Startup Perspectives – Horseplay Ventures

For the next in the Startup Perspective interview series, we chatted with Nick Telson, founder of DesignMyNight (exited) and Angel Investor at Horseplay Ventures.

As a founder-turned-Angel Nick has a foot in both camps and can offer a unique perspective on the current startup landscape.

Name: Nick Telson
Role: Founder, Angel
Company: DesignMyNight (exited), Horseplay Ventures

In a sentence, tell us what Horseplay Ventures does.

Horseplay Ventures invests in, builds, helps and inspires founders and startups. 

You describe Horseplay Ventures as ‘A start up playground’, which sounds like a very deliberate choice of words. What does it mean to you?

We feel like the startup world has become a little bit serious. Founders seem to take themselves a bit too seriously too. Andrew and I remember starting out and it was so much fun; playing around with ideas, concepts, products etc. We were like kids in a playground, everyday. It gets a bit more serious as you go, unfortunately! But we wanted to embody this spirit of fun with founders and startups we work with.

Is there such a thing as the perfect investment?

No, I don’t think so. We look for different facets of an investment;  team, revenue model, market it’s operating in, progress to date, is the problem being solved an actual problem, do customers already love them? If you can tick lots of these boxes then you’re well on you’re way!

What’s more important, the founding team or the Big Idea?

Definitely the team. Of course, the idea needs to make sense and the market needs to be ready for the disruption but without a great team, even the best idea won’t come to fruition. We also look to the founding team to be ready to pivot and adjust if required as we are well aware no startup journey is a straight line. Our investors at DesignMyNight invested in a B2C discovery site and ended up with 3 x SaaS products and selling to a software company. 

Richard Branson believes that everyone is an entrepreneur; do you think everyone has what it takes?

I really do but at the same time I think some people have more of a predisposition for being a successful founder; being able to handle stress, twists and turns while keeping a clear strategic head, is one!

Do you feel like exiting your own business (DesignMyNight) gives you an edge over other career VCs / Angels?

For me, it’s not about an edge over anyone else but looking internally we know what it takes to build and exit. We are very much in touch with trends and market moves and can really help founders with, not just strategic thinking, but the more practical parts of being a founder such as company culture, HR issues, mental health problems etc.. we aren’t just money men.

Despite Brexit and Covid, the rate of new business registrations in the UK is accelerating. Are you seeing a similar rise in the number of startups looking to raise funding?

We are getting circa 60 decks a week through Horseplay Ventures at the moment; which is a lot! So I don’t think Covid and Brexit are blockers. In fact, out of tough times often come the best ideas and unfortunately a lot of people are going to be losing/have lost their job this year so they may turn to entrepreneurship instead. 

How has Covid impacted your own business in 2020, either positively or negatively?

I fully exited my business in Jan 2020 so was very fortunate. Although hospitality has been hit massively I believe DesignMyNIght has continued to have a strong year due to their booking software and restaurants having to take bookings to open…so their monthly billing may be down due to freezing payments but their customer acquisition has been strong.

Venture Capitalism is big business at the moment, what does the next few years look like for Capital Markets?

This grandiose question may be above my level of expertise (!) but I am bullish on the markets. There is definitely money available and I don’t see VCs pulling back massively now we are post the main lockdown period. So I think good companies, with good prospects will continue to raise cash.

If you could offer one piece of advice to budding startup founders, what would it be?

There has never been a better time to start a company; there are so many affordable tools to get a business live and fast. So, do your research, really question your idea but then just give it a go – perhaps first as a side-hustle and see what happens…

Favourite book or Podcast to recommend (other than Pitchdeck of course)?

I love Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, which is the story of Nike. A very inspirational story. I also really enjoy Business Wars podcast, learning about big companies and how they all compete(d) in the competitive landscape.

Keep an eye out for the next interview in our Startup Perspective series over the coming weeks.