Andy Davis is no stranger to raising awareness around problems of diversity in venture. Having spent most of his career supporting other Black entrepreneurs and VCs in the space, Andy is one of the major players in this space.
In 2020, 10×10 released the Black Report: The first qualitative report on Black startup founders in the UK alongside Google for Startups and launched 10×10 fund to invest in exceptional Black talent.
We sat down with Andy, back in 2021 to discuss his journey from entrepreneur to VC, the importance of paying it forward and why we must preserve spaces for Black founders and Black VCs.
Firstly, I’d love to hear about your career journey in your own words.
My name’s Andy Davis. I’m an early-stage investor. I run 10×10, a group for UK’s early-stage Black founders and Black VCs. I’m in the process of setting up a fund called the 10×10 Fund to invest in early-stage Black founders.
So I haven’t taken that a traditional path. There’s been a lot of stress and uncertainty on the way. However, in life: high risk, high reward sometimes.
I don’t have a university degree. I went to a few universities and I didn’t ever drop out. I was just so busy working at startups when I was 18-19.
I started a course there at UCL in 2010 and they were super supportive, even when I wasn’t taking classes. They provided some developers for us and put me in contact with designers. They were there to provide resources for our startup to thrive. Ultimately, they were paying it forward, which we say a lot in the ecosystem.
I don’t think I’ve been I’m particularly great at anything but I am good at problem-solving. And from 17, 18, I just wanted to solve problems that were in front of me, so I started a bunch of startups. I very quickly realised that you have to solve ‘painkillers’ and not ‘vitamins’, so actual problems.
We put up a website that allowed people to predict their Premier League and you win a $100K if you get right; obviously, I didn’t actually have that money to give away.
I think it took a lot of lessons from that period. But mostly, it exposed me to the world of external capital. I did continue with different startups over the years, each one getting to a later stage and there were a lot of lessons learned.
Where I messed up was internally: the team and the culture. People are still people. Things can go really well; the customers can love the products. But if the company isn’t doing well internally or culturally, then things will break. And I saw that a couple of times as well.
We built this healthcare tool, grew it internationally and got some capital from a corporate venture fund, some angels, a few syndicates. After that, I transitioned to the world of investing.
Why did you transition? Was it natural?
It was so natural. I ended up setting up the UK arm of Backstage Capital, a US venture fund. The recent transition wasn’t difficult at all because I spent so much of my time with founders helping them with fundraising, product development, hiring, sales, commercials…So I had been playing the role of an extended founder/investor. The year prior to me becoming an investor, I started sending my investors deals and they trusted my opinion. I was never sending anyone anything that would be a waste of time. It doesn’t feel any different because my conviction is the same; I really believe in the founders I support.
How long have you been in investment now?
Going three-and-a-half years. I’ve done the VC side of things, setting up the US venture fund here. Then I became an angel investor with Atomico, a large VC fund in Europe. Since I’ve done a couple of angel investments myself since.
Founders appreciate that I can talk from a few sides of the table and represent a different perspective. I think this is still quite rare in the ecosystem but we are seeing an increase of founders, who exit their companies in Europe and start putting money back into this ecosystem as investors themselves.
Tell me a bit more about 10×10. Where does the name come from?
At startups, your product has to be 10 times better than the competition. But as Black founders, you have to be 10 times better than that… and that’s where 10×10 came from.
What were the main drivers behind starting 10×10?
In 2015, there was nothing in the ecosystem like it. It started as a way for us to support each other and it kind of somewhat grew organically. I’ve never had any plans per se for it. I always got asked what’s the vision, what’s the plan? I said the greatest products in the world just grow organically because they have value add. So every day, I was just focused on delivering value for founders at every point of their business: When they first got an idea to their first set of customers, to hiring team members, finding co-founders, leading on the legal side, ordering up to exit etc. We’ve had a few founders exit as well.
We’ve had a few offshoots like 10X10 VC, a group of all the Black VCs in the UK, a place for Black VCs to be together and support one another. We now know that we have to support Black people who want to get into venture and Black founders who want to get funding, of course.
We help them prepare for interviews, and other career advice to give them the best chance possible to secure that role. On the funding side, we help them raise funds at seed level especially, going over their decks, getting their narrative correct etc.
We do pitch practice sessions with them. This year we’re seeing some great results with more Black founders getting funded than ever before, especially Black female founders, which I’m super proud of. It’s been a phenomenal year for female founders generally. And they’ll keep flying and growing off the back of the year as well.
What do you wish you had known when you first started working in this ecosystem?
When you’re in the wrong, just listen. And be very patient because it’s such a long game in venture.
And you have to be obsessed. People in VC are very passionate; I think the best people are obsessed with this world. And they let it become their world. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Of course, it’s important to have a work-life balance, but if you love it, it’s okay to say you love it.
There are a lot of resources out there and great programs, such as the Newton Program. There’s no reason to not know things. Be educated. Be informed. I’ve got this email list for people who want to get into VC: books you should read, podcasts you should listen to, news that you subscribe to, events etc.
We also do lunch on Hangouts for people to come and ask any questions: founders and VCs. In those spaces, don’t be afraid to ask questions. That’s really important.
Is there a particular question you always get asked around like entering the world of VC?
On Friday, someone joined one of my lunchtime Hangouts and said they had an interview at a venture fund and wasn’t sure where to go. So I called them before their interview. And they wanted to know most about how to source deals and what makes me say no. Rightfully, they wanted to know more about the psychology behind it. I wish more people did that. I think typically people do ask a lot of sourcing deals and how to support founders which are both solid things to care about.
From your perspective, what do you think the main issues are with the current state of VC and what can people do to tackle them?
VC’s all about opportunity, right? Where does the opportunity exist? I think VC is missing a massive opportunity from diverse founders and opportunities only seen by diverse investors.
And that’s why Newton exists: the increased diversity of the investor base, thus the companies would be more diverse and will have a more diverse workforce.
I get asked all of the time: what do you think of the funds that don’t invest in Black founders. But those funds eventually die because they’re not providing their investors with the right opportunities. They’re missing big opportunities in the market!
I think the problems exist because the whole ecosystem’s quite archaic.
How do you deprogram all of these unconscious biases you’ve learned? How does it work at 10 by 10… sorry I keep calling it the wrong name.
Call it what you want [laughs].
In other words: How do you approach diversity equity and inclusion at 10×10?
I used to say I don’t care about D&I and people were shocked. I am D&I! We go through this work every day! It isn’t us who needs the changes per se, but everyone’s got room to improve.
I realised different generations are accepting of different ways of communication. For example, language is so important. If you walk into a room and say ‘hey guys’ and the women in the room do not feel acknowledged, then you’ve excluded them ultimately.
When we looked around for offices, we were very kindly offered free space but we ended up paying instead because the place they offered had no accessibility; there were no ramps for wheelchairs, no lifts. That’s crazy!
So we built our own office from scratch. We created a parents room and a prayer space. We try to be as inclusive as possible. Ultimately, it’s just how to be the best human beings – that’s what D&I is.
We all have biases. But how do you recognize them, acknowledge them and progress from them?
I make mistakes every single day. When we did the Black Report report last year, half of the founders involved were women. But where are the non-binary folk? We’re never going to be perfect, but we have to try.
Interesting, I get asked a lot if 10×10 is just for Black founders. What about other diverse founders? And I have to reply that it’s okay for them to have their spaces; it’s okay to build space for Black founders only.
Ultimately, what I’ve learned is it’s okay to do something completely and not get distracted by feeling like you’re missing something else. Just stay focused because you can’t do everything once as well! And once we’ve achieved this, we can move on to the next thing.
Great advice! How do you hold yourself accountable?
I happen to be a “diverse” individual. I only think about things through that lens. Everything. No matter what it is.
For other groups: How do they hold themselves more accountable?
It’s about the constant desire to learn and be better. I make mistakes all the time, but owning up to those mistakes. What everyone hates is someone who just doesn’t care.
Look at the Blackout Tuesday sessions [at LocalGlobe]: it’s so interesting to me because the best bit about it is the consistency. The fact they’re still doing it is important. They’re holding themselves accountable, no matter how uncomfortable it is. Even if you come to the second session, the third session and the results aren’t there yet, the results will come because they’re doing the work. It’s about being patient. If you just lean into the fear, you can accomplish so much because you understand your comfort zone.
I also talk about sacrifice all the time. If you are a VC and see an opportunity that would be great for a team member: sacrifice that member of your team. Recommend them for the opportunity. Go call that fund and do the work to help that person progress in their career. Sacrifice the talent in your fund.
And also sacrifice your own seat sometimes. With 10×10, It can’t all be about me. There are so many people here who are greatly talented and passionate and hardworking. They want to contribute and they should get the recognition that they deserve for that. A little more sacrifice has to come into play.
It feels like you always have it in your mind to pay it forward. Where does that come from?
I’m not sure. I just focus on adding value for Black founders. The rest will work itself out. And I remember to be patient; it’s worth it in the end.