Keji Mustapha: Connect Ventures


A new generation of ethical investors are kickstarting ventures with social and environmental benefits and transforming citizens’ lives. Keji Mustapha is head of network and brand at Connect Ventures, a venture capital firm specialising in investments in seed, start-up and early-stage companies

Keji Mustapha: Connect Ventures

What do you do?

I head up the network at Connect Ventures. This means I have the awesome job of thinking about how we add value to the companies in our portfolio following investment.

Why do you do it?

I got the job because the partners at Connect recognised that they needed a resource on the team whose sole focus was to think about how best to plug the founders’ knowledge gaps, how to consolidate all the best practices and know-how within the portfolio and, finally, how best to connect the founders with each other to allow them to build meaningful relationships with one another. The mission of the network is to accelerate the learning of the founders and ultimately help them to make better decisions, and everything I do goes towards achieving this.

How did you get where you are today?

I originally planned on a legal career and after qualifying as a barrister I decided to see what else was out there before committing to the profession. Along the way I met a wonderful woman who became my mentor. She later went on to found a tech start-up and asked me to come and be her first non-technical hire. As the company continued to scale, I realised that I had a real passion for the earlier stage of the business and so I decided to leave and consult with other early stage businesses. While I was doing this, I saw the role at Connect Ventures advertised on AngelList, which seemed like a great way to continue working with early stage start-ups, as Connect is a seed-stage fund.

What barriers have you had to overcome?

I’m of African descent, so culturally the expectation is that you’ll go into a career in law, medicine or finance. Deciding not to pursue my career as a barrister was something my parents struggled with for a while (and still do sometimes). Luckily, however, because my father is an entrepreneur he can see that I get my love of business from him and he has now accepted that there’s no keeping me away from a non-traditional career path.

What’s the biggest challenge you face in trying to do your job?

Thinking about how best to solve problems for tomorrow and helping founders know what they don’t know.

How do you measure success?

On the work front, success to me is the ability to undertake work that has an impact – work that stimulates, challenges and stretches me. I think Maya Angelou summed it up well when she said, ‘Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it’.

How would you describe your attitude to risk?

I have quite a high-risk appetite – switching careers and jumping into the unknown is something I’ve done a few times now. So long as I’m not taking a risk I can never bounce back from, then any mis-steps are opportunities for growth.

What lessons have you learned?

There are no mistakes, merely experiences. And if in doubt, follow the 5Ps: preparation prevents piss poor performance (as we were taught in law school).

What advice would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur?

Be clear on the problem you’re solving not the features of your product. For customers to be excited with your offering, it has to speak to solving their problem, so focus on clearly articulating the pain you’re addressing. In addition to this, I’d advise entrepreneurs to cultivate and nurture a growth mindset. The only constant in a start-up is change; developing resilience as a skill is the best way to be prepared for this.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

I’m excited about the conversations that are happening around (workplace) wellbeing, specifically founder wellbeing. It’s great to see that there’s been a positive shift in the conversation, and resources such as leadership coaching and therapy are now becoming commonplace in the industry. Additionally, it’s fantastic to see a concerted effort being made to actively fund under-represented founders be it female founders or founders from ethnic minorities. There’s still so much more to be done but at least the tide is starting to turn.

What are your key themes for the next five to 10 years?

One is the future of work – specifically around remote working and the increased need for leaders to develop strong relational intelligence. The second, which is a related issue, is wellbeing. In the next 10 years we’ll need to focus on fostering offline connections if we are to address the loneliness epidemic for Millennials, Gen Z and the elderly.

How do you see advances in technology impacting on the decisions you make?

Technology makes it easier to collect information. If decision-making is a multi-staged process, then advances in technology/business intelligence tools mean we can collect, analyse and manipulate the data in the optimal way at the right stage of the decision-making process. The impact of this has, arguably, increased the speed and improved the quality of decisions.

Is capitalism working?

No, I don’t believe so. They say that you can judge the success of a society by the way in which the poorest fare. In most capitalist societies, the wealth disparity is so large that one could argue that it isn’t working, or at least not working as it was intended to.

What is the biggest challenge for society today?

An increasing lack of empathy for others. Everything seems to be focused on the ‘I’ and it’s increasingly accepted that it’s OK to do what’s best for you at the expense of everything and everyone else. The more we do this the more we fail to function cohesively as a society, which ultimately brings about cracks.

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