Francesca Warner - Advertising Corporate to Tech Venture Capitalist!

I feel very fortunate to have met Francesca and now to be sharing her accumulated wisdom on Breakfast with Tiffany! Francesca currently works as an associate at Downing Ventures, moving into tech VC after starting out in a large advertising corporate, and is also incredibly passionate about increasing the diversity within VC. Have a scroll to read her thoughtful and perceptive account on transitioning into venture, her personal investment thesis and tips for female founders looking to raise finance! 


Meet Francesca

Current Job Associate at Downing Ventures, a seed to series A VC fund, part of Downing LLP. Like most associates I focus on deal sourcing, portfolio support and reporting. We are an investment team of two in the Ventures team so there is always a huge amount to do, but I absolutely love it. 

Go to meeting spot  I haven't found the perfect one yet. I've recently had a few 'outdoor' meetings where I have walked down to the river (two minutes from our office in Westminster), which has been a good way of getting to know someone in a slightly different way than sitting across from them in an office, staring at a pitch deck. 

Favourite book/blog Tough question. Business book - Selling with a Noble Purpose - Lisa Earle McCleod. A great exploration of the importance of a company purpose, something I've a great believer in. Non-business book - The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera or Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. Blog - I enjoy Azeem Azhar's - The Exponential View for AI/ ML and climate change articles. It comes on a Sunday morning which is a good time to read long, thought provoking pieces. The Mobile Fix from Simon Andrews is a useful summary of mobile news and trends and Fred Wilson's blog, AVC, is consistently brilliant. Finally, I'm a fan of The Twenty Minute VC from Harry Stebbings. He has conversations with some of the best VCs and founders in the US and Europe which are not only fascinating but a useful learning manual for an associate like me. 

Necessary extravagance Plane and train tickets. I love seeing new places. 

Favourite productivity tool Evernote. Or coffee. 

Favourite place in London Primrose Hill on a clear day or anywhere on the banks of the Thames. 

Female inspiration in business So many. I've been lucky enough to have had several fantastic female bosses already so far and I look forward to being inspired by more. I think women who've broken down barriers in the tech/ venture world are particularly inspiring so people like Martha Lane Fox (now board member at Twitter amongst many other things), Brittany Gorevic (formerly of USV and now starting her own fund) and Ada Lovelace, one of the first computer programmers. Also my own mother who was the main breadwinner in our house. 

Most interesting tech firm in London right now There are so many people doing interesting things but at seed stage a company that I'm a huge fan of at the moment is, who are building 'the source of truth on companies'. Check them out.  


The Journey 

Can you share a little about your time at AMV BBDO - what were you involved with and what did you learn that you have transitioned to tech investing? 

I worked in the account management team, which taught me how to juggle many projects at the same time and work with a huge variety of people. More fundamentally though, I learned the principles of sales and marketing, which has been very valuable and transferable to tech investing. Understanding how to segment your audience, how to target your messaging, what media channels to use, how to map customer journeys, conduct user research, track and measure response and evaluate success, all of these things are relevant to many of the startups I now meet and work with. Secondly, advertising is all about business strategy and being able to judge how 'big ideas' will be received. In a way, this is similar to what we do as investors. Whenever investors meet a company they ask themselves whether the 'big idea' behind the company is valuable and whether their product will be loved by customers, which are very similar to the questions that advertising and marketing executives ask themselves. 

How and why did you enter the investment paradigm?

I got really lucky. I knocked on some doors in an exploratory way initially without seriously considering making a career move and the timing was right with Downing Ventures. They were looking for someone who could bring a different perspective to the team and could help on the sales and marketing side with the portfolio companies. I thought it would be a fascinating way to apply what I had learned in advertising to the world of tech, but also a huge learning curve and I was excited about the chance to meet phenomenal entrepreneurs.

What is your motivation? 

To be a good person and to be someone who adds to things rather than detracts from them. 

What are your future ambitions? 

To be respected by my peers and to lead a company one day. 


Downing Ventures

Tell us about Downing Ventures and your role there

I am an associate so I focus on three main things:

  1. Deal sourcing and transacting
  2. Hands on portfolio help (something we are very passionate about at Downing Ventures)
  3. A bucket which I call 'everything else' which could include company reporting to our investors, it could be doing research, due diligence, meeting other investors or fundraising. 

Could you elaborate on your investment thesis and what stands out to you when assessing early stage companies? 

My personal investment thesis - I like purpose driven companies that have a very clear vision for how they fit into the world and why they exist. I always look for a sense of purpose when assessing companies and founders. More specifically, I like companies that do something infrastructural. So companies that form the building blocks of a certain industry or way of doing things that others use to build on top of. 

What technology trends excite you right now?

The emergence of alternative finance into the mainstream - peer to peer lending, crowdfunding, remittance, challenger banks and the changes happening in newer areas like mortgages. The application of tech to consumer health is fascinating, especially the idea that our health data can work for us, for example when machine learning is applied to enormous data sets to start to predict future outcomes rather than treat present day disease. More generally the proliferation of new business models, as articulated in this article by John Hegal. 

What are 3 things that have most surprised you about great founders who build great companies?

  1. Some of the best founders have a-typical paths to becoming entrepreneurs. Founders come in all shapes, sizes and guises and there is no 'cookie cutter' template
  2. The best founders don't know all the answers, but more importantly are honest about what they don't know
  3. All founders are extremely brave but great founders particularly so as they constantly have to take to continually innovate and build great companies. 

Women in Tech

What tips would you share with female founders looking to raise finance? 

  1. It is often difficult to know just how many organisations exist that can help and support you, whether you are raising money or just trying to meet other women in tech, for example: Girls Who Code, Code First Girls, NCWIT in the US, Astia, Angel AcademeAddidi Business Angels
  2. Ask people for help and introductions. The advice that you get from individuals that have been there and done it before is invaluable.  
  3. Be assertive and confident even if you don't feel it. 
  4. Always have an ask at the end of every pitch or chat. Even if it isn't money, chances are the person you are talking to can help you with something. 

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 or VC? 

I definitely look back at my time and wonder whether I should have been more confident in taking a bigger risk when I graduated. Especially when I had the opportunity to apply to the first round of Entrepreneur First. I went for the safer route and it might have been a missed opportunity. It does surprise me that startups/VC/tech generally has not percolated students more from what I have experienced at careers fairs. It is still a misconception that you have to know five coding languages to work in tech, when in fact there are so many roles in technology companies which are non-technical. I also think it would help for parents to encourage their children to take more risk with their careers (within reason of course)! 

What support networks do you value? 

Aside from my close family and friends I do have a lot of friends in the startup world who are really good at giving advice. The VC network are also very open and collaborative - much more so than I have found in other industries. Last but not least, myself and two others have just launched which is building up that network for people with a slightly unusual profile, so I hope that will become increasingly beneficial for others too. 

What is your opinion on the women in tech conversation? How can we do better to attract and retain more women? 

  1. Support networks - we need to get more of these set up and functioning. I hope that Diversity.VC will become one of these for the VC community. 
  2. Transparency - currently there is not a huge amount of sharing as to what type of jobs there are available, how others perceive you when recruiting and what is the route upwards to enable people to visualise the next step. I believe if we talk more we will all help each other progress. 
  3. Tackling unconscious biases - be aware of the gender pay gap in tech and the gender gap in tech and take a test to evaluate whether you or your hiring managers are unconsciously biased against female applicators. You can take a simple test here. You might be surprised by the results. 

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Poppy Tucker - Bringing Visions to Life!

Meet Poppy Tucker - an incredible fire ball of energy, ambition, intelligence and laughter! We first met at Pinksheet (more on that later on) but for the interview resided in the secret garden at South Place Hotel with a glass of wine (not quite breakfast!). Poppy is the Chief Instigator at CRUXY & CO, a very different consultancy. They help restless business people deliver growth that they didn't imagine possible. It is their energy, momentum and charm that differentiates them. You can find Poppy at all the tech events, watching pitches and continually challenging how things are being done. Take notes! 


Meet Poppy

Current Job Chief Instigator, CRUXY & CO!

Education Economics & Politics, University of Exeter.

Hometown It will always be my parent’s farm in Hertfordshire, but I am torn between there & Bondi, Sydney where I lived for 3 years.

Favourite productivity tool When done right there is nothing better than a properly organised list - if you know something will not get done that day, move it to your full week’s list. Make sure everything in your day list gets done – or else! 

Favourite book Start with WHY, Simon Sinek. I also love The Chimp Paradox. Mindset is everything.

Go to meeting spot South Place Hotel – they have a secret garden on the first floor. Even in winter when it is covered, it can be a quiet sanctuary.

How do you switch off I am lucky enough that I still have horses at my parent’s farm. I try to get out there most weekends. I take my horse out into the woods – there is no phone signal and it is uncomfortable to be truly out of contact, but a necessity for switching off.

Guilty pleasure I very rarely watch TV, but I cannot get enough of suits. Jessica Pearson – what a boss! Her attitude, her intelligence, her wardrobe. I am in awe!

Top networking tip

  1. Go it alone – If you want to network, don’t go in a group. You stay in a group.
  2. Be everywhere – There is no excuse for not networking in tech in London. If you want to you can be at 10 events a week.
  3. Overcome the fear of approaching people - Some people don’t find this difficult but I did, now I love it. I have met the most inspiring people through making sure I found a way to talk to them at an event.


The Journey

How did you get to where you are today? 

I had been living in Australia for three years when I decided I was ready to come back home and serendipitously join CRUXY at the beginning of its journey - a provocative consultancy which sharpens brands and repositions businesses. CRUXY feels that the way most people perceive marketing is flawed. It is easy to think that by raising awareness you are moving forward, but CRUXY questions: Who needs to care and what do you really want to be known for to this audience? What does raising the bar look like? Don’t do what you have always done or copy what everyone else is doing. In order to really make a mark you need to do things differently.

What has been your biggest challenge?

Deciding that we knew there was an opportunity for us to make a difference in technology. Tech companies and particularly those founded by technologists are obsessed with the ‘what’. The product they have built is their baby – they want to tell you each and every detail of how it works. But what really matters is their vision. We identified this opportunity to help founders articulate their ‘Why’ and paint the picture of their vision, which is so pertinent for both their customers and potential investors. We help people tell their story in a way that inspires.

What is the key factor in your success to date? 

I have had the support of a number of amazing mentors throughout my career, all of whom have been women. Each time they have inspired me to see a different way of doing things. The most inspiring people I have met have been really clear on their vision. Having that clarity and executing against it is in itself success to me. Factors can come into play that mean you have to take a different route, but ‘successful’ people I know are ones that see this, adapt and still stay true to their vision.

What would you like to be remembered for?

 Bringing to life the vision of the most pioneering tech entrepreneurs in the world.



What is Cruxy and Co’s vision and differentiator? 

CRUXY was started to inspire people to focus on what matters.  It is very easy to view marketing as a budget line, as the ‘stuff’– the PR, the website, the logo. Too often it is an afterthought, companies erroneously think SEO or PR will solve it and too many people think awareness is a deliverable. We don’t believe any of that matters until you have answered the big questions: why do you exist; who are you for; why should anyone care? True strategic marketing should service the business plan and it is about making choices. Why do a white paper if you haven’t yet worked out if your audience reads them? We find a lot of businesses ‘spin’ into action without thinking about these key questions. We work by challenging the company and digging to answer the difficult questions, injecting momentum to deliver what needs to happen to meet the big objectives seamlessly. 

Why did you decide to work with tech start-ups? 

It is old news that tech is driving every business - why would we not want to be part of that journey! The pace of change has shifted, even in the last 3-6 months. The attitude to blockchain for example – being something that provided the infrastructure for bitcoin to run on and there has been a lingering question over it’s credibility. In a short space of time it has begun to be viewed as something which WILL (there now being no question about it) transform the way the finance industry operates globally. Being able to work with those who are making this happen is something which I feel very lucky to be a part of.  

You talk about ethos led business in your narrative - where do you think your clients and potential clients fall down most? 

Many of our clients are owner founded and run businesses. They have created something incredible; they have seen an opportunity to transform and have acted. But in the process of creating, they focus so much on WHAT their product does. The functionality – how fast, how much, time to integrate, price… the details. They have had to obsess over the details, but in doing so think these are what make a difference. In every case, these businesses were started with an amazing vision.

At CRUXY we love Simon Sinek’s 'Start with Why'. We show our clients this video & instantly you see something change. They say – that is what I started out to achieve. I have a WHY! I just don’t know how to say it!

We just help people articulate what that is and then help them translate what that means for the way they behave. It should be like a stick of rock – wherever you cut it, the business should look the same. Everything you do should come from your WHY.


Women in Tech

Why do you think there is such a gender imbalance within technology specifically?

This is a really interesting topic and I personally, from speaking to the women I know in tech, think there is a disparity between perception and reality. I think there are amazing people making a difference – Jennifer Arcuri, Russ Shaw, the guys at FIN4FEM. But it crops up on generalist agendas as a vanity exercise. We will see real change take place when there is a genuine call to action coming out of each meet up. It is simply not enough to talk it anymore. I see Jennifer doing this really well.  She is so relentless & passionate, I don’t think she even sees any barriers. She works in a way that transcends them. 

What advice can you offer women who are looking to start their own business?

  1. Know that you won’t always get it right. As women we can be so hard on ourselves, but this can be what drives us. Balancing that relentless quality with an understanding that failure is not always bad, I think is a huge quality that the most successful women I know uphold.
  2. Get stuck in. Don't hold back and don't approach any situation as an outsider. Be brave. 
  3. Be the master of your own destiny. Entrepreneurs don't question they just do - so more of the same! 

    What business support networks do you value?

    Without a doubt, Pink Sheet Database is the best for women in tech. Completely unpretentious, open and inspirational. Anyone who wants to make a dent in tech should be there. I also make a point of getting to every New Finance event, less for support but more that I see the most interesting fintech companies coming through there at sometime or another. Eddie George does a great job of finding the ‘ones to watch’ and he is always on the front foot. Finally I think everyone running their own business should have a coach. I work one on an ongoing basis. I have found that having a completely fresh perspective has added colour to the big decisions I have had to make.

    Follow CRUXY & CO!

    Izzy Fox - Spearheading our Tech Future!

    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! 



    Meet Izzy

    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


    The Journey

    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:

    1. Build a billion dollar brand
    2. Build platforms for growth (e.g. your Salesforce/Marketo/Hubspot) to understand your data and metrics easily)
    3. 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.


    Angel Investing

    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.


    VC Investing

    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!