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 also guiding founders to the subsequent rounds of investment before they are ready 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?
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. Our role is to work with our investor syndicate and to source and carry out due diligence into tech start-ups that we think are going to make a difference. We operate more like an investor syndicate than a VC fund. We have a small number of angel investors and family offices that support all the investments we make. 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 investments were placed in July 2020. We invest in batches and run cohorts where we are able to work in an extremely hands-on way with our portfolio companies.
That was an interesting time to get into business, wasn’t it?
Sam: Across all asset classes, the entire investor landscape really changed at start of lockdown because there was so much uncertainty. Then, we saw businesses adjust, pivot or refocus as we started to understand the new landscape that we found ourselves in. The key thing that tech investors had to understand was how long this new landscape was going to last – which variables may present short term changes and which longer term changes. Tech investors are extremely illiquid in their investments and therefore are looking further out to the horizon and much be mindful of their outcomes. At that time, we didn’t know how short or long term the pandemic might be. It looked like a short-term event to us and as investors we think of 5 – 10 -year horizons for our investments. Therefore, the pandemic was no reason to not invest if you believed that any changes it brought were not to last.
Is there an industry you primarily focus on?
Sam: There isn’t really one industry, but it is certainly scalable tech businesses. We are sector agnostic in our investment thesis but do have sectors that we stay away from because we feel that another investor will be able to add more value in these sectors. Blockchain, crypto, biotech, life sciences, for example. And we keep on top of trends in the markets that we do invest in. 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 too heavily in any particular sector at this point.
What are these trends you mentioned?
Sam: In the past year, healthtech was a big one. Biohacking, for example, as we see people wanting to understand more about their own health. Another trend specifically in the marketplace sector is the de-bundling of larger platforms. We see marketplaces popping up that can service a specific vertical in a more efficient and effective way. Another trend we’ve seen is new technology that allows institutions to understand and leverage upon financial data. This can have a number of use cases, such as ability to manage personal finances, or for institutions to use the data to make better informed decisions about entering into activity with an individual or business.
How many business pitches have you heard over the past year?
Sam: North of 300. 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. In general, there is quite a steady influx and I mainly receive them through warm introductions, cold emails, LinkedIn, or through my website.
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 do understand if it is likely to be a good fit. Cold emails or cold outreach on the website often come from founders who don’t research who we’ve invested in before, our investment mandate and how we operate. I would encourage founders to do the research before you do a cold outreach. Explain why you feel it is a good fit. The investor would appreciate the research and it’s more likely to result in a good outcome.
Is there one pitch you’ve heard that stuck to your mind?
Sam: There have been some funny ones. One day a founder tuned up to my office in London and offered to buy me a sandwich if I’d let him pitch to me. I told him I’d accept but only gave him the amount of time that it took me to finish the sandwich. We ended up talking for an hour as I grew interested in his businesses. This really shows how it pays founders to shoot your shot and get creative with it! We didn’t end up investing but do still keep in touch and I helped him out with some introductions.
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 hasn’t always been a good fit, I never felt that I had wasted time in those conversations. There’s always something good that can be taken from these interactions and something that can be learnt. I also like to hear what founders are doing. Even if it is not a good fit, there are always people in my network that I can make introductions to. 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. We see where the start-up is at when we invest and identify what they need to do in order to be ready for the subsequent 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. We then 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. We work as one big team for 6 to 9 months until the start-up is ready for their seed round. With that, we are super hands on with our portfolio companies. That’s why our founders love us and our investor syndicate. We have got a 100% success rate so far – so something must be working!
We know that the early stages 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 tools, resources and capital that they need in order to proceed to their next funding 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.
Pitch to Sam and other Angel Investors
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