The Startup Playbook

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Ep159 – Niki Scevak (Co-founder & Partner – Blackbird VC) on raising ambition

My guest for Episode 159 of The Startup Playbook Podcast was the Co-founder & General Partner of Blackbird Ventures, Niki Scevak.

Blackbird Ventures is one of the leading Venture Capital funds in Australia and NZ, counting companies such as Canva, Culture Amp and Safety Culture as part of its portfolio.

Niki and previous podcast guest, Rick Baker, Co-founded Blackbird in 2012 with an initial $29M. That initial fund proved to be hugely successful, with the fund selling 40% of fund 1 for $100M. The sale provided a guaranteed 3x return to all 96 investors who contributed to fund 1, while retaining an interest in the 12 portfolio companies with a carrying value of $6.50 per $1 invested.

In this interview we covered the story behind how Niki and Rick Baker first met and decided to launch Blackbird together, how the power law shapes Blackbird’s investing philosophy and how their approach to raising the ambition for their portfolio led them to change their own strategy from building the “Craigslist of VC” to growing from 4-60 people and raising Australia’s first $1B fund.

Timestamps 

  • 4:39 – An introduction to Niki 
  • 6:15 – The importance of being around the right people early in Niki’s career
  • 8:10 – What led Niki and Rick to launch Blackbird together despite not knowing too much about each other at the time
  • 10:50 – How founders can do their own due diligence on potential cofounders
  • 14:22 – How Rick and Niki’s own background and experience helps their approach in “backing the hungry, not the proven”
  • 16:50 – What Blackbird looks for when investing early in founders and ideas that haven’t got revenue or haven’t launched
  • 23:00 – How Niki and Blackbird support their portfolio companies and help calibrate their founders
  • 25:54 – Blackbird’s approach to ownership of portfolio companies and their follow-on strategy
  • 30:35 – How Blackbird and Startmate builds an internal ecosystem of raising ambition
  • 33:45 – A deep dive into Blackbird’s investment in Zoox, their first non-software investment that paved the way for a new approach Blackbird took to investing
  • 39:49 – A reflection on Blackbird’s initial investments and how their approach has evolved as they have built up confidence
  • 42:35 – The role that the power law plays in how Blackbird decides to invest in companies
  • 45:45 – What led to the shift from Blackbird’s approach to building the “Craigslist of VC” i.e. small team/company to now growing from 4 to 60 people and raising Australia’s 1st $1B fund
  • 51:15 – Blackbird and Startmate’s internal culture and environment to raise their own ambition
  • 53:19 – How founders can recreate their own version of Blackbird’s culture
  • 57:00 – How founders can identify their own team cultural values

Links Mentioned 

A big thank you to our podcast partners for this episode

Lawpath

Lawpath’s Legal Advice Plan gives you access to lawyers on demand for one low monthly fee. Create legal documents, sign online and have a lawyer on-call to help you through any legal need for a fraction of the cost.  Lawpath has helped Australian businesses save over $100 million in legal fees, and are offering Startup Playbook listeners up to 20% off their most popular legal plans. Visit lawpath.com/playbook for your exclusive discount and discover an easier way to get your legals sorted.

Scendar 

We’re Scendar, an accounting and advisory practice better described as Finance as a Service (FaaS). We’re focused on founders, funders and startups. Clients that are ever-changing and adapting. We like fast movers. And as you might have guessed, we’re not your basic accountancy. We can take care of tax and the books whilst building a syndicate fund and a multimilliondollar exit strategy.  At Scendar, we’re empowered by our client’s potential. Find out more at Scendar.com

Dovetail Studios 

Dovetail Studios operates a venture studio and VC to transform ambitious ideas into unstoppable businesses. On top of being a renowned product development partner for startups like Afterpay, they also operate a VC fund to invest in early-stage companies that go through their venture studio program. So if you’re a non-technical, early-stage founder looking for a talented team to help supercharge your success, check out dovetailstudios.com

Links Mentioned 

Niki’s Links 

People Mentioned 

Companies Mentioned 

Resources Mentioned 

Previous Episodes Mentioned 

Special Thanks:

Special thanks to Rick Baker, Nick Crocker, Rayn Ong and Rory San Miguel for their help with research for this interview! 

Feedback/connect/say hello:

Rohit@startupplaybook.co
@RohitBhargava7 (Twitter)
/rohbhargava (LinkedIn)
@rohit_bhargava (Instagram)
My Youtube Channel

Credits:

Music: Paycheck

Other channels:

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