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Interview with Tom Horsey, Co-Founder, Connected Mobility HUB, StartupLabs Spain

Tom Horsey
"At the end of a day we are startup in effect, so the main focus is the team, and part returns are proof of our ability. The specific “unique” angles and specialisms that we follow at any one time need to adjust to environmental conditions (regulatory, economic, competitive, cyclical..) and the fund’s ability to pivot depends entirely on our ability as a team".

Bio (First-Person)

(Find Tom on LinkedIn)

I have been involved in online and offline advertising since 1996, mobile marketing as of 2001, the start-up scene (independent of myself as a founder) as of 2013 and smart mobility as of 2015.

I currently spend most of my time as a Super Angel with investments such as:
* Avocado Labs, a machine learning and algorithmic software solutions provider
* Agilia, a software factory
* Fheel, a word-of-mouth advertising platform for video influencers
* Mission Box, a last minute/last mile distribution company
* My Playz, a platform for micro cultural event organisation
* Levelbots, a chatbot service provider based on IM software and AI analysis of natural language.
* Algayield, a micro algae farm and research centre
* Open Webinars, a MOOC platform for IT professionals
* Workkola, an innovative recruitment platform
* The Global Password, a technologically empowered translation and interpretation service provider.
* Wuolah, a online platform for sharing and monetising university notes
* Ciclogreen, a sustainable mobility incentivisation platform
* Xesol Innovation, an ADAS technology, and connected mobility solutions, provider
* MEB, a museum
* Open Salud, a digital health service provider
* El Oso Polar, a dry cleaning chain
* The Mobile Life, a Swedish mobile app developer (Exited April 2017)
* QAShops, an online marketplace integration solution (Exited February 2018)
* Checkealos, a low cost usability (UX) solutions provider. (Exited September 2018)

Interview

Portfolio ventures that are going great need almost no support, and the ones that are in the bottom aren’t worth helping. Apart from the two extremes, how do you know how much effort, time, persistent to put in the ones that are somewhere in the middle?

I wouldn’t agree that the extremes are exactly as you state. Ventures going really well can go even better with support, so are probably the best use of our resources. Those going badly sometimes can be salvaged without too much problem. Some of our most profitable investments have been follow-ones in projects going badly that we’ve helped to restructure.

It’s often a question of what price you “buy” at as much as how much you can “sell” for… Knowing which to concentrate on in the middle depends a huge amount on the team. In early stage investing the team is the key to success, so if it is clear that the team has great potential and the project itself isn’t going so well then you can get a better return on your time and resources by helping that team that maybe even working with your stars.

How do you balance your time between (1) sourcing quality prospect ventures (2) doing due diligence for prospective investments and (3) helping current entrepreneurs? Which of these are you comfortable outsourcing to principals/analysts and which do you absolutely have to do yourself?

I spend about 10-15%% sourcing deals, 5-10% in analysis/due diligence and 75-85% in supporting entrepreneurs. The most important thing for me is the support, the rest I can outsource within the team without too much of a problem.

Many GPs are good investors but don’t master one of the core skills – adding value as a board member. What do you think are some tricks to a productive relationship with founders? What should the culture be for the board and CEO for a quality relationship?

Two of our key queries when analysing a problem is how open to advice the CEO/founding team is, and how well we can see ourselves working with them. If the founding team isn’t open minded about taking (and acting on!!) advice, then it isn’t going to work too well, and if we can’t see ourselves working well with them then it also isn’t going to work well, if both of those are the case then our only option would be to act as a silent investor, which doesn’t really work in early stage…

How do you solve important conflicts with CEOs, such as lack of alignment on exits, strategy, or just the CEO being in denial about things like performance? Does the resolution begin with a private conversation or with involving other board members in a decision?

That depends entirely on the person, there isn’t a hard and fast rule with anything in life related to intra-personal relationships. As a standard rule, though, we would treat this as you would feedback with anyone, if the problem hasn’t been resolved in the meeting itself for whatever reason you discuss it privately in a series of one to ones with the rest of the board members to try and find a solution.

When raising money from LPs, what is the thing you emphasize the most when “selling” the fund? Past returns? Team expertise (domain and/or entrepreneurial expertise)? Unique angle?

I’m not sure that there is a completely unique angle to any fund to be honest with you, yes, we all have our specialisms, but it’s not easy to have anything completely unique in as global and fluid a business as startup financing. Our main focus is on past returns and expertise.

At the end of a day we are startup in effect, so the main focus is the team, and part returns are proof of our ability. The specific “unique” angles and specialisms that we follow at any one time need to adjust to environmental conditions (regulatory, economic, competitive, cyclical..) and the fund’s ability to pivot depends entirely on our ability as a team.

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