“It always starts with the founder, their story, how they see the world”: Interview with investor Julia Hawkins, General Partner at LocalGlobe & Latitude

Julia Hawkins is General Partner at venture capital funds LocalGlobe and Latitude, having previously set up Universal Music’s corporate venture arm, as well as being stationed at Goldman Sachs, Last.fm, and BBC Worldwide.

LocalGlobe, the London-based venture capital firm, was founded in 1999 and has so far seed funded a whole host of successful companies such as Transferwise, Citymapper, Improbable, Lovefilm, Moo, and Zoopla. Latitude, on the other hand, as the ‘sister fund’ of LocalGlobe, supports founders with Series B funding rounds and beyond. Together this formidable combination are building the next fast-growing scaleups to watch.

In particular, Julia’s portfolio includes sexual wellness app Ferly (which we included in our list of 10 sex tech startups to look out for in 2019 and beyond), the messaging platform for doctors and patients Accurx and deep-tech startup Apheris.

We were lucky enough to speak with Julia about the European and UK investment scene for seed and Series B rounds, the future landscape for sextech, media, and healthtech industries, her advice for founders on preparing for a funding round, and tips on what she’s looking for in her next investments.

Hi Julia, thank you for joining us! Firstly, could you briefly tell us about your role at LocalGlobe?

I’m on the investment team at LocalGlobe and Latitude. I lead investments, including everything from sourcing, making investments and working with founders and their teams, helping them fundraise and literally everything in between.

At LocalGlobe we also work differently in that each of the investment partners is also responsible for an area of the business. I have the privilege of looking after Phoenix Court and working closely with Rachel and Laura on everything relating to our physical space (which we can’t wait to get back to!), our digital community, events as well as establishing our charity arm, which we will be announcing soon.

Could you tell us a bit about the startups in your portfolio?

Absolutely, perhaps it’s helpful if I start by saying a bit about our fund’s thesis. Over the last two decades internet spending has been largely discretionary, focusing on entertainment, media, gaming and fun, bringing us companies like Spotify and Netflix, where annual subscriptions to both services cost $300. We believe that over the next 20 years, much larger companies will be built in markets serving what we call “non-discretionary internet” spending which includes finance, housing, education, health, transport, food, energy and apparel. To illustrate the point, a music and TV fan might spend $300 a year on Netflix and Spotify subscriptions but an annual travelcard for zone 1 and 2 on London Public Transport costs $2,000 and US health spend per capita is $10,000.

So on the investment team we are sector agnostic, but each one of us majors on certain themes. I love health care which is where I spend most of my time, although I will always look at media, content and entertainment businesses as well – music will always be my first love.

We also don’t have individual attribution as we all help each other, but the companies I work with closely are mostly in health tech, spanning 23 companies: 2 in LG7, 10 from LG 8, 8 from LGX, 3 in Latitude (our breakout fund). There are 17 in health, 2 media, 1 mobility, 1 fintech, 1 construction tech, 1 future of work. Of these, 35% have a female founder.

Some examples of companies include Vatic (Know-Now COVID-19 test just using saliva, under 15 mins and < $10, CE Marked in 6 months), AccuRx (now in 99% of GP practices improving communication across healthcare, have delivered 5 million COVID vaccinations via their booking system, 50% female team), Elephant Healthcare (software for primary care in emerging markets enabling access to healthcare for everyone), Oxford Nanopore (world leading sequencing company), Vira (developing digital therapeutic to help women in menopause), Voi (leading European e-scooter and mobility company), nPlan (helping  construction projects be delivered on time and budget through the use of data-derived forecasting), and Yulife (leading group life insurer with gamified wellness component).

We recently had a podcast discussion about the sextech industry, and we noticed that you have invested in sexual wellness app Ferly. What is your opinion on the state of the sextech industry, and do you have any predictions for the sextech funding landscape?

We have seen an increase in the number of companies looking to improve sexaul wellness including Ferly, Dipsea, Emjoy and others. It’s a great signal that there is significant market need, and as over 50% of women struggle with sexual problems, we are only at the very beginning of these solutions coming to market to help women and men.

What inspires you to invest in a startup? What special spark are you looking for?

It always starts with the founder, their story, how they see the world, and how they describe the vision for the world and the company they are building. We want to help the most ambitious founders build the company of their dreams. So I want to understand what that dream is. All founders where I have gotten to conviction are mission-driven and fiercely ambitious. They all have an incredible itch about the problem they are solving.

I look for signals in what the founders have done in the past as indicators for their ability to build – teams, product and companies, and what is it that gives them the unique insight and perspective on the problem.

How is the founder under extreme duress, and can they break through walls? And I really try to understand the dynamic between co-Founders, how they resolve conflict and move on, what is the work they have done together to establish their relationship.

As there are fewer metrics to assess at our stage, it’s focused on the founder/s. If they have a product, customers and early traction, we will look at those too and we of course love speaking to early customers, or digging deep into comments on app store or elsewhere. If they have customers, we listen intently to what they are saying.

You are also active in the healthtech sector. What have you noticed in this industry over the last year, and what up-and-coming trends should investors be keeping their eye on?

What we have seen over the last year as a result of COVID has been the extraordinary rapid adoption of technology to enable the delivery of care. For example, AccuRx – Their flagship product, Chain SMS, is used by UK GP practices to communicate with their patients via text. They grew from being in 40% of GP practices at the start of the year to 99% of GP practices during COVID and they launched over 10 new products to help GPs. Their vaccination booking module was shipped in 48 hours over New Years.

I believe that this reality is here to stay, where there are significant behavioural shifts resulting from the pandemic accelerating remote medicine. Patients will expect that they can continue to receive care remotely, both within primary care, but also for more complex diseases. I believe we will start to see:

  • Demand for on-the-spot simple predictive testing in broader disease applications
  • Treatment of complex illnesses at home – patients in hospitals will be discharged earlier to continue their treatment at home, with continuous monitoring and AI used to identify health deterioration
  • More digital therapeutics come to market to help manage chronic conditions
  • Overall, we will see better software to help orchestrate and support care teams and patients

What advice would you give founders looking to raise their seed round in this economic climate? 

Any fundraising requires significant preparation.

I wouldn’t start by creating a deck, rather I’d actually start by writing your Wikipedia article entry in 10 years time. We ask all our founders to do this after we’ve invested and we spend time debating this. I think it’s a great exercise for all founders to articulate the vision for the business that they are building, even before they start writing a deck.

Then on another blank piece of paper, write the story you’d like to tell investors. Write about the market you’re in or creating, the problem you’re addressing, your solution, the unique insights you have from your research, your background, whatever it is that makes your audience understand why you, and why now. What have you built, traction if any, team you’ve assembled so far, what you’re planning to do over the next 12-18-24 months until the next value inflection point.

Then the deck. Use the key points and write them across the top of slides and add images that visualise your points. This will take several iterations.

How much are you raising? A preseed (<$1m)? A seed ($1-4m)? The round size matters and dictates which funds are the right ones to speak to. Do your research and create an investor tracker. Identify the right angels and individuals at the funds you are targeting who would be most interested in you and your business. Reach out cold or get a warm intro. Some say you need a warm intro and yes this does help the investor calibrate and prioritise if the intro is from someone they trust and who’s opinion they value. I think cold outreach is also OK. Be extremely targeted and write a short email why you are contacting them specifically, what you are building and how much you are raising. Cold outreach only works if you know about the investor and what they like to invest in.

Run a tight process. Meet the investors you think are safe first, and save the best ones on your list for last. Build momentum in your process by packing the meetings in and driving towards a deadline.

Angels can be incredibly helpful, both as early investors and to introduce you to funds.

What piece of advice would you give to yourself from 5 years ago?

5 years ago I had just had my daughter and was at Universal Music. A year and a half later, I would see a tweet from LocalGlobe looking for new partners to join. I saw the tweet in the middle of the night and I knew that this is where I wanted to be and that I had to apply. I had been in awe of what LocalGlobe had achieved, the promise it made to Founders, the energy steaming from the organisation and the collaborative team it had built. It was captivating and I really yearned to work in a team like this, where I could learn from the best and develop and hopefully have great impact. I don’t have any advice for myself. Like with everything, if you have conviction, go all in, just go.