Startup Perspectives – 9others & Dot Matrix Group

In this instalment of Startup Perspectives, we speak with Matthew Stafford, co-founder of Dot Matrix Group angel syndicate and co-founder of the 9others network.

Matthew is passionate about helping entrepreneurs to build a network of like-minded peers, allowing them to come together to solve business challenges. When he’s not hosting networking dinners for entrepreneurs, he manages an angel syndicate focussing on STAR businesses.

Name: Matthew Stafford
Role: Co-founder, Angel
Company: Dot Matrix Group & 9others

Tell us what 9others is all about.

On 8th December 2011 I hosted a meal for myself and nine other people. I wanted to create a place where a deliberately small group of loosely curated people could come together to talk about, and help each other with, the challenges of business.

My co-founder Katie and I hosted that first meal and we have hosted one a month ever since. Hosts in 45+ cities around the world have also hosted meals with 9others.

I didn’t know whether it would work or not but 9others now drives everything I do.

Where did the idea come from & what are you hoping to achieve?

Throughout 2011 I’d hosted a bunch of dinners for entrepreneurs to meet investors. These were incredibly successful and led to lots of investment deals. What happened though was that at the end of each of those meals the entrepreneurs would huddle together and talk amongst themselves.

I realised that they were talking to each other about the everyday challenges of business – it was the peer support they wanted but couldn’t get anywhere else. So after hosting all those dinners for investors and entrepreneurs I wanted to do something just for the entrepreneurs to try to help them help each other and solve some of those challenges.

Support networks are important, now more than ever.  Has covid presented any challenges/opportunities for 9others?

The core of 9others is that, “Your success requires the aid of others”. So to be successful you need help from other people. And the best way to get help from others is to start helping others where you can and, over time, this will be reciprocated and compound.

When Covid hit yes, we couldn’t host any more in-person meals which was sad. However people still wanted to connect and help others. They still wanted to show up and be generous. So we put 9others online and hosted via Zoom. We were hosting one a week in early Lockdown I.

Because we have a strong meaning behind what we do, the online version worked. Of course I’m looking forward to hosting in-person but I’m pleased we carried on online because, as you say, networks and connecting with good people are more important than ever.

And something happened that would never have happened without Covid – I attended meals with 9others with people from Germany, Italy, Singapore, Yemen, USA and more. I’d often thought about doing online meals with 9others in the past but dismissed the idea. Covid made that wonderful thing happen.

Yemen and Pakistan are some of the emerging startup ecosystems you focus on. Is location less important that it once was for a startup? (Silicon Valley, for example) 

When Katie and I first thought about doing meals with 9others overseas we made a list. San Francisco was near the top – surely as a startup community we just had to be there? But we hosted in Papua New Guinea, Karatchi and many other cities before San Francisco. Why? Because those emerging ecosystems needed 9others more than San Francisco did.

I’ve learned so much and gained so many insights from all the hosts around the world but I think most of all from those hosts in the most challenging places.

What’s next for 9others?

For 9others in the future — it’s something I’ll always do. I’ve often thought that whether I hit the jackpot or it all goes horribly wrong, I can still host a meal with 9others no matter what happens.

The immeasurable, unpredictable yet inevitable generosity and success that comes from bringing together good people to help each other is timeless. As has happened since 2012, I’d like people around the world to host meals with 9others. I also think that 9others is something that ought to be expanded to the next generation of entrepreneurs and leaders so I am exploring ways of achieving that.

As well as founding 9others, you also founded the angel syndicate Dot Matrix Group. What is DMG?

DMG is a growing syndicate of angel investors – we all want to contribute, learn and invest.

Typically I meet entrepreneurs from my network (9others being a key place of course) and get to know them and their businesses over months and years. If they do a funding round and I want to personally invest then I will do some due diligence with my DMG co-founder, Kash, and we will present this to the syndicate.

After reading the DD, hearing the entrepreneur pitch and asking any questions each syndicate member decides for themselves whether they want to invest. Post-investment we try to help out as much as we can in order to grow and support the business.

What kind of startups excite you most and why?

I’m most excited by potential ‘STAR Business’. A STAR Business is a business that is, or has the potential to be, the leader in a fast growing niche.

What’s more important, the founding team or the big idea?

In the beginning it is more important to have a strong founding team. The guaranteed result of starting a new business is that it will get hard and the founders will want to, and be under pressure to, give up. Founders with a high degree of grit and self-awareness (STAR Founders, as I call them) will persist, adapt and succeed.

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 angel funding?

Yes, there are always startups looking to raise funding. There are probably better data sources on this than me but I certainly saw an increase in March 2020.

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

Build your network before you really need it.

Favourite book or Podcast to recommend?

I’ve learned most from:

  • TWiST episode 291 and 295, here.
  • The Education of a Value Investor, here.
  • Zero to One, here.
  • Biographies of successful people – I’ve just finished this for example and have started this.

Thanks, Matthew!

You can read the rest of the interviews in the series here.