As part of our series of profiles of prominent UK startup investors, we caught up with David Fogel, co-founder and investor at Accelerated Digital Ventures, to talk about everything from their unique ‘no warm intro needed’ approach to tackling unconscious bias in the startup industry.
If you’re a young startup with a solid roadmap, chances are you’re working towards Seed and Series A funding. But much like all startups, all investors are different. And for David Fogel at patient venture investor ADV, making it clear you’re the right startup for them is the only thing that matters.
“I’m personally interested in what we call moon-shots. Show me a crazy ass founder that is aiming for the moon and has a plan to get there and a great team with her, I’m all in.”
Supporting what they like to call ‘generation-defining entrepreneurs’, ADV isn’t interested in a quick injection of cash with an easy exit plan – they like to cultivate long-term relationships with companies that have global potential and continue investing in the company throughout the funding journey from seed to growth. And they’re determined to make their investment process open to anyone. We sat down with David to talk about their mission, the flipping of the status quo, and how their unique methodology is good news for startup founders.
A new approach to introductions
For those who wish to be considered by ADV, the process is extremely simple: you fill in an online application. That’s it. No need to get a recommendation, no need to somehow muscle in a ‘warm’ lead – give them the basic details of your company, and within a couple of days, three different members of their investment team will review it and feed back to you.
“You don’t need to know the network of ADV to get access to ADV. What you need is to be able to articulate your vision and your ambition and the plan together in a deck. Really clear, be ambitious, be as bold as you can.”
So in the first instance its about removing barriers to entry, and then in the second – removing the possibility of bias towards a person or industry:
“The ADV system will randomly choose three members of our investment team to ‘blind’ review your ambition. Three different people from different backgrounds provide feedback and rate the opportunity against our criteria. If that group on the whole or one individual passionately believes in your team’s ability to scale big, we move forward to a meeting. This goes a long way to removing the unconscious bias towards particular people or sectors.”
In a landscape that relies so heavily on the power of the meetcute, the vital introduction, the key recommendation, it’s fantastic to see an investor so dedicated to stripping out anything that could distract from the power of the central idea. Theirs is an ethos built on real collaboration between the funders and the founders, from the second the initial application hits their system.
“At ADV, we managed to create a product that means we can invest in amazing founders that have huge visions on how they’re going to change the world. At the core, the people that build big businesses are not VCs.
The best example I always give is: We are not even the coach in the football game, the CEO is the coach, we [the VCs] are the fans that pay for the ticket that basically pays for stadium where you play, and if we’re hopefully good fans, we cheer you on and help your team when they are running and scoring, but it’s the team that build the business. That’s what it’s all about.
Tackling unconscious bias
In any industry, it’s important to be aware of the areas where bias can creep in, and one of the key factors of ADV is trying to make sure that access to investment isn’t a closed circuit.
“It’s easy, in this industry, to fall into a pattern of meeting people via introductions, and at first glance there’s nothing wrong with that. Being a good hustler, making the right connections is an important part of the job. But I think there is a layer above that that says, that’s not how all good entrepreneurs work.”
Determined to make sure brilliant ideas don’t fall through the cracks just because they haven’t been introduced by the right person, ADV set out to try and rectify things:
“Not all good entrepreneurs live in one city,” says David, “not all entrepreneurs get that access to the network and there are amazing entrepreneurs out there that don’t have the opportunities we do – so we’re trying to build a methodology that will surface the best no matter who they are and allow us to invest at scale.”
Encouraging entrepreneurs to embrace ambition
Having been the Deputy Director of accelerator Wayra – where he managed the portfolios of around 140 startups – as well as working as both a VC and product builder across Europe, China and Israel, David has seen a lot of startups pitch their ideas. And he’s noticed an interesting trend for those pitching in Europe and the UK:
“In Europe as a whole, there’s a tendency to diminish the big ambition, big vision, because they think that people will look at them as crazy, but also because they assume that that’s not what investors want to hear.”
But for David and ADV, it’s exactly this – shall we call it, un-British – high-flying ambition that marks potential investments out as attractive:
“The entire business model of an institutional VC is based on the moon-shots being successful. So one of the things that I really worked on strongly with the Wayra companies was understanding how VC’s think and why and seeing – can your business be that ambitious? Do you want to be that ambitious and grow it?”
For David, it makes good sense to be able to demonstrate just how long-term you’re willing to think. If you’re dedicated to your company, ADV’s logic goes, you should want to be in this for the long haul, not looking to jump ship when the chance to exit comes along.
“What we’re doing or what you’re doing when you’re building this company is playing three-dimensional chess. You have to think, not just on the next twelve months or eighteen months or twenty-four months, you need to think three to five funding rounds into the future, which basically means five to ten years in the future, and map that in your head.”
Interested in being a team worth cheering for? ADV’s initial online application takes less than 3 minutes to fill in – why not share your vision with ADV?
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