Profile: Rebecca Roberts, Conviction VC
The Drawdown (TDD): You were at Northstar Ventures for over six years before becoming a founding partner for Current Capital in 2016. What led to you becoming co-founder and COO of Conviction VC in 2017?
Rebecca Roberts (RR): Coming from an accountancy background, Northstar got me into the VC space and I didn't want to leave it; it was fascinating working in a fast-paced environment with entrepreneurs and early-stage businesses.
Then it became important for me to create a platform so that I could empathise with founders, who are an essential part of a VC business. Current Capital was born out of that feeling of necessity to understand how they really felt on a day to day basis. I wanted to feel the pain points and to be better equipped in understanding them in a VC setting.
Both of those roles were a great foundation to becoming a co-founder and COO of Conviction. The co-founders, Andrew Jenkins and Jeremy Middleton, approached me and it was just too good of an opportunity to turn down. I knew I would learn a lot from them and I thought we would be able to find really good investments. I also thought it would probably be quite fun, which it has been.
TDD: Has being a co-founder of Conviction, as well as the COO, impacted your perspective in any way?
RR: I'm naturally prudent, risk-conscious, and cautious. I think that comes from my background as an accountant and a compliance officer. These are traits that you don't normally find in a co-founder.
Andrew, Jeremy, and I are ambitiously entrepreneurial and our mix of skills and personalities at partner level creates a really balanced board. The diversity in the team makes us stronger. So, being a co-founder, as well as COO, gives me the understanding of where we've come from, where we are now, but also where we want to go. I believe this makes me more of an open-minded, well-rounded COO.
Also, having an early stage background gives me empathy with other key departments. For example, I know how long it takes to gather data from a portfolio company or to construct an investment recommendation. Above all, I don’t have unrealistic expectations of other people.
TDD: Which operational changes you have implemented have significantly improved processes?
RR: I definitely don’t want to take sole credit for individual processes in the business because it is a genuine team effort. But it's imperative that everybody gets to contribute at all levels of the company, regardless of where they sit in the organisation chart. I am very passionate about employee wellbeing and I'm proud that we do have a system that provides a safe space for anonymous employee feedback, something that is essential to the business.
At the moment, I'm really enjoying educating myself on some new processes. We're refining our ESG policies to establish the right culture. It's at the forefront of a lot of companies' minds and as I'm writing these policies I think they're genuinely useful for employees to refer back to.
TDD: Have you received specific feedback relating to ESG improvements?
RR: At the minute, our feedback focuses on the ‘S’ in ESG. People now have a flexible working culture around what works for them. One of the biggest challenges up till now has been adapting to a workforce that had to work during a pandemic. It was tough to go from an exciting, motivated group of people to them not being able to go to the office or meet clients. We had to find a way to ensure people’s motivation didn’t get too low during that time.
I think a key learning point was understanding people's communication styles and preferences. We have since gathered information such as whether employees struggle on the Monday morning Zoom calls, whether they get a chance to speak in meetings or what days they want to come into the office. Most of the team are based in London, but there's a handful of us based up north. Regardless of where you're located, whether you're working from home, we're still one team fighting the same cause, and we've got to pull in the same direction.
This feedback has helped on a company level more than on the macro level around helping us with ESG. But as we put these new policies in place, we will start asking people their opinion on them. I'm hoping all stakeholders can get genuinely excited that we can invest in portfolios where we can be doing some good as well as making money.
TDD: The firm made the decision to bring legal in house. Can you tell me why that decision was made?
RR: After completing nearly 20 deals, it felt like the logical next step to bolster the team with an in-house general counsel. They know what they are talking about and they are quicker. It is less likely he will misunderstand something which might happen if you're dealing with an external lawyer.
The founders appreciate that because we can control costs and time a lot more. It's just generally more efficient and it cuts down lots of duplication. It could have gone either way but it worked out well and we are really pleased with the move.
TDD: It seems that founders and investors are at the forefront of the company. How do you ensure that the needs of both are met?
RR: It's really simple because I think investors get really good outcomes when you have motivated founders. If we insisted on toxic complex terms or vulture behaviour, it would reduce a founder's motivation. A demotivated founder is going to lead to worse investor outcomes. So it's in everyone's interests that we keep everybody happy.
If we are able to achieve this, we can only hope for a bright future which involves the continued backing of high growth B2B SaaS founders at early stages of commercialization. We've got three deals left from the current fund and then we will move into the next phase of Conviction - raising a new, larger fund that will mirror the successful strategy of the first fund.
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From nothing to something
Roberts joined the business as the first employee in 2017, compared to today where they now have 12 employees and distinct departments. “We had to start from scratch and create setups for each department,” she comments. “I would say that we now have a number of systems in place, together with a number of operational set ups that now exist, which range in all kinds of functions: supporting employees, maintaining compliance, investor relations, portfolio management, and everything in between.”
For her, the process of starting from scratch was exciting yet daunting, involving a monumental amount of work. “We knew what we needed, and then it was about prioritising. The most important thing is ensuring that you are treating your investors fairly and that you are compliant with the FCA. Those things have to come before marketing, for example. If you start with zero set up or systems in place and you need to end up with a sizable number of processes, start with the essentials and build on that.”