Tracy and I met for breakfast at Granger & Co. She began her career at Rothschild before moving to MMC to invest in high growth, early stage companies and to be closer to the founders. After four years she took the entrepreneurial leap herself and founded LLUSTRE – a content driven e-commerce company addressing the home design market. 10 weeks post the transactional launch of LLUSTRE, Tracy sold the company to Fab.com, the then fastest growing e-commerce business globally and market leader in design. Following her transition from MD at Fab.com Tracy became one of the four founding partners of Kindred – a new early stage venture capital fund based in London that practices equitable venture. In the interview Tracy shares her many lessons learnt, including her recruitment and retentions tips, fundraising advice and shows you how to be ambitious with a huge amount of passion and most importantly, integrity.
Current Job Partner at Kindred
First Job Unofficially – hairdresser in Essex; officially – tech analyst at Accenture
Favourite book Give and Take by Adam Grant
Necessary extravagance Fortnightly manicure
Favourite productivity tool Pen (Caran d’Ache) and paper
Recent inspiration I recently took a two week holiday for the first time in five years. And it reminded me the importance of having space to think more creatively.
Top networking tip Business and life is about people. Spend more time with people that give you energy!
How and why did you enter the investment paradigm the first time round at MMC?
My Uncle had a business when I was at school and he told me that it was the worst and most difficult moment when he was selling it. Whilst building the business, he had been used to being the leader and the expert, and then at the moment when value was going to be realised, he was leading an unfamiliar negotiation where he felt like an amateur. That’s kind of nuts! Thinking about it now as an entrepreneur, you get to f*** up every day, but that’s ok because you get to try again tomorrow. But when it comes to raising funds you probably only have a couple of shots at raising money and exiting your business.
So my Uncle said to me if you are ever going to build a business you better learn how to sell one first.
So I went to Rothschild. I then decided that I wanted to be closer to the people that were building and running the companies. I had an offer to go and work for a big private equity firm, but after spending a couple of days there I determined it wasn’t for me. One guy had five cans of coke during an hours meeting with me! It was a very different environment to how I wanted to spend my days.
A lot of people choose the next bit of their career in the abstract, what they would be proud to say, or what might lead them to what they think success looks like, and then forget that on a random Tuesday you have to get up and spend your day doing that, so you better love it. I began to speak to mid cap private equity firms which is more about people and through that I met a firm called MMC. They were five people in a house in Kensington and they were growing really quickly. I joined the team in 2008 and spent four years there. I had no idea if I would go back to venture as when I left I was totally single-minded about the concept of LLUSTRE, but I really loved my time there.
Can you share with us the whirlwind that was LLUSTRE and subsequently lessons learnt from your time spent at FAB.com?
I learnt everything; it was like 10 years compressed into two. We started working on the concept in June 2011, we sold to FAB in June 2012 and I had left FAB 18 months later.
- I learnt that you can get a lot done in a day. You can wake up with a mammoth number of tasks that can seem like an impossibility but even with a small number of people you can close the day completely differently from how you began it.
- I learnt that when choosing your investors, if you choose the right ones they effectively become part of your team and they truly help you when you need to make both small and big strategic decisions.
- I learnt to hire for passion and raw talent rather than experience.
- I learnt how to hire. I had only ever led the recruitment process for a couple of people previously and for incredibly defined roles but at LLUSTRE I learnt how to build out an entire organisational structure in a fast growing, constantly changing organisation. We hired 60 people in 6 weeks! We had to become really smart at it really quickly.
- I learnt first hand the importance of diverse groups when you are trying to do something difficult. In our team of 50 in London as LLUSTRE we had 12 different nationalities and by the time we were 200 people in Berlin as FAB we had 22 different nationalities.
- I learnt that meritocracy can exist which is something I had always hoped to be true. That in a fast growing team you can always give people new opportunities and the most satisfying thing is when a junior member of the organisation is the obvious leader for a significant piece of the business.
- I learnt that’s what I love doing – finding inspiring people and then helping them.
- Finally I learnt the importance of having clarity of vision and of transparency, not for its own sake, but to empower people within the organisation and the challenges that come when you don’t hold true to that.
How did you inspire people to join you during your recruitment process?
As a founder you are always selling, to your investors, suppliers, customers and to team members. The best talent is always in high demand, so your recruitment is always a selling pitch to them. You must always be structured and disciplined so that even when you are at scale you are still giving enough thought to those individuals considering your organisation. They could be customers or suppliers and it is a long game – you have no idea how that person might come back into your organisation, so treat them respectfully.
What has been your motivation throughout your career?
My overriding goal has been meritocracy. I cannot imagine another industry that I could work in that is better than technology, and within that venture capital, where you really can create something from nothing in a short space of time and you can earn the right to opportunities that you couldn’t imagine in other industries.
What would you like to be remembered for?
I would love to be remembered for Kindred and I would love for that to be known for being the first place people go to when they are building their business.
Tell us about Kindred, your differentiated investment philosophy and founding team
We are an early stage technology investor. We invest in 10-12 companies a year, between £200k-£1m and we have a separate fund that is for follow on funding to the portfolio businesses. We are focused on the UK but that is not to say that we wouldn’t back companies in other geographies.
We back exceptional people early and then help to build an army around them so they can build globally significant businesses. That army consists of the of the four founders of Kindred; we are all founders and operators ourselves and we hope that experience is directly useful or at least we can empathise with the crazy that is building something. We have collectively made 100 investments prior to Kindred and through that developed a fantastic network and best practices that we can share with the entrepreneurs that we back. We have a Head of Community whose job it is to facilitate the sharing of the tools and a Head of Talent to help our companies become magnets for great talent. We also have three advisors, which may grow to five or six this year, who are the operators of today. We believe in the importance of currency of knowledge. As soon as you step outside of building a business, the ways you approached things can become redundant quite quickly, so these operators who spend a day a month with portfolio companies is really game changing.
Then the most important thing that we do is share the profits of our fund back with the founders that we back – we call it equitable venture. Those founders naturally share so much information with their peer group, it is incredibly important to us to give back to those individuals.
What was the catalyst to set up the fund and what drew you back to investing?
I met Leila at MMC in 2010 when she spent a summer there during her MBA at Harvard. She then left and moved to San Francisco to become GM of a Kleiner and General Catalyst backed consumer internet company and then co-founded a business in the health tech space. We stayed friends over that time and I really used her counsel during my period of growing my business and vice versa. We found ourselves back in the UK at a similar time and we started spending time with entrepreneurs that we thought were doing really cool stuff and advising them or investing in them, often both, and we increasingly were doing that with two other individuals – Russell Buckley and Mark Evans. We discovered that the four of us were attracted to the same type of entrepreneur but went through an investment decision in a really different way. Having a diverse group of people enables us to make better quality decisions.
We all wanted to build something that was bigger than us as individuals. Having been founders and having spent time variously raising capital we wanted to build something that we would have wanted when we were going through it.
What stands out to you when assessing early stage companies?
It is always about the team. At the stage at which we invest there are some things which are certain; the market is going to change, the product is likely to change or evolve significantly, the route to market will change, but hopefully the constant is the founding team. So spending a lot of time with them and developing a relationship is so important to determine if we enjoy getting in a room together and solving problems before we enter into a 10 year relationship.
I look at whether they have done exceptional things before, not taken the obvious path, if they have shown grit, determination, hustle, integrity and openness and whether we believe they will employ this combination of factors when building their business. We find people who have an obsession with the problem they are solving and we make it our job to help them build a business around that.
What are 3 things that have most surprised you about great founders who build great companies?
- Their energy levels and their ability to sustain that over such an extended period of time
- The application of their energy to thinking big and having frameworks, which could include spending time with certain individuals, to force themselves to step back
- They remove the bullshit as quickly as possible and create process around it to allow them to spend as little time as possible on it
Women in Tech
What advice would you share with female founders looking to raise finance?
One bit of advice I would give to everyone is start with your own network. Some bits of research have shown that men are better at using their network than women are, I don’t know if that is true but be mindful of it and practice. Watch your best friends face when you tell them your story and notice the parts which resonate and continue to iterate around that.
Specifically for female founders recognise the fact that cognitive bias does exist, that if you go to a venture fund and there is a female investing partner they are 3x more likely to back you. If you are in a room full of guys, especially if your product is designed for women, use data and remove the emotion from the conversation so you can take someone logically through the opportunity you are pursuing.
Finally, momentum is incredibly important – leverage your network and get early commitments from those who empathise with the problem you are solving and are keen to back you.
What support networks do you value?
The real and rather soppy answer is my husband who is my biggest cheerleader and my biggest critic. Around him and around us there are a dozen or so other individuals who I would call our extended family, who bring independent advice, support and encouragement and really honest feedback and I love that and I ask for it.
I make time every year for some personal introspection to re-assess things on a regular basis. Thinking that it will happen by accident means it never does – you have to give dedicated time to it like anything else. Every Christmas I ask myself what do I want to be when I grow up and I try to remove myself from my normal life situation. If the answer is to do what I am doing I ask how do I want to do it; I think about what I have done previously that is positive or negative against that particular defined goal and work hard on it.
How can we do better to attract and retain more women?
Building a game changing business requires all types of smart
It is on us to demystify technology as an industry – it is not just about being an engineer. There are lots of different roles required in order to build these companies. In order to do that it is largely about role models. For anyone that has a team encourage those at different levels and in different departments to be exposed to inspiring people and take time to make those connections.