Sapphire is ten years old today.
What a journey it has been. My wife and I started Sapphire in our top floor spare bedroom in a suburb of Belfast. The odds were stacked against us. We worked from there for years and only moved out when Johnathan (our first employee) joined us, and it was too embarrassing to ask him to walk through our house to the top floor to get to his work desk. Just as we were starting, the financing crisis hit, and our first fund was – let’s say – a baptism by fire. It took years to recover. But as any entrepreneur who has been through hard times will tell you – with hindsight the experience proved fortuitous. We learnt from our mistakes and changed direction. Ten years later, we are now one of the leading advisers in SEIS & EIS, manage 25 venture capital funds which have invested in over 100 companies - and thankfully Sapphire continues to grow daily.
As with any significant birthday milestone, today is perhaps a good time to reflect on a few things we have been fortunate to learn along the way:
1) You had better love what you do. Every entrepreneur says it – and you are probably sick of hearing it, but it is true. I believe we are passionate about venture capital – since helping entrepreneurs achieve their goals is not a job - but a dream come true for us. If we didn’t love what we do – the endless 6 am flights to London for fund meetings would have stopped years ago and our business would have failed. I am told there are easier ways to make money – but when I see my wife spending all her spare time reading books about venture capital for pleasure, and our Sunday conversations entail discussions about discounted cash flows valuations – I know we still love what we do.
2) Selecting the right business partner and people to work with makes all the difference. My business partner is my wife. I could not ask for anything more in a business partner. She has better business sense than I do and is always working out how to push the business forward – and we have been fortunate to work with amazing people and entrepreneurs. They never cease to amaze and inspire us. Here’s to the crazy ones.
3) Keep learning. Constant learning and innovation is critical for any business that wants to remain relevant. Everyone at Sapphire is studying something – whether via an online course or attending university part-time. I cannot emphasis this point enough. Venture capital, from an outside point of view may appear to be a static dull business – but in reality, it is continually changing, and we are always striving to keep up and innovate (plus, constantly learning makes our jobs more interesting!).
4) Invest in a team. In the early days, we had to do everything ourselves. Now we are in the process of building a great team. It’s a hell of a process but the benefits are already evident.
5) Finally, if any of you are thinking of starting your own venture capital fund – plan for the long term! A venture capital business is a marathon. Setting up a venture capital fund, raising money, investing and mentoring companies to a successful exit can take many many years. There are no shortcuts in this business. It can take, what feels like aeons before you realise any return on both your time and investment.
What will the next ten years bring for Sapphire? Right now, we are focused on helping entrepreneurs launch several new funds as well as launching a Sapphire fund of funds (i.e., a fund that invests across all the amazing people and companies we have the pleasure of working with daily). That should keep us busy for at least a couple of years. After that – not exactly sure – but not knowing is the exciting bit.
Happy birthday Sapphire. Here’s to the next ten years!
Thank you to all those entrepreneurs behind the funds, their teams and our fantastic team at Sapphire. Its been a pleasure to watch the companies and staff grow and an honour to work with you all. Finally, thank you to my wife and business partner for her wise counsel, kind words and for continuing to believe in Sapphire (and me).
Sapphire Capital Partners LLP is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority to conduct investment business. If we can help you in any way - please let us know by calling 0800 0545 070.