It is common to hear of tech companies creating venture capital (VC) firms, but what about media organizations?
Well in 2020, European media group Mediahuis decided to launch a venture wing called Mediahuis Ventures as a continuation of its mission of “empowering people with knowledge”, in the words of the head of the VC firm, Cédric Cops.
In line with this mission, Mediahuis Ventures only invests in Ed tech and the future of work.
This is because these two verticals see continuous disruption and aim to create “new tools to improve our work and new methods to empower employees”, shares Cops.
The Mediahuis Ventures team is “separate from the media core”, and it focuses on investing in “companies that have the best chance of becoming large and sustainable businesses that can stand the test of time”.
Some standout portfolio companies that fill this bill, according to Cops include HiPeople, Settly, Swap Language and YourCampus.
He also pulls out Lepaya as an example – Lepaya recently became Europe’s largest EdTech company, and Cops shares that his admiration for Lepaya comes from its focus on continuous improvement with the help of new, emerging technologies.
UNLEASH is thrilled to welcome Cops as our January ‘VC Voice’. He is our sixth interviewee in this Editorial series, and follows in the footsteps of the likes of Thomas Otter of Acadian Ventures, Jane Reddin from AlbionVC and Altair’s Igor Ryabenkiy.
In this exclusive interview, we pick the brain of the head of Mediahuis Ventures about the state of HR tech, now and in the future.
Here’s his advice on how to shine in the overcrowded HR tech space; hint, look beyond AI.
Allie Nawrat: Let’s start with some background on you, and your career to date in the investment space. How did you get into investing? And what is one piece of advice you would you give your younger self, or those considering pursuing a career in investment?
Cédric Cops: I believe I have a very atypical profile for investing.
I have a degree in Product Design and spent my first career step at a Venture Development Studio called Bundl in Antwerp.
We launched new products and services for corporates and spun the operation into a corporate once first revenues came in – so my previous expertise was more oriented towards early startup ops and customer/product.
For those interested in pursuing a career in investment; you can do it! Believe!
AN: Name someone who inspires you – and why?
CC: I’d go with Pho from Kung Fu Panda.
I like how he is underestimated by most but never fails to believe in himself.
I also respect him for his food appetite.
AN: What gets you up in the morning, and what keeps you at night?
CC: I would say my team.
I love the profession, but I get the most satisfaction out of seeing my team enjoy themselves, grow, and succeed.
AN: What do you and your team at Mediahuis Ventures look for in a startup pitch? What are the common mistakes you see?
CC: We look for a unique approach to winning the category you are active in – HR tech tends to have very populated sub-verticals with strong mid-sized and category-leading incumbents.
So, we need to see that startups have a strong strategy to take over a sizable portion of the market; this can be in stages, but a differentiator to steal customers will be crucial.
Additionally, startups need to have a team that can clearly execute on company strategy, preferably there would be some historical evidence that proves exceptional execution in this regard.
The common mistake that we see, and this is perhaps a sign of the times, but a lot of founders speak with investors with very high funding expectations.
They then write plans and a strategy aligned with that funding goal. However, more then ever, the companies fail to raise these rounds and need to revise their plan.
A good company with a humble funding round tends to get oversubscribed and achieves additional cash to expand the plans, rather than starting your journey with investors on a shrunken plan.
AN: Ultimately, HR leaders are the customers and buyers of HR tech. How can HR and Ed tech startups make sure they are really hitting the nail on the head for these essential stakeholders?
1. Most founders have HR experience prior to founding their company – this means they have a deep understanding of the challenges HR leaders face.
2. Founders need to have a strong HR network – they need to get together with HR leaders informally to understand their needs and challenges better, so they can improve your solution accordingly.
3. And third, it is essential that companies have a solution that solves both a buyer (HR) and user (employee) need – or at least hits the employee-part home to convince the buyer to spend.
There has been a strong shift to employees which we are excited about, but, in the end, the most mature solutions are those that bring a lot of stakeholders with different interests together; catering to all is important in HR tech.
AN: Looking at the HR tech landscape, are there any overhyped technologies that you are getting bored of seeing?
CC: This might be a very unpopular opinion, but I think AI is currently overhyped.
Not to neglect its huge potential, and I am a big fan of the change it will bring, but I find the investment space cluttered with startups screaming about AI.
Someone recently gave me a great tip; switch the word AI for ‘pattern recognition’ and then see whether a company’s value proposition still holds dear.
It can be disappointing to meet a founder speaking about their AI solution only to find it has no AI component.
UNLEASH | VC Voices is a monthly Editorial interview series where we profile leading investors in the HR tech and future of work space. You can catch up on December’s VC Voice here, and stay tuned to see who next month’s voice will be!
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