In our latest ‘Meet the Investor’ feature, we speak to Augmentum Partner Martyn Holman. Learn about Martyn’s route into VC, his view on the most underrated skill for working in the industry and the learnings he’s taken from his passion for long-distance running.
How did you end up in your current role?
I have enjoyed a diverse and varied career. Straight out of University I joined Shell International on their expat graduate programme learning to drill deep holes in the ground. I spent a year in the Netherlands and was then posted to a frontier operating company in Windoek, Namibia where I spent the next year living in a spectacular country that is on most travellers’ bucket lists. An amazing life-experience as much as a career-start.
After this international adventure, I returned to London to (re) start with the Boston Consulting Group on a more classic management consulting pathway. BCG was an amazing training ground for me, teaching me via many and varied international experiences including sending me away to study for a year for my MBA. But the real adventure still lay ahead when I joined Betfair in its infancy years, fortunate enough to catch the rocket-ship near the launch pad. I joined the business when it had less than 200 employees, already reasonably established, but 3 years later we had over 2,000 employees and operations in multiple countries. Betfair was ultimately to become the UK’s first real Unicorn, and is frustratingly overlooked by the Venture community for its role in carving the foundations for the tech/VC industry we have in the UK today.
Betfair provided me with tremendous opportunities surrounded by really amazing people. I managed to persuade the board there to back a venture in the financial trading space when I co-founded and spun-out LMAX, the successful exchange that is now focused on FX. People often ask me what is the best route into VC and I always tell them to “join a start-up”. Having the experience of being on the other side of the table has been incredibly valuable to my career to date investing in similar companies.
What are your favourite and least favourite parts about working in VC?
I love the variety of the role. By the very nature of what we do, we are engaged with different companies and propositions on a daily basis. From forming a sector thesis, meeting a company for the first time, through analysis and due diligence, to deal structuring, board representation and exit preparation. I think for someone like me with a generally short attention-span, having this variety is critical to long-term satisfaction!
By its very nature though, being a Venture Capital investor involves acting very unlike the “Man from Del Monte” – we do not “say yes” very often. The majority of companies that approach us for funding will not be a fit for the portfolio and we will have to say no. The simple fact of investing successfully at venture stage is that it’s actually quite hard. The mechanics of a traditional GP/LP fund structure (which is how most funds are structured) actually mean that an investor has to believe that every company they invest in is capable of returning their fund. Not every company is a fit for this type of profile for a variety of reasons, and sometimes it is tough to deliver that message.
Which fintech sub-sector or trend is particularly exciting to you at the moment?
The first wave of meaningful innovation in Financial Services, “Fintech 1.0” has largely addressed consumer facing pain points at the front end of interaction – for example new business models such as P2P lending, and better customer interfaces in the neo banks. Augmentum’s current portfolio reflects this trend with exposure to alternative lending models (iwoca, Zopa, Habito, Previse), neo-banking (Monese, Tide), and new consumer business models (Grover, Farewill).
Looking forward, we expect that deeper innovation from the application of big data analytics and AI in the middle and back-office environments will likely start to drive ever more frictionless customer experiences at the front end e.g. automated verification (Onfido, DueDil). These experiences will expand the audience of participation in fintech beyond the first-movers into broader markets – a self-strengthening cycle that will drive continued adoption. At Augmentum we continue to look for exceptional businesses that seek to exploit these trends.
Who inspires you in the fintech industry?
I am fortunate in continuing to work with the person who has perhaps inspired me more than any other during my career. Ed Wray is one of the most impressive entrepreneurs this country has produced, beating a (often overlooked) path for much of the tech innovation that has followed, and since bringing that talent back into the fintech arena through his angel investment activity. He is actively engaged today on our Advisory Committee at Augmentum, bringing his knowledge and extensive network to our broader investment activities.
An underrated skill for working in VC is…
Memory recall capability. The ability to easily recall the facts and models of companies from 2+ years ago as they relate to assessing the opportunity for a company that comes into the frame today, and/or assessing trends and patterns is an amazing skill that I always covet in others! Sadly I don’t have this and have to resort to Evernote, Affinity and other CRM and note-taking software tools instead!
What is a piece of advice you would tell yourself 10 years ago, if you were to go back in time?
Mortgage my house to invest in Netflix and Amazon, with a side note to put the returns into Tesla in Q3 2019! But more seriously, my time in Venture Capital over the last decade has taught me the huge importance of your working environment. The team environment frames everything else, it’s where you will spend the majority of your time, it’s what will inspire you to make your mark, and should be a gating factor for everything.
You are an impressive long-distance runner. Have you learnt anything from your training and races over the years that you now apply to your work?
Impressive is perhaps stretching it! But I think there are lots of parallels between longer-distance running and the challenges facing entrepreneurs in establishing early stage businesses, and perhaps there are also lessons for teamwork in other branches of endurance sport. As with most aspects of life, establishing a rhythm and something of a routine is an important foundation for everything else. Developing sufficient discipline to face uncomfortable challenges is always a strong asset.
What is something that people may be surprised to know about you?
At school I always wanted a career in aviation, preferably as a commercial airline pilot. The desire lasted to my University days, where I studied mostly aeronautical engineering (almost all now entirely forgotten!) and then died in the confusion of early career choices. A few years ago I had the opportunity to learn how to fly and passed my PPL at Denham airfield in Buckinghamshire.
What are you currently reading?
I’ve always been fascinated by the history and literature of Southern Africa, partly because that is where my wife is from, partly through persistent though tenuous family connections, and partly from my time living and travelling in the region when I caught the “Africa bug”. In particular I’ve read most of JM Coetze and Alan Paton – my wife actually called her fledgling travel business Abylib in tangential reference to Paton’s Kwa-Zulu Natal centred classic, “Ah But Your Land Is Beautiful”. More generally I enjoy reading lots of non-fiction, particularly modern history and social affairs. Right now I’m reading The Secret Barrister’s second book called Fake Law. I particularly enjoy its logical reasoning and broader narrative on popular misconceptions.