Investing in Teams

Constance Scholten

Human Capital Director, Slingshot

Constance Scholten is an entrepreneur-turned-investor who is now the Human Capital Director at Slingshot Ventures, a Venture Capitalist company (VC). She dropped out of law school and founded her first company at the age of 19. Constance’s entrepreneurship and drive have not gone unnoticed, as she was voted one of the Netherlands’ 50 most inspiring female tech entrepreneurs in both 2016 and 2017. More passionate than ever, her driving force is to make a constructive difference in the world by developing talent and first-class teams in companies with impactful technology

In the first stage [...] we solely focus on the team in combination with the product.

As a VC, what do you focus on first when you start conversations with potential portfolio companies?

People make the difference. In the first stage when we enter as an investor, we solely focus on the team in combination with the product. At a later stage, we focus on the things that come next, such as market traction, margin development and customer reviews. Everything is about energy; the human behavior. We need to see the sparks in the leadership team’s eyes when they speak about their company, product, and the credibility of that story and mission. It’s about drive. What are you here to do? What is your belief?

What makes a company a winning company? We find that multi-founder teams are the best when the different founders all share the same vision and mission. There’s a shared DNA within the different people. Do you speak the same language, and are you on the same mission? These teams are able to attract top talent, give trust and space to grow, and engage talent in their purpose. Also, winning companies reflect the attitude and mindset of their customers and they hire people who can relate to this as well. They understand the customer's needs and how to service them best.

How do you assess a leadership team? The team must be complementary. Our assessment is mostly about soft skills. We always use the metaphor of a chain-link necklace. It’s not about the individual loose links, it’s about how they all link together. That’s what makes it strong. Those teams are able to attract talent and trust each other, they’re aligned because they speak the same language.

Constance Scholten

Human Capital Director at Slingshot Ventures Founder of Camarilla One of the Netherlands' 50 most inspiring female tech entrepreneurs (2016 & 2017) Nominated as Harper's Bazaar Woman of the Year 2020

6 Questions about Teams with a Venture Capitalist

Constance Scholten is Director of Human Capital at Slingshot Ventures. Her driving force is to make a constructive difference in the world by developing talent and first-class teams in companies with impactful technologies. In this video the answers six question about the importance of strong teams before deciding on investments.

Most companies are only at 30% of their potential when we invest in them. Sometimes the product is outstanding but the leadership is average, or we see outstanding leadership with an ok product that needs improvement. In both cases, time is of the essence. If you have time, which often equals money, both will grow to what is needed to thrive. Self-awareness and a growth mindset will get them growing towards their potential. We always ask about what is missing and what the teams feel that they need. One common pitfall is that many teams create an image of the company or team that is not yet accurate. It’s more important to know what is needed. To get to tomorrow, we need full transparency, and from that point, we can serve them.

To what extent do you include Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) in the assessment and development of a leadership team? We, as a VC, try to set an example ourselves. We know that every company needs a diverse team to thrive. Within our own organization, we have a very diverse team, which has grown naturally. We have every sexual orientation, gender, and many different backgrounds, and we will always challenge D&I in the companies we invest in. We are aware that many teams aren’t usually where they should be in terms of diversity, but we coach them towards it. Again, remember that many companies are only at 30% of their potential when we meet them. We are there to support and serve them.

What do you do as VC to further develop a leadership team? We focus on team scans on different levels and different stages of a company’s development, and we are continuously attracting talent for what is ahead. We develop leadership potential by offering leadership masterclasses, top-notch business coaches, peer-to-peer days and talent development programs. We understand that we need to nurture the unique talent onboard.

We understand that we need to nurture the unique talent onboard.

The single most untapped competitive advantage is teamwork

To gain this advantage, teams must:

Trust One Another

When team members are genuinely transparent and honest with one another, they are able to build vulnerability-based trust.

Engage in Conflict Around Ideas

When there is trust, team members are able to engage in unfiltered, constructive debate of ideas.

Commit to Decisions

When team members are able to offer opinions and debate ideas, they will be more likely to commit to decisions.

Hold One Another Accountable

When everyone is committed to a clear plan of action, they will be moe willing to hold one another accountable

Focus on Achieving Collective Results

The ultimate goal of building greater trust, conflict, commitment, and accountability is one thing: the achievements of results.

One of the biggest drivers within companies is trust.

What role do you take as a VC towards a company? The business owners are always in charge. We can only serve the business and influence and inform them. Therefore, we assist our portfolio companies as much as possible. We open up our network for them, unlock knowledge and connections, coach them on financials, and spend a lot of time on talent development. We also support them in attracting the right people, which means in practice that we search and select candidates for our portfolio companies and follow strong talents in their careers, so we can make a good match between a company and a talent wherever and whenever possible. Basically, we always look for the knowledge that we are able to unlock for the companies we invested in.

Which People & Culture topics do you pay most attention to, and why? We stir on trust, engagement, talent development, and a strong vision and mission. One of the biggest drivers within companies is trust. When there is trust, a company is able to excel and have breakthroughs. We measure engagement on a monthly basis via tooling and can benchmark the outcomes. When you know what is lacking, you can make improvements. We motivate the founders we work with to have engagement surveys and to use the wisdom of the crowd.

When should a VC intervene in a participation? When the level of trust is (negatively) impacted. If that happens, we need to see how the trust can be rebuilt. Many times, you only discover this after the damage has already been done. Trust is an agenda topic for us, every three months, we speak with the founders, and if there is an HR person, I have a monthly conversation with them. Trust is often the ‘pink elephant in the room’. We raise the awareness of this and make people consciously involved so that the ‘pink elephant’ will be addressed.

What is your most important lesson learned about winning teams? Be transparent; don’t present yourself as something that you’re not because people will see through it. Know your pitfalls and attract people who make you stronger. Truthfulness within your organization is key.

Trust is often the ‘pink elephant in the room’.

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