We fund a community of founders and companies that are overlooked and neglected within niche yet growing markets or functions that operate efficiently with sustainability and growth in balance, all while tackling some of our biggest social challenges within the SDGs. We use critical social and gender equity approaches to our investment decisions and portfolio management, and we fund entrepreneurial companies in a more sustainable and holistic manner than our VC colleagues.
We envision a world with decreased gender-based violence and sexism, racial prejudice and xenophobia, class and status, and exploitative business practices. We dream of a possible future where economic prosperity is shared more equitably across all markets, citizens and communities.
To see a future aligned with such aspiration, we look for teams and companies in sectors, industries and communities that transform and capture the future value we seek. If this truly is a possible future, here is how we correlatively believe we need to invest right now.
Entrepreneurship has long been in decline in Canada1. Or has it?2 Industrial concentration, changing labour market conditions, an increased college wage premium and higher student debt are all cited as reasons for the decline, whereas innovation-driven ICT enabled companies are accredited for its ascent.
While we may expect there to be big leaps within certain sectors such as AI, quantum computing, biotech and perhaps pharma,3 we will invest in - and believe we are likely to see - incremental growth across novel use cases of existing technology and innovation into newer elements of a market or economy.
This flies in the face of the “disruption” VCs are after as they seek to travel 0 → 14, but aligns with where we likely are within the technology and financing cycles elucidated by Carlota Perez.5 Further, if true, this means we likely need to use different ways of spurring innovation - financing types, mechanisms and methodologies.
As of April 2020 in the COVID-19 pandemic, we are already seeing less capital going toward earlier stage investments in private markets. Decreased liquidity over longer tails, fewer distributions, a lot of dry powder ear-marked for existing companies… capital injections are slowing and the investment pace has too. If the growth of companies is stalled - fuelled by investment capital toward marketing and sales acquisition, exits will decrease as will financial returns. Successful growth opportunities will nevertheless be found with sustainable growth-oriented companies operating in sectors, themes, functions, geographies that are less saturated, more resilient, and cheaper.
As we are yet to uncover exactly what a Post-COVID-19 world will look like, at Marigold we argue that utilizing existing technologies “for good” will begin to proliferate and find substantive Venn diagram overlap with an increased demand for impact investing to (re)focus on our “why”6 instead of the easier yet perhaps more gratifying “how”.
*Post COVID-19 Market*
We will be forever changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some things will stay the same, and others will change or need to change. Our thinking is early, but some of this is already being captured in our thesis.
We will continue to need food, housing, clothing, the Internet, healthcare, education… going outside and purchasing offline… all toward increased efficiencies, lower costs and increased resilience.
We will likely see changes in the nature of work, entertainment, dining, education, medicine, real estate, financial systems (less leverage, less speculation), supply chains, travel, entrepreneurship activity, consumer consumption, family/community values and/or faith, coordination across public, private and third sectors, and household savings.
We need to see changes within healthcare services delivery, financial resiliency and inclusion, balance between privacy/civil liberties and government support/ease of use, gender and social equity, climate change, and financial systems/capitalism.
What about our health - emotional, mental and physical? What impacts and opportunities will there be from the following potential changes:
- Will we begin to revalue going out of the home?
- Will we reconsider how and with whom we congregate when we do go out?
- Will social pressures or cues change?
- Will we eat differently or will most of our pandemic gardens dry up?
Early Stage Financing
Since the advent of modern VC in the 1970’s, problems have persisted: lack of diversity, lack of access for underprivileged groups, and lack of realism when it comes to growth rates and scalability.7 All of these are further informed and compounded by the limited funding options available to today's entrepreneurs, which favour a small and insular group based on inherent structural limitations.
+95% of today's business community does not fit the sensationalized venture capital model of zero to exponential value in a short timeline. This model has created an unintended gap in access to capital for the majority. Furthermore, traditional lending has proven exclusionary to many start-ups for a variety of reasons - lack of collateral and risk aversion notwithstanding. Costs and timelines to starting and running a sustainable company have changed. Investors and entrepreneurs alike require new and more diverse approaches to financing.
Venture capital's dominance has also unintentionally led to greater barriers to capital access for entrepreneurs: enterprises led by women, people of color, or people in rural areas may lack the preexisting networks and leadership teams to fit the traditional VC mold while nevertheless no less successful in the long-term.
Better Early Stage Financing
Funding approaches that mitigate many market and vehicle challenges exist. We call participating in the success or struggle of a company via taking a share of ongoing revenue “revenue-based investing” (RBI). Payments from the company to funder are usually made until the initial funding amount is repaid in addition to a return multiple. Once the initial agreement is fulfilled, an option to buy equity in the company is often available based on the success of the investor/investee relationship to that point.
There are variants to this that connect to NI, FCFF or Shared Earnings, but they are all generally more flexible and forgiving of payment structures that are more aligned with an entrepreneur’s position. RBI allows company owners to adhere to a strategic approach that values the health of the company above all, and enables entrepreneurs to retain full ownership in their company.
For funders, RBI is lower risk as we have a comparatively predictable repayment schedule that's not dependent on the sale of the company to make a return. And while returns are also lower, the tradeoff between lower risk for lower reward helps make RBI a competitive investment opportunity.
RBI does not introduce the same lopsided power dynamics into an investment relationship as equity approaches can, making RBI a more collaborative approach for both investors and entrepreneurs. RBI works well for hyper-growth, and more importantly for moderate growth and slow growth companies that are between Seed and Series A amounts of funding. With this funding approach, we are able to identify and service many more companies than with existing VC “fund maker” methodologies and power laws.
Our companies succeed, we succeed, and our investors succeed if collectively our community of companies generates a decent rate of return from the “singles, doubles” and a few “triples”. While we need to ensure fewer “strikeouts” we also don’t need to see any “homeruns”. If we do this, we will generate top quartile or decile returns vis-a-vis US or Canadian benchmarks, and will also offer faster liquidity to our investors without taking on the same level of risk per company or overall portfolio due to less concentration per investment.
Essentially, we don’t need to force growth upon companies at all costs as the “moonshot” model and its related dynamics aren’t necessary for us, aren’t good for most companies, and are not good for economic development writ large.
We look for companies that are capital efficient: those that hold on to their cash will last longer and spend less “frivolously” on growth acquisition strategies. They will hire and retain wisely and fairly. They are keenly aware of margins and changes in unit economics, appreciating revenue resiliency and not just cost savings. They are able to grow in part from organic growth (cash flow) and will often maintain a customer base with limited and understood (cohort) churn. They are better investment prospects, and there are far more of these than any unicorn, narwhal. Our fellow Canadian friend has called these companies Camels,8 and we believe that a slower-growth sustainable company is the "new black”.
We focus on Canadian and US companies. Specifically, we are investing in Ontario and Quebec in Canada, and parts of the Midwest, Great Lakes and Northeast US.
Themes & Sectors
We are most interested in companies that can grow sustainably using incremental models and existing technologies within the following themes and sectors:
- Digital journalism and media
- Financial inclusion
- Food security and production
- Future of work (meritocracy, accountability, collaboration, reskilling)
- Mental health (as part of a vast increase of digital/telehealth solutions)
- Privacy and security around information ownership
- Sexual and reproductive health and rights
- Supply chain resilience, traceability, transparency and further automation
If you’re interested in how we arrived at the above problem sets, sectors and themes, feel free to contact us and we can discuss our systems mapping thesis development.
Social & Gender Equity
This is at the core of why we do how and what we do. In all investments, Marigold seeks:
- Strategies that promote diversity across all levels, not just senior management, including participation in decision making and ownership;
- Diversity along company supply and value chains; inclusive of diverse decision makers, producers, employees, distributors, purchasers, users;
- Companies that offer products/services that benefit marginalized and underrepresented populations;
- Economic advancement; health; education; safety, security and rights (including domestic);
- Appropriate financial structures and expectations for business models and markets; and
- Empowerment as a goal across all aspects of product/service and company value chains to promote improved policies, programs and initiatives.
We seek committed, resilient and talented founding partners. They complement each other with dynamic lived experiences, functional expertise and deep sectoral or thematic knowledge of an industry or segment of the economy. Their company is entirely focused on problems “worthy” of solutions due to the massive negative impacts these problems have created across time and societies. While there may not be a “balance” between personal and professional lives, they work as a team to stay sane and motivated to better serve themselves, their families and their customers.
Knowledge and expertise in a sector or industry is crucial to us. FInancial, business and consumer norms and demands are shifting, and industry/market penetrations will also change shape. Our experts are to be valued more than ever: diverse and inclusive thought leadership across an entire team and their company partners must be found within each of our investee companies.
The team is largely in place and has demonstrated value to its existing client base.
Market Attractiveness & Positioning
The market the companies are in is large enough to build profitable companies, but may also be considered too niche for other funders to enter. The market is growing, in line with consumer norm shifts we’ve described earlier. Companies have a clear value proposition that is built as a competitive advantage that acts as a moat or strategic tool for partnership/alignment.
Customers are known and can be obtained through traditional channels via organic efforts, and sales will be commensurate with efforts and business model (B2B: $10-100,000/year; B2C: $100-$1,000/year).
We look for products that have been designed with and for the end user/customer in mind. The product is demanded by the end user/customer, aware of the pain point it is solving for them. They are willing and able to pay.
The product on offer is of quality, is affordable, and is accessible. It promotes equity, rights, autonomy, and decision-making powers of its users/customers.
We look for companies that have shown, do show, and will show their commitment and follow through toward the impact of their companies.
We do not look for positive impact byproducts or unintended consequences to a company’s operations. Impact - broad, deep, mutual - will be integral to the financial and operational success of each and every company with which we work. Our first stage of diligence pertains only to a company’s/founder’s “why”, values alignment and impact orientation.
With each and every company and investor, we are committed to qualifying and quantifying impact through concerted efforts to target, manage, measure and report impact at company, portfolio and Marigold firm levels - using neutral third party scoring and auditing to help verify.
Stage, Raise & Revenue
We invest at the Seed through Series A stages of financing. Companies will initially be looking for between $750,000 and $4MM in financing, and we will look to co-invest as lead or syndicate with at least one other funder.
All investees will be post-revenue, typically with growing monthly recurring revenue of $15,000 or more and growing ARR of $250,000. Companies will have historical data and metrics that will help evaluate growth potential such as: CAC, LTV, churn, conversion rates, MRR growth rates, and revenue/customer, among others.
Our in-house and network expertise must complement what you, the company is aiming for. We must also agree on timing, exit timelines, impact and financial mandate of Marigold, its LPs, and how you can help us and the rest of the companies in our community of companies.
- Trends in Firm Entry and New Entrepreneurship in Canada
- GEM Global Report 2016-2017
- What We Can Learn From Smart Money VCs' Bets In Quantum, AI, Fintech, And More
- Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future
- Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital
- The Purpose of Capital: Elements of Impact, Financial Flows, and Natural Being
- VC - An American History
- Alex Lazarow on the Camel as a Company: Out-Innovate