Nov 3, 2015 Stefanie Sirén
After over two decades of friendship, Simon Levene, Toby Coppel and Mike Chalfen finally decided it was time to take the step. The three co-founders and partners have during the years followed different paths that have led them from funding successful early stage start-ups, investing in upcoming commercial behemoths, to founding their own investment firm.
“As long time friends we knew that we shared a vision and would be happiest in a small equal partnership based on trust, intellectual honesty, and integrity”, says Toby Coppel, who met Levene and Chalfen during his graduate studies in the US in the 1990’s. “It soon became clear that to realize our vision, it was better to create our own firm rather than reshape the legacy of others.”
The decision to head to Europe, after years spent in the Bay Area, was based on a desire to be part of a bustling startup ecosystem with an available talent-pool of world-class founders. “With the Cambrian explosion of entrepreneurial activity underway in Europe, we knew that now was the time and we had an amazing opportunity to build something great”, says Simon Levene.
The partners believe their Silicon Valley-style investment model is an approach worth exporting to Europe. “The attitude brings a higher tolerance for risk, a willingness to only swing for the fences, and for weathering the inevitable ups and downs there will be along the way”, says Levene and points out that the firm is looking to partner with companies that dream global. Another reason for exploring Europe was the lack of experienced early stage venture investors.
While there is plenty of seed and angel financing available, those focused on Series A are scarce. That is precisely the void that Mosaic Ventures aims to map. “We have all invested across multiple venture stages and this is what we love and have had the most success at”, says Levene.
Founded in 2014, Mosaic Ventures has until now invested in next generation finance and payments, in companies such as Blockchain and Blockstream, and firms that focus on providing solutions for small businesses. “Fintech is one of our investment themes because we believe that consumers and small businesses are being failed by the banks in many core service areas”, says Mike Chalfen. “A hidden but seismic shift is underway with a new generation of best-of-breed services taking on the banks”, says Toby Coppel, who during his time at Virgin invested in Transferwise.
“Customers are willing to be tempted by new products and trust is low, so people more willing to give upstart services such as Funding Circle and Zopa a try”, says Coppel, and points to other start-ups that successfully have entered the banking world, such as Crowdcube and Nutmeg.
Mosaic Ventures also sees great potential in consumer marketplaces and SaaS, as well as narrow artificial intelligence and deep learning. “We are looking forward to seeing all the smart ways that entrepreneurs will find of exploiting its potential”, says Mike Chalfen. Their most recent investment is the Berlin-based Clue app, which enables women to manage their reproductive health.
One area that Mosaic Ventures has not yet delved into is the world of wearables, a sector that is heating up in the Nordics. “We are still scratching our heads a bit to develop a thesis about how the whole ‘Internet of Things’ space will play out”, says Chalfen.
Apart from Transferwise, Toby Coppel has previously picked out companies such as Alibaba, Criteo and Pinterest. Simon Levene invested early on in Etsy and Squarespace, and Mike Chalfen was the lead investor for King. The decision to pick up King, led by CEO Riccardo Zacconi, was based on a strong belief in the team.
“I love people who can recruit and lead a great team. Although investors often focus on the CEO, to scale the CEO has to be the leader of a great team. When the company scaled, Zacconi was the right guy rapidly to elevate the best of the founders, hire world-class talent where needed, and create a fantastic working culture to a suddenly large company.”
“The first thing I look for is a great founder”, says Toby Coppel about his experience in investing in Alibaba, where founder and CEO Jack Ma impressed with his passion for both reaching his goal and building a team culture. “These are rare but some of the traits they tend to share are courage of conviction – a true believer in what they’re building; commitment – mission driven and determined; hustle – they go a long way on limited capital and make their own luck.”
This search for founders and talent with long-term thinking, that are willing to go all in, is the Northern Star for the investment decisions at Mosaic Ventures. “We’re not looking for founders seeking to make incremental improvements”, says Simon Levene, “but true believers who want to ‘make a dent in the universe’”.
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