Over an early breakfast at The Wolseley I was dazzled by the energy, passion and vision of Vanessa! We met at an investor networking drinks where we were able to discuss a little about women in VC and the future of investment but I was excited to hear her full account! Vanessa is a senior investment manager at Founders Factory (more on that later) and has been trailblazing the investment eco-system ever since leaving her graduate investment banking job. She is passionate about education and health and the opportunity for technology to have an impact in these arenas. Enjoy her honest and fascinating reflections!
Current Job Senior Investment Manager at Founders Factory
First Job Research analyst at Simon-Kucher & Partners (strategy consulting) throughout my three years at University. I worked with them c10-15 hours/week doing everything from excel jobs to pricing models.
Favourite book Hooked by Nir Eyal
Necessary extravagance Barrecore classes!
Favourite productivity tool WorkFlowy
Favourite place in London Archer Street - I grew up doing lots of Musical Theatre, especially at University, and absolutely love the atmosphere in there. Best place to have a few drinks and get into a great mood!
Female inspiration in business Martha Lane Fox
Top networking tip It's not about 'working the room' and artificially instigating as many conversations as possible. It is to start conversations until you find someone you genuinely click with and actually enjoy talking to. That will form a much deeper bond and the chance of you staying in touch is infinitely higher.
Most interesting tech startup in London right now The Skills Academy
How and why did you enter the investment paradigm?
I studied chemistry and grew up in DaimlerChrysler city in Germany so I imagined going into business meets tech/engineering. But upon moving to the UK I was hit hard by the bank propaganda, and was led to believe that I would learn the most starting my career in banking. After only 6 months I realised I was unstimulated and bored.
I wasn't targeting to get into VC but I happened to come across a job spec and everything it said I wanted to do! There were so many synergies between my passions/background and Holtzbrinck Digital as they focus on edtech and science software, I think this is ultimately why I got the job over the third year analysts they were initially seeking. They were very patient and so I finished a year at Bank of America Merrill Lynch and I joined them in summer 2014. I was an analyst for 6 months before being promoted to investment manager of the education fund - an incredible baptism of fire. I then made the leap to Founders Factory upon the deal between Holtzbrinck and FF.
What is your motivation?
My ethos is that tech can do so much good for the world, I feel we have only begun to scratch the surface of tech's potential to revolutionise. Currently there is still a bit of a money race chasing after valuations and not enough money and focus is being directed at the big problems facing society (Magic Leap is valued at $4.5bn with no product! If there is this much attention and investment into a VR game imagine the advances we could make if more was aimed at addressing health/refugees/education). I love the Founders Pledge for this reason - it allows entrepreneurs to make a difference and commit to donate 2% of their personal proceeds to a social cause of their choice following an exit.
What is the most exciting thing you are working on right now?
At Founders Factory we also build our own startups in the incubation side of the business. The concept is to launch a new company every 6 months in each of the identified sectors. There will be 6 sectors and we will work alongside a relevant corporate for each to help us figure out the trends and pain points. FF have partnered with Holtzbrinck for education and The Guardian for media and we will announce the partners for fintech/beauty/telecoms and retail imminently!
So it was very exciting for me to chair the latest edtech ideation workshop with Holtzbrinck! We had 5 of the most knowledgeable edtech sector experts in the room resulting in a huge outpouring of ideas. We prioritised and begun doing more research into market sizes and where we might have the best advantage in the Factory to build upon.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Being a woman you are naturally quite emotional and I do find it hard to work with people who are seemingly incredibly confident all the time. I am a very secure person too but also prone to doubt and question if I have done the right thing. This is particularly challenging in VC where no one is checking your work. However, after a year and a half I have more perspective and I am more forgiving on myself if I do make mistakes - we are just human after all!
What are your future ambitions?
I want to start my own company eventually, likely in edtech or healthtech! I have numerous unfinished ideas: reskilling individuals whose jobs won't exist in the future or addressing fair salaries for women. In the long term however, I am passionate about being a smart money investor as I love the variety it offers.
Tell us about Founders Factory and your role there
We're a new model in business creation with extraordinary ambition and breadth. Together with our blue chip corporate partners, we build and scale early stage technology companies across multiple sectors. We invest capital and resources in building the next generation of breakout technology businesses at an unprecedented scale. We will build and scale 200 early stage technology companies across multiple sectors in the next five years. We are born out of the Founders Forum; the top network of entrepreneurs and business leaders, giving us unparalleled access to corporate partners, audiences, and access to capital.
I reside in the corporate development team as well as doing business development - so I am involved in both the acceleration and incubation parts of Founders Factory - it is a wonderfully varied role! I am heavily engaged operationally with our companies - I help them set goals, track performance, help with their pitches, business plans and partnerships right through to the fundraising. I also develop close relationships with the VC eco-system to ascertain the best mutual fit for our startups. We try to be very bespoke in this regard and perfect the matching of startups and VCs always aiming for more intimate connections rather than large-scale reach outs.
Do you have an investment thesis?
Because of our world class team of experienced operators and global network, we have the ability to attract the best ideas and talent. It’s more of a mutual attraction. We’re looking for ideas that will change industries using technology and entrepreneurs behind those ideas that are attracted to our unique proposition. We are getting involved with very early stage companies, hence there aren't always huge number sets to base decisions on - that actually makes it more interesting I believe. It's about the team, their ambition and in the end the trust you have in them delivering on their promises.
What technology trends excite you right now?
Definitely virtual reality! For example, Viorama a Berlin based VR startup recently launched Splash - A VR video sharing platform that aims to make capturing and publishing 360 videos easy - all from your smartphone without any VR hardware. Such innovation taking place!
Women in Tech
What advice do you have for women looking to start their own business or enter the investing landscape?
If you have an idea there are some incredible incubators and accelerators to help you get it off the ground. Founders Factory are also in the process of launching a different kind of program called Founders of the Future. Selected members of the Founders of the Future community will enjoy quarterly events, access to a group of exceptional peers and Founders Forum members, funding and career advice, and key guidance towards the challenge to work on making a positive impact on the world. Lastly there is a great emphasis on women in tech so leverage that. Go to lots of meetings and convince as many people as possible of your vision - you never know what could come out of it.
We are increasingly moving to a new working order yet so many of the brightest graduates continue to go and work for a big bank or consultancy. What would you say to them to cut through that rhetoric and consider joining a startup?
You almost get manipulated into thinking that banking and consultancy are the only routes to learning a skill set - but it is a complete farce! I have learnt infinitely more after a year in VC and 6 months in the Factory with more responsibility than my equivalents in the banks. In banking you are close to your associate who is close to their VP etc etc - everybody checks your work so you have no accountability. Counter to this, when you are creating what is going to drive the deal that will make you learn anything. Furthermore, the sleep deprivation makes you more dumbed down - I was slower and not excited about anything. Yes startups fail and yes the banks and consultancies pay more initially, but the difference in earning potential 10 years later is huge and it is a lot more enjoyable to be intellectually stimulated on a daily basis, working with future technologies and incredibly passionate entrepreneurs.
What business support networks do you value?
I like to be friends with my team and get to know them beyond colleagues - it makes me want to do my job every day! I have also kept a lot of my previous bosses as mentors. I also co-founded the London VC Circle which organises networking events based primarily around activities. We have done a polo and a golf day and have an upcoming clay pigeon shooting event. These kind of events really facilitate a bond and help you build a network in the industry - you need that emotional connection.