Meet the Investor: Dominic Wilson, Pi Labs

The co-founder and managing partner of "focused, deeply networked and accretive" investment firm Pi Labs reveals what makes his perfect investee...

Firm: Pi Labs
Name: Dominic Wilson, co-founder and managing partner

Where are you based?

We are based in Soho, London, but we consider and invest in opportunities from all over the world.

What kind of investor are you?

We are high-conviction investors with a focus on the entire supply and value chain attached to real estate. We like to be the first cheque into the company and are very often the first institutional money the start-up receives.

What kind of deals do you finance?

We invest at a pre-Series A level on a first time basis. We are comfortable leading rounds but do not insist on it. We think entrepreneurs should be the ones choosing their lead investors. We are focused, deeply networked and accretive partners to the companies we invest in.

What kind of person do you invest in?

We are looking for true entrepreneurs, as opposed to those who are just seeking a headline. Founders we invest in are self-aware and have a strong belief in the power of partnerships (both within their own teams and externally with investors and other stakeholders).

It’s also key for the wider management team to show a strong mix of core skills such as business development acumen and technological expertise.

It almost goes without saying, but we also really value founders who are ambitious, visionary and those with strong “founder market fit” (how well the founder is suited to the idea he or she is working on).

How do you source prospects?

A combination of inbound requests, outbound research and referrals from other investors, VCs and entrepreneurs. I would say the bulk of the deals we actually do come from the latter two components.

What is your ideal investment?

Something that moves me, where I feel it is a genuine change and technological advancement that will provide a significant improvement to an incredibly large and diverse set of people.

On top of this, the investment will also need to present a large market opportunity. I also get a thrill from backing, and working with, smart and passionate people. It is, without question, the best thing about what I do.

What are your USPs?

Our focus. We are laser-like in our sector focus as well as funding stage. That vein runs from our LP base, where we have a huge amount of strategic capital and expertise, to the partners, where we all have a deep background in real estate, and lastly to our portfolio companies. That is an intoxicating blend and network for new companies.

Because we also run a pre-seed programme we are, by nature, very entrepreneur-driven and comfortable with risk at the earliest juncture. Many VCs will say that, of course, but not all are.

What are the hot sectors?

Today it seems to be anything with the words “crypto” “ICO” “Block” or “Chain” in it. Away from the hype, there are some very interesting applications in AI, deeptech and indeed blockchain but I think that is still a longer burn in terms of true adoption.

In terms of market segments, we are currently big fans of warehouses, logistics and that supply chain as well as the construction markets, which are in desperate need of productivity gains.

Three things a company should be able to offer an investor?

I’ll break this into two things pre-investment and one post-investment:

  1. A robust analysis and breakdown of its business model and financial plan. It's surprising how many entrepreneurs do not/cannot do this.
  2. It sounds trite, but be prepared to offer investors a reasonable price/stake for the risk they are taking at that stage in question.
  3. Prompt, regular and up-to-date reporting on key KPIs. Again, entrepreneurs are generally poor at this and it's in their best interest to provide it so investors can use the data to promote them to later stage investors.

What is the cardinal sin when looking for investment?

Two things that will immediately kill your chances with me:

  1. Being rude at any point to any member of my team, office, et cetera. This is a people business and we are investing in people at the end of the day, at this stage. It is okay to be eccentric – most entrepreneurs are – but basic manners cost nothing.
  2. An unrealistic timeline. If you come to me with any kind of notion that the round is closing “next week/fortnight/month” then we will pass. We are thorough and have a process and do not want to waste your time. Moreover, very short timelines are also suggestive of either a lack of planning or that we, as an investor, are not that important to you. This therefore challenges the partnership notion that I mention above. The best companies have always come to us early, got to know us, et cetera.

What continuing involvement do you like in an investment?

That depends on the company and what they prefer. We are on the board of companies in some cases, in others we catch up with the founders on key strategic issues like hiring or their next fundraise. It is up to them – but our door is open for them whenever/however they want it.

Different founders operate in different ways, but a common thread is that we expect to be kept up to date, treated as partners and to have regular contact in whichever format works best for them.

What has been your best performing investment to date?

We are proud of all our investments, but a special mention goes to Airsorted, LandInsight, OfficeApp and Plentific.