Plural, the VC firm set up by four former founders (and prolific angel investors), has raised a second fund of €400m just 18 months after its first €250m fund.
Taavet Hinrikus, Ian Hogarth, Sten Tamkivi and Khaled Helioui set out in 2022 to “build the kind of investment platform we all wished we’d had when we were building our companies”, Hinrikus, cofounder of fintech unicorn Wise, told Sifted at the time.
That meant being far more hands-on with founders than most investors, doing away with some things that they as founders had hated about investors and hiring other former founders and operators with “scar tissue” to grow their team.
So, with fund two in the bank, how’re they getting on?
“There’s never been a better time to invest in European founders,” says Helioui. “There’s a density of repeat founders now ready to tackle really important problems — from access to education and finance to sovereignty of energy.”
And, with deals taking far longer to get done than a few years ago and funding harder to come by for founders, there’s perhaps never been a better time to be an investor aiming to be more hands-on than pretty much any other.
“Our hands-on model of spending real time, founder to founder, feels so straightforward and obvious,” says Tamkivi. “But in almost every country the bar is so low.”
He says that overall the time that an investor will spend with a founder before agreeing a deal has increased markedly in recent years.
“In 2021, you’d talk on Saturday and decide on Monday. [Last year’s] shift towards a few more weeks or months of courting and getting into things plays to the Plural model; you can see how both sides react to each other and to the hands-on model.”
So far, he says, the team has lost just one deal. “We got to it too late,” he says.
Plural has made a total of 26 investments so far, into startups including power plant startup Proxima Fusion, legaltech Robin AI, AI nursing assistant Teton, energy storage startup Field and carbon removal registry startup Isometric.
31% are into AI, 16% “frontier tech” and 14% into climate tech. 23% of its portfolio companies have female founders and more than half of its portfolio is led by women or minority founders.
Each partner has done two investments per year — typically writing cheques of €1m-15m into early-stage European companies — and “that’s a pace we feel happy with”, says Helioui.
The team has also grown. Last year, a fifth partner — HelixNano founder and scientist Carina Namih — joined, along with several additions to the operations team, bringing the firm’s headcount up to 15.
But it hasn’t grown quite as much as the founding partners (optimistically) predicted it would when setting out. The plan was, originally, for Plural to have as many as 10 partners — all former founders — by now.
“We’ll always be hunting for the best retiring/recovering/graduating founders that want to [become partners] at Plural,” says Tamkivi.
“But at the same time, we don’t control when they exit their companies, or if they want to build the next one. We’d never add them for the sake of hitting numbers.”
Not as planned
Finding new partners isn’t the only thing that has taken longer than the Plural founders anticipated.
The pace of scaling a VC fund is far slower than building a startup, says Helioui; regulations and stakeholders, amongst other things, get in the way of being flexible and agile.
But where Plural has been free to do things differently, it’s mostly worked out better than expected.
Plural decided from the start that it wouldn’t charge founders legal fees. As former founders, the team baulked at VCs charging thousands of pounds in fees after signing a term sheet. It’s been a popular move, says Tamkivi.
“Founders really do notice and tell their friends. It’s small on the surface, but it’s been very symbolic.”
Focusing on just two investments per partner per year also means the team can spend a significant amount of time with founders.
And while they do, it is important not to get carried away, Tamkivi says.
“We monitor the amount of time spent with founders and call each other out on this,” he says.
Plural wants to ensure no one company is getting too much (or too little) of its team’s time. “First-time and repeat founders have a very drastic difference in terms of time needs,” says Helioui.
With every new investment, a Plural partner agrees a “service level agreement” (SLA) with the founders. “It’s SLA first, then money and numbers,” says Tamkivi.
And it’s taken seriously. “If a partner screws up an SLA with founders, we can take away carry,” he says — not something Sifted has heard of any firm doing.
Plural’s investors seem to like what they’re seeing; the firm says all of its biggest institutional investors have reinvested in the new fund, with the majority increasing their investments.
LPs include US and UK university endowments, US foundations and insurers, strategic family offices from Europe and the US and global VC fund of funds.
But it will still take quite some time until it’s clear whether Plural can achieve the most ambitious goal it set out with in 2022: having GDP-level impact on Europe.
“Tracking that is going to be fun,” says Tamkivi.