“Start with the head, focus on the hands and end with the feet.”
And other lessons learned across 300+ retail stores and scaling the largest outdoor ecommerce business in Africa.
I grew up on Africa’s southern tip in Cape Town, as the 4th generation in an outdoor retail family business. My father taught us that to sell gear you needed to understand the customers’ needs. He always said, “start with the head, focus on the hands and end with the feet.” I learned that retail, much like every entrepreneurial venture, is mostly about the heart and an obsession with the customer.
After university, I spent time managing and launching Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret brands in the US. I was then fortunate to work with Staples founder Tom Stemberg who embodied empathy for retail entrepreneurs and reminded me that “retail is in the detail” during my time at the Highland Consumer Fund.
After 15+ years of operating and growing organizations, across 300+ retail stores, and launching an ecommerce business, I’m excited to bring these learnings to venture capital in Founder Collective’s NYC office. While my background has been heavily focused on retail, these experiences have provided me a unique perspective on several adjacent industries. Here are a few of the broad areas I’m excited about:
📦 Post-Covid Consumer
COVID has accelerated ecommerce adoption and changed the way we shop. I have extra sympathy for retailers at this moment in history, but now is the time for great innovation. Buying, planning, logistics, growth hacking, payments, data warehousing, AI, enterprise comms, payments, consumer credit, culture, leadership, scaling teams, and managing the inevitable crises has never been more challenging — or more clearly called out for new tools. Retail will look different post-Covid and the model for stores and associates has changed permanently.
🔮 5 Why’s of a Product
As a consumer, I am a sucker for great marketing; as an investor, I like to know that the product is exceptional. Is it formulated or manufactured in a way that no-one else has done before? Does the packaging change the use case? Are you creating a new category or expanding to a new audience? Is your customer service “next level?” My decade-plus in retail has taught me that the customer is increasingly informed and demands transparency. Without trust, you are a flash in the pan, and to build trust, you need to do one thing that wows the customer and has a reason to exist.
💻 Sticky SaaS
As I was building the ecommerce business at Cape Union Mart, I was worried about the popularity of our spring collections, but nothing caused me more stress than clunky SaaS tools. Evaluating products, signing-off on six-figure deals, and rolling new tools out to thousands of staff members has informed my perspective on SaaS, and I’m keen to help spread good productivity and creativity software far and wide. I’m particularly interested in tools built on the low-code philosophy and empowering decision-makers and creators to leverage ML and AI.
💰 Global Fintech
Having witnessed the ‘leap-frogging’ of Fintech in Africa, with a rapid shift towards mobile and QR payments before many more developed countries, I admire companies that enable access to more people and allow greater flexibility, convenience, and ease of access in how and when consumers and employers pay and get paid. Cross-border payments and logistics is also an area that creates fear and uncertainty but has the opportunity to change the trajectory for billions across the globe.
🤝 Culture & Collaboration
I have done my time in “corporate,” reinforcing my belief that companies are the net sum of their team cultures. Building great cultures requires focus, dedication, discipline, and constant feedback and is a competitive advantage when done right. Gone are the days of a quarterly performance review. I love tools that empower managers to coach, deliver feedback, connect (especially in a remote world), and even improve themselves.
🩺 Data-driven Wellness
I firmly believe in the connection between mind and gut. After a “near-death” experience that landed me in the ICU for three weeks, managing stress and healthy living has to be the foundation for success. I have been practicing yoga for 20 years (I’m still not great, but I practice). Mindfulness, mental health, and better insights on how and why our bodies react to food, products, and environmental elements will drive tomorrow’s consumers.
All that said, Founder Collective is a firm that prides itself on funding “Weird and Wonderful” startups. We’ve backed everything from automated aquaculture to zoological DNA testing. If you’re shopping for a seed-stage venture firm, I would love to hear what you are building.