On the fourth episode of Season 8 of the Propcast, Louisa speaks with Liza Benson, covering her journey to becoming a partner at one of the most prominent female-led Venture Capital funds in the Real Estate Tech space, Moderne Ventures. In this episode you’ll hear how Liza balances the time being a board member of several companies whilst also raising $200 million in 2021. You’ll also hear about the plan for deployment and what Liza and the team look for when evaluating a PropTech business or a tech company. Lastly, you’ll hear about Liza’s personal experience with being a woman in the Proptech space, as well as a woman in Venture Capital and the effect of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives within some of their portfolio companies.
Key Insights From This Episode:
- April 2000 was an interesting time to join venture capital at a very instructive time in many ways, because we’ve seen over the last 5+ years everything is up and to the right. – Liza
- We actually don’t use the term PropTech. We use the term Real Estate Tech. – Liza
- We think about Real Estate Tech in a very broad way. We actually like companies that have multi verticals because the more verticals, the bigger the market, and also not subject to the cyclicality of real estate. – Liza
- There are so many different verticals in PropTech, that it touches anything in the built environment, whether it’s mobility, ESG or the content. There is a new vertical coming out every month. – Louisa
- You could have the greatest market, the greatest business model but without the right leaders to execute on it, it won’t work. – Liza
- What we’re not seeing as much of, unfortunately, is women partners. It is still a very, very low number. I always tell people to make it your advantage. Everyone will remember you when there’s eight guys and you on a Zoom call. – Liza
- We’re in a unique time right now where it’s become easier to balance that work-life balance. I think that is going to be a huge benefit for women going forward. – Liza
About Our Guests:
Liza Benson is a Partner with Moderne Ventures and helps lead and manage investment activity with particular focus on high-growth technology companies that can achieve rapid adoption and scale. Prior to Moderne, Liza was a Partner with StarVest Partners, focused on expansion stage B2B SaaS investments. Previously, Liza was a Managing Director of Highbridge Principals Strategies and invested primarily in online video, digital media, and marketing technologies and prior to that she was a Managing Director with Bear Stearns’ Constellation Growth Capital and an investment banker at Patricof & Co and First Union where she started her career.
About Our Host
Louisa started her career in property working at a well-known estate agency in London. Realising her people skills, she moved over to Lloyd May to pursue a career in recruitment. She now is a Director at LMRE, who are a specialist recruitment firm driven by PropTech and recruitment professionals, and Louisa oversees their 5 core areas. Louisa co-founded LMRE and provides a constructive recruitment platform to the new disruptors in real estate. Louisa is also on the board of Directors at UK PropTech Association (UKPA).
LMRE believe there is a better way to recruit. LMRE focus on a more comprehensive, client led focus delivering exceptional talent to the place at the time. They are passionate about the industry and passionate about people’s careers. LMRE spend time with each client to become and an extension of the business, and their transparency and core values help them grow with the sector. LMRE simplify recruitment and innovate with our clients and evolve the people driven, PropTech community.
[02:00] You started off in investment banking, at First Union and then a part of StarVest partners. How did you come to Moderne Venture and meeting your partner, Constance?
- I have been in venture in growth equity for 20 years. I started in investment banking to learn the technical aspects of modelling and I joined my first fund in April 2000.
- I joined StarVest, a B2B SaaS investor, and that is where I met Constance.
- I have been at Moderne Ventures for 4 years. We have had a great run, we finished investing the first fund which was $43 million. Then, last summer we raised our second fund, where our original goal was a $125 million and our cap was $150 million and we’re able to blow through that cap, get our LPs to agree to go to $200 million.
[05:50] What makes Moderne unique, besides the 2 female leaders, and what does that mean to you? Is there a set mission behind the fund?
- The fund was originally conceived by Constance as a strategic fund out of the National Association of Realtors. The basic premise was; “How can I stack the deck? How can I help my companies in the most in the most profound way?”
- We’re an early-stage investor in real estate home services, FinTech and InsureTech having to do with real estate.
- DocuSign is very interesting because it’s really not a PropTech company in any way. It has a lot of applicability in our industries, but has many other verticals as well. DocuSign became in the model for how we work with companies.
- We love companies that have these multi vertical applications.
[8:05] Some of your strategic investors include; Avalon Bay Communities, Greystar and leading real estate companies such as Oak Tree Capital Management. Constance generated a lot of these herself but how do you continue to support them?
- They are investing in us to improve the operations and ultimately the NOI of their businesses. Therefore, we need to make sure that we’re bringing the best tech to these companies so that they can fundamentally innovate right.
- We have systematized corporate programs that we work with our LPs on.
- We also have another program that we call Passport that is our business development group. It is systematised approach, over a seven-month program, where all of our companies are led through a mentorship with our LPs and larger advisory group of 700 real estate execs.
[10:10] You have got about 700 real estate execs of which some notable names are Icon Port, Hippo and Betta Mortage covering real estate, mortgage, finance and insurance. Is there anything Moderne Venture looks for when evaluating a company?
- Late seed to early B stage companies.
- Founders are the number one thing. You could have the greatest market, the greatest business model but without the right leaders to execute on it, it won’t work.
- Total Addressable Market (TAM), we look at it in a very systematic way.
- We love companies that have a foothold in real estate or want to have a foothold in real estate but also have multi vertical applications.
- We also look at the business model, what is the cost to acquire a customer? What is the long-term value of that customer? What are the fundamental economics of the business at scale?
[13:10] You are on various boards as well like Widevine and Webify. What is it like balancing all of this and being on the board of various companies?
- I am on 8 or 9 boards as a board member or board observer.
- I keep in touch with all of my CEOs on a bi-weekly or monthly basis for one-on-one phone calls.
- From the perspective of the executives who are running the companies, they think of Moderne Venture as a strategic investor. We’re not necessarily going to help them with their budget, but we will help them get customers.
[16:15] Is there any advice that you can give to woman looking to get into the investment space, whether they’re coming from the banking side, the consultancy side, the venture capital side?
- There are 2 ways to come into venture capital; you work for a particular startup or multiple startups that are successful, or there is the investment banking and consulting route.
- Core skills of modelling, deck building and strategic thinking are beneficial.
- What we’re not seeing as much of unfortunately is women partners, it is still a very, very low number. I always tell people to make it your advantage. Everyone will remember you when there’s eight guys and you on a Zoom call.
[17:55] Are there any positive experiences personally for you or any successful changes your various portfolio companies have implemented to ensure DEI?
- Giving people the flexibility, they need to balance work and life.
[19:55] The ‘LMRE’ part, Louisa asks the guests to talk about:
- Lessons learned in your career
- Never have religious beliefs in either a company or an idea. I think you always have to be open to the information that comes in open to criticism, open to other thoughts.
- Mention a person, product or service
- Xeal. Electric Vehicle charger that does not need WiFi or cell service.
- Rewarding parts of working in the space:
- It changes every day. There is no schedule that has to get done necessarily.
- What are you most Excited about for the future of the space?:
- Being at a venture fund that is focussed on the real estate industry.
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