Aprill Allen has been in the investing game a while, with a portfolio of over 20 investments with her partner, Matt Allen, and their own revenue-based investment company, Tractor Ventures. With so much experience already under her belt, Aprill was unsure how much she’d get out of VC Catalyst, but as she explains, the course left her with greater confidence, a wider network and a clearer articulation of her investment thesis.
Becoming a better investor
Until recent years, I’ve been a passive angel investor, not so much the decision maker as a second-opinion—Matt’s external gut-check. If an investment opportunity had been rolling around Matt’s head long enough to articulate it to me and we were comfortable with the short-term financial impact, then we knew it was a solid enough investment risk to take. We didn’t even realise back then that we were conducting our own informal due diligence and risk assessment. I was the risk assessor, and the more conservative investor through the managed shares portfolio in my super fund!
Our first early-stage investment was in Practice Ignition in 2013, but it’s only in the last three or four years that I’ve made decisions about some of our angel investments and been in regular contact with those founders. Again, I didn’t have a process or a thesis, I just liked what I liked.
At the time the VCC course came around though, Matt and I were on the verge of launching our own revenue-based investment company, Tractor Ventures, where I would be general partner and director, and working routinely with our portfolio companies. So, I had two reasons for enrolling in the VCC course. Even so, I didn’t know what to expect, I just hoped I would get a better understanding of the investor lingo and see how other people make investment decisions.
The true value of networking
Turns out, there was a lot to gain. After intensive courses like this, people so often talk about the impact of their new network that it’s almost a cliche. But it certainly holds up with VCC, and the value can’t be understated.
With investing, the cohort you learn with can amplify your existing superpower by giving you a group with diverse interests and perspectives that make you more helpful to founders seeking capital. It enables you to have the opportunity to make targeted intros and be more confident when considering pitches, because you’ve got people to check your thinking through due diligence.
Investments are personal
It was a huge benefit to understand that investment decisions are entirely personal. Sure, there are some objective markers to look for, but whether your bent is towards the market opportunity, the problem being solved, or the founding team, your decision-making framework is up to you.
When I see it written like this, it seems like that particular insight should be obvious, but the simple fact is that I didn’t realise how much I did already know about investing in this asset class. As an investor in early stage companies, you need to be prepared to make decisions quickly or you risk losing deal opportunities or frustrating founders. VC Catalyst has provided validation and given me the confidence to explain my thinking.
Articulating my personal and business investment thesis
What I’m particularly grateful for is my new ability to articulate my angel investing thesis and where it differs from the investing we do within Tractor Ventures. My angel investing is focused on the problem being solved—specifically, those persistent enterprise problems that people working corporate jobs face every day. Knowing that, and being able to talk about it, is a signpost for other investors to send the right founders my way, and it provides for a graceful ‘no, thanks’ when something doesn’t fit.
For Tractor Ventures, VCC has filled in the gaps in the knowledge I’d absorbed organically to that point, and it’s given me exposure to the investment landscape beyond what I’ve known at the angel level. For example, understanding how capital raising works in stages, and that the typical goal of early capital is to get a startup into position for a next raise at a higher valuation. As an angel, I didn’t think about what might happen next. Since VCC, I can see where Tractor Ventures fits into that investment trajectory as a revenue-based financing option. Our non-dilutive capital can help founders continue growing their business at their own pace, if that’s what they want, or we can help them get into a stronger position to negotiate that next stage valuation.
The greatest benefit of all, apart from the confidence that the new understanding and the VCC network has delivered, is that our investing is not just Matt’s thing anymore, it really is ours.
Wade Institute of Entrepreneurship is a leading centre for entrepreneurial education. We deliver programs to accelerate learning, creation and connection.