Marguerite is an investor at e.ventures, based in Berlin. Prior to e.ventures, she worked in operations at Side and as a consultant for Founder Intelligence. Marguerite was just named to Europe’s Forbes 30 Under 30 for Finance. You can follow her @maguitedetav.
What drew you to venture capital and working with startups?
I initially studied international relations with the intention of joining a think tank. But after a few policy-related internships, I realised the tremendous impact of business in the public sphere and geopolitics more broadly. For me, technology was shaping the economy. I transitioned to a management track and graduated with a MSc in International Management from the London School of Economics. During that time, I was lucky enough to meet incredible people at LSE and beyond who really inspired me and accelerated my career in tech. There were two key encounters for me: the people I worked with during my summer internship at Google in London. Google had incredibly ambitious individuals leveraging technology for large scale products and campaigns. Some of them have gone on to be impact-driven entrepreneurs while others are marketing gurus; I have doubt that many will accomplish other unbelievable projects. The second encounter was with Brent Hoberman, who really supported my first steps in the startup ecosystem. I then actually ended up getting a role at Founders intelligence. There, I advised large corporates on their digital transformation strategies. The specificity of Founders Intelligence is their bottom up approach, which enabled me to understand key corporate challenges on the one hand, and interact with a great number of startups on the other hand, approaching them from a strategic angle in trying to understand how they could work with our clients.
For VC specifically, I was really attracted to the fact it is a people business. There’s also autonomy and intellectual stimulation. If you are curious by nature, this is a fantastic industry to be in! You constantly meet inspiring people (often outliers) trying to change the world in their own ways, impacting various sectors and behaviours.
Why e.ventures? What was the recruiting process like?
For me, the team and investment thesis were absolutely key for my next move.
From the first conversation I had at e.ventures with partner Jonathan Becker, I felt it could be a fantastic fit. The rest of the process further reinforced this conviction. I had thoughtful interactions with each member of the team. I aligned with the general approach of the company as cross-sector and stage agnostic. I tend to think that when things are smooth and fluid, when it feels right, then you can't go wrong. My last 11 months at e.ventures have proved me right :)
The investment thesis also resonates with me. We invested in NGINX at seed, before open source was a thing. We invested in Deposit Solutions at seed as well, before fintech was a thing... We've backed incredible founders who were able to see things before anyone else did, and I find this to be very exciting.
Moreover, e.ventures appealed to me as a seasoned fund for all stages though I focus on the early stage. This is our 5th early stage fund our we also have a Growth fund which is a Joint Venture with Greycroft in the US. Europe has a more nascent venture ecosystem and many of the funds are new. It’s a big plus and incredibly helpful to build my understanding of VC from a fund with a long-term view. One of our current partners actually started as an intern in San Francisco. E.ventures has backed more than 120 startups, some very successful and some less so. Many lessons were learnt, and as an investor, I learn and build on those every day.
I had been to Berlin only once (in grey February!) before accepting this job: Yet, I was that convinced I was making the right choice.
On the recruiting side, I started with 3 phone conversations with 2 principals (now partners) and one of the GPs. I was then invited to the office in Berlin where I stayed for the day and met in person with everyone from the investment team. I had a couple of startup and marketing case studies as well.
From your previous roles at Side, Founders Intelligence, and Google, what are some key skills/competencies that have helped you as an investor?
Google was my first step in the digital/tech world, as I was previously more exposed to the politics and diplomatic world. It really great to learn from one of the leaders in the industry, but it also confirmed my appetite to join smaller teams versus big corporations.
My time at Side gave me invaluable insights into scaling a startup at the Series A stage. There are strategic challenges in how you approach international expansion and more. My operational experience there taught me how to get my hands dirty. It also provided me with an in-depth understand of double-sided marketplace models, where the supply is absolutely key. That’s top of mind whenever I analyse marketplace businesses, or when I implement initiatives/projects from ideation to neat execution.
Founders Intelligence gave me a profound understanding of the startup ecosystem, the dynamics that shape it, the different stakeholders involved, and their respective roles and challenges. It also greatly helped me assess startups from a strategic perspective as I was working with corporates. Now, I’m examining and backing startups with the investor hat on but the FI foundation is very helpful in understanding the potential for a startup’s business, sales cycle, partnerships, etc.
I would say that my studies in the UK have also helped me a lot as an investor. The UK educational system puts a strong emphasis on critical thinking and your ability to develop an informed, well-articulated thesis on new topics. When you work in VC, you constantly discover new industries and models; I believe my academic background prepared me with the skills to synthesize startup data and information.
Side is one of the leading staffing agencies in Europe, recruiting freelancers to help companies like Nike and Uber with projects in the office, logistics, sales, events and more. You joined right around their Series A raise. Did you have operations experience before you joined as Head of Operations? What kinds of challenges did you face, and what operational milestones were you tasked with?
I didn't, and learnt on the job thanks to great guidance from the management team (Pierre Mugnier, David Benzaken and Gaspard Schmitt). The operations team handled the bottle necks, dynamics, and challenges of a two-sided marketplace like hiring and international growth. Side, like any startup, had different priorities at different stages. I joined right before the Series A. My main operational milestone was launching our British operations. I focused on creating repeatable processes to acquire and activate a high quality labor supply suited for the kind of tasks needed in the geography. I spent time with the business intelligence team and sales to determine our KPIs and analyze activation and retention; in essence, I was figuring out how to use data to manage the supply of siders. That model would help Side adapt launching processes to other markets in the future.
Following the Series A, Side decided to put the resources behind the French market and I think it was the right move. There, we already owned it with brand and a well established, strong position. The UK market was crowded and Side lacked the first mover advantage we had in France. In the UK, everything around labor was more flexible, while the French labor market is much more rigid by nature, which made our position much stronger. I therefore moved back to France and focused on our local supply there.
Talk to me about Berlin's startup ecosystem. There are events like TAO and Disrupt Berlin. Zalando, Delivery Hero, and Wunderlist are just a few success stories. What are you seeing in the ecosystem right now and what do you anticipate?
I spend 80/85% of my time on the French market but I’m based in Berlin and see the deals our team works on. Being sector and stage agnostic has showed me the importance of recycling talent. With successes like Zalando and Rocket Internet, we’re seeing the next generation of startups. I’m excited by all the founders exploring industries where Berlin hasn’t been as active like SaaS, blockchain, and marketplaces. The quality of events has also risen (NOAH is a particular standout). For a quick overview, Hugo Amsellen from The Family highlights the myths of the Berlin ecosystem in this Medium piece. Generally speaking, I feel Berlin is a more nascent startup ecosystem compared to Paris and London but there’s a lot of runway and opportunity to grow. It’s a shame that they are not leveraging Brexit better though!
e.ventures is known as a global venture fund. Can you explain how that dynamic work?. How do you collaborate and work with other offices? How are investors staffed on deals (is it by region, sector expertise, etc.)?
E.ventures has offices in São Paulo, San Francisco, Tokyo, Beijing and Berlin. My team works particularly closely with the US team (we go to SF twice a year and they come to Europe twice a year as well). There are several benefits to having a global team other than wide deal flow and market expansion opportunities. One is knowledge transfer. We research and present on specific sectors/verticals. My recent presentations include mobility and SaaS with two of our US team members. We have weekly calls for investment committee and jointly work on deals whenever we can. Farfetch is an example where our teams collaborated to supported a company in their Brazil and Japan expansion. It's a huge asset to get their insights and compare what they see in the US versus what we see in Europe.
What does your firm do to provide support beyond capital and help entrepreneurs achieve true global scale?
Our operating partner, Luis Hanemann, used to be the CMO at Rocket Internet and spends most of his time working with portfolio companies on their acquisition and marketing strategy. We also support with hiring whenever we can. One of our key competitive advantages is definitely our expertise in international expansion (e.g. Natural Cycles, Farfetch, NGINX...). We open our network and support on ad hoc, specific challenges as they arise, while connecting founders our LPs and with one another to explore potential commercial partnerships. We also try to leverage network effects within our portfolio as much as possible; very often lessons can be learnt from one industry/model/cycle to the other.
e.ventures has invested in a number of successful companies like App Annie, Sonos, The RealReal, Plated, Bird, and Thrive Market (to name a few). Given that your firm focuses on companies with large markets, disruptive models, and network effects, what investment spaces are you most excited about?
The beauty of working at e.ventures is that you get to be sector agnostic and support businesses radically disrupting industries. We backed fintech companies before fintech was even a word, and that's precisely what we are looking for today: visionary category shapers. I would say there is not one sector in particular, but that it's rather about the founding team and the market opportunity.
In the last 10 years, we’ve built an enterprise sourcing tool. We use it to explore industries and identify emerging companies. If I see that a market is ready for disruption, when I see interesting actors, that generally leads me to do a deep dive of the players in a space.Having said that, I am particularly interested in the consumer space and spend more and more time looking at consumer businesses. In fact, I have just started a small series of Medium articles on consumer trends.
What kind of mentorship/advice do you receive from your colleagues? From other women in the startup and VC community?
There are various initiatives, WhatsApp groups and mailing lists that provide guidance and advice. In Berlin, a few events are organised on a monthly basis, notably dinners by The Family and Women in VC brilliantly led by Marie Wennergren from Fly Venture, that gather great people together. It’s about establishing trust within the community as we grow.
What advice do you have for young women who want to enter VC - on the investing, operations, or platform side?
The first thing I would say, and that applies to all industries and jobs, is to be confident. Put yourself forward. I think the change also has to come from women themselves; how they empower themselves and trust their own potential. Don't be afraid to get a no, and don't take no for an answer.
Now when it comes to VC, it's really important to understand what the role entails as it is not a typical desktop job. The best way to do so is to speak to various investors in the VC world and get their perspective, understand the type of profiles who enjoy working in VC, and ask yourself the question whether this is something that might fit your aspirations and leverage your strengths.
Being curious and passionate about technology is naturally key in this job. The frontier between personal and professional life also tends to be thin sometimes, but if you love what you do you will naturally keep developing your skills as an investor in your personal time as well (reading about tech trends, meeting people from the industry who can further refine your radar and develop your analytical skills as an investor, etc.). It's also important for you to define what kind of investments you'd like to be involved in (early stage, late stage, sectors of interest etc.) so that you can better identify the funds you aspire to work for.
Rapid Fire 🔥
A mobile app you can't live without?
Spotify is the one app I can't live without (and I'd be lying saying WhatsApp is not one of the apps that I use the most as well).
Your top life hack?
It's important to not lose sight of the key life values that are important to you, and know how/when to disconnect from the small tech world we live in as it can at times feel like a bubble. There is more than tech in the world. Personally, I think it’s important to dedicate time to non-tech related hobbies as well (for me, that would be film photography, travel to remote places, read fiction books, or watch a good old Friends episode…)