🤿 The "Operator-Fund Manager" VC Model + Student-Led VC Funds
Let's understand how those models fuel entrepreneurship.
In today’s Venture Notes
Let’s focus a bit on the “Operator-Fund Manager” VC model and take the unique example of Wingman from Switzerland 🇨🇭 which raised the largest pre-seed / seed maiden fund in Europe, with CHF 78.5 million (about € 70 million).
Wingman also announced yesterday (March 18, 2021) the launch of Campus Fund, the first student-led VC fund in the country 🇨🇭. Why do I relate? I have been following as of late the "Student-Led Venture Fund" model that helps bridge the gap between the next generation of VCs and developing tech ecosystems. I had the chance through our podcast Runway Series to learn more about this with Oskari (ex-CEO at Wave Ventures 🇫🇮🇸🇪), Floris (ex- Director at ASIF Ventures 🇳🇱) and Conrad (ex- President at Dakota Venture Group 🇺🇸) and through my short term assignment at SKEMA Business School where I helped in 2018 design a funding setup for its incubators.
📌 Also, stay tuned, we’re announcing in the next Venture Notes edition something amazing and in 🇬🇧.
And if you like this post, you can share it 💛 thank you!
What follows is the English version of my latest article for Frenchweb (where I’ve been randomly editing the “Made in Switzerland” piece since 2017 in French).
From a financing point of view, the maturity of a Tech ecosystem is not only measured by the depth of its investment solutions - in number and in the capacity to follow on important rounds - but also in the fact that a first generation of entrepreneurs 1) redeploys as Business Angels part of its capital resulting from exits or 2) succeeds in federating LPs in more strategic investment vehicles on an investment thesis often built on an operator-investor model .
What are the particularities of this model?
In the United States, the first wave of this operator-investor phenomenon was manifested by now established funds such as a16z, Greylock and Sequoia which recruited former operators specific to a vertical, bringing entrepreneurial track records, relationships in industry and experience in the challenges founders face.
The second and most recent wave is that of operator-angels, networks appearing in each sub-category and region, allowing operators of startups still leading at or working for their startups to help shape the seed cap tables by providing "smart money". The rise of AngelList or On Deck's Angel Fellowship has further enabled entrepreneurs to play a more active role in the startup ecosystem, even if they are still developing their own startups.
Today, it is a third wave, that of "(ex-) operator-fund managers" which is shaking up the landscape, bringing empathy to the cap tables. Investors who have founded startups and raised funds would bring an empathy that an investor with a “consulting” background simply could not. The founders are increasingly aware of the strategic importance of the equity story right from the early stages and paying close attention to the profiles of the very first investors from whom they raise funds.
This closer link between early stage entrepreneurs and operator-fund managers is also illustrated by the fact that the latter would see deals more than 9 months before more traditional investors, according to Pathway Ventures. When a founder builds her MVP, researches market segments and prepares for launch, she then would not approach VCs for advice but rather operators who have had similar experiences, according to that same source.
But what about that “operator-fund manager” VC model in Switzerland?
First off, why Switzerland? That’s where I live (Geneva) ;)
In Switzerland, seed and early stage funding is growing rapidly, accounting for nearly a third of Swiss startup funding in 2020, according to Startupticker. Moreover, according to this Startupticker report, in 2020 and for the second year in a row, more than 2 billion Swiss francs - 1.8 billion euros - were raised by startups in the country. More than 44 venture funds intend to raise funds soon, 20 of which have declared that they will start the year in 2021.
Revealing entrepreneurial activity in full acceleration and changing gear in the country, Swisspreneur has also identified 6 Swiss startup mafias, the most important of which is that from DeinDeal.ch, from which the founders of Wefox and Numbrs are from - scaleups having respectively raised over $ 260 million and over $ 100 million according to Crunchbase.
Wingman Ventures is a pioneer in this understanding of the strategic importance that (ex-) operator-investors in raising a fund can bring more than just seed capital: their experience to take the first steps. Co-founded in 2018 by Pascal Mathis (co-founder of GetYourGuide, more than $ 880 million raised according to Crunchbase), Lukas Weder (co-founder of Eat.ch, sold in 2015 to Just Eat) and Alex Stöckl (ex- COO of Gartnerei from Creathor Ventures),
Wingman raised in 2020 the largest pre-seed and seed fund in Europe for a maiden fund (first fund of a team) with more than 78.5 million Swiss francs - 70.83 million euros. Wingman's ambition to finance from their very first only Swiss entrepreneurs with international ambitions, we wanted to know more about the team's investment thesis, its values and its understanding of the entrepreneurial dynamic between French-speaking Switzerland and German-speaking Switzerland.
Wingman Ventures also stands out for its understanding of the need for early venture capital investment skills to emerge with the launch on Thursday March 18 of the Wingman Campus Fund, the very first student-led VC fund on campuses from EPFL, ETHZ and HSG.
🎧 PODCAST EXCERPT WITH WINGMAN 🎧
Here is a short excerpt translated into French from the podcast of La French Tech Suisse Romande (I launched La FT in Switzerland in 2017 and still currently Co-President for the French-speaking part of the country) that we recorded in 🇬🇧 with Alex Stöckl, Founding Partner of Wingman and Edouard Treccani, Head of Partnerships and HQ lead at Campus Fund.
Raphael Grieco: Can you explain to us your thesis at Wingman, which is to be the first investor in Swiss startups with international ambitions?
Alex Stöckl: We are betting on the Swiss ecosystem. We believe in the Swiss founders, in the Swiss universities and in the entrepreneurial motivation and drive that we believe have not received sufficient investment. This is why we have teamed up with Pascal and Matthis who founded two successful scaleups, to help Swiss entrepreneurs have their very first sparring partners.
RG: Which fundamental step is the most critical in building a sustainable business?
Edouard Treccani: The intangibles are super important. I come from the school of thought where I believe the founders have them or not. Founders have a certain potential or a certain ceiling and you as a VC or a mentor can help them reach that ceiling, but some Founders just don't have those intangibles. We can debate what these intangibles are, these intangibles, at least for me it's hard to express exactly what it is, but it's something you can feel within 5 minutes of a first call. The school of thought that I come from is very cynical: many founders won't make it because they don't have these intangibles, while other founders have them, and we, as VCs or as as mentors, can try to help them get there faster and grow with them with the business cycle. A sense of intelligence, of execution and probably a correlation with that would be a passion for the pain point they want to solve.
AS: It is essential that the founders do it for the right reason with the belief that what they are doing is relevant, necessary and that it has a right to exist, which is not always the case. To build a successful business over the long haul, you need that willingness to work hard, to execute and take a few hits, to get back on your feet, and I think those are the key elements. But also that you don't get lost in some of the bizarre incentives of the venture industry, such as the amount of funding received or the number of people working in the company, which could be signs of inefficiency. We want to change the attitude of the Swiss founders, we want to help them believe that it is possible to build top international companies from here, and we believe the number one KPI is the number of clients.
RG: Edouard, you cover in particular French-speaking Switzerland. What do you observe and how do you see sectoral expertise developing over the next 5 to 10 years?
ET: At the current stage of development of the tech ecosystem in French-speaking Switzerland, it is difficult for me to say that this or that cluster will be the most important in the coming years. In contrast, looking at the Swiss tech scene as a whole, I observe more and more key employees leaving established Swiss startups (50 to 200 employees) and in turn founding their startups. In my opinion, this is a phenomenon that only exists when you reach a critical mass of scaleups. This trend, however, is only gaining momentum in German-speaking Switzerland for the time being, although in French-speaking Switzerland there are scaleups like Nexthink (more than 500 employees). On the other hand, I observe a quality of deep tech and hard tech startups from university laboratories such as EPFL in Lausanne or ETHZ in Zurich who develop really innovative techno that is not SaaS / Enterprise SaaS typical.
🎧 Listen to the whole discussion on the podcast of La French Tech Suisse Romande.
That’s all for today, thank you.