Tom Wilson is the investment manager at Seedcamp, the London, UK-based fund supporting startups from the pre-seed and seed stage. He has brought to the firm his enthusiasm and his experience as lawyer (at King & Wood Mallesons SJ Berwin), specializing in investment funds and corporate M&A in the private equity and venture capital industry. He answered our questions about himself, his daily work at Seedcamp and shared with us some thoughts about tech trends and the European scene.
FinSMEs: Hi Tom, nice to meet you…Firstly, can you tell as a bit more about your background?
Tom: Sure! I worked as a lawyer at a corporate firm in the City where I focused broadly on private equity and venture capital. Seedcamp was actually a client and I worked on the legals for our most recent fund (Seedcamp III) before moving across to join the team last Summer.
FinSMEs: A lawyer turned startup investment manager…. happy? How do you apply your lawyer’s background daily?
Tom: Absolutely, I’ve really enjoyed the move. My role is very broad and has given me the opportunity to get much more hands on with the companies we invest in and go beyond the legals. Having said that, I still lend upon my background to try to help guide our portfolio companies in thinking through any legal problems that might crop up and in particular in terms of managing the legal process around negotiating and closing out financing rounds.
FinSMEs: What about Seedcamp? Can you tell as the overall strategy?
Tom: Seedcamp is a first round fund for ambitious founders looking to build billion-dollar businesses. We invest at both the pre-seed and seed stage, and provide our companies with a lifelong platform of Learning, Capital and Network.
For our pre-seed we have a structured investment offering of €75k for up to 7%. We have an open application process for prospective pre-seed companies and we close the application window and make investment decisions four times a year. We look to make approximately 20 to 30 investments at pre-seed per year. For our seed strategy we invest up to €200k in rounds between approximately €300k and €2m where the company raising has a lead investor for the round. For these types of investments we look for the companies to get a warm introduction from someone in our network. We only started investing in Seed rounds following the close of our most recent €20m fund last year but already we’ve announced 25 investments. So, we’ve been pretty busy!
We’ve always been sector agnostic, for us it comes down to the founding team, the idea and the market opportunity, so we’ve invested in B2B and B2C startups in numerous sectors, including FinTech, PropTech, AdTech, Enterprise and SaaS. Since we started in 2007 we’ve made almost 200 investments and built up a huge network of mentors and investors to connect with our founders. In terms of geography, whilst the Seedcamp team is located in London, we travel a lot and invest in companies throughout Europe and also occasionally the US and further afield.
FinSMEs: Beyond capital, how do you support companies?
Tom: As a lifelong platform, we provide our founders and their teams with access to learning through initiatives such as office hours and Seedcamp Academy, where world-class mentors come in to spend time with the team. In recent months, our mentors have included Fred Destin from Accel, John Collison founder of Stripe and David Buttress CEO of Just Eat.
We use the relationships we have built over the last eight years to make the right introductions to our Founders and extend their network through Seedcamp Weeks, where our new teams meet Mentors and Investors for feedback, and our bi-annual US Trip, when they are actively looking at US investment and expansion.
Seedcamp has a great culture and we find that a lot of mentoring and feedback often comes internally with Founders supporting each other. Recently we expanded the Seedcamp team, bringing in experts in residence and full time hires to advise on everything from B2B, sales, marketing and talent.
FinSMEs: Are Seedcamp Academy and Seedsummit part ot this strategy? What are they?
Tom: Seedcamp Academy is our structured learning programme that we provide access to for each of the companies that we invest in. It consists of a monthly series of workshops and masterclasses delivered by a cross section of Mentors. The programme spans the product/market fit, traction and growth stages for our companies across a number of key areas including: Product Development, Design & Engineering, Marketing, Growth & Distribution, Company Building & Fundraising. As well as the monthly masterclasses, we organise function-specific day-long summits to cover each of the key areas of the business. One of the nice things about the programme is it’s lifelong meaning that at first it might be the founders of a Seedcamp company that join a session but as their team grows they may send other specific team members who will best benefit from one of the sessions.
Seedsummit is a resource for all founders not just Seedcamp companies. We’ve worked with some top legal advisors and investors to put together standard versions of documents that can be used as a base for founders to work off. The philosophy behind Seedsummit is to try to simplify and make some of the key processes that founders have to go through (i.e. fundraising, bringing on advisors etc.) more transparent and straightforward.
FinSMEs: Personally, which tech trends to you follow?
Tom: I try to keep up to date with a wide variety of tech trends. Currently I’m interested in trends around the future of the professions (i.e. law, medicine, financial services etc.) and the opportunities for tech to disrupt these areas and provide new solutions. I think there’s a number of fantastic opportunities for startups to emerge in sectors that were previously predominantly the exclusive domain of large enterprises. This personal thesis leads me to following a number of broad areas such as Fintech, Insurance, Health / Well-being, Legaltech and Proptech. I’m also really interested to see how some of these sectors are going to be influenced by the development of overarching trends such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.
FinSMEs: What do you think about Europe? Which is your perception? More problems or opportunities?
Tom: Personally, I’m very bullish on Europe. I think it’s a great time for founders to start businesses in Europe because there’s a strong supply of talent and the funding environment is buoyant with a number of large established VC funds complemented by an increasing amount of new funds. I’m also excited about the continued development of the tech ecosystem in Europe as more of the current generation of high growth companies mature and we see the positive knock-on effect of this. So, definitely more opportunities!
FinSMEs: What about London as a startup hub?
Tom: I think one of the reasons why London is such a strong startup hub is because of the talent that’s in the ecosystem and the ability of top startups to attract talent. Therefore in order for London to maintain its position of strength and also to get even better I think it’s really important we continue to cultivate the ecosystem and put processes in place to ensure the top startups have access to the best talent which is increasingly international. This is where initiatives around Entrepreneur visas and governmental support can have a really positive impact.