Barnaby Marshall, Partner at Icehouse Ventures
Fashion entrepreneur turned startup investor. Barnaby is responsible for the Flux Fund and working with early-stage companies to help them grow.
Someone who has walked the talk, Barnaby knows firsthand what is required to get a business off the ground. Having worked for one of New Zealand's most known startup capital partners, Icehouse Ventures for a number of years, he has seen the full breadth of the innovation coming out of New Zealand and is very well qualified to comment on why working in the space presents an exciting opportunity to anyone considering it.
He shares some insight into his career journey, what makes The Icehouse a great place to work and some sage career advice about impressing your future grandchildren. Thanks for sharing your story, Barnaby.
How would you explain to a five year old what you do?
It so happens that I try to explain to my five year old frequently what I do; I tell him that I raise money from investors to invest in, and take equity in early stage companies. I don’t know if he quite gets it yet…
And for the adults, what does a typical day-in-the-life of a Partner at Icehouse Ventures look like?
Day to day, my job consists mostly of three things; raising money for our funds at Icehouse Ventures, meeting with entrepreneurs we are considering investing in - discussing with the them their ideas and plans and working on our own due diligence in the those markets; and lastly, working with the companies we have invested in.
Sometimes we take board positions, sometimes we just catch up with the companies periodically to see where we can add value and help the company grow.
“I started my first business at the age of 12 or so, which was a mobile-catering labour-hire business..”
What did you dream of doing when you were younger and how did you end up at Icehouse Ventures?
I’ve always been entrepreneurial. I started my first business at the age of twelve or so, which was a mobile-catering labour-hire business, then a small coffee enterprise at the age of sixteen and then I entered the rag trade when I was nineteen. I loved trading and commerce from a young age and the challenge of building a company with all of its component parts and variety of challenges.
In my early twenties I grew a fascination with technology start ups and how they could shape the future. This interest grew and I invested in a startup that I met through Icehosue Ventures as an “angel” in 2016. In 2017, I had the opportunity to come and join the investment team full time, which I jumped at.
“What ties them all together is having some audacious mission they are pursuing to change the world in some way, that’s what gets me out of bed.”
Can you tell us a little bit about Icehouse Ventures and what you love about working there?
Icehouse Ventures is an early stage venture capital firm investing in pre-seed and seed stage technology businesses. We exist to back the bravest kiwi founders building global companies. We have a portfolio of over 200 companies in industries ranging from clean-tech to aerospace to AML.
There are two things I love the most about my role. First is the team that I work with everyday. We have a group of highly ambitious and intelligent young people who are all energized by backing NZ's most ambitious early stage entrepreneurs.
Second is the entrepreneurs we back. They are fearless, knowledgeable, creative and curious. It’s a lot of fun to be around a diverse group of entrepreneurs with a range of backgrounds, motivations, experiences and working in a range of industries. What ties them all together is having some audacious mission they are pursuing to change the world in some way, that’s what gets me out of bed.
“There has never been a better time to join a tech company in NZ.”
What gets you excited about the New Zealand tech ecosystem and why should more people be considering it as a career path?
I believe that the future of NZ’s economy needs to be based on technology companies. Primary industries and tourism have obvious challenges in the future economies of the world and NZ has the talent, resolve and global brand to build technology companies that could help to define our future.
There has never been a better time to join a tech company in NZ. The ecosystem is developing at a rapid rate, there is more capital available to be allocated to this sector than ever before, which gives companies more certainty and the ability to attract higher quality talent. We are starting to see more of a “recycling” of talent, with individuals from scale up companies like Xero, Rocket Lab, Pushpay and Lanzatech starting, joining or investing in new tech companies.
These are all positive indicators for the future of the sector.
What are the key things you look for when investing in a company and how can that apply to people deciding where they might like to work?
Firstly we are looking for founders that have a unique insight into a problem or industry that few others have. Founders looking at a problem in a different way or having a new way of approaching a problem is often the basis for a competitive advantage.
The more unique their set of experiences, often the harder their insight is for others to copy. We are looking for founders that are ambitious, have a human connection with the problem they are trying to solve and have demonstrated excellence in their career previously.
Secondly we are looking for companies that are going after multi billion dollar, global market opportunities. Venture investing is about generating “outlier” returns. Trying to change an industry or create a new way of doing something is really hard and most companies we invest in, ultimately won’t be successful. So it’s important that the ones that are successful generate enough returns to make up for the losses and then some!
“I think it’s important to pursue what you are passionate about and contribute to a mission that you would be proud to tell your grandkids about - whatever that might be! ”
Lastly, why should our brightest talent be looking towards our startup ecosystem instead of the tried and true corporate path?
I hate to bang on the Covid drum but I am going to anyway… If 2020 has taught us one thing, it’s that the world can change a lot in a few months and jobs, industries and governments that previously seemed stable can suddenly be unstable. The adoption of technology has accelerated and the pace of change is increasing.
So if it’s stability or predictability that is the attraction of a tried and tested corporate path, I’d challenge how true that will be over the next decade. In light of that, I think it’s important to pursue what you are passionate about and contribute to a mission that you would be proud to tell your grandkids about - whatever that might be!