Dominic Perks is half of the partnership heading up London-based startup incubator and investment firm Hambro Perks. The privately-educated Oxford graduate is an experienced investor and entrepreneur, having cofounded the laundry on-demand service Laundrapp alongside Ed Relf, and personally backing more than 40 companies.
So it is safe to say that alongside the Eton-educated Rupert Hambro, the fifth-generation financier, the founding team at Hambro Perks isn't exactly breaking the mould of the stereotypically wealthy, white male, tech investor.
"I mean, there is an indisputable fact that neither Mr. Hambro nor Mr. Perks are women... but we've got a very diverse team here and there are more women employed than men, as it happens," Perks told Techworld during a meeting at the firm's office last week.
"I think we've been genuinely inclusive and diverse from day one," he added.
Of the firm's 24 members of staff, 12 are women, but that figure drops to four if you are just looking at women in investment positions. The leadership team is made up solely of caucasian males.
Perks reiterates that his firm doesn't set quotas or policies when it comes to building a diverse team. "We just hire the best people for the job. We really are blind to gender and race, we are looking for talented people with great potential to do different roles for us."
Founded in 2013, Hambro Perks brought together the unlikely pair to invest in high-growth technology businesses here in the UK. Its portfolio includes video platform Seenit, fintechs Previse and Akoni, and Perks' own Laundrapp.
"We massively over-index on female founders compared to the industry," Perks said. "A third of our portfolio companies are led by women."
Again, he says the firm doesn't implement any kind of quota. "We are looking to invest in the best people, running the best businesses, regardless of where they come from or what sex they are, or their sexual persuasion."
"The inequality is a sort of societal issue, rather than something organisationally we are grappling with. It's a very interesting area, one that's getting, quite rightly, more and more attention."
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Venture partner Kate Burns, who was an early Google employee, joined to lead on media investments in 2017 and has "been doing some great work here in terms of inclusion. We had an event recently, which got great feedback," Perks added.
Building diverse portfolios
On a couple of occasions, Hambro Perks has sourced and invested in companies it may have overlooked had it not had a diverse investment team.
Muzmatch, the Muslim dating app, is in the Hambro Perks portfolio. "We have a Muslim colleague, called Ali [Qaiser, managing director], and he sourced that opportunity," Perks said. "He understood the problem that business was solving, frankly, better than anyone else on the investor team."
Then there is Rupert Hambro himself, who sourced investment in Lisa Smith's Kraydel, a company "solving the problem of loneliness for the ageing population," Perks explained. "Rupert is in his 70's and can certainly relate to friends of his and he got it, in a way that Ali, who's 31 and more interested in matchmaking, did with Muzmatch. So I think that diversity improves origination," continued Perks.
Another less talked about aspect of diversity in the technology and VC industries is socioeconomic background, with both industries dominated by people hailing from top fee-paying schools and red brick universities.
"So the big question is: Is that truly a problem?" Perks asks.
Does it not worry Perks that his firm might be missing great founders from less privileged backgrounds?
"Or are Oxbridge missing them?" he asks in return. Perks also talked about Oxford's plans to boost the proportion of British undergraduates from less privileged backgrounds to a quarter within the next four years, unveiled in May, before pivoting back to speaking about investments.
"One of the things we are looking for in founders actually veers away from privilege," he said. "I'm looking for people that are hungry, determined, resilient, that have already demonstrated extraordinary achievement in their life. So you know, make of that what you will, but people that are tenacious tend to rise and we want to back people like that."
He also talked about the proportion of children at top schools that are on full bursaries. "When we look at the stats and who is privileged and not privileged and socio-cultural factors, then 29% of Etonians don't pay the fees because they are from families that can't afford to - that never gets written about," he said.
Age is just a number
Young male founders are often hailed as wunderkinds in the tech press, but Perks is more keen on second or third career founders.
"I read a stat the other day that the average VC-backed Silicon Valley CEO is 39, which as a 42-year-old I am thrilled to hear," he said. "One thing I think Hambro Perks is particularly good at is backing second career entrepreneurs who are quietly building the next set of unicorns."
In the Hambro Perks portfolio there is Previse, a fintech that focuses on the complex world of supply chain finance, founded by former Goldman Sachs global co-head of principal strategic investments.
"Paul is a force of nature, he's unstoppable and he will build a extraordinary business," Perks said. "He was one of the most powerful fintech investors in the world and he quit that to get involved with a little startup, because he saw the opportunity."