I made 65 Angel investments in 2021 and I’m ‘doubling down’ on Fintech entrepreneurship and innovation.
At the end of every year I write a post and share it with other angel investors (or indeed anyone who is interested in gaining an insight into my year as an angel). I give a brief insight into the entrepreneurs I backed and also share some metrics. Fintech is a broad vertical, so I also share areas/themes where I’ve invested as well as founder diversity data. There are a few other angels who do this, which I think is great. Ultimately I hope that by sharing it will encourage other people to begin angel investing. For those of you who have not come across me before, here is my posts from 2020 and from 2019 . I began angel investing in 2014 and love supporting ambitious fintech founders who want to make a difference!
- Four of my angel investments are now ‘Unicorns’ and a further four have been valued >$500m. I was a first/early investor in all of these companies.
- I made 65 investments in 2021 up from 17 in 2020 and have made 190 investments since I committed to re-invest half my net proceeds from selling my company in 2014.
- I had 6 exits this year. Mainly ‘singles’ and ‘doubles’….and the home-runs continue to grow!
- My portfolio companies now employ in excess of 3500 people ( of which c. 2500 are in the UK).
- I continue to mentor dozens of founders and, where appropriate, help them make the United Kingdom their home — the best place to establish global Fintech companies:-)!
Enter the Unicorns (and ‘Soonicorns’!)
2021 was a breakout year. I’m not going to provide an exhaustive list, but I’d like to highlight a few companies where I was an angel investor and who are now climbing to great heights!
First is Kuda Bank. I first met, Kuda’s founder, Babs, in 2017 when he was pre-revenue and pre-product. He had an audacious plan to bring fairer banking to Africa, starting in Nigeria. I loved his energy and vision as well as his warm personality. Fast forward and Kuda is the fastest growing retail bank in Nigeria with over 2 million customers and now has supportive growth investors such as Target Global, Valar, and Entree Capital to help them scale.
Next is Alex and Oliver from Marshmallow. I met them both at a tech meet-up in early 2017 and our conversation wasn’t about insurance, it was about how funny it was that my wife and I had called our twin boys Alex and Oliver! To make a long story short, we remained in touch and I joined as an angel investor in their first round. Since then, Marshmallow has grown its inclusive car insurance business dramatically and it was recently valued at $1.25 Billion.
Railsbank is another company I’d like to highlight. I first met co-founder and CEO, Nigel Verdon, in 2015 via Techstars London where he served as a mentor on the fintech accelerator. Nigel had an incredible pedigree, including founding CurrencyCloud, and when I heard that he was starting something new, I was keen to help. When I learned that he was building a category defining business that would arguably launch the $7 Trillion ‘embedded finance’ revolution, I got very excited and joined his pre-seed round and have invested in pretty much every round since.
Railsbank is now one of the darlings of the fintech world, having raised $70m in its last round led by the talented team at Anthos Capital with customers that span the globe.
I made 1.25 direct angel investments PER WEEK in 2021
Yes. I know. That’s a lot. But fintech is fast moving, change is constant, and there are loads of talented founders who deserve to get funded. I’m thinking about one day sharing a portfolio ‘tear-down’, but for now, here are the highlights of 2021:
I made 13 investments direct investments into payments businesses in 2021. One investment was in Twig — ‘the Bank of Things’ which is a ‘bank’ for the circular economy. As of this week, it was a top 10 downloaded finance app in the App Store (one below Santander and one above CashApp). I met founder, Geri Cupi, three years ago in when he was working on a different project. He was a founder worth tracking, and when he decided to launch Twig, I was sold.
Speaking of lightning, I also made an investment in Lightning Social Ventures which helps charities and public sector institutions easily verify financial need and accelerate payouts. In a world where the economy can be shut down overnight, this is a must-have business and founder Ren Yi Hooi is solving a real problem that can help loads of people in their time of need.
Another exciting payments startup I invested in was Dash-app. I met the founder, Prince, through my involvement as a volunteer mentor and investment committee member at Techstars. My friend, Jenny Fielding, must take all the credit for connecting me to Prince (she also invested and serves on his board now). I invested and Dash-app is now taking its ‘connected wallet’ across Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria.
I’ve been active in crypto for a number of years but in 2021 I went in head first and made 10 investments. A few notable ones were Goldfinch which provides decentralised credit in the developing world (now backed by a16z), DFNS — providing bank-grade crypto custody, and Fiat Republic — which is building the API bridge that serves as a compliant crypto “on/off ramp”. These companies are building Fintech 3.0 infrastructure - an area that you’ll be hearing more and more about in 2022 and beyond.
I made seven investments in insurance-tech founders in 2021. I had made a late 2020 investment in embedded insurance provider, Anansi, and added further to my position in 2021 when co-founder and CEO, Meghan, raised her Seed round led by Octopus. I was particularly excited to bring a couple fellow angels, Anthony Stephens — President of Victor Insurance and Evelyn Bourke — former CEO of Bupa, into the deal. Thanks to Oliver at Marshmallow for the original introduction!
I also invested in the pre-Seed of Jove — which provides flexible self-employment insurance. I’ve made a number of investments in ‘the future of work’ this year such as the ‘bank for the creator economy’, Monet Money, and hybrid work scheduling software provider, Common Surface, and Jove was a great addition to this theme. Founder Lizhen Cai is planning to launch soon so watch this space! (and thanks to fellow University of Michigan alumni and founder of Hermesa, Marla Shapiro, for the original introduction!)
There is nothing quite like a pandemic and the daily reminder of ones own mortality to make you consider death, and the planning that people often don’t make regarding life insurance. This led me to invest in UK life insurer Bequest last year and Spanish life insure, GetLife, this year. I met founder, Guillermo, via Yago from Mundi Ventures (thanks Yago)! Shortly after my investment in GetLife, I connected Guillermo to Raffi, Partner at Singular VC who led his A round. Incidentally, I had only met Raffi a few months earlier when he had introduced me to another founder, Benjamin, the founder of Shares — who I invested in!) I tell you this as VC doesn’t scale well, but it scales better if you invest in a network.
B2B tools and Banking-as-a-service
I made eight investments in B2B fintech services founders in 2021. These included companies such as Israeli-based, TenureX, which provided corresponding banking as a service; SimpliFi which offers a cards as a service platform in MENA and Pakistan, and Nigeria-based OnePipe which helps embed financial services into its customers products.
I made seven investment in wealth-tech entrepreneurs in 2021. I’ve had good success backing wealth-tech founders in the past — being a first investor into London-based Wombat and New York based Gatsby. In 2021 I added angel investments into Paris-based Shares, London-based Raindrop, and Nigeria-based Awahbah. Shares is a social investing platform, Raindrop helps you find lost pensions, and Awahbah is a micro pension provider in Nigeria.
I invested in five ‘neo-banks’ in 2021. My first investment in a neo-bank was UK SME and mortgage bank, Atom Bank in 2014 — my investments in 2021 couldn’t be more different! I started the year investing in Vybe, a French ‘neo-bank’ for under 18 year olds (their TikTok campaigns are entertaining….if you like Tiktok;-). I then ‘traveled back’ to the UK and invested in FinAdvant — which offers business accounts for companies that trade internationally and that require more specialist KYC/B underwriting, my next investment was in the US where I backed Rob Curtis and invested in Daylight, a ‘neo-bank’ designed for the needs of LGBTQ+ people. These deals were all referred to me by fellow angels!
I invested in five lending platforms in 2021.
Two that I’d like to highlight are StepEx and Re-Cap. I met Dan George, founder of StepEx , nearly four years ago and have been a friend and mentor since. His platform is the first FCA regulated Income Share Agreement platform which allows students, universities, coding schools (and perhaps trade schools in the future) to de-risk the funding of their education by sharing a percentage of their post graduate income for a period of time rather than taking out a traditional, inflexible, loan. It’s the type of fintech innovation that can play a large role in social mobility — an area that I’m passionate about. I was so excited when the great team at Anthemis decided to lead his seed round and I was delighted to finally join as an angel.
Re-Cap helps companies in the subscription economy access non-dilute capital using future income as collateral. This is a concept that is well known in the US (Brex) and the UK (Outfund and Capital on Tap), but less so in the EU. Re-Cap is filling this void, starting in Germany.
Reg-tech and Cyber Security
I made two investments in regulation technology business in 2021 and one in cyber security (it’s noteworthy that half of my six exits in 2021 were in reg-tech). One of my reg-tech investments this year was in Spin Analytics which offers credit portfolio risk modelling as a service that is 10x faster than what is presently used by lenders.
My cyber security investment was in Venari which specialises in encrypted traffic analysis and threat detection and is run by the successful entrepreneur Tom Miller. Venari is definitely one to watch (or better yet, utilise).
I try to stay ‘on piste’ and only invest in fintech, but I sometimes veer off into the deep snow. I’m cool with this as, ultimately, my thesis is founder-led, so I give myself some leniency. Here are a few.
NeuroNav: NeuroNav helps neurodiverse adults navigate disability services with person centred plans and independent facilitation services, backed by coaching and a database of 10,000 + service providers. Thanks to my friend and Funding Circle co-founder, Andrew Mullinger, who sent me this link of founder, Kimberly, sharing her story. Kimberley’s story is warm and honest and touched my heart and my brain.
Iona Mind: Iona Mind is building the first FDA approved digital treatment for anxiety and depression and is already live in 100 countries. Iona recently completed YCombinator and was founded by a Techstars alumnus and a former Techstars mentor!
Common Surface: Common Surface is a hybrid working platform that enables individuals, teams and managers to effortlessly balance remote and in-office working. Thanks to Freddy MacNamara, founder of portfolio company, Cuvva, for the original introduction!
I had 6 Exits this year!
I started angel investing in 2014. Up until 2021 I had a few small exits, but nothing worth writing about (good for the founders and ok for investors, but not the type of return you hope for when you take this level of risk). It wasn’t until this past year that some strong exits happened. Here are a few that I can share with you now.
Kompany: Kompany was acquired by Moody’s this year. Kompany is an Austria-based platform for audit-proof business verification and KYC, operating a network of primary source information on more than 115 million companies across 200 jurisdictions. (I invested in 2017)
Alyne: Alyne was acquired this year by Mitratech. Munich, Germany based Alyne provides AI-enabled software empowering proactive risk management, operational resilience, and ESG risk frameworks to leading enterprises. (I invested in 2017)
Safello: Safello IPO’d on the NASDAQ First North Exchange this year. Safello is one of the leading crypto exchanges in the Nordics. (I invested in 2015)
3500+ jobs created!
High growth startups produce some of the most sought after jobs and to date my angel portfolio companies have created over 3500 roles (of which c. 2500 are in the UK). Just a few portfolio companies such as Smart Pension, Atom Bank, Marshmallow, Railsbank, Shares, Cutover, Monese, and Wombat employ over 1100 people in challenging and well compensated roles in the UK. I certainly can’t take credit for these roles, but I do take pride in being an early believer in the founders that have started and scaled these businesses. Perhaps, when they look back, I might get an ‘honourable mention’ in their memoirs! ;-)
- Home working gave me the extra time to do more: This post took a long time to craft. It made me realise how many meetings I took with founders, investors, mentors, and fellow angels in 2021 in order to invest in 65 amazing entrepreneurs. I honestly don’t think I could have done it if I hadn’t been working from home 98% of the year. I estimate I had over 1500 calls with companies and investors this year.
- International diversity of founders: I try to identify and back the best fintech founders in the world. This year, this has led me to back CEO/founders from: Singapore, UK, Greece, Portugal, Albania, USA, France, Australia, UAE, Ghana, Germany, Austria, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Hong Kong, Nigeria, Ghana, Spain, South Africa, Russia, Kenya and Ireland. Although many of these founders established their business in the UK, 68% of the CEO’s I backed this year were not born in the UK.
- 34% of the CEO’s I backed were female, minority, or LGBTQ+. This is higher than 2019, but a lower percentage than 2020. Industry data indicates that only 6% of Fintech CEO’s are women (I backed 15%).
- Venture investing is a game of patience. It’s taken me 7+ years from the year I started investing to get some serious exits. I’ll be sure to let you know if the pace of exits continues into 2022! I hope it does. It will allow me to continue what I love doing.
- I’ve had surprisingly few companies wind-down since I began investing. This is something I’m tracking closely and, as time passes, I’ll share this with you. I hope it’s because I’m backing more winners. Time will tell. I clearly want every investment to be a ‘100-bagger’, but realise most investors success comes from one or two investments while many companies they back go to zero. I’d love to get my share of ‘fund-returners’ AND a greater percentage of solid returners. I’m sure the founders would like that too! Curious to see how this evolves.
- #GiveFirst. I only invest in a small percentage of the companies I meet, but I try to make every meeting count and often will refer a founder to someone in my network if I think that they can help. Platforms such as Bridge help me to make connections (and I’m also an investor in Bridge….of course!)
That’s a wrap! If you’ve made it this far, thanks for taking the time. Take care and wishing you a great 2022!