There’s no accounting for taste aka “Vive la difference!”

by Simon Murdoch

Three brilliant data points from the last 10 days give me great hope as an investor (and make me scratch my head about the media).

First let’s talk about Matt Clifford – Europe’s answer to Paul Graham. Matt is Chief Executive of our favourite accelerator*: Entrepreneur First.

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When we met with Matt again the other day, he shared his delight that different investors get excited about different companies coming out of EF. I feared that for their 30 or so graduates, the top handful would get all the investor interest and the rest get none. But no, EF find that we like some, Robin Klein likes others, Charlotte Street different ones still. Yes there is some overlap, but he is constantly amazed how little overlap there is in investor taste.

So that’s the good news for entrepreneurs and for early stage investors like us frankly. More companies should get investment that way and have a shot at longevity and stardom. And we will hopefully be competing for deals less often than if everyone loved the same businesses.

Our second data point is the fascinating list of the Scale Up club from SVC2UK (Silicon Valley Comes 2 the UK). This is a list of 100 companies tipped to reach £100m in revenues in the next 3-5 years.

This demonstrates again the different choices different investors make. Just to pick a couple of examples here, first note that we passed on BorrowMyDoggy when we met the founder at Seedcamp a long while ago. Yes, there are 9m dogs in the UK and yes sometimes dog owners want to have their dogs looked after, but when we met BMD, we had seen 3 start ups doing the same thing and BMD wanted to change the model from borrowers being paid by owners to both paying a subscription. We thought this was a business model likely to fail and even if that worked, we were sceptical that the company could attract enough customers cost effectively, i.e. where the marketing cost of acquiring a customer is less than the lifetime value of the customer. Plus we were concerned that it would only grow to a few thousand or tens of thousands of users.

So we passed immediately. One meeting. Were we wrong or is SVC2UK wrong? Only time will tell…

Secondly, we passed on Hassle and two of their competitors in cleaning services for consumers. I liked this space a lot because personally I’m a perfect target customer. But as we got into the unit economics of a clean, the lifetime value of customers, the potential leakage issue (cleaners working direct for the customers), and the huge challenges of maintaining quality of service as the business scales, we got cold feet. Our nascent interest was killed off by the lofty valuations of Hassle and others (in our eyes) – how big would these businesses have to get for us to make 10x for our investors… So we passed on all of them.

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The third data point is this intriguing TechCrunch article about their 21 picks of companies from Dublin Web Summit. Now admittedly it is very hard to pick just because of sheer volume. Well over two thousand companies exhibited over the three days last week – there were approximately 300 companies from the UK alone, so for a busy journalist, picking a handful for an article is hard. TechCrunch got one or two right, e.g. we met and liked Codacy, plus we love Your.MD and Matteo the CEO there – but it’s already way out of our price range – well done Matteo 😉

But for most of the rest. Pul-ease. This is a strange list and for me shows the disconnect between what journalists like to write about – generally something new they have never heard about before – and what is really something interesting as a business and a deal for an investor.

I won’t pick on any companies specifically – read the list for yourself and marvel at 21 interesting companies. How many of those would you invest in? African cows, anyone? Beekeeping?

So, dear entrepreneurs – have faith. If you are a BorrowMyDoggy, Episode 1 might not like your business, but somebody else might well do and might even believe you can be a unicorn. Or if you are a Carwow or a SimplyCook or AimBrain, we will like you and want to invest in your company as the first institutional investor, even though nobody else sees what we see. Vive la difference!

Vive-la-difference

* we love Seedcamp and Techstars too but we’ve invested in two EF companies and one each from Seedcamp and Techstars, so this is technically correct and not really a subjective comment – sorry Reshma and Max 😉

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