#3 – Two UK Venture Leaders
Pete Davies has long been one of the best and deepest long term thinkers in the hedge fund world. He was early to recognise the opportunities to provide venture capital to UK academia and his firm, Lansdowne Partners, was instrumental in setting up Oxford Science Innovation.
Spencer Crawley is the co-founder of FirstMinute Capital, a UK seed investor which boasts 111 unicorn founders as investors.
In this interview we discuss the UK venture scene, why early stage investing is truly a long term activity, and how this cycle compares to the late 1990s tech boom.
In this fascinating interview, Pete Davies of Lansdowne Partners and Spencer Crawley of First Minute Capital discuss the UK venture scene, look at why academia is such a fertile source of innovation, discuss how venture networks operate and look at how today compares with the 1990s tech boom.
I have known Pete since he started in the stockmarket, and I was amazed back then at how he could solve problems from first principles through sheer brainpower when even with my longer experience, I struggled to keep up. Nothing has changed in the intervening 25-odd years – every time I meet Pete, I come away mulling over some of his insights for days afterward.
Spencer is the co-founder with Brent Hoberman of First Minute Capital, a seed venture firm, and his explanation of his role and the operation of his firm was fascinating. The pace of technological change is increasing, so this is an aarea every investor, even those focused on quoted stocks, need to understand better. Spencer did a great job in making it accessible.
GETTING INTO INVESTING
Pete started at Mercury Asset Management, attracted by the idea that performance was independently measured and by the constant need to be current. He didn’t consider many other roles. Spencer started at Goldman Sachs, then joined a spinout fund before setting up FirstMinute Capital with Brent.
THE VALUE OF NETWORKS AS A VC
Networks are extremely valuable in venture capital. At a time when capital is plentiful, great founders can often choose their backers. FirstMinute benefits from its 111 unicorn founders as investors and from its relationship with Founders Factory, another of Brent Hoberman’s investments. The Lansdowne team benefit from Pete Davies’ long record of involvement in early stage investing and Pete cites two criteria – curiosity and trust – as being critical. Curiosity is important as it has led him to many discussions and opportunities; and trust, because he is conscious that these long term relationships are valuable and founders can trust him to give sensible advice and not to abuse the relationship.
JUDGING FOUNDERS AND MANAGERS
Spencer recognises this is the key skill of the early stage seed investor and places great emphasis on authenticity – can they attract similar talent to help them realise their ambitions. They often look at new opportunities with a “prepared mind” where they have already formed a view on a space and have decided the criteria necessary for success. Pete doesn’t like judging managers which is why he leaves the seed decision to others and invests in companies that are usually 3 or more years old.
ABOUT PETER DAVIES
Peter joined Lansdowne Partners in June 2001 and is Head of the Developed Markets Strategy. Prior to joining Lansdowne, Peter was a Director at Merrill Lynch Investment Managers, previously Mercury Asset Management, which he joined as a graduate in 1993. He is a non-executive director of Oxford Sciences Enterprise plc, a company that invests in, develops and advises spin-out companies established to exploit and commercialise intellectual property developed by Oxford University. Lansdowne funds also hold shares in the company. He has a first class honours degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford University.
ABOUT SPENCER CRAWLEY
Spencer Crawley is co-founder & General Partner of firstminute capital. The fund currently has $210m AUM, a team of 18, and invests at the seed-stage across technology sectors, focused on Europe and the US. He sits on the board of Generation Home, a UK digital mortgage lender launched in October 2020, and Frontier, a US-based platform connecting work-at-home jobseekers with employment opportunities. Crawley co-founded firstminute with Brent Hoberman CBE.
He started his career at Goldman Sachs in Moscow in the Fixed Income, Currencies and Commodities division, before becoming the first hire at DMC Partners, a Special Opportunities fund spun out of Goldman Sachs. This was followed by an MBA at INSEAD, and a stint at AppDirect, the cloud commerce platform-provider. Spencer studied History at Exeter College, Oxford, where he received the Waugh scholarship, and speaks fluent Russian.
Bad Blood, the story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, by John Carreyrou. Steve echoes this, which is one of his favourite business books – it reads like a novel and has so many lessons of warning signals to watch out for.
looking back at a period in history you haven’t explored or experienced, for example more inflationary times and recommends Peter Lynch’s One Up on Wall Street.
HOW STEVE KNOWS THE GUESTS
Steve has known Pete Davies since he started at Mercury Asset Management and Pete, with Stuart Roden, was Steve’s nr 1 client on the sellside for many years. Steve is an investor in Lansdowne’s funds and Lansdowne is a long term client of Behind the Balance Sheet. Steve met Spencer through Jamie Macfarlane, CEO of the Creator Fund, where Steve is invested alongside them.