Tech City: Investment firm Seedcamp reveals how it decides which start-ups to back
14:51 12 March 2016
For the outsider looking in, the world of tech can seem like a pretty daunting place.
Every Tom, Dick and Harry claims to have the next tech hit on their hands but very few actually succeed. In truth, 90 per cent of start-ups fail.
So what actually makes a tech company successful?
Having a good idea is a start; executing that idea requires perseverance, but actually having a solid working team is, according to Seedcamp partner Carlos Eduardo Espinal, key.
Seedcamp provides first round funding to ambitious start-ups and, in doing so, must judge which tech companies are worth backing.
“The first and most important thing we look at is the team,” said Carlos, 39.
“It shows what you set out to deliver and shows you’re more credible, but it can also be hard to judge.
“Sure, [your team] may be people you can hang out with, but are they the right fit for a fast growing company that will have a lot of pressure? A completely different set of skills is needed.
“Ownership equals action and part of the job is acquiring the right people.
“Once the team is right it’s about finding the product market that fits and having a project that works.”
Seedcamp was founded in 2007 and it, along with Passion Capital, was among the first investment companies based in Shoreditch and Old Street as the Silicon Roundabout community started to develop.
“[Tech City] was bound to take off,” said Carlos. “Several companies were moving in at the time and Shoreditch and Old Street began to be seen as a key area for start-ups.
“Then Google campus opened up and helped glue it all together. Co-working spaces were also made more affordable in terms of capital.
“When it first started there were not enough early stage start-ups and we wanted to bring together all the different investors to help them fundraise.”
Both Carlos and his partner Reshma Sohoni had worked outside the tech industry before establishing Seedcamp, which Carlos believes adds to their expertise.
“We were already experienced,” he said.
“We both went to school in the States – I was an engineer and Reshma was an investment banker before we moved into the area.
“When you’re deciding which company to invest in, there’s always an element of risk.
“We invest so early that it’s unreliable, but if you don’t have enough failure then you don’t have enough risks. If I want a company that changes the world I’m going to have to take risks.”
But what makes Seedcamp different from other early stage investors? According to Carlos, it’s the mentorship they offer the people who start tech companies.
“Just because you have money doesn’t necessarily make you an investment company,” he told the Gazette.
“What makes us different is the broad advice we bring to the table, not just from colleagues but from a broad network of mentors.”
Mentorship is something Carlos takes seriously. He has now published a book, the Fundraising Field Guide, on the tech lessons he’s learnt along the way.
“It’s an aggregation of anecdotes and lessons learnt from my journey,” he said.
“If you look at lot of the things people go through – for example, how to pitch – it’s not something people do every day, and the book helps paint a picture.
“Early stage founders are new to a lot of the process so what I try to do is tackle the flow and show them how to actually get there.”
For Carlos the role of a venture capitalist is not just money: it’s also to offer advice and help make introductions.
So Seedcamp holds regular events to allow start-ups to meet and network with people in the field.
“We take on about 30 investments per year,” said Carlos. “Half come from events and pitching.”
Seedcamp has welcomed many now-successful start-ups through its doors, from TransferWise to Replay – which was just recently acquired by GoPro.
“What we’re passionate about is funding an open market place,” Carlos explained.
“We want to expand out and get more funding to offer advice in different ways.”