‘I don’t think anyone is born with the skills to manage a tech unicorn’

9 Mar 2021

Beatrice Aliprandi. Image: Talis Capital

Talis Capital’s Beatrice Aliprandi discusses the qualities she looks for in a good founder, and why construction tech and femtech are industries to watch.

Beatrice Aliprandi joined Talis Capital in 2018 after spending three years working at Jefferies in its investment banking division, where she was involved in several transactions primarily in technology, media and telecoms.

She holds a MSc in risk and finance from the London School of Economics and a BSc in business administration from Bocconi University in Milan. In her current role at London-based Talis, Aliprandi supports a number of portfolio companies including Construyo, Ynsect, Medbelle and Import.io.

‘Founders should be thinking every day about what the company will look like five years down the line’

Describe your role and what you do.

I’m a principal at Talis Capital, working on the investment team. My role is hugely varied and there’s never a day that looks like the next, but overall I spend a lot of time on our pipeline, talking to new companies who fit into our investment thesis, and supporting our existing portfolio companies on a variety of activities from recruiting to strategy.

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

Talis invests in tech across a broad range of industries, but we deep dive into specific sectors when we believe the timing is right. Personally, the areas I’m most interested in right now are construction tech and digital health – in particular, femtech.

While it may not sound like the sexiest sector, the construction industry has huge potential for innovation, and it’s an area I’ve spent a lot of time researching. To date, the industry has had very little incentive for disruption, unlike other industries that have gradually embraced change and digitisation to increase their productivity. Poor time management, reliance on physical documentation, litigation costs and disperse locations are only some of the issues plaguing the industry, and there are several indicators that the sector is ripening for investment.

We’ve been looking at digital health for a few years now, but Covid-19 has shone a light on the inefficiencies in healthcare systems globally and the pandemic has demonstrated the potential of digital health technologies. Countries all over the world are moving towards digital-first health strategies, and the appetite for innovation that can enable this shift has grown exponentially.

Within digital health, one area I’m particularly fascinated by is femtech. The global healthcare system has a long history of systematically failing to serve women, but we’re seeing a lot of companies emerging looking to remedy this, focusing solely on the female experience.

Are good entrepreneurs born or can they be made?

I strongly believe that entrepreneurs are made. While some people may demonstrate entrepreneurial qualities early on in life, I don’t think anyone is born with the skills to manage a 500-person tech unicorn.

Being an entrepreneur requires massive grit and ambition – but also high levels of diligence where you’re able to constantly assess your progress and benchmark this against your goals and objectives. Entrepreneurs need to be forward-looking and focused on the vision. As a founder, it’s your job to be able to think about the next steps for your business.

What are the qualities of a good founder?

I think the most important quality we look for in founders is self-awareness. Founders need to be able to demonstrate an understanding of where their skills lie, and where the gaps are. ‘Hire people who are smarter than you’ is an industry trope that I really believe in. Founders also need to be willing to adapt as the company grows.

What we look for in founders varies depending on the stage of the business. If we’re assessing a company at seed stage, we want to see ambition, focus and agility, and also the ability to make strong hires quickly. With later-stage companies, we want to see founders’ self-awareness demonstrated by the teams that they’ve built around them.

What does a successful entrepreneur need to do every day?

This answer, to me, is simple. To stay aligned to their vision, founders should be thinking every day about what the company will look like five years down the line. It’s the job of your team to manage the day-to-day; founders should be constantly assessing how their actions, and the actions of their team, are influencing where they want to be in years to come.

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

Given that the entrepreneurship journey can be very lonely at times – especially for sole founders –  I think the best thing is finding people who you can bounce ideas off. It’s important that entrepreneurs find a supportive community, perhaps of other entrepreneurs, where they can blow off some steam and have really candid conversations about things that they can’t tell their employees, or they’re too afraid to tell their investors – whether that’s confessing that they’ve hired the wrong people, or to talk about how they screwed up a product demo.

Talis last year launched the Talis Knowledge Hub. After years pointing our founders in the direction of our favourite resources, the hub is essentially a one-stop shop for founders from pre-seed to Series B, providing a library of high-quality, curated resources, gathered from experts across the VC and tech sectors.

How do you assemble a good team?

Know yourself, understand limitations in your skills and knowledge, and hire great people that will complement your abilities. And always hire people smarter than you.

What is the critical ingredient to start-up success?

Resilience. There are so many points in the start-up life cycle where founders will need to rely on resilience: for example, if you’re too early to market with your product, you need to be resilient to the point where your customers really understand your product.

The path of a young company changes so much, which can be hugely challenging at times, and founders need to be resilient to understand this is all part of the journey.

What are the biggest mistakes that founders make?

I think founders sometimes sell too early. Founders are always thinking about the bigger company that they’re going to sell to later down the line – which, to investors, is great as it demonstrates a clear route to exit. But sometimes I think, what if you instead considered how you can become even bigger than the company that you originally wanted to sell to?

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

I’m a big believer in mentorship – not just for founders, but for anyone looking to succeed in their profession.

Generally speaking, a mentor should be an individual who is much further forward than you in their career, and will be someone who believes in you as an individual and is willing to share their learnings with you – particularly mistakes they’ve made. There can be friendship, but there should be first of all a strong respect towards the more experienced person by the mentee, and drive to help someone else succeed by the mentor.

You’re most likely to find a mentor through your interactions and your relationships, rather than by seeking a mentor outright. I’ve found myself a couple of mentors incidentally. I only considered them mentors after a few years of knowing them and building relationships with them, once I saw that they were happy to share their knowledge and experiences with me without any constraints.

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

Invest in self-awareness. I’m stressing this point so much because I’ve seen so many entrepreneurs flourish after embarking on this learning process, and it’s something that I’ve also been through personally.

Think about who you are and who you want to be. It’s so easy to get lost in the day-to-day of your job that you don’t pause to reflect on what you’re really doing, and how it’s working towards your longer-term goals. While it may sometimes be easier to go with the flow, there’s huge advantage in being very intentional about what you’re doing every day.

With entrepreneurship, there’s so many responsibilities that it’s easy to focus on the wrong thing. If you’re not intentional about what you do, you’re probably not going to win in the long term.

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