Why I believe the whole is greater than the sum of its parts
The first in a series about our team.
Written by Damien Steel, OMERS Ventures Managing Partner and Head of Ventures
A few weeks ago, all nine Partners at OMERS Ventures sequestered ourselves in a cabin in the rural Oxfordshire countryside for a couple days of conversation, strategizing, and tactical planning. As always happens with these things, it provided a great opportunity to contemplate the future, but in many ways, I think the most important outcome of get-togethers like this is the less tangible one.
It is the camaraderie and respect that evolves as a result of hours spent together having important conversations about tough subjects. For us, it was particularly important as we have seen tremendous change over the past eighteen months, and the people gathered together this year was the result of patient, intentional recruitment to build the team that we are convinced will lead the future of our business to new heights.
But why have I chosen to post about this on our blog? There are a few reasons:
- For companies we are looking to invest in, more detail about our team provides a great starting point to understanding where we come from when we invest. When you do a deal with one Partner at OMERS Ventures, you are really doing a deal with us all. We have all bought into your business, and we are all here to support you after the investment
- Investors talk a lot about what it takes to build a great founding team, or how teams need to evolve as you scale, but I haven’t seen a lot about building a great VC team — so from that perspective alone I thought it could be useful to share
- And finally, as we continue our transatlantic expansion, with our teams in Canada, the UK and the US continuing to grow, I think it helps to share the human side of our business
I felt a tremendous sense of pride as a l looked around the room and listened to the conversations over those two days. There’s something special about this team — the diversity of thought in the room was real. And it led to some outcomes that I doubt we could ever have achieved except for the power of these different perspectives. I think the easiest way to articulate it is to give you some insight into each of the people that make up the pieces of this puzzle.
This isn’t an exercise in sharing the full bio of each of our Partners (but if you want to see that, check out our Team page). It’s just an interesting way to highlight the different lens through which each team member looks at deals (and adds value to our portfolio).
You would be hard pressed to find an investor more passionate about backing the best founders than Harry. His starting point on any investment is always the person (or people) at the helm — it’s what has made him such a prolific early stage investor. Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising, given his Psychology degree, but it is also reinforced by the disproportionate number of deals he’s done where the company has been exceptionally successful.
Jambu has come out of what is arguably one of the greatest startup success stories in recent history, Uber. Now, Uber has had its share of challenges, particularly recently, but to have someone on our team who has been on that rocketship…and been instrumental in building it, is priceless. Not only that, but Jambu is incredibly passionate about sharing those lessons learned (good and bad!) with founders.
Tara has proven expertise (and a powerful network) in seed investing, so she has access and insight to deals that have the potential to come our way. She also has an insatiable love for fintech, which means deep knowledge of the industry. (Oh, and did I mention she was also co-founder of Turo which is now valued at $1B+).
Henry is — without a doubt — the most well-read person I’ve ever met. He craves knowledge. And the fact that he reads anything, and everything not only means he knows a lot, but that he has honed his ability to digest and synthesize information very quickly and extremely accurately. Henry listens intently and when he speaks, he’s usually right.
Laura is a seasoned professional investor and extremely metrics-driven. If you want to a do a deep dive on the economics of a business, there’s no one you’d rather have on your team. In fact, she wrote a recent post on our blog that is a shining example of what I mean. Her insights come from seeing deals and making investments over and over and over again during the last 15 years.
Michael is possibly the most thematically-driven investor I’ve ever known. It’s not an exaggeration to say that before Michael even looks at a business, he will have done about six months’ worth of work in terms of understanding the industry, the players in it and its future potential. This approach is driven partly by the fact that he is in the most competitive place on earth when it comes to VC — Silicon Valley. He has to find a way to stand out…and he has.
Shawn is new to investing — so he’s quick to call us all out when we resort to ‘the way things have always been done’. He’s the first to ask, ‘why does it have to be like that?’. But he also has more experience than all of us combined in understanding product market fit and go-to-market strategies. Prior to his latest stint at a tech start-up, he spent four years at toy giant Spinmaster where every single toy goes through the product /market fit test. Imagine the knowledge created from doing that process literally hundreds of times. It’s already proving to be extremely valuable not just from an investing perspective, but for our existing portfolio companies too.
And finally, we have Brian. As one of the most analytical and thoughtful people I’ve had the pleasure to work with, Brian spends his time thinking about the big macro-economic trends in our world and the companies that have the greatest potential to contribute to, and benefit from them. In common with many others on the team, Brian worked at a start-up he had invested in prior to joining us.
The big picture
Even just writing this down reinforces the fact that when we look at opportunities as a team — which we always do — we have people coming at it from every single angle you could hope to want. And the mix of recent operators with seasoned investors creates the perfect blend.
I’d like to say it was by design. When we set out to build this team, I knew we wanted smart people with different perspectives who cared about more than just making money. I’m not sure I would have been bold enough 18 months ago to think that we could get absolutely top-notch people with such diverse backgrounds and unique perspectives. But we have, and I couldn’t be more excited about where it leads us.
I learned everything I know about leadership from the amazing people I’ve worked with over the years. What has stuck with me is that great leaders always put the interests of the business ahead of their own. And in our Partner discussions at this offsite, although we would openly challenge each other (as we should), the driving force was always what’s best for the business (both ours and the companies we’ve invested in). Equally, it was easy to spot that everyone in that room was more concerned with doing the right thing than anything else. And that is something we can all be proud of.