02 Sep AMA with Gareth Hawkins, Henley Business Angels’ New Director
Henley Business Angels was established in 2016, and since then, has been continuing to steadily grow with its small team. Having created a stable foundation, the focus now is to continue to grow the network, and the new Director of Henley Business Angels, Gareth Hawkins, is just the man for the job.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and your background.
I built a career in industry, over 20 years, growing a B2B equipment and consumables group through acquisitions, that served the automotive, construction and petrochemical sectors. As Managing Director and shareholder, I oversaw the sale of the group in 2019, and 2 years later I exited the business when my son was born, choosing to pursue a portfolio of interests in consulting, coaching, advising and investing, predominantly in early-stage business.
How did you start your investment journey?
I have invested in publicly-listed stocks since my late teens, initially on FTSE250 and S&P500 companies. As the trading platforms became more user-friendly and my confidence in stock-picking grew, I expanded to AIM stocks, hedged with some ETFs. After the sale of my company, I had the opportunity to invest early in a start-up run by a team that I knew and trusted, and this was my first step into Business Angel Investing. That company has grown annually.
Is your investment portfolio centred around a particular sector? If so, what?
Of the Business Angel investments I’ve so far made, they had tended slightly more toward FinTech SaaS businesses, with the remaining around 40% made up of Web3, EdTech and vocational training companies.
Is there a particular investment that you made that’s outcome you are proudest of/happiest with?
It’s too early for me to hope for liquidity events, but one of the companies has been validated by an offer to acquire (which was declined), and another reach revenue in record time, having since gone on to achieve substantial quarterly MRR growth. Right now, it’s these milestones that excite me. I’m somewhat traditional in my pursuit of healthy balance-sheets and a positive P&Ls, within a sensible horizon.
One of your key strengths is supporting growth, have you got any examples of when you managed this particularly well?
I’ve been fortunate to have been asked to join the Advisory Board at several of the companies I invest in. I’ve been able to assist one of these with policy-development, EVP and governance, as they move to scale-up stage. Another – which has an innovative B2C product – requested my involvement in formulating their go-to-market strategy, pricing, hiring plan and candidate interviews. I’ve been happy to share my experience of running companies and help these founders tackle such challenges efficiently.
What interested you about angel investing, and was Henley Business Angels the first angel network you joined?
Yes, Henley Business Angels has been the first investing club/syndicate I’ve joined since starting Business Angel investing. Having discovered several of my portfolio companies through disintermediated platforms such as connectd.co, I was keen to also join a group of experienced Business Angels with healthy, curated dealflow. Having built companies in such a mature sector such as industry, I was keen to become more future-focused and opportunities to support nascent tech companies serving unmet market needs was the primary pull-factor to Business Angel investing, for me. Not to mention the allure of the elusive 100x future exit!
How did you find out about Henley Business Angels and what drew you to the network?
I’m grateful to Denis Bidinost, who kindly introduced me to Andrew Gaule and Jurek Sikorski, and made me aware of Henley Business Angels. I was attracted by the quality of the process for selecting companies to pitch from those whom apply, and the sensible conversion metrics achieved – with around £2m invested – in the 5 years since HBA’s inception. Henley Business School is revered internationally, and affiliated with so many impressive entrepreneurs, so I was unsurprised by the popularity of Henley Business Angels as a group from which start-ups are keen to obtain both investment, advisors/NEDs and the valuable information available from HBA’s quarterly Investment Readiness Workshop.
How do you feel your experience to date has prepared you for your new position as Director of Henley Business Angels?
My experience of M&A, investing, leadership and business-development has given me very relevant skills, with which I hope to add value to Henley Business Angels in my new role as Director. I would say that achieving my Executive MBA in 2018 was a key moment in which my strengths began to align and my skillset coalesce. I became more strategic, analytical and forward-thinking thereafter, and I enjoy applying these facets in my consulting work today. HBA is at an inflection-point in its evolution – and the Board have done an amazing job growing it from inception – so it’s an exciting time to be joining the team.
What are your main goals in your new position as Director of Henley Business Angels?
Initially, my goals are to grow the membership, expand the sponsorship with new benefits-providers and to ensure we fully understand our members’ preferences so we can continue to bring increasingly-relevant investment opportunities to them. With that in mind, I’ll soon be reaching-out to members with a survey, to make sure we have their most up-to-date information available. I also hope to support Jurek where needed on attracting, evaluating, interviewing and shortlisting companies seeking to be brought to the membership at our quarterly investment events.
What would you say to individuals who are thinking about becoming an angel investor?
Business Angel Investing isn’t for the faint-hearted or the impetuous. It is patient capital, attracting higher-than-average risk, and those investments that do return a profit tend to be in the medium-to-long term.
One should never invest funds they are not prepared to risk losing, and likewise should conduct ample due-dilligence before doing so. Only invest in companies whose models you fully understand and whose team you feel you can fully trust.
That said, if you’re seeking an interesting asset class driven by a community of impressive intellectuals building exciting companies, with the potential to change the world, then Business Angel Investing is worthy of your attention – and joining a network like Henley Business Angels is a great way to discover attractive opportunities, alongside membership of experienced, principled and supportive investors.
On that point, however, we in the angel investor community can appreciate that there are barriers to entry, making angel investing appear opaque and inaccessible, which is why Henley Business Angels is launching HBA f4, an academy for new investors entering business angel investing, designed to increase representation and diversity in venture capital. This 6-month programme is designed to be an introduction to angel investing, with the support, resources, and first-hand experience to provide interested individuals with the tools they need to become a confident angel investor
How have you found the first 9 months in your new position at Henley Business Angels?
I’ve been delighted to see strong membership growth in the past 9 months, in parallel with the exciting dealflow of some amazing, innovative companies – many of which have secured investment through HBA. I’ve also had the privilege of chairing our quarterly company presentation events, at which we’ve been fortunate to hear insightful keynotes given by eminent speakers from UKBAA and the British Business Bank. It has also been rewarding to see members returning to attending these events in-person, in preference to joining remotely – all trends which I’m hopeful will continue over the quarters ahead.