Our Equity Funding Manager, Kerry Dwyer, spoke to Emily Bullman from True Global VC, a consumer focused innovation firm and investor. Emily tells us about her journey into the investment world and her predictions for the next consumer trends and where she sees the dry powder being invested.
Tell us about True Global
In a nutshell, True is a consumer and retail focused investment and innovation firm and we have three main areas to our business.
The first of those is a ‘Growth fund’ which is where I sit and we make investments into one of two types of businesses.
Firstly, exciting consumer brands that are at the forefront of changing consumer behaviours. Some of our brands include War Paint for Men – a make-up brand for men, Bedfolk – a luxury D2C bedding brand, and Maude which is a sexual wellness brand in the States. We also invest in retail technology brands that help to power those brands and the consumer industry more widely. This could be anything from marketplaces through to B2B SaaS. For example, we recently invested in BrandLab360 which helps retailers move into the metaverse with virtual stores.
We also have a focus on reimagining business, which means using business for good.– We’re really proud to be a B Corp so ensuring people and planet are central to our businesses is key. Investing in brands that share those values is important to us.
At True, we typically invest between pre-seed and Series A rounds. We’re a value-add investor and only invest where we can truly be helpful in ways beyond capital..
We invest internationally with about a third of our portfolio based in North America now and the rest in the UK. We help direct-to-consumer brands expand across those two markets.
In addition to our Growth fund, we have a larger fund which does much bigger investments (up to £100m) in more scaled consumer brands such as womenswear brand Hush and furniture retailer the Cotswold Company.
Finally we have our Innovation team who support some of the world’s largest businesses such as Warner Bros, M&S, and Walgreens to drive positive change and innovation by leveraging our specialist knowledge of the consumer tech landscape.
What was your initial attraction to VC?
I started out in banking where I did a graduate scheme with HSBC, working with private equity backed mid-market companies raising debt financing. There was a really high turnover of deals and I saw some really interesting companies but felt I wanted to try my hand at the equity side. After four years with HSBC I moved into investing, working for a generalist mid market PE firm. Although interesting, I found that I really wanted to work with smaller businesses and be able to have a bigger impact at this point in their journey. My mum is an entrepreneur with a small craft business and so I’ve grown up around that early-stage business environment.
During COVID, and just after leaving my previous job, I set up and ran a food charity, Feed the Hill, in my local area for people suffering due to COVID. We took over a disused café and created food packages from donations to feed c. 600 people a week. This was such a great experience and really helped hone my own entrepreneurial skills, creating relationships with supermarkets and suppliers, and managing tight budgets! It was through essentially running my own business that I knew I wanted to work in the VC space and within the consumer sector especially because that’s where my passion is.
Founder, sector, ideas – put in order of priority/importance
For me, the number one is founder. At the stage we’re investing at, we are really relying on the passion and experience of those founders to build a great business. Sector is also important at True given we are a consumer specialist but the idea is also key. We look at how differentiated the idea is and ask can we can build a brand around this? Is it going to be something people really buy into and build a community around?
What do you look for in a founder
The best founders I work with are the ones who are extremely passionate about what they’re doing and have identified a solution to a problem they have experienced in the past. Direct experience in the type of company they are building is useful but I don’t think it’s an absolute must-have.
Entrepreneurial spirit, grit, determination are essential because no company is going to grow in a linear fashion – there are always going to be things that go wrong so having that resilience is key.
A good all-rounder that can get their hands dirty in different parts of their business but is also being able to delegate. We see so many founders who have done everything themselves to a certain point and struggle to let go – being able to recruit, train and retain a team who can do things as well as you can, if not better, is super critical.
Did you ever miss out on a business that went on to be very successful?
I feel like I haven’t been in the VC game for long enough to say if any one business I’ve turned down will do really well. When we say no to people it’s not because I don’t think they’ll do well, and we do turn down a lot of businesses that I’m sure will do great, it’s more that I don’t think we can have enough of an impact to help them succeed and that’s when we have to say no.
One of the most exciting investments you’ve made
We invested in Fable Home, a Canadian dinnerware brand with three great founders who are reimagining the home for the post-Ikea consumer, starting with a curated, sustainable dinnerware collection. The Business has grown really rapidly owing to their amazing product quality and artisanal story – they should be coming to the UK soon so watch this space!
Areas or themes you’re excited about for the future:
Two areas we’re really excited about are;
- Sustainable materials innovation – we’ve made two exciting investments in this space so far – Planera which is the world’s first flushable and fully biodegradable sanitary pad and the Shell Works which is a plastic alternative, derived from bacteria, for the beauty industry. We’re always looking for sustainable material innovations.
- I’m also really interested in the jewellery space at the moment, especially those with a great sustainability angle.
What would you tell your younger self? I know you’re not very old so this is a bit irrelevant!
Ehmm… I think I would say don’t be afraid to make mistakes and take some time to realise what you want to do.
I’ve also really realised the value of great leadership – if you don’t aspire to be who your boss is, you’re in the wrong place. The reverse of that for founders is to create a culture and be the type of figurehead that inspires people and creates a really engaged workforce.
I am a podcast girl – my favourite podcast is Crime Junkie. I absolutely love true crime! It’s a US podcast with really good story tellers and also a great success story for the founders.
2 people you’d bring to a dinner party –
I’d definitely choose my nan because she is hilarious. She just turned 80 and had three birthday parties – one at her local Indian where she did shots with an Elvis impersonator. She loves Rafael Nadal so I’d bring him. She even has a life size cut-out of him in her bathroom… don’t ask!
I live in a miniature petting zoo – I have three cats and two mini sausages 😊
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