What needs to change in the London start up scene?
More specifically, how do we better fund and support new talent?
Backstage Capital, a VC firm based in the US, is a venture capital fund that invests in exceptional women, people of colour, and LGBT tech founders.
Here were some of the answers. I thought at the time, it would be so great to be a fly on the wall in this meeting. So, I’m going to be your fly.*
We don’t all need to wear the founder badge
Founding a company isn’t the only way to be apologetically yourself. Not everyone needs to be a founder. In fact, not everyone should be a founder. It’s a bloody hard job. Seriously. It’s 98% shit, 2% ecstasy. A founder is a jack of all trades, a master of none. An emotional wreck, but a stable leader too. Let’s take away the glamour that it’s all flexible working, fun, and holidays in the sun.
No, but seriously, I love what I do (most of the time!) as do the others, but lots of people’s skills are better suited to working within companies, small or big. We need to celebrate that. We need to tell stories of those behind the face of a company, so that we can aspire to be something other than a CEO/founder. We just need more options. We need a tonne more options to be presented to us, to feel like whatever it is we do, is success too!
Some of the reasons people cite becoming a founder include the ability to bring their whole selves to work, to have a culture that suits them, and hours that work for them. To us, it seems clear that we need to be educating companies of all shapes and sizes on how to find and retain talent so people can feel comfortable and welcome in work places. We also need new start ups to bring more inclusive cultures and ideals alongside their innovative business ideas.
VC money ain’t the only way, baby.
Listen. VCs are needed. There is an important place for them. But people are pitching too early and basing their entire existence and success on the raise of a VC round.
Why? Because it’s all we ever hear. The headlines in the start up world scream, “BAZILLION DOLLARS RAISED, X IS NOW A HUGE SUCCESS.”
This is nonsense. You can get a long way on nothing, i.e. bootstrapping. Companies raise to get themselves to the next stage, but you need to get yourself off the ground.
Also, there are other ways to raise money! People need to be looking at angels (individuals with money to invest- usually between £5–£25k), family/friends rounds, and trying to make sales!
More importantly though, it’s about educating yourself on investment so that you can make the informed decisions for you and your company. Places like the British Library (and, erm, Google) have tonnes of information on Angels, VCs, crowdfunding, equity, ROIs, vesting, terms, etc. Get yourself armed with knowledge.
Hey VCs 👋 your networks don’t contain the success of the nation. The high number of investment failures shows that.
We need those with money to give away to meet more undervalued founders- not just the Oxbridge graduates or the ex Googlers and ex McKinseys of this world. They’re smart. Sure. But what about people building businesses that have never been admitted to these circles? They’ve found their client base, they’ve proven their model, they’re making it work- but investors have no visibility of them (and don’t care to make the effort to find them as they have so much deal flow already). Potential VCs and Angels, you’ve got a tonne of untapped talent to take a risk on.
We need scouts who are already connected to these communities. People like Nafisa and Selina of Amaliah, Alex Fafegha of Comuzi, Andy Ayim (king networker!) and I. We are tapped in to our own little networks that we have each created. But we each have bigger networks (overlapping networks) that we have formed over the years that we are a part of that include high net, influential, and well connected individuals, and brands.
We are all hyper aware of how much our networks have got us each to where we are today. And, we are also hyper aware of how many of those networks and intros come from white men, usually middle aged and middle class. Now, we need them to use us to get to founders that don’t match the (not so secret) success algorithm i.e. we need people who aren’t Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk clones.
If you want an intro, or if I can help in any other way, give me a shout at email@example.com and I will try my best!
Minority (READ: Not white, young, male, probably middle class ) founders are not charity cases
Bruh. Serious. Like. Come. On.
Investors need to stop viewing us as that. We don’t want your money so you can say you have a “diverse” portfolio, or have money from your “for good” arm for “interesting projects”.
Investments should be based on a belief in our success, and an alignment of goals between investor and investee. You should be investing in minority founders because, oh VC, as Arlan says, they’re undervalued. If you put the effort to look in where everyone is looking over, you’re going to find companies that you had never considered, and some, that could bring you great returns.
ALSO, Minority (READ: Not white, young, male, probably middle class ) founders are not here to do you a solid
Minority founders are not here to fly your flag for free.
So, if you are a big brand, have diversity events, or groups, don’t tell us it’s a new initiative and you have no money to get it off the ground, and you’re trying things out. Just because you’re a big name, it doesn’t mean we should feel privileged to be working with you…for free. If you’re serious about diversity, put your money where your mouth is.
Let’s educate and find talent, younger.
Let’s show young people that University isn’t the only option. That a career in the City after University is not the only version of success.
Let’s show people, by highlighting role models and success stories, that creativity is fudging important.
Let’s get speakers into secondary schools before GCSE choices, into colleges before UCAS applications, and get them thinking about the options out there. It seems like we hear about ten jobs as we grow up- I mean, had you ever heard of a UX designer or a social media manager when you were 15? Because I hadn’t. I didn’t even know what tech was, ffs.
Let get techy wit’ it
OK, maybe I need to say more. Tech is creative. Tech is everywhere. You don’t need to become a developer but having the knowledge of how things work gives you a seat at the table. Learn how to code because knowing how to create, and build, gives you a different perspective of what is possible. It also means you will be part of a small minority that know how to really use the devices we rely so heavily on. Here’s a great interactive article on what code is.
And when I say get techy, I don’t just mean code. Learn about tools and applications that will change the way we operate in workplaces, and how we live our lives, and how we access opportunities. Understand the possibilities that technology can bring to us… and, of course, to the fight for equality.
San Fran isn’t the gold pot at the end of the rainbow.
Build here. Fund here. Inspire here. Dream here. Grow here. The UK is fudging huge and there’s so much opportunity. And then we’ve got Europe on our doorstep (we are EUROPE!).
The US doesn’t spell success. I mean, do I need to mention The (ugh) Trump? He’s a perfect case study of having a tonne of money to put into a business and still making a failure of it.
Thanks Arlan for making us talk about this stuff. And we promise this isn’t just lip service.
*After writing this, I remembered that Backstage Capital basically do this job for you by filming lots of their conversations which you can find HERE. It’s legendary. They also have a great podcast- pretty much a year’s worth of gold listening if you are new to it.