I’ve always angel invested and got lucky living in San Francisco with access to great companies. After that I was keen to move into institutional investing. After selling my second business I joined GGM, a venture fund based out of Luxembourg. GGM were early stage investors in European tech. After GGM I joined White Cloud Capital to head up their global venture team. They are a family of family offices in the growth stage and they are looking to do more on the early stage side in Europe and Asia. The opportunity to work across all our key regions – Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea and Europe - was of great appeal. I’ve never worked in Asia before so I welcomed the chance to learn and experience something new.
Tell us about your angel investments
My first angel investment was Jumio, a leading identity management and credentials company backed by Andreessen Horowitz, Citi Ventures and Facebook Co-Founder, Eduardo Saverin. It was totally impulsive! When I was living in San Francisco I got very lucky and met a lot of the super angels (not that I knew who they were at the time) and through that circle I found the deal. I didn't see a demo or even meet the team - I just trusted my network that it was hot and put my money in - fortunately Andreessen came in not soon after! A lot of my investments in San Francisco came through trusting that group and their contact base. GetAround was very similar - a fantastic female entrepreneur Jessica Scorpio who is simply brilliant.
Once back in London, I started to invest here more. A lot of it is simply gut and backing great people who you trust to deliver like, Gareth Davies, CEO of Adbrain. Thankfully many of my portfolio are doing great but you have to detach yourself from the money as it’s still very risky. For example, we had one company IPO in the US two years ago, great first day of trading and then its share price nose dived and after being tied in for 6 months my shares are probably not even worth what I put in! That’s just the reality of investing.
What are your motivations as an angel investor?
Backing fantastic people with super ideas that provide clear benefit. A lot of my motivation is going on the journey - meeting these entrepreneurs with so much passion - and experiencing the ride alongside them. There is also a huge desire to see great ideas materialise - it is a lovely position to be in.
What investment opportunity did you turn down that you regret?
There have been plenty, especially some of the now very well known San Francisco unicorns where we could have invested in the very early stages! But you can never look back and regret decisions!
What has been your biggest challenge?
There have been so many! A challenge pertinent across my portfolio companies is how to scale. It has been inspiring watching Airbnb and Uber demonstrate new ways of going global and dominating in no time at all. A persistent challenge but also opportunity for me is continuous learning. Luckily I am a voracious reader so am able to just about keep abreast of tech, investing trends and new marketing approaches but I can feel out of date within a day! Looking back it is evident that my whole understanding of marketing changed tremendously in the space of just 4 years - there has never been a point in my career where things are moving as quickly as they are right now.
What tech trends excite you right now?
Education and health! There is a massive market opportunity for both to disrupt the status quo and change the world. Investing in edtech and digital health also has real meaning behind it which is incredibly exciting. As Mary Meeker alluded to in her KPCB Internet Trends 2015 report both sectors are very much next up in terms of being revolutionised, so I think it is the perfect time to be investing in the space and thankfully it is our heritage at White Cloud Capital where we have the experience, team and network.
Digital health is also a personal passion of mine - I studied for a year in New York to become a wellness coach and I see a huge opportunity in measuring our health and having personalised insights, pre-warnings and interventions. So much of our health issues are self inflicted and the next generation is predicted to be the first in history that will not live as long as the one before. However, the biggest challenge I envisage is how to change behaviours - tech is only an enabler - there is much to be done on behavioural incentives.
Do you have an investment thesis?
Less so on my personal investments but clear investment thesis on the institutional side. White Cloud Capital are early series A/institutional seed investors. We invest in companies that have tested market opportunity, product in the market, some revenues and looking to accelerate growth. We focus on the education and health verticals given our heritage, our existing portfolio companies and our network of advisors. We are agnostic on region.
Top deal flow sources?
Friends and network. It is also always great to meet companies through the accelerators and various organisations supporting early stage tech often the companies are a little too early stage for us however, sometimes you meet someone outstanding and just want to get into a deal early!
What is your opinion on impact investing?
As an investor I am always trying to consider social impact alongside a financial return. You want to be investing in companies that are providing a true benefit and a potential investment return - I think you can achieve both! It helps that the domains of education and health lend themselves to impact investing too.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I think my greatest achievement is still to come! I would love to back companies that go on to change the face of education and health, see them grow and observe the difference they make to people's lives.
Two Cliche Questions
Fancy weighing in on the bubble debate?
Every market has a cycle so of course we will have a correction, however, trying to time markets exactly is difficult and being a permanently bullish active investor is dangerous. Fred Wilson's blog - Negative Gross Margins - summed up the problem perfectly and as echoed in The Age of the Cockroach - there are plenty of unicorns which have great stories but with little underlying business.
You have experienced the SF, NY and London startup ecosystems - what do you think London's should look like in 2020?
London is doing great at building out its tech scene in its own style. This is the most exciting time in my career to be in Europe and investing in tech. It really is Europe’s time and the next 10 years will see us reach a truly new level of innovation and entrepreneurialism as we have more exits and seasoned entrepreneurs in the eco-system.
Women in Tech
What is your opinion on the women in technology debate?
Women have so much opportunity in technology and many of the markets ripe for disruption will benefit from the female perspective. There’s never been a better time for women in tech and it's wonderful to see so many female entrepreneurs now in the scene. I also found it fascinating to learn recently about the growing number of women entrepreneurs in emerging markets, where over a quarter of founders will be women and that number is accelerating! I don't buy into the glass ceiling but I do think women need more confidence to push those doors open - Sharon Vosmek (CEO of Astia, a global community dedicated to the success of women-led, high growth ventures) does this so well and empowers so many women into tech.
What advice do you have for women looking to start their own business or enter the investing landscape?
There’s nothing to stop anyone looking to be an entrepreneur now. The ecosystem has so much support from accelerators to incubators to organisations supporting specific sectors. Go for it!