I had the pleasure of meeting Maria Dramalioti-Taylor, Managing Partner AngelLab, the last time Angelsbootcamp was in London. We recently sat down and discuss parenthood, female angels and investment philosophies.
Investing with AngelLab
You’ve worked for Andersen and Ernst & Young, been a CEO of a startup, launched Incite Ventures, a syndicate for women tech entrepreneurs, been a partner at x.Million Capital Ventures, and you are currently a managing partner at AngelLab – which you also founded, an Entrepreneur In Residence at INSEAD and Professor of Finance at HULT Business School which you said you do it “just for the fun of it!”. You are also on the board of Charities such as Reload Greece. What drives you?
The same thing that drives every working person on the planet: doing something useful with one’s time and the abilities that we have been given. I am fortunate to have a job that is also my hobby, something I would do in any case in my spare time. Not many people are as lucky as that.
What challenges did you face as a woman in business?
I never saw myself as a “woman in business”. I consider myself “a working person” with no specific gender classification. As such, I face the same challenges that most people do when they work and try to build their businesses and careers. If, at any point during my professional life, some people saw the gender before the person, then probably I was too busy working to notice it. If there were the occasional flippant gender-specific comment, I probably laughed and returned the … “favour” at the first available opportunity. Having a sharp tongue helped, I guess…
Why aren’t there more female angels?
For the same reason that there are not more working women or more female VCs or more female senior executives: women opt out at some point to cater, full-time, for their families. No matter what anyone says, there is always a risk associated with being a part-time mother, wife, housekeeper. When things go wrong, you always question whether, were you able to devote all your time to your work, you would have prevented “it”, whatever this “it” might be. By continuing to work, most women take a risk: so long as we do it being fully aware of the potential negative consequences (perceived or real ones), that’s fine. A partial “guilt complex” is part and parcel of the choices we make. One learns to deal with it.
You were the founder of Incito Ventures for FinanceSE, an angel syndicate for female-led tech startups. Do we need special funds for women owned startups?
No, we don’t. Capable women entrepreneurs will always find their way to capital. Such as Brynne Herbert of Moveguides, AngelLab’s first ever investment or Fiona Strens, CEO of Crowdvision and so many others. The aim of Incito was to create a “go to” place for investors who wish to invest in this specific talent pool. My belief is that generation X and the millennials are gender agnostic in their ambitions and this particular talent pool (female tech entrepreneurs) will become deeper over the next decade or so.
What advice would you offer a woman interested in becoming an Angel?
Learn from the best out there. Diversify the portfolio like mad. Take it seriously, even if you consider it a hobby. BTW, this is also the advice I would give to anyone – man or woman – who wants to become an angel.
Did you have a mentor?
I had many people who influenced my way of thinking. I always chose to work with fiercely intelligent people and independent thinkers with sharp judgments. I am usually the least intelligent and experienced in the room but I catch up quickly. There were two people who were pivotal in my development, both were from the PE and VC sectors, both managing funds in hundreds of millions. One is here in the UK and the other is in the US.
What is your investment philosophy?
I back talented people who show an acutely painful problem and build well-engineered products to solve it. It’s as simple as that. There is no substitute for talent. I like to go for the outliers which means mostly binary scenarios ( massive wins or capital loss) but I make sure I have colleagues who balance this view with more moderate attitudes. I seek to manage my deal flow universe to improve the ‘signal to noise’ ratio and I want to diversify the portfolio at the ideal level. Some people confuse “ high diversification” with “spray and pray”. It is not the same thing at all. I call my strategy “highly curated diversification”.
Your previous firm was investing across Europe and into Russia. What are the challenges of cross border investing?
This is not about cross-order risk. It is about country-specific risk. In addition to all the usual startup venture risks, one has to deal with country-specific risks in terms of legal structure, operations, cultures. The odds are stacked against you. The bet therefore needs to be significantly better than what you would find in your local market to make it worth-while taking the extra risk.
When investing, what do you look for in an entrepreneur?
Talent. Raw, deep, unquestionable technical talent. If I can find this together with humility and ability to converse in ‘human language’ and explain technical matters plainly, then I know I have found someone I want to back.
What do you do for fun?
The usual things that most working mothers do for … “fun”: tidying up our house, helping with homework, taking my son to rugby matches and Saturday Greek school (OK, my husband does most of the latter two but I can still claim responsibility for supervising the activity…). I also fence the foil and can’t wait until my son starts fencing so that we have proper bouts.