Jack McQuire, Partner at Icehouse Ventures
Jack has been around the New Zealand startup ecosystem for a number of years and is well qualified to speak to why it is an incredibly exciting time to be a part of it. He shares his journey securing an internship with the Icehouse in the early days, what he loves about working alongside startups and why he won't be going anywhere anytime soon. Thanks for sharing your insight, Jack.
How would you explain to a five year old what you do?
I help entrepreneurs get the money and guidance they need to make their vision, whatever that may be, a reality.
And for the adults, what does a day-in-the-life of a Partner at Icehouse Ventures look like?
I spend most of my day talking to people, and it’s pretty evenly split between investors and entrepreneurs.
They’re both on their own journeys and those conversations are largely about understanding what they want to achieve, whether we’re a fit to work together, how to work together if so, and then all the follow up actions that come out of that conclusion. Normally that’s guiding people through a process to either invest with us or raise capital from us.
Once someone’s in the family, there’s a lot of time spent keeping people up to date, giving feedback and input on decisions and ensuring we’re doing whatever we can to help them be successful either as founders or investors.
“..growing up we didn’t talk about sport, or art, or music or whatever else around the dinner table. We mostly talked about business or finance.”
What did you dream of doing when you were younger and how did you end up at Icehouse Ventures?
My parents’ and older siblings’ careers all centre around property and finance, and I regularly joke we aren’t the most rounded in terms of interests... growing up we didn’t talk about sport, or art, or music or whatever else around the dinner table. We mostly talked about business or finance.
That led me to think I wanted to work in some field of finance. At university I happened to meet the CEO of an investment bank and he gave me advice that boiled down to “get internships or die trying”. I approached about 40 finance-related firms and Icehouse Ventures were one of only two to even reply. An intended 3-month summer internship has turned into seven years with no end in sight.
Can you tell us a little bit about Icehouse Ventures and what you love about working there?
Icehouse Ventures exists to back brave kiwi founders shaping the world we live in. It’s hard not to love working surrounded by incredible people pursuing big visions.
It’s also been really rewarding to be part of our own growth story. When I joined, Robbie had just raised our first fund of $500k and it was a team of two. We’re now 13 people, we’ve invested over $150m in more than 220 startups (incl. over $35m in 2020 alone), and have been privileged to work with a few emerging kiwi startup icons like PowerbyProxi, Crimson Education, Halter, Mint, Sharesies, Ethique and so many others.
I’ve also got to observe boards, learning from founders like Aaron & John at Ask Nicely, Emily at Pyper Vision, Shaun at Genoapay, and Mike & Phillip at Joyous. I’ve learned more from these experiences than anything else I’ve done at Icehouse Ventures and am incredibly grateful for that, particularly to Aaron who was the first to say yes!
“At university I happened to meet the CEO of an investment bank and he gave me advice that boiled down to get internships or die trying.”
What gets you excited about the New Zealand tech ecosystem and why should more people be considering it as a career path?
It’s an incredibly exciting time right now with an order of magnitude of experienced founders building well-funded startups in New Zealand. Only a few years ago, there simply weren’t many people with experience building $100m+ and $1b+ companies from New Zealand.
The success of companies like Xero, Pushpay, Rocketlab, Lanzatech and others have recently grown that community to include hundreds who have been part of a $1b+ journey from the earliest stages. Their success breeds the ingredients for success; nurturing future founders with first-hand experience, demonstrating 100x+ returns to NZ investors, and inspiring the best and brightest talent to join tech companies.
It doesn’t hurt that NZ’s the awe of the world right now, and we’ve all had a lesson that you don’t need to sit face-to-face for a sales meeting anymore, tearing down the tyranny of distance.
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?
Magnetic founders on missions to change the world. Magnetism is an amazing compounder; these founders raise more capital from higher quality investors, recruit better and brighter talent, close marquee customers, attract media attention and awards.
The mission point is important, and honestly pretty difficult, to distinguish whether that magnetism will be put to work for something bigger than the founder. When the two come hand in hand, and I think Sharesies and Ethique are great examples of this, I don’t think anyone will regret working at (or investing in) those companies.
“They’re making an active choice to be there, not just for a paycheque and they’re not watching the clock for 5pm, but because what they’re doing is meaningful. That’s why I wouldn’t do anything else but work with startups.”
Lastly, why should our brightest talent be looking towards our startup ecosystem instead of the more trodden corporate path?
Earlier in my time at Icehouse Ventures, I’d get asked when I was going to jump ship to a corporate semi-regularly. I’d retort something along the lines of “when I only get to work with people that choose to be there, again”.
That’s the beauty of startups - the founders, the early team, the investors - they could all do something else easier. They’d probably make more money working less. They’re making an active choice to be there, not just for a paycheque and they’re not watching the clock for 5pm, but because what they’re doing is meaningful. That’s why I wouldn’t do anything else but work with startups.