In conversation with Reshma Sohoni, founding partner at Seedcamp
Reshma Sohoni is the founding partner at Seedcamp, the early backers of TransferWise, Revolut and UiPath.
- How has your background shaped you into becoming a successful investor?
Three things. First, as an investor in technology companies my educational background in both engineering and business has been crucial. Learning in a structured way and practicing the Socratic Method has all been foundational for how I think.
Second, you need to have good judgment. I’ve been fortunate enough that over my career I’ve been in leadership and decision making roles. So it’s really built up a muscle where I can make fast decisions on limited information and I can do this with conviction.
Third, I was brought up by extremely positive and optimistic parents. My family are constantly thinking of ways to better themselves and help those around them which has really shaped how I think about my role in the world.
- The biggest hurdles you faced starting your own fund?
Starting out in 2007 during the financial crisis meant there was limited capital in the system and very few start-ups. Our strategy was also different to the conventional wisdom of venture capital as we decided to focus on a larger volume of investments with smaller ownership stakes, covering a broad geographical base. That being said, having conviction that Europe could produce massive global winners, and the great sources of support (monetarily and experience) made it a lot easier to get off the ground.
- What do you consider to be Seedcamp’s secret sauce?
I would narrow it down to three things. First, we’ve been incredibly good at hiring great people. Second, we hone in on the 20 percent and try not to expend what is very limited time on the other 80% that doesn’t move the needle for us or our companies. Lastly, we pride ourselves on being extremely authentic and are generally pretty nice people to work with (so say people in the industry).
- Which sectors interest you most?
For me it comes down to the things I know and the things I’m passionate about. My background in systems engineering, which was focused on the environment, has led to my interest in businesses with ideas for climate change, sustainability and environmental science. Definitely fintech as you can tell from our portfolio. Less exciting on surface to most consumers out there, but a sector I find intriguing is the enterprise space, whereby technology can help big businesses to solve their mission critical problems.
- In your opinion, do you feel the funding market is too saturated?
Yes, but it should be saturated because there is such a high death rate. Capital will be lost in businesses that don’t succeed – I believe it’s the natural way to be. And compared to the US, it’s still around 10% of what it should be.
- Talk through the impression/ feeling you had after meeting one of your portfolio companies that reached unicorn status?
I heard Daniel Dines from UiPath pitch at Credo Ventures’ advisory board meeting. Just listening to him, I was like, yes, this is absolutely the future. There was such a strong feeling for the team, the opportunity and the timing. All three things came together and it was so exciting to say ‘we’re in’. There are few moments when you can really say ‘this has to be the way the world is going to work’.
- Traits common to all successful founders?
The biggest goes without saying, they are just immensely bright people. The other quality most successful founders have is that they are stubborn, but not obstinate – a fine balance that has to be managed carefully.
- When you meet a new company how do you assess the team/ founder before you?
It comes down to a few questions: why is it the perfect time to invest? Why is this team so exceptional and why will they be the ones to build it? Is there a beautiful product experience/ huge technological advantage (either or both) to make it a massive business?
- Provide some insight/suggestions for building a team of successful investors?
Looking to some of our best companies, the founders tend to be quite introspective and think diligently about their weaknesses/ strengths. They know where they need help and how they can bring complementary skills around the table.
This could mean a mix of angels that really understand the industry or have had success building a similar business before. In terms of VCs, not only should they have relevant industry expertise but also experience investing at a particular stage. In the long term, it’s important to think about who is going to be there two/three rounds down the line and ask yourself if they are the right people to get you there.
- What are the important questions you feel founders should be asking investors?
This is where we often see if the founding team is really special – when they turn the tables on us. Founders should absolutely know how each investor can specifically help them – if you treat all VCs as one you’re really losing out. Speak to the founders that they have backed. And lastly, ask them what kind of company they you want you to be. It’s important to get alignment around the 5-10 year vision.