Lireas Holdings-Investor of the Year at Southern Africa Startup Awards 2018

“Our mantra is that we ‘invest in people and not fancy business plans’.”

Valerie Hayter, managing director of Lireas Holdings has told us some interesting things in this interview about investing and entrepreneurship in South Africa.

What was the best advice someone gave you, that really stuck with you and helped along your path in becoming a successful entrepreneur?

“Lireas, the company I run is an investor in entrepreneurs and so I can’t answer this one directly. However, our mantra is that we ‘invest in people and not fancy business plans’ — so in our experience (having started in excess of 40 companies) it is all about the people. If you choose the right team, invariably they will be successful.”

In your opinion, how did the South African and regional startup landscape changed and evolved over the past couple of years?

“We have been in the business of starting companies in the insurance industry for the past 30 years. Most interesting for us to note is that with the increase in insurtech businesses, we have started to see increased interest from venture capital companies — of the 5 insurtech companies that we have started recently, 3 of them have attracted VC investors. Venture Capitalists bring an interesting experience to the start-up and we see them playing an increasingly important role in start-ups here in SA.”

As an investor, what are you looking for in a startup and how do you ‘feel out’ the ones that you think will possibly be able to make the leap towards the big success?

“For Lireas, successful start-ups start with choosing the right people. We look to get to know the Founders as well as possible during the due diligence process and try and evaluate the cultural fit between the Founders and Lireas. Starting a company is a very hard thing to do and there will obviously be ups and downs where your relationship with the Founders will be tested. It is therefore very important that investors are fully aligned with the Founders and prepared to support them through thick and thin.

Since Lireas is an active investor, it is important that Founders are looking for a partner that wants to add value and support them. We do not get involved with businesses that just want funding.

Alignment of interests for us is paramount — when the start-up wins, so do all the investors and Founders and when things go wrong, then everyone feels the pain.”

What are the upsides and downsides of South Africa in regards to investment and innovation?

“Our experience over 30 years of investing in entrepreneurs shows that South Africans are very entrepreneurial and can successfully start businesses. The innovations coming from our insurance businesses that we have invested in show that SA is actually keeping pace with worldwide innovation and in some cases, we are even slightly ahead.

We have however observed that very few companies in SA are prepared to act as angel investors and give entrepreneurs the first vital funding to get them off the ground — that is probably because capital is scarce here in SA and failure isn’t an option!”

What do you value most in people? Especially those in your team?

“A ‘can do’ attitude, thinking out the box, transparency and integrity. I am very fortunate to lead a team that has many of these qualities and that puts us in a good position to properly evaluate a start-up proposal and then give 100% support to the ones we decide to invest in. Commitment to partnership and appreciating the challenges that come with starting a business are also vital in a team that invests in entrepreneurs.”