Robin Axon didn’t start out as a venture capitalist. He was an engineer, working on the International Space Station, when he decided to listen to his gut and go back to business school.
Fascinated by finance but failing time and time again to receive any capital funding, Robin began working at a venture capital firm in order to understand what it took to obtain VC funding and see things from another point of view.
Big surprise: he never left.
Now, Robin is a managing Partner at Mantella Venture Partners, a $24 million early stage fund that invests in entrepreneurs developing cutting edge technology in the mobile and internet software industry. They assist in product development, business development, marketing, financing, and team development.
Robin insists on investing in people and their perseverance, rather than in shiny-looking products.
The people he invests in must be “tenacious and really have a passion for the product they’re trying to build,” he says. “It’s really about the ability [of the founder] to grow and learn, to be mentored, and to grow as fast as the business can.”
It is his curiosity and connection to these founders that keeps him going and loving his job every day.
Robin’s main focus is on early stage startups, so that he can be a part of the development process.
“One of the fundamental tenets of our investment thesis is that we can support a business to a level of profitability,” Robin explains, so “if no other investor was interested, we could support the business.”
It is crucial that Robin and his team feel confident about a new company they invest in and see all of its potential, even if nobody else does.
Since his successful investments into QuickPlay Media, Ritual, and Shoppe AI, Robin and his partners have developed a scoring system to evaluate potential founders.
Their score card contains eight to 10 different criteria that help Robin and his partner determine whether or not they should invest in that particular founder.
The card varies person to person, and takes into account where people are along their entrepreneurial journeys. For example, a recent college graduate’s score card would have different criteria than a founder on their third or fourth business endeavor.
“We’ve spent the past 10 or 12 years working on a founder score card where we really focus on the history of the founder, their attributes, and what you can get out of reference checks.”
If you combine those three things, Robin says, you’ll have “the perfect founder for your portfolio.”
Tune in to the full Shopify Masters episode to discover how Robin Axon at Mantella Venture Partners evaluates possible investments and determines what project is worthy of capital funding.