😇 Angel interview #12: June Angelides MBE

I spend time talking to founders and picking out characteristics that show they're not a quitter in the face of adversity. They persevere because this is the problem that they were meant to be solving

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Born in London and raised in Lagos, June joined Samos Investments in 2018, investing in high growth European businesses. Prior to this, she started the first child-friendly coding school in the UK, Mums in Tech, which taught over 250 women to code in 3 years. She has held roles on the Venture Debt Team and Early Stage Banking Team at Silicon Valley Bank. An active part of the tech and startup ecosystem, she is on the advisory board of mentoring app, Cajigo, a mentor at Oxford University and runs mentoring circles for founders and aspiring VCs.

She is a judge on the Debut Sessions, a monthly pitch session for founders seeking seed investment. She is passionate about flexible working and getting more women and girls into tech. She is a contributor at The Financial Times. She has been named by the Financial Times as the 6th Most Influential Tech Leader and by Computer Weekly as one of the most Influential Women in Tech. June recently received an Honorary Fellowship at the Institute of Engineering and Technology and was awarded an MBE for services to women in technology.

Can you give a quick introduction of yourself?

I'm June Angelides. I'm an early-stage investor at Samos Investments. I've been there for the last two years, investing in all things. We're a generalist fund and we're the venture arm of a family office. I really love it because we get to invest in the most interesting stages, from pre-seed to Series A.

I fell into VC, I never thought I'd be an investor. Prior to this, I ran a startup called Mums in Tech, a coding school for mums. I started it on my maternity leave from Silicon Valley Bank. That was accidental and it was as a result of working for a long time with all these amazing tech companies and realizing that I didn't know enough about how things were built. I couldn't have a real technical conversation with founders.

For my maternity leave, not that I didn't have enough to do, I thought it would be a great time to learn something new and attempt to build something from the ground up. Through the journey of hiring a developer, I realized that I didn't understand enough from the technical side to even direct the developer to build something for me. I thought I had to code and realized I couldn't take my baby with me. I created a pop-up coding school. It ran in partnership with tech companies like Marks & Spencer, ThoughtWorks, Ministry of Justice, Skype, and Three UK. The program ran over eight weeks.

I didn't want to learn alone so I had other mums come along with their babies, nannies were on site. We learned how to go from idea to product. We'd have a session on product, UX, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, agile, giving everyone an opportunity to have a good understanding of what it was like to work in tech.

It was through that process that I realized how many women were not getting funding and how much inequality there was in the investment space. Obviously, I was very conscious of the inequality in tech, even till now. It's still ~17% of women working in tech. But even more so, there's a massive discrepancy on the funding side. Not enough women were getting investment and even more so underrepresented founders. If you look at who's raised the big rounds today, you don't see founders of color.

I asked myself how I could help move the needle. I had a couple of conversations with people and luckily, I was introduced to Check Warner, who introduced me to Samos. I've made it my mission ever since to help in any way I can. I make a conscious effort to connect founders to the right people. I'm constantly keeping an ear out for who are the angels investing since it is a cryptic network.

On the other hand, not all people are aware that they can be an angel. I'm constantly trying to bring awareness to people I have conversations with - people with high net worth, who didn't realize that they had the capacity to invest. Even people who may not have the ability to write a big check can be part of smaller rounds, especially from individuals who add value in a more strategic way.

I'm also trying to close that gap by helping founders get to the point where they can come into the room more confident and succeed at nailing that pitch. There's still a bit of an education gap as to how best to pitch. It's definitely an art so I do a lot of mentoring.

You're been venture investing for the last two years. Why start angel investing on top of your full time investing role?

Because there are situations where I absolutely love the company but it may not necessarily be a good fit for the fund. As an individual, I want to be able to add value. I want to be able to write that check. I want to get that business going. With angel checks, it's also an earlier, quicker conversation for the founder and a lot easier to get to a "yes". Funds can make you jump through hoops.

When you were leading Mums in tech, did you have any angel investors in the round?

I struggled to raise investment. I approached some female angels through Angel Academe. At that point, to apply to the syndicate you had to have a co-founder. I was ruled out earlier on as a solo founder and it was hard to identify who to approach.

When I looked on LinkedIn, I didn't know who was actively investing and there were no clear signals as to how to navigate this. There wasn't a guide. A friend introduced me to someone who ran a private equity fund, but we were too early for them. I approached some VCs with who I had a connection with but at our stage where we were still testing out and figuring out product-market fit, angel investments would have been the better route.

What I needed were people who understood my vision and who could help me in some strategic way, either opening up doors to corporates or getting hands-on with the business. I didn't know where to find those edtech angel investors who probably could have saved the business.

If you were to do it again, how would you have done your fundraising strategy?

I would have gone to angel investors earlier on in the journey. Even with early traction, I should have started having conversations and built that network to get a clear sense of what metrics investors would need to feel convinced. Without those initial conversations, I didn't know what I needed to prove to get anyone on board with my journey.

You touched on a very important point: it's hard to know where to find angels. What suggestions do you have for founders?

Now, I feel like there's more transparency. I'm privy to seeing cap tables, which gives me a sense of who are the active angels. I also think people like Andy Ayim are doing a great job educating the next generation of angels. I would approach people like him, I would go to VCs and ask them for interesting angels in their network.

The reality is there are also many VC partners who angel invest. Previously, I thought that if you went to a VC, you were just getting money from the VC. On cap tables, you see that the partners are also making separate angel investments. Founders are also making angel investments.

I would scrap my original assumption that there is only one definition of an angel. They come in different shapes and sizes. I would be more open-minded and even identify someone who I really wanted to get on board, encourage them to explore investing, and educating them to be an angel. If an angel has enough conviction, you can get them to write quite a large check. I've seen it happen.

How do you measure conviction?

Everyone has their own limitations as to how much risk they can take. Risk is also subjective. What is risky to me might not be risky to you, and vice versa. It's the founders that have to take the time to get the right angels on board. That sense of conviction comes from the founder. For an angel, trust and conviction need to be earned. It's not a fund's money, this is someone's personal savings. They have to believe that you are going to deliver on what you're saying you're going to do.

They have to say goodbye to the money as they give it to you with the strong hope that you are going to make something of it. They want to know that you're going to be focused, you're going to keep them up to date and continue to bring them on that journey with you.

They have to feel that pain point you want to tackle, they have to believe that that problem is worth solving, that it's so important that they can't imagine the world without that solution. It's amazing when you see angels that are so excited when something's been shipped. They feel like that company is theirs, they're just another founder and will do whatever it takes to make it happen. That for me is how I measure conviction. That person just wants to do everything they can to help you succeed.

How do you think about what startup and founder you might want to back?

For me, it's about the individual. Of the last couple of founders that we've invested in, straight away I had the sense that they live and breathe what they're trying to solve. They have founder-market fit. Certain founders have an innate drive. They would not be doing anything else.

That's something that I look for where when founders talk about their start-up. You can get a sense of that passion. All the things have led up to them wanting to create this business. We recently backed a founder who is starting something brand new. It became clear through her previous careers that she should be the founder to solve this problem. She was spotting all these things that she could fix.

I spend a lot of time talking to founders and picking out characteristics that I feel shows that they're someone who is not a quitter in the face of adversity. They persevere because this is the problem that they were meant to be solving. That's what I'm looking for. Is that person a good leader, someone that people will follow and build a great company? They do have to build a strong team. They can't do it on their own otherwise it's gonna be a lifestyle business.

What's the one question that you would ask to figure out product founder fit?

The ultimate test would be the money. Founders initially sacrifice quite a lot to run a business. You want to get a sense of: "If something better came up, would they still do this?" I don't know if there's one question to try to get the answer to that. I would be trying to get a sense of "How badly do you want this?"

The Hustle Fund has been doing these sessions around founders who still have full-time roles and how can it be harder to fundraise.

I often say to people who have a part-time job to not bring it up. You can't have that part-time job when you're fundraising because no one's going to take you seriously. There's no way they will believe you when you say that you want to do this because you don't look committed.

I always say wait to the point where you've got enough savings and you can a hundred percent focus on the start-up full time before you start approaching investors. Investors will never fund you while you're holding on to another job because your attention has to be 100% committed to building this.

What have you learned during the COVID pandemic about your portfolio's business models? How have you worked with companies to pivot or adjust their products?

Our main concern was figuring out how to keep these companies afloat during COVID. Certain companies had an in-person element and that completely fell off the cliff. They could pivot slightly to make sure they weren't earning zero. However, it would have been disingenuous to completely change the business because they received investment to build a certain type of business. It would have been hard for them to completely go off the wagon and starting something brand new because of COVID.

A lot of our founders surprised us with how creative they were to stay within the parameters of their business model. They've been quite smart and realized that the market will return. In the meantime, it's a case of trimming down costs to see to the bare minimum to extend runway. That's what the smartest companies we've seen do. Things have picked up as the restrictions have loosened a little bit. One business has completely come back.

Obviously, certain industries were tricky. We have a travel company and we know that travel is a different ballgame at the moment. But eventually, it'll come back because the world is so interconnected. The key thing is staying afloat until then. Everyone believes in the mission and is standing their ground and holding off until the time is right to try to resume. All of this is new to us, this is not your typical recession. We're all trying to navigate it. Founders have been great in keeping us very much in the loop, not making any rash decisions but very much focused on extending the runway, which I think has been the most practical thing to do.

How are you growing the angel investor ecosystem in the UK and what are your plans around that?

I've been getting so many questions from founders that I was mentoring about which angels they should reach out to. I realized that there was a finite number of angels that I have access to from the cap tables that I can see. I wondered, where are the other angels? I decided to put this question into the wild and open source it. Surely there must be a way to have angel investors find the right start-ups and say what cheque size they want to write, what spaces they're interested in, and help founders find them.

I've been building a database. To have the database available for founders without any barriers put in place is making the fundraising process as democratic as possible.

What's the number one piece of advice you want to share with aspiring angel investors?

Start putting money aside for angel investing earlier on. From the moment I decided that I wanted to make a difference to founders, I should have started putting money aside to be able to help them.

Don't be afraid to ask founders to come in with a lower check size. Don't make the assumption that it has to be a ~$10k check. I have seen that minimum number to be flexibly applied in many cases. Don't be afraid to approach a founder who you've been working with or who you've been mentoring, to ask to come in at a lower check size and offer strategic help.

Where can people follow you or reach out?

Twitter at @juneangelides and IG @juneangelides and email june@samos.vc