Balderton Capital on its Investment Strategy and its Investment in My-Wardrobe

Online fashion is a hot topic at this moment. Natalie Massanet sold part of upmarket online fashion platform Net-a-Porter, Sylvia Cody of private sales club SecretSales got investment from Brands4Friends and Sarah Curran of My-Wardrobe, which sells affordable luxury clothes and accessories, secured a $9 million Series A lead by Balderton Capital.

Harry Briggs, Balderton CapitalTime for a series of interviews in the fashion industry, the first one with Harry Briggs and Dharmash Mistry  from Balderton Capital, one of Europe’s leading venture capital firms, on their investment in My-Wardrobe, and on what they are looking for in a company to invest in it.

"I’d estimate that only 5% of the business plans we receive are from female entrepreneurs.  We’re eager to see more..."

Your recent investment in My-Wardrobe, what are the top 5 reasons why you invested in this company at this moment?

My-Wardrobe [founded in 2006, ed.] has a great team [The company has 85 employees based across the central London and Nottingham offices, ed], led by female entrepreneur Sarah Curran.  They have excellent relationships with top fashion brands like Mulberry, By Malene Berger and Vivienne Westwood Anglomania – and these are hard to build in online fashion.  They have a rapidly growing, loyal customer base.  And they’re a leading brand in a market, online fashion, that’s rapidly moving online: so it’s a huge opportunity; we have taken a significant stake in My-Wardrobe and Dharmash Mistry [the former managing director of Emap Consumer Media, ed.] will join the Board.

Were you 'inspired' by the success story of Net-a-Porter? How?

Of course: Net-a-Porter have demonstrated that large numbers of people will buy fashion from the top fashion houses online, at full price, and with average orders over €600.  I don’t think many people thought that was possible until Natalie Massenet led the way.

What will be the biggest hurdle to make this investment and/or company a success?

In fashion, you depend on having superb buyers picking the right clothes to buy for the next season.  Buy too little, and you disappoint your customers; buy too much, and you’re left with unsold stock and a cashflow problem.  Mywardrobe has one of the best buying teams in the business, but it’s always a delicate balance.

You invest in many different industries; how do you get your required knowledge for various industries?

Ultimately we back exceptional teams, not business plans – we appreciate that we’re never going to know an industry as well as the management team.

As we’re seeing lots of companies from different sectors, it gives us a useful vantage point for spotting broader trends, which can sometimes be helpful.  And many of the challenges that businesses face have parallels in other companies, and different industries: we try to bring that experience and perspective when needed.

That said, I used to run the consumer media division of EMAP, including a number of leading fashion magazines and Drapers, the fashion industry magazine; and Balderton have backed backing major online fashion websites like Yoox.com and Figleaves.com – so we know this sector pretty well.

How do you want entrepreneurs to approach you?

Our website, www.balderton.com, has details of what we look for in businesses, and a facility for submitting business plans.  We like a nice short summary of your business idea, the problem it’s addressing, and what makes it unique; along with progress to date and a bit about the management team.  We try to get back to everyone within 2 weeks.

Female entrepreneurs and VC funding? How many entrepreneur proposals did you see (per week/month) and how many are women?

I’d estimate that only 5% of the business plans we receive are from female entrepreneurs.  We’re eager to see more...

How did you come in contact with My wardrobe?

The Mywardrobe team knew of Balderton because of our Yoox and Figleaves experience, and approached us when they decided to raise Venture Capital.  We met up and quickly saw that this was an exceptional opportunity.

Was Sarah different than many male entrepreneurs you see? Did she connect with you differently? Did she pitch differently? Pro's and Con's please.

Every entrepreneur is different – the entrepreneurial streak isn’t confined to one “type” – and that’s what makes our job so interesting.  Sarah is clearly passionate about fashion, and this is crucial for building relationships with fashion houses, inspiring the team, and connecting with fashion-savvy customers.  But she also has a shrewd business mind, and bags of ambition.  It’s great to meet entrepreneurs who can explain the vision for the business clearly: Sarah has the human touch to bring her business to life.

And in your own team, any women investors?

Unfortunately not.  Though we are hiring a new associate, and we’d love to find an exceptional woman for the role.

What's next on the agenda?

That would be telling.

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