Last year, I got to know a young venture capitalist in London who is an investment manager at Oxford Capital. It has been said that venture capital is typically a playing field for seasoned professionals, and there hasn't been much in the way of diversity in age and gender at many top VC firms, but it could be that Will Orde may be one of a few, select VCs who is shaping a new perception of how venture capitalists interact with founders.
The first thing one might notice about Will is that he is very humble and down-to-earth, and enthusiastic to meet with founders from all sorts of different backgrounds. Typically, one can easily discern between investors who secretly despise founders and take every opportunity to cut them down vs. those investors who are actually interested in the kinds of products and services the founder is trying to build. Will is the latter sort, and although he has a very discerning intelligence, and is a graduate of Eton College and Cambridge University, where he studied Experimental and Theoretical Physics, he has a very keen ear for listening to founders and what they have to say.
Will Orde, Investment Manager at Oxford Capital wants to see founders with audacious plans to build a company of serious scale and solving hard problems.
Although, Will studied theoretical physics, he soon realised that he didn't want to become a research scientist, and entered a boutique corporate finance firm, which he recalled was a "cutthroat experience." He felt stuck in the middle, then quickly joined Oxford Capital as an intern, where he is now an Investment Manager.
There are many investment professionals and VCs who like to talk over founders and begin lecturing straight away and pointing out all the things wrong with a potential new startup. Therefore, one of the necessary skillsets of founders has typically been developing a thick skin, due to being continually under the criticism of traditional modes of thought and defending their strategy against the established elite. People might throw buzzwords around, such as disruption, probably one of the most overused words in venture capital, but many investors actually prefer the safety of established models of companies who are copies or clones of other companies and don't particularly like it when founders are attempting to cross into uncharted territories.
One iconic founder, Jack Ma, Chairman of Alibaba, has said that when he came up with the escrow service idea for Alipay, many investors shot him down and told him it was "the stupidest idea" they'd ever heard. Now in 2017, more than 400 million people use Alipay and it moves around $519 billion in total pay volume annually.
Will is the sort of venture capitalist that founders typically like because founders can build upon existing ideas and strategies with him. Will doesn't sit there and begin a critique to wear down on the ego of the founder; instead he asks many questions, then refines and asks more questions. It is this type of "question and discussion" or rather Socratic method of problem-solving that most founders prefer than having to deal with investors who can have a discouraging, superior attitude and inability to listen. I've had many discussions with founders who dislike dealing with venture capital firms or investors in general because that itself becomes a source of external stress, and depleted energy that is taken away from building and running their companies.
It doesn't need to be said that most investors care about their ROI and will ask the tough questions, but there is a fine line between practical output and being grounded in strategy than being the brunt of an investor's continual frustrations and object of an investor's ego-tripping ways of usurping the founders' company away from them. Finding the right venture capital team and investors is like getting married; often there can be separations and ugly divorces and many founders wished they hadn't raised capital at all.
Will Orde believes that more late stage funding for U.K. startups will help them to scale before being acquired early on by incumbents such as Google, Apple and Twitter.
I had a chat with Will just before he went on a trip for spring break, and asked him for some insights in the oncoming post-Brexit era:
"Thus far, I don't think there will be any immediate change," he tells me. "Brexit will take another two years before it is fully implemented and venture capital funding isn't slowing down at all. However, I do think that in London, there could be more late stage funding. There is plenty of angel money, but in terms of late stage funding, there could be more done there...Many of the reasons why London-based tech startups get acquired quickly by U.S. corporations before expansion is because there is a lack of late stage funding for U.K. startups to scale."
What about startups or companies that exit into IPO? I asked him.
"One problem about the public markets in the U.K. is that they don't function for tech companies. When tech companies want to IPO, they don't aim for the London Stock Exchange (LSE) but for NYSE or NASDAQ." -Will Orde, Investment Manager, Oxford Capital
What is a typical day in the life of Will?
"Most of the time I look into new investment opportunities and have two or three meetings a day. I really enjoy meeting with founders. When I'm at my desk, I mainly work on due diligence and researching models...then of course, there are the tech events and talks that I go to twice a week, mainly in the evenings. I like chatting with founders and having a beer with them."
What do you do outside of work?
"I mainly like going to the countryside, talking walks and getting outside. Of course, you know I love skiing and watching rugby. In the last couple of years, I've quite enjoyed skiing in France and Austria."
What do you think about AI automation?
"In terms of automation, I think many SAAS companies will have to adopt automation to keep pace with competitors. AI will go from being a standalone vertical sector to a ubiquitous horizontal tool that everyone uses, a bit like cloud computing did. There is a movement towards big data in biotech, genetics, genomics that revolve around data analysis and storage...in terms of sectors that will be resistant to automation, I think will be EdTech. EdTech is a very small sector, and people-driven. When people learn, they want a human touch and material that is accessible with human interaction. People tend to want to learn within social groups and distance learning without social interaction hasn't proved to be very successful."
Which sectors do you think are the hot sectors in London?
"I think one hot sector is Consumer FinTech, especially in the way of new finance applications, and core banking - such as current accounts, credit cards, mortgages; it is supposed to be looked over by E.U. legislation and we will see what happens after Brexit, but I think direct consumer brands and marketplaces will benefit from consumer FinTech and people will find it easier to move their money around different currencies."
We discussed a little more about fashion and eCommerce, as that is one of the sectors that Will specialises in, and is currently on the board of Spoke, an online brand that specialises in menswear products. "They have a great engagement with their customers and seem to have created brand loyalty in an era where our generation doesn't really have loyalty to brands."
I asked Will why doesn't the U.K. have its own Google?
He pauses momentarily before telling me that, "I think because the incumbents tend to acquire companies early on in the U.K., before they have the chance to prove themselves as stand-alone entities and grow to global scale...however, I don't think it's impossible, and that is something I think I would like to see; and if founders came to me with a big audacious plan to build a company of serious scale and solving hard problems I'd be open to seeing how it would work."