Sam Keisner is a founding partner at GO10x Ventures and a regular panellist at our monthly business pitch event. His team is not just investing in businesses, but guides founders along the way to the next round of investments and to scale up. We have spoken to Sam to find out more about his work and what he is looking for in a business to invest in.

How would you describe your job?Investor Sam Keisner

Sam: We help founders make a difference, make their difference.

Who is we?

Sam: I run a team of 7 at GO10x Ventures. It is quite a small team and we all come from VC backgrounds. The role is to manage our investor network and to do proper due diligence for pitches on behalf of our investor network. We operate more like an angel syndicate. We have a small number of angel investors and family offices that support all the investments we make and we have great relationships with them.

For how long have you been investing in businesses?

Sam: We started less than a year ago. The first batch of investment was in July 2020. We invest in batches and run cohorts where we work with multiple businesses.

That was an interesting time to get into business, wasn’t it?

Sam: The whole investor landscape changed at start of lockdown because of uncertainty. Then, people adjusted and changed their focus in the short term. The difference is that tech investors are definitely looking further out to the horizon and are mindful of their outcomes. At that time, we didn’t know how show or long term the pandemic might be. It looked like a short-term event to us and as investors we think of 120-year horizons. Therefore, the pandemic was no reason to not invest.

Is there an industry you primarily focus on?

Sam: There isn’t really one industry, but it is mainly scalable tech products. We don’t have sectors we specialise in, but sectors we stay away from because we don’t understand them. Blockchain, crypto, biotech, life sciences, for example. Other investors might be a better fit for these industries. And we look at trends in the markets. When we come across a start-up that is riding one of those trends, we are interested. Sectors we’ve been investing in are in B2B SaaS and we quite like marketplace models. We recently invested in fintech too. We have quite a small portfolio at the moment and have not invested loads in one particular sector.

What are these trends you mentioned?

Sam: In the past year, healthtech was a big one. Biohacking, for example, and we see people wanting to understand more about their own health. Another trend in the marketplace sector is the de-bundeling of larger platforms. We see marketplaces popping up that can service a specific vertical within the marketplace. Another trend we’ve seen is new technology that allows institutions to understand personal finances and open banking technology to understand individuals better. This can be to manage their own personal finances, or for institutions to use the data to make decisions about lending to an individual or business.

How many business pitches have you heard over the past year?

Sam: Around 250. There are times of the year where I receive more pitches, but I haven’t been doing this long enough to really see seasonality trends. I noticed that there is more in February and March because people realize that the deadline for SEIS and EIS is around the corner. In general, there is quite a steady influx and I mainly receive them through cold emails, LinkedIn, the website or warm intros.

Which of these contact channels is more promising?

Sam: The highest success rate has been through warm intros made by portfolio founders or someone in my network. Because they understand if it is a good fit. Cold emails or cold outreach on the website often come from founders who don’t understand or don’t research who we invested in before and how we operate. I would encourage founders to do the research before you do a cold outreach. Explain why it is a good fit. The investor would appreciate the research and it’s more likely to get a good outcome.

Is there one pitch you’ve heard that stuck to your mind?

Sam: There have been some funny ones. I remember an event where I was on the panel and one of the founders who was in the audience came up to me when I was leaving the event and asked if he could pitch. I said that I didn’t have time and he offered to pay for my cab if he could pitch as we drove. That shows that you can make it happen! Don’t take no for an answer! And it was a good pitch, even though I didn’t invest but I’m still in contact with them.

Were there any negative experiences over the years?

Sam: Not really. In general, the start-up eco system is a really friendly one and although I have been pitched to and it wasn’t a good fit, I never felt that I had wasted time in those conversations. There’s always something good. I also like to hear what founders are doing. Even if it is not a good fit, there are always people in my network, and I can often refer. I never think that I wasted time when I leave an event.

What would you say is the number one mistake that most young businesses make when they’re raising funds?

Sam: There is one thing that is more important than ever. It’s never been easier for founders to start a business. Years ago, you had to pay a lot and you couldn’t just launch something. Now you have lots of tools available to launch a business. I have no technical background, but I launched my own website and what I say to founders is: Take advantage of these tools that are available to you. You can start your business in a way where you don’t have financial risk and you can prove your business model and get some traction yourself. When you then pitch you have initial traction and customer feedback. When you pitch, you’ve done the work for them. It makes it easier for investors.

Often founders say that there is not enough data. Sometimes, they raise to early without taking advantage of the tools. They should start with the gritty things that don’t scale, that are hard, but that show the opportunity. Or they learn that there is no opportunity.

Which information do you need from a pitch to consider investing?

Sam: I want to see that there is a large enough amount of people experiencing a problem that the founder can solve in an easy enough way and that the founding team are best placed to solve that problem. They might have experienced the problem in their own way, or they might be uniquely placed to solve that problem because of the experience they have.

After you invested, how often do you check in with them?

Sam: This is where we try and differentiate from other investors. We see ourselves as a venture builder program. We see where the start-up is at when we invest and identify what they need to get to for the next investment round. That is for us usually the seed round. We also speak to other seed investors to find out what the founders need to achieve for the next round. Then, we create a roadmap to get them to that point.

We also offer our own team to help to get them there, e.g. developers, CTOs, marketing experts, finance and legal experts. We invite them to our office and work as one big team for 6 to 9 months until the start-up is ready for their seed round. With hat, we are super hands on with our portfolio companies. That’s why our founders love us and our investor network. We got 100% success rate so far.

We know that the early stage of start-up growth is the most unstructured. It’s where founders don’t know what to do next week. It’s when the team is the smallest, but you have the most to do. We want to give founders the teams that have the skills to get them to the next round.

What do you expect from them once they got investment?

Sam: Hard work. Because we’re so hands on, we all work hard. We invest in long-term, and we want you to get to the point to scale. You have to work 2 or 3 times as hard as we are.

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