Hoxton Ventures’ partners assess Europe’s early-stage landscape

Hoxton Ventures, a London-based early-stage VC firm best known for backing British unicorns Babylon Health, Darktrace and Deliveroo, announced its second fund last week, coming in at just under $100 million.

The firm’s self-proclaimed strategy is to seek out startups that can scale globally into “large, category-defining leaders” in nascent industries — A strategy that appears to be bearing fruit.

However, although fund two is twice the size of the firm’s $40 million debut fund back in 2013 (when new VC firms in Europe were still seen as a novelty), Hoxton struggled somewhat to close a new fund. Despite having the highest ratio of unicorns to investments in Europe, according to Dealroom, it took more than four years to get fund two over the line, leaving many VC watchers scratching their heads.

To find out exactly what happened and to learn more about Hoxton’s strategy going forward, I put questions to founding partners Rob Kniaz and Hussein Kanji — Fidelity and Accel alums, respectively — and new partner and chief operating officer Rob Ludwig. The conversation that followed was refreshingly candid, providing valuable insights into the state of early-stage venture capital in Europe and what it takes to get funded by an outlier VC like Hoxton.

It’s seven years since you announced your debut fund, which I remember at the time was considerably harder to raise than you had perhaps envisaged. However, despite having three unicorns in fund one, this second fund also appears to have taken a long time to get over the line. Why was that?

Hussein Kanji: I see you’re not taking it easy on us. Good question. Fundraising is our Achilles’ heel.

We did our final closing in November 2014 (not widely reported) and did the majority of this fund’s closing in January/February 2019. That’s a little more than a four-year gap, meaning we’re a year (maybe two) past due. That goes to a combination of two things: we are terrible fundraisers and we had a really awkward experience with the European Investment Fund, which set us back by at least a year.

Rob Kniaz: Yes, sadly EIF denied this publicly but they discontinued new fund relationships in the U.K. after Article 50 triggered, so that cost us a significant amount of time due to the length of their process. By that time we had other commitments that had timed out so we probably had and then lost then reraised nearly half of what we eventually raised.

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