EXCLUSIVE: London-based investment firm True will have around £10m available to deploy into consumer and retail start-ups in 2023, according to its head.
Co-founder and CEO Paul Cocker said the investment firm would look to invest up to £5m into 10 to 12 consumer-based start-ups but stressed it will be opportunity-driven and there would be no quota to fill.
True currently runs two funds: a £40m seed to Series A fund which initially invests around £500,000 to £1m into early-stage consumer and B2B tech start-ups; and a private equity fund for established consumer brands and consumer-related companies which looks to invest between £50m and £100m. Both funds have more than 80 per cent of capital still to deploy.
True is also open to invest £50,000 to £200,000 for very early-stage businesses, Cocker said.
Venture capital and private equity isn’t all True does, though. It also has an innovation consultancy arm for large consumer brands.
Its team of a dozen consultants works with brands including M&S, John Lewis, Primark and Walmart to help with innovation challenges. The idea at the outset being if Cocker and co-founder Matt Truman were to invest in the future of consumer behaviour, they should try and get exposure to big legacy businesses which will be facing challenges in how to innovate. Challenges include the arrival of Web3 and the metaverse. That way they will have a better understanding of where to deploy capital and be as helpful as possible to entrepreneurs.
The idea is that these learnings from big companies fit into an interconnected web of expertise and ideas benefiting founders in its portfolio.
It’s a structure that has helped develop start-ups like Unmind, a mental health platform for employees which provides tools like mindfulness meditations, storytelling and healthy recipes.
Entering True’s colourful offices just off Buckingham Palace, it is clear there is a big emphasis on culture – the art on the walls, the casual office arrangements, the bar-like reception. It is something Cocker explains has been part of the VC’s DNA from the very beginning.
“Neither Matt nor I are huge fans of some of the cultural aspects of the investment industry more broadly,” he explains.
“When we launched, there had to be a reason for True to exist. The world wasn’t crying out for another investment firm, so the key strategic point of difference was to have different facets to the business – and therefore hopefully be more helpful to the investment companies – but also culturally there was an opportunity to do things differently.
“What we’ve built here is a much more inclusive and diverse company than what would be typical of an investment firm, particularly from a private equity level where it’s very privileged with panelled offices. This is meant to be welcoming.
“From a personal point of view, I’m also very passionate about the lack of diversity in the investment industry,” he adds. “If we leave some legacy at some point in a few decades’ time, a part of it will be that we have built a firm which is much more inclusive and humbler than I see elsewhere in the industry.”
This attitude of having a vision bigger than the individual is reflected in everything Cocker does. He looks for vision in himself, founders, and his employees.
“The best entrepreneurs are fighting for something bigger than them,” he says later in the conversation. “Something they’re getting out of bed in the morning for because as an entrepreneur you’re going to be told no a hundred times more than you are told yes.
“When I meet entrepreneurs and people I employ here, I wonder, ‘Why do you do that?’ ‘Why do you get out of bed to do that?’ I’m keen to underpin what the fire is because it’s hard work being a founder. I know what it feels like to get a knock-back on a Sunday morning or feel the world’s going to end on a Friday night.
“Over time we’ve tried to recruit with that entrepreneurial mindset across the business and I think we’ve built a team who are very similarly built in the sense they’re motivated by something more than the cheque on the last Friday of the month.”
What does True look for in founders?
Confidence: “A huge amount of confidence balanced with humility. You must have the confidence to believe anything is possible, but you also need to have the humility to know that you can’t do everything.”
Driven by purpose or vision: “Bigger than them as an individual. Grit, resilience, and work ethic but all those things come from having a vision bigger than themselves.”
Need to be a fantastic salesperson: “There are so many people that you need to convince. You need the charisma to sell that vision.”