‘Making mistakes is part of the start-up journey – accept them, learn from them’

12 Jan 2021

Nadine Torbey. Image: AlbionVC

AlbionVC’s Nadine Torbey discusses her areas of tech investment and gives her tips for start-up teams.

Nadine Torbey is an investment manager at AlbionVC, the technology investment arm of London-based Albion Capital Group. She has seven years of investing experience from seed to Series A in start-ups across artificial intelligence, digital platforms, marketplaces and hardware.

Torbey joined the AlbionVC team in 2018 from Berytech Fund. She has a degree in electrical and computer engineering from The American University of Beirut and a master’s in innovation management and entrepreneurship from Brown University, where she specialised in the commercialisation of disruptive technologies.

‘Surround yourself with high-quality people, get a lot of feedback and don’t be afraid of change’

Describe your role and what you do.

I am an investor at AlbionVC. My role consists of finding exciting new opportunities to invest in as well as supporting them post-investment. I am particularly excited about AI and deep tech.

In your opinion, which areas of science and technology hold the greatest scope for opportunities?

At AlbionVC we invest in B2B software, more particularly AI and machine learning, digital risk, fintech and digital health, from late seed to Series B. We also invest in early-stage deep tech through the UCL Technology Fund.

There are a couple of areas worth mentioning, some of which we have already placed bets on and some of which we are still on the hunt for. This includes next-gen AI enablers, natural language processing, computer vision, cybersecurity, healthcare, new work, future of computing, quantum simulation, cryptocurrencies, and software development kits for the future of reality – AR, VR and holograms.

Are good entrepreneurs born or can they be made?

Certain innate qualities or attributes can make someone a good entrepreneur and good innovator – and that can be enough for the early days of a company.

However, successfully leading a high-growth, category-defining business is absolutely not innate. Although there are certain attributes that can give people a head start, it is a skill that is acquired and needs a lot of work and time, with external help and advice.

What are the qualities of a good founder?

A good founder should be transparent and a domain expert, understanding very well the problem they are solving. They should have grit and ambition, be visionary, self-aware, adaptable, humble and empathetic, have high emotional intelligence, be inspirational, understand how to run a business from an operational perspective, and be decisive and a good communicator.

A lot of these qualities are acquired over time rather than present at the beginning of the journey. And any gaps can be supported by co-founders, senior management teams etc.

What does a successful entrepreneur need to do every day?

A successful entrepreneur will have many tasks to do from the high-level strategic planning down to dealing with daily operational issues. An entrepreneur’s main focus will depend on the stage of the company and business priorities such as fundraising and scaling, but also on the size of the team and how much they can delegate.

However, there are a couple of recurring tasks that would be consistent across the board: keeping up to date with the broader industry the company operates in; keeping on top of the most relevant KPIs for the company as well as the budget; speaking to the leaders of key functions of the business; and reflecting and brainstorming.

What resources and tools are an absolute must for your arsenal?

Again, it will all depend on the scale of the business and the stage of the company, and also on personal preference – after all, there is a wide variety of tools available today. But entrepreneurs need tools that enable them to collaborate effectively with different teams, track the right metrics, and communicate with customers and the broader community.

Other resources include advisers, mentors, coaches, industry experts, investors and a founder’s network.

How do you assemble a good team?

Assembling, retaining and growing a good team is one of the most important roles of a good entrepreneur and CEO, and a key factor to ensure the success of the business. While it is a big topic of discussion and also quite specific depending on the case, here are a few pointers:

  • Have the grand vision for the business
  • Create a plan
  • Hire top performers, with complementary skillsets
  • Align the team on the vision and direction of travel
  • Create objectives and key results to ensure continuous and optimised performance, good retention and individual development and success
  • Create an open organisation where feedback is valued and success is celebrated
  • Don’t be afraid of getting things wrong and make the tough decisions quickly
  • Leverage the expertise of chief people officers and hiring managers
  • Rely on your network throughout the process 
What is the critical ingredient to start-up success?

It’s like cooking a perfect dish. All the ingredients are important but the most important one is the team as, very much like a chef, this the one thing that will make it a success!

What are the biggest mistakes that founders make?

Lack of focus, not being open to feedback, not being adaptable, wrong hires, spending too much cash too soon before ‘nailing’ the value proposition or market fit, not having a commercial attitude, ignoring culture and tensions within the team – the list can go on.

Making mistakes is part of the journey but the most important thing is to accept them, learn from them and quickly change.

What are your views on mentorship and the qualities one should look for in a mentor?

This is such a crucial part of an entrepreneur’s growth, development and eventually success. Trust, relevant experience, empathy, no bias or external agenda, and experience in being a mentor can definitely help.

Being a mentor is such an important but sensitive role and many of the mentor’s skills are not necessarily innate, such as being able to give constructive feedback.

What’s the number-one piece of advice you have for entrepreneurs?

Surround yourself with high-quality people, get a lot of feedback and don’t be afraid of change!

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