UK venture capital: Ophelia Brown, founder of Blossom Capital


Hello my name’s Scott Carey and I’m an
editor over at Techworld and today I’m joined by Ophelia Brown the founder of
blossom capital Thank you for having me thank you for coming down
so yeah the idea today is to talk a little bit about your career today in
the venture capital industry we’re going to talk about how the industry’s changed
a little bit we’re going to talk about blossom as well so I guess the best
place to start is just kind of how you got into venture capital and and what
your career trajectory is like over the last few years
absolutely so I actually came into VC thinking I wanted to build a company I’d
been working on idea for a peer-to-peer car-sharing startup unfortunately was
beaten to market so figured that I would join a venture fund to learn more about
the financing process but figured you know meeting was lots of entrepreneurs
my next time I’d have a much better idea of the landscape I grew up in the UK but
obviously thinking about doing venture you kind of looked at the west coast and
in 2011 went to meet with kind of every single VC found over in the US and
quickly realized having not growing up there having not gone to school there
didn’t really have a competitive advantage time to get a job at Sequoia
so they made it easy I’m a meeting for protective and looked at Europe and
really there was one firm I wanted to work for it was index and primarily
because they were the only funding Europe investing both in Europe and the
US and so I wanted to kind of get exposure onto both continents so I
joined them in 2012 and was fortunate enough that the first investment I saw
standing for them was a company called big health and it was probably like you
know far too early for market selling a digital health solution into the NHS so
they quickly relocated to San Francisco and I was helping them kind of make
their first hires open the office over there and then later that summer level
and the seed investment into a company called Robin Hood and so with those two
companies spent a lot of my time out in the valley and also in New York when I
was with index and spent four years there I then went
on to be a general partner of that local globe which is a micro VC based in
London during early stage and for seed investing in the UK and really it was
kind of that experience watching companies come up to Ceres a I kind of
saw a gap in the European market for another fund and so I did end of 2017
take the bold leap and to set up my own firm with three other partners so now
today we have blossom which is an 85 million dollar fund and our scope is to
lead series a’s across europe and what was that gap you kind of saw in in the
UK and across europe that you kind of thought you could fill with blossom
absolutely I think I’m you know we’ve now myself and my partners were now been
in European venture of almost a decade and I think a bit like myself that you
know I wanted to start my career in venture moving over to the US that’s
what every founder kind of thought over the last 5-10 years and I think the
dramatic shift has been a lot of teams actually now want to stay in built in
Europe you know the talent is great here there’s lots of ambition coming from the
founders it’s extremely competitive in the valley there’s not a lot of need to
move over there especially if you don’t have network and links over there it
becomes very difficult to kind of build those companies at the early stages so
increasingly founders are wanting to build here but they want investors who
max them in their ambition who have understanding of how to help them
internationalize and help their product scale from Europe and I think that’s the
gap in market that you know they kind of want those investors that they would get
on the west coast but with local understanding and expertise and what’s
all companies do you kind of tend to look for I know it’s early days but it
was probably certain areas that you’re particularly keen on what do you kind of
look for in a good founder and a good team yeah absolutely so we look for very
mission driven founders looking to solve you know very large problems in huge
markets very productive and founders so really kind of the conception of the
product comes from them and then we think a lot about how fast that company
can scale into a global leader we’re not looking for copycats we’re not looking
for kind of regional outcomes but it really transformed
companies yeah and so you’ve been in the industry
it’s all coming on a decade now you’ve worked across a few funds you’ve now set
up your own fund how has the industry kind of change in that time and
particularly you know where we’re here to talk about the the changing diversity
and inclusion across the industry and also in the companies that being invest
in as well yeah so look I think you know we’re still far behind where we would
like to be I think it’s a natural comes from a problem of not enough women into
STEM subjects at university you know not enough women into technology companies
at the early stage when looking at training now to have higher people in at
the exact level I think that there are a lot of initiatives now focused on that
so hopefully we’re kind of making you know not kind of small staff
improvements but leaps and bounds and equipments and how important do you
think is that we now kind of have the data we have the visibility into how big
the issue is you know before it was kind of an anecdotal issue that was kind of
whispered about and with like well this doesn’t look great but now we kind of
know from the report that came out last year from BBB and and diversity they see
that this is a massive issue and it is you know single-digit percentage of
female founded companies getting investment yeah I think the data is
super helpful right otherwise we’re kind of shooting in the dark and this was
part of the reason why I set up this network ambitious ladies and tech
because I felt that a lot of people were talking about the issue and not doing
anything meaningful to contribute to it and so ambitious ladies and tech is a
mentor Network for junior women within technology companies less than three
years experience and experience and matching them with a male and female
mentor within the same function so if you’re in marketing you get matched with
the CMO if you’re in engineering you get a CTO and you get two Mentors
the purpose being you know you still want that female support but the reality
is in today’s world you’re probably reporting to a male manager and then we
do you know a lot of networking and master classes and kind of lectures
around it to help grow the growth of group but something like that I think is
kind of meaningful and tangible and other efforts like you know office hours
with female fund and other such initiatives we’ll
hopefully we’ll see improvements in the data there yeah and the other thing in
the data that kind of really stood out to me was the the access to networks
that traditionally has been more difficult female founders than male
founders and getting those warm introductions that we know are more
effective in terms of getting investment than the cold introductions do you feel
that there’s more being done to try and get women access to those more important
networks and also I know that you have a different approach to kind of cold
introductions at Blossom and you’re trying to make that a more sort of
tangible more effective way of getting through to your funding particular yeah
I think you know I don’t quite understand why before it used to be that
you could only approach a fund if it was based on an introduction or network
there are so many people starting companies today and it doesn’t make
sense that you need to kind of use your network to get access to someone and so
that was the reason why we wanted people to encourage people to pick us online we
also my partner Iman is a data scientist and quant engineer and he builds a lot
of models to help us find companies aren’t necessarily in the regional in
the in the big hubs and pacifically because we feel that founders anywhere
it can be building a really interesting business it’s not really up to them to
come and find us but we want to go and find them and I think that’s consistent
with our called poach I mean our approach to asking people to picked us
online yeah nice so continuing on they with the ambitious ladies in tech
because I think that’s really interesting program and there are other
programs that you’re seeing kind of in London in particular but across Europe
they’re doing work like that and do you think that we’re kind of trending in the
right direction absolutely trending and there’s her that came out of Stockholm
which is a really interesting Women’s Network obviously there’s the wing in
New York which started as a pro working space just for women
diversity BC is trying to address some of the issues of gender imbalance within
venture capital funds so yeah there are lots of initiatives going on great and
you know we’re kind of coming into the second quarter of the year Lausanne is
still kind of a new venture what are you excited about for the year what are kind
of the big goals to kind of go into the rest of 2019 yeah absolutely so our
target is we’ll probably work with about companies or choose to partner with
about five companies a year so we’re very selective about the types of people
and companies that we work with you know being a new fund we’ve now got a
portfolio for companies so we’ve got ample of capital trying to go out there
and find really interesting entrepreneurs nice and you’re kind of
targeting large series 8 rounds right yeah so we firmly believe an
appropriately capitalizing companies when we come in from A to B typically at
a Series A a company will have a product and market or just about maybe some
early adopters we’re really figuring out that one way to kind of drive that
exponential growth think about new markets and typically that ends up being
around of kind of five to ten million dollars which we want to lead and of
course kind of be collaborative with others if others want to come and
participate alongside us great and also in the industry how do you feel about
kind of funds or companies that are taking more of an affirmative kind of
approach where they you know you have to invest in more female-led companies or
you have to kind of anonymize all of your pitch decks you know taking more of
a we are going to do something about this approach rather than kind of the
traditional VC approach which is just we want to find the best companies but also
for you you know we want them to be mission driven and there’s kind of that
absolutely look I don’t think you know things like anonymizing pitch that that
doesn’t preclude you from investing in the best companies you know that some of
that stuff definitely makes sense and I can see why I think you know we’re very
conscious it’s not just for us it’s not just about addenda it’s about you know
ethnicity race background etc and these are all the things when we think about
what we’re making an investment and also it doesn’t just reside with the founders
I think that’s also kind of missing the point
it’s about the whole technology team so even if you invest in you know mail fan
mail only founding team how are they going to be recruiting how are they
going to ensure gender diversity in the workplace yeah
and we’re gonna kind of wrap it up now but I wondered what like it’s been your
favorite company that you’ve seen over the last couple of the years I know
you’ve invested in quite a few companies recently I always say you never have a
favorites you love really oh yeah can you love all your portfolio companies
the same sir okay great nice bases up thank you very much for
joining us today

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