What made you launch Voulez Capital?
We live in a world designed and built by men for men. In venture capital (VC) in the UK, less than one per cent of cash from VCs goes to female-run businesses. As a result, we end up with products and services that are not taking the female perspective and needs into account. Drugs are not tested on women. Cars are less safe for women. Transport systems are built without taking into account how women – who still carry the higher burden of childcare and elderly care and other errands – move around. Even some of the latest technologies, like voice recognition software, are 70 per cent less accurate for female voices. By backing women-run businesses we are helping companies of the future to gradually change the world we live in. Not only do women see opportunities to create value that others miss, but they also build companies that are more inclusive and more flexible for all.
I am an entrepreneur and I find it hard to resist an opportunity.
While I was between my own ventures, I was pregnant and looking for a breast pump, but I couldn’t find anything that wasn’t designed in the 1950s, except one – a US company which created a version as elegant as an iPhone. I came across the story of the founder and the horrendous issues she faced from VCs while trying to raise capital. They found her product disgusting and failed to see the opportunity right in front of them. Having done some research, I found out that in the US there were a number of funds focused on women and doing very well. In Europe, however, there was nothing. That’s how Voulez Capital was born.
What is your business model?
We find promising, early-stage companies, and provide them with equity capital to help them grow. We also work very closely with them
at an operational and strategic level, as well as opening up certain doors and opportunities for them.
What barriers have you had to overcome to get where you are today?
My biggest barrier was when my family first came to this country, almost 30 years ago. My parents had no idea how things worked here. I was lucky enough to earn a bursary to do my A Levels at Haberdashers’ Aske’s School for Girls in Elstree, which gave me opportunities which would not otherwise have been available. This made me a big believer in providing people with equal opportunities – it makes all the difference. Giving female entrepreneurs an opportunity to access financing is a key part of this philosophy.
What is the biggest challenge you face in trying to do your job?
There are two key challenges. The first is coming into this sector without previous experience of working for a large VC fund. However, this has enabled me to do things with a fresh perspective. The launch of our Fair Venture Principles has been a key outcome of this and one of the reasons why founders who would otherwise not trust the venture capital route, nevertheless go down this road, with us at their side.
Second has been the impact of the Me Too movement. On the one hand, it raised a lot of awareness around issues facing women. On the other, it created a lot of hype and defensiveness. According to some numbers, investment in female-run businesses has actually declined since 2016. It also gave rise to things like women-only business clubs and co-working spaces, which, I believe, only set us back.
What do you look for in an investment pitch?
We look for ideas that create true value by solving a real, tangible problem. We then assess whether the venture is sufficiently scaleable to justify VC funding. We then try to assess whether the team has what it takes to execute the idea and if there is a real cultural match between them and us. Investment is like a long-term relationship; it needs to work on a personal level as well a practical one.
What investment decision are you most proud of?
This is like asking me to choose a favourite child. The hardest investment is always the first one, which in my case was made harder by the fact that I was about to go into labour. We were doing due diligence on Evrelab before Voulez Capital was even incorporated. I ended up with an emergency C-section. The founder, an amazing entrepreneur called Jo Osborne, had to come to my house and put up with me covered in baby puke and trying to figure out breastfeeding while negotiating final points on the transaction documents. It was certainly not your average investment process!
But it does show what women are capable of and is one of the reasons why female founders trust us so much. My daughter sat on my lap when I signed our incorporation documents. She sat on top of the boardroom table at our lawyer’s offices when I signed our Fund 2 documents, and she had to play on the floor at a number of board meetings, when my childcare arrangements suddenly fell through. We know what women are capable of and we live and breathe our values.
What lessons have you learnt?
To listen well to those around me, but also to trust my gut. When I had the idea to launch Voulez Capital, many of my friends, who are partners at other VC firms, told me not to do it. My gut told me otherwise. And now, many of them are actively looking at us for co-investment opportunities because we see deal flow they will never get otherwise.
What lessons would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur?
Do your homework: on your idea, on your market, on everything. Be prepared. Know your stuff. Have a clear plan. Know what culture of the firm you wish to create and build it from day one. Be inclusive and hire outside your comfort zone – your team will be stronger as a result.
Be prepared to listen. Learn how to communicate your ideas effectively. Maybe practise on a whole bunch of people before talking to investors. Do due diligence on your investors. If it doesn’t feel right, walk away. There are plenty of other investors. Talk to their portfolio CEOs. Nobody knows better than them what it’s like to work with that particular investor.
Above all, know that great traction beats any stereotype that might work against you. Anne Boden took five years of ‘nos’ from investors before raising her first Starling Bank investment round. And then she raised £35 million as a seed round. Her traction was so great that they simply could not ignore her any more.
What is the biggest challenge for society today?
There is a lack of truly critical thinking. We stopped teaching kids how to think for themselves; how to analyse information, assess its accuracy and make informed decisions; how to respect knowledge and reason. Journalism used to be an honourable profession, focused on the search for the truth. Now, much of the media is focused on click rates and sensationalism. One-liner headlines, not backed by evidence, have the power to sway big elements of society. That’s a scary position to be in. Because if reason and science fail, our society fails with it. Mass media has a tremendous power to change the world. But, like any tool, it is only as good as its application.