Airtree, the start-up journey
By Craig Blair
Today we announced Airtree’s second fund: $250m to partner with the best Australian and Kiwi founders, wherever they’re based. This is an important moment in what has been a huge 2.5 years for us. Since 2014 we have raised and invested a $60m fund, backed 17 outstanding founding teams, built a team of 7, had three office moves, two internal software rebuilds, two websites and we have even had two Airtree babies (Helen and Cath) and two weddings. Phew.
Launching a VC fund is a start-up in itself with many of the same highs and lows as those experienced by our founders: finding product market fit, serving our customers and shareholders (founders and investors), building a super team, establishing systems and processes and working through scalability issues.
I wanted to share this short journey here.
It was late 2013 when Daniel and I first hatched the plan to resume our VC working relationship (we had previously run netus together). We spent the first few months assessing the burgeoning start-up sector. We spent a huge amount of time talking to founders to understand their pain points, gaps and where they needed help. We also flew to the US to benchmark with VCs and founders in other markets.
It all pointed to the same thing: the pace of Australian innovation and disruption was only going to increase, Australia was home to some of the world’s best entrepreneurs, and they were yearning for value added capital to give them an unfair advantage in an uber-competitive world. We felt we could contribute and set ourselves some ambitious goals around doing so.
And so in early 2014, AirTree Ventures began.
We began life in a pokey room in Beamly’s offices to begin testing product market fit with founders and investors. We were fortunate to have dozens of founders that we had worked with in our previous funds but what amazed us was the quantum and quality of the new generation of founders. We also tackled licensing, legals and name (that’s another blog).
Fortunately, the product we developed with founders during that time also resonated strongly with investors. We were able secure the backing for AirTree 1 from an amazing group of supportive investors in a few months. Many of our investors have deep, relevant experience and have become actively involved in helping us and our founders. The vast majority have shown support again in Fund 2 — we are tremendously grateful and feel a huge responsibility to them.
In July 2014 we formally launched Airtree Ventures Fund 1, a $60m fund to support outstanding Australian and Kiwi founders based anywhere in the world who are building the iconic companies of tomorrow. Our team grew with the addition of Paul, Cath, Jess and Helen and we grew out of our sublet into a small but, still pokey, room in a coworking space.
Over the next 2 years, we met over two thousand amazing founders, each with their own unique story and all heroes in their own way. Our aim has always been to deliver something useful to founders in every meeting — this could be a relevant introduction, some data/content, our experience building similar or related businesses, or other advice.
We are very happy to have partnered with 17 founders and worked hard to deliver on our promise to be genuine value added investors. Initially this meant rolling up our sleeves for founders, diving into their specific problems, helping them think through strategic challenges, and opening up our rolodexes both domestically and internationally. As we’ve matured, so has our value add for founders. We’ve developed a plug and play recruitment platform to help build teams, a data and finance function to help founders with metrics, a network of experts and advisors and a variety of topic-specific events on growth, product, metrics and team building. And we’re just getting started…
None of this would be possible without a super talented and committed team. Specific thanks to Daniel, Jess, Cath, John, Paul, and Helen. We work long hours and it is a pleasure to share this journey with such a smart bunch of people who are all great humans. When we talk about the Airtree family, we really mean it.
We are excited by the huge enthusiasm and support as the Australian tech ecosystem really establishes itself in the national pysche. Yes, some of this is from born again corporate warriors wishing to rebrand but for the most part, it is made up of genuinely passionate people who share a common interest in technology and innovation. We are privileged to be part of this movement.
Where to from here?
Airtree Ventures 2 Core is a $125m fund that will continue our mission to back outstanding Australian founders who are attacking large markets. Given our experience and historical success with them, we’ll continue to focus on SaaS and marketplace models, but we are the first to acknowledge and appreciate innovation and are always open to new ideas whether they be in machine learning, augmented reality, internet of things or other areas we haven’t yet considered.
We will continue to fund businesses from seed to Series B ($200,000 to $5m). An investment from Airtree will continue to mean much more than just capital: we join our companies as operating partners and open up the Airtree Platform to help give them an unfair advantage as they grow.
The $125m AirTree Opportunity fund will allow us to extend our funding support to up to $25m for breakout companies. We feel this is an important missing piece in Australian VC and are fortunate to have the backing of 2 of the largest Australian Super funds to help us plug this gap in the market.
We will be adding to the Airtree Team. We look to hire smart operators with real operational chops who can help our founders via their experience in the trenches. We have one exciting addition to announce in the next few weeks and, if you’re interested in working with us, check out the two live job postings on our site.
From now on, you will be seeing and hearing from us much more. Our ambition is to build the best platform to help our founders succeed and to be so much more than just capital. Stay tuned for a whole host of announcements and initiatives coming soon…
Finally, we want to continue to build connections with the exciting founders of the future. We love meeting early and helping out where we can prior to a partnership. The best investments are usually a culmination of a long standing relationship.
So if you’re thinking about building something awesome, reshaping an industry or are about to launch a product that you think people will love, reach out and say hi. We would love to hear from you!