I had pleasure interviewing Neeta Singh is the COO of Activant Capital, a growth equity firm focused on commerce infrastructure and enterprise IoT. Prior to Activant, she was the COO/CFO of Armarium Inc., a luxury fashion rental startup, and also ran the consulting arm of Dallimore & Co., focused on retail growth strategies. She started her career focused on finance with positions at Goldman, Sachs & Co., General Atlantic Partners and MSD Capital. Neeta has an MBA from Harvard Business School and attended the University of Pennsylvania for her undergraduate degrees in Economics and Applied Science.
Jean: Can you share your story about how you got into the VC space?
After investment banking and working on a bunch of private equity buyouts, I wanted to find a way to build businesses, not just apply financial engineering to get a return. I realized I was a bit young and inexperienced to be judging a business based solely on a business plan, so I decided to focus on growth equity where we provide companies who have proof of concept with the capital and support to grow and expand their idea. There was a lot more to those companies to analyze, which was my strong suit.
Jean: What kinds of startups do you typically work with?
I have worked with many startups in my career and in many different sectors, but currently, we focus on commerce infrastructure and IoT focused companies. We invest in companies that help companies make more and sell more — better, faster and optimally. We also focus on data heavy businesses where data aggregation can make a business more efficient. We look for companies that solve significant problems for companies and that address large markets.
Jean: What do you look for in the management team of your investment companies?
We look for experience in the field that allows the founder to have a unique understanding of the problem he/she is solving and of the pain points they are relieving. We also look for tenacity, vision and leadership. Part of leadership is also letting go and building a capable team to support the vision. For the remainder of the management team, we look for team players that have expertise to really execute on the vision.
Jean: Can you share a story of a successful Angel or VC investment? What were some of the highlights?
I cannot comment on this at this time.
Jean: What is one piece of advice you would give a startup?
When pitching your business, make sure you clearly articulate why your product is so special and unique in the market, and how you envision your business dominating the market.
Jean: What are your “5 Things I Wish Founders Knew Before They Pitched To Me” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- My stage of investment and how the company they are pitching fits in the stage I invest in and the amount I like to invest. If I am a later stage growth investor and write $25mm checks, it would be a waste of time for both the company and us to listen to a pitch when the company is raising $5mm in a Series Seed round.
- My areas / sectors of focus. How does the company fit within those industry preferences? If a VC is focused on software, they do not want to hear about a consumer goods product. At the end of the day, it behooves the company to have investors who have a knowledge base in the industry in which it operates. They can add so much more value that way.
- Going even deeper, I would like for the entrepreneur to understand what themes I am interested in to the extent they can understand that from information available, and again, how do they fit that thematic approach. We are a thematic investor. If your strategy runs counter to a theme we are focused on, you are unlikely to get an investment from us. We invest in businesses that aggregate data in order to optimize commerce. If the business the entrepreneur is building is focused on better UX and UI tools, they do not focus on our core area of interest.
- Do they know my portfolio? Which should inform all of the above. How can this company fit in with the current portfolio or add to it? A key question is: does my business compete directly with a portfolio company? That would most likely preclude us from investing, and you could be revealing important competitive information if an NDA is not signed prior to the pitch.
- Lastly, Activant is not a passive investor. We like to be involved and add value. We want to work with and invest in companies that value more than just a check. I would like for the entrepreneur to understand and think about how Activant can be a good partner and value add to the company. Can we make strong introductions to partners and customers? Can we help hire the best talent because of our knowledge and reach within a sector?
Jean: Some of the biggest names in business, VC funding, sports, and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Theresia Gouw at Aspect Ventures. She has been in venture for some time and probably has a great perspective on how it has changed, how it is changing and what it is like to be a woman rising up the ranks in this very male dominated industry. She has seen so many businesses and has made many successful investments, all the while creating an incredibly well-respected reputation.
-Published on September 2018