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10 lessons we learned from co-investing in over 100 start-ups

Our long experience of investing points to the fact that Venture Capital is a team sport and building a VC syndicate is like assembling a sports team. You need members to have complimentary skills, talent and chemistry to become champions.

A key feature of our investment approach is that we always co-invest when we do venture capital deals. To date, we have co-invested with over 100 venture capital funds, corporate investors and angel syndicates in supporting the growth of our portfolio companies.

We’ve unpacked those decades of knowledge into 10 key lessons that explain why co-investing is beneficial to funds, investors and the founders we support.

1. Embrace collective knowledge and experience 

We have always embraced the breadth of knowledge, sector specialism and experience that our syndicate partners have brought to the table. Many have become trusted partners and the shared experience we have built together has led to deep insights and new investment opportunities.

2. Create a network effect

Most VCs have great networks and will offer founders the help they need through thoughtful introductions. By bringing in another VC into a deal, the network available to the founder will double, opening up new opportunities. We love the power of the network effect on start ups.

3. Pay it forward and contribute to the ecosystem 

Working together with other VCs contributes to our ecosystem, building a virtuous circle of knowledge, experience, expertise, trust and ultimately, returns. Introducing companies to other investors often opens up conversations and opportunities for co-operation. Team players like to work with other team players and nearly always achieve more over time.

4. Take care of the next round, or a good chunk of it at least 

As a rule of thumb, we like to bring together syndicates that can reasonably expect to fund at least 50% of the next round as well as the current one. Many seed stage investors have limited capability to make follow-on investments, so building a team with more multi-stage specialist investors can help underpin future fund raisings.

5. Avoid concentration risk 

Founders should be wary of over-dependence on any one investor. There is enough risk in building a start up already. Raising capital is extremely time consuming for founders and can take a founder’s attention away from building the business for several months, especially at a time of greater capital scarcity. So finding one investor to do the whole round solves the money issue but also comes with a risk warning.

6. The right team at the right time 

The venture capital team of investors can grow over time to suit the stage and needs of a business. A founder may look to add a later stage investor at the Series B with a ‘placeholder’ investment so that they might invest a far larger ticket at the next round. Or bringing in a US VC ahead of a planned roll out into the North American market can increase the probability of successfully establishing the business there.

7. Strategic investors come with a serious warning 

We have loved working with corporate venture capital investors over the years, from banks to industrial conglomerate, and telecom giants to pharmaceutical behemoths. They have often generated great insights in due diligence and opened up big opportunities for small portfolio companies. When it works, it works. But our experience is that the benefits are too often short-lived. Investment professionals in corporate teams frequently turn over, strategy around innovation can change with little notice, CEOs fall in and out of love with their corporate VC teams.

8. Big name VCs can get your name up in lights

There are some really big name VCs in the market that every founder dreams of having on their cap table. Getting a term sheet from a major US VC is a badge of honour and can make fundraising much easier in the future. But make sure you aren’t their smallest investment managed by their most junior team member as you wont get the full benefit of what a firm like that can bring. A wider team of VCs can also help foster a greater culture of alignment with the founders.

9. Keep options open when things get tough

The start up journey is seldom a smooth one and having a syndicate of investors can offer flexibility and solutions when a founder may need it most. Not all investors are able to offer bridge rounds or convertibles or react very fast if needed. So working closely with a group of VCs in your syndicate increases the chance of getting through a challenging period.

10. Success breeds success

We love seeing a company succeed and realise great returns for all investors. Each year, we see more founders exit businesses having created wealth for themselves and their VCs, but also their teams and angel investors. This wealth event can spawn the creation of several new businesses as founders and employees recycle capital and experience to build the next generation of start ups. For us VCs, we get to return capital to our investors and share the news and experience with other companies in the portfolio.

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