Don’t play the game of I can survive on 3 hours of sleep!

‘Start-up Spotlight’ by Invested Investor, published in partnership with Angel News:

Don’t play the game of  “I can survive on 3 hours of sleep!”

In partnership with Angel News, we are delighted to publish this issue of Startup Spotlight where we talk to Ramona Liberoff, an experienced and dynamic investor with decades of business experience.

She is currently a Fellow of the Zinc VC programme and is an active angel investor, and was formerly the chief operating officer of the Innogy Innovation Hub and CEO of SPRING Accelerator. She is passionate about global system challenges that create major opportunities such as energy access, electromobility, automation, the use of data and machine learning.

1)      Why/How did you become an investor?

 I was part of a venture-backed, emerging market, focussed, telecom start-up in 2010, which did not go according to plan. I realised it would be much more fun and more sustainable to build a portfolio of start-up businesses, within my areas of interest, rather than, to participate in just one start-up.

2)      What do you invest in and at what stage?

If things go according to plan, which they have for about 40% of the portfolio. I start investing when the business has a clear idea of the market and has product prototype and early traction, typically at a valuation of 1.5-2m angel or seed. I also participate in funding rounds from early series B, as the companies grow and in my day job, as a corporate investor.

3)      What are the great stories of ‘rewards or satisfactions’ that you can share?

It is enormously satisfying to see visionary, talented founders grow alongside their companies. Knowing the right time to hire, with their advisors’ input and who to hire, also, when to expand internationally and when to pivot.  I’ve felt very, happy when founders have commented positively, on my advice and support when helping them make key decisions, in-order, for them to succeed, and/or survive, but also, to go on and raise the next round of money.

Trusted, long-term support, is as or more, important than the money.

4)      Please give top three factors that influence your decision to invest.

(1)    Is the business in my area of interest? For example, a technology business that will make a significant impact in one or more of the world’s most challenging areas, captured in the UN SDGs.  For instance, climate change, energy access or greater access to opportunity for all.

(2)    Is the founding team of the highest integrity, with the requisite balance of vision, patience, and humility, in the face of large challenges?  Do they have an appropriate view of the time frame required and also a realistic scenario for sustained growth or exit?

(3)    Geography.  The UK is great for tax incentives if you are a UK taxpayer. The US is good for access to capital and investing, and  the emerging markets are great for learning and interest.

5)      How do you maintain a work/life balance?

I am never sure quite what this means, but I think it’s extremely important to manage your energy, get enough sleep, exercise and nutrition and spend time with people you care about. 

For everything else, I find it works to make my life as simple as possible. Don’t own much, but make sure it’s of high quality and easy to maintain. Automate as much as possible, for example, automatic assistants, banking etc and make sure you know what you value.  Don’t play the game of “I can survive on 3 hours of sleep”!

6)      Who inspires you and why?

People who are able, to be brave, go against the prevailing grain and who are proven to be correct, in the longer term.  Examples would be resistance movements in WWII, advocates for LGBT rights in highly conservative countries, and individuals like Malala in Afghanistan who was shot, but used that to fight for the rights to education for girls.  People ready to stand up against corruption in governments or challenge institutions, even at the expense of unpopularity or threats.

7)      If you could offer an early investor one piece of business advice, what would it be?

Be prepared to wait a long time before exit, in the best-case scenario. If one of your companies survives the messy middle to scale and grow, it may still be a long time before a liquidity event for an early investor. You also want to make sure to keep enough in the portfolio for follow-on investment rounds, so that your early wisdom can be rewarded appropriately!

To hear Ramona’s podcast with the Invested Investor, please visit “Integrity in founders, not taking everything on faith and the dog life of a start-up”