David Nangle, CEO of VEF — Unlocking Fintech Investment Opportunities in Emerging Markets
Miguel Armaza sits down with the fascinating David Nangle, CEO of Vostok Emerging Finance (VEF), an investment company publicly listed in Sweden that invests in growth stage private fintech companies across the emerging world.
Born and raised in Ireland, Dave has spent his career focused on emerging markets having worked in places like Moscow and London, and has backed some of the top fintech names across Brazil, Mexico, Turkey, India, Kenya, and beyond. Some of VEF’s current and past portfolio companies include Creditas, Konfio, JUMO, and Tinkoff.
In this fun episode, we discuss:
David’s story and why he quit his London job and moved to Moscow in the early 2000s without speaking a word of Russian.
I was an Irish guy sitting in London looking at financials as an analyst in emerging markets… But effectively, I felt like a fraud. I was the only Irish person in the team surrounded by Czechs, Poles, Turks, Russians, Brazilians, and faking that I knew something about emerging markets. So I had this itchiness to get out and live the story.”
Advantages of being a publicly listed firm with a permanent capital structure. As a permanent capital fund, VEF is not bound by the traditional VC model of a 3-year investment period and a 7–10 holding period. Instead, they have the flexibility to get in and out of an investment at any time.
“When we go to companies and say ‘we’re here to back you’, we can honestly say we’re here to back you for the long term, as opposed to saying we’ll need our money back at a certain point. And in emerging markets, that certain point could be a bad point in the cycle for Mexico, Russia, or Turkey.”
Why VEF actually invests harder and doubles down during volatile periods. Winston Churchill famously said to “Never let a crisis go to waste” and David recognizes some of the best investment opportunities in emerging markets open up during downturns. In fact, he even recalls closing a deal in Turkey in the middle of an attempted coup with tanks on the streets.
“Once you’ve got a permanency of capital vehicle and a long term outlook, you can live through these cycles. You have to expect them, you have to forecast them, and you have to build-in 10% currency depreciation into your models… if anything, we invest harder during volatility.”
Valuable Investment lessons
“We’ve invested in teams that haven’t focused and have gone multi-country before one country, or multi-product before actually nailing one. And the best results in our portfolio is when you get the strongest team possible, focusing on one scale market, on one single product, and just going in every day for a period of years.”
“Timing is always an important one. We’ve gotten the right assets at the wrong time in a couple of instances, and we have to live. You’ll get a return on capital while you’re living, watching your capital kind of sit there idle, as a company doesn’t quite take off.”
- Invest with locals
“We invest with locals a lot and we don’t like to be naked in a cap table on our own or be the clever seed investor who thinks they’ve found the one thing in Bolivia or Brazil or wherever that might be.”
- Play nice in the VC ecosystem
“The biggest lesson is to always play nice. VC is collegiate. There can be many winners of a single asset, including the founders and their team. So you have to play nice and work nice with people, especially if things don’t go well at certain companies — you got to work through those things so you can stay part of that ecosystem for future investments.”
Why he’s excited about the future of frontier markets like Pakistan, Egypt, and Nigeria… and a lot more!
David Nangle has spent his career focusing on emerging markets and within that the financial services sector. He was part of ING Baring’s Emerging Markets Research team between 2000 and 2006, after which he spent nearly 10 years with Renaissance Capital in both Moscow and London, as head of financials and research overall. He helped the firm develop and grow their financials and broader research footprint from a strong Russia base to a leading EM and frontiers franchise. Having had a front row seat in the evolution of the financial sector across emerging markets since the late 90’s, in 2015, he left the world of investment banking and co-founded VEF to back founders building the next generation of financial services firms across the emerging world.
VEF is an investment company listed on Nasdaq First North Growth Market in Sweden under the ticker VEFAB. We invest in growth stage private fintech companies across the emerging world. We take minority stakes and are active investors with board representation in each of our portfolio holdings. We respect the macro, but are firm believers that the secular growth trend of EM fintech, outweighs all the macro uncertainty and volatility that we and our portfolio companies will invariably live through. A digital financial world is the end game and the best companies always come out of pockets of macro and market turbulence in a stronger relative position.
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