Getting to Know VestedWorld’s Newest Team Members — Martin Mbonu and Peter Wamburu
VestedWorld is excited to welcome the newest members of our investment team, Martin Mbonu and Peter Wamburu. They join us as Investment Associates, in Lagos and Nairobi respectively, to support the investment efforts of the Rising Star Fund. VestedWorld Principal Lavanya Anand sat down with Martin and Peter to learn more about their backgrounds and what’s in store for their new roles.
Lavanya: Tell us about your journey to get here.
Martin: Sure, before joining VW, I was at a Nigerian focused VC firm called Beta.Ventures. The company invests in tech and tech-enabled businesses with investments such as BFree and Betastore. Beta.Ventures was my first real exposure into the VC world and greatly helped me form a perspective of the industry. Prior to that I was at a private equity firm, Verod Capital. Verod is a sector agnostic firm investing across Anglophone West Africa, with offices in Nigeria and Ghana. At Verod, I was involved in numerous activities and exposed to a variety of sectors from agriculture, financial services, education, and energy. I also spent a year with Jumia in their business intelligence unit. This was around 2013, so those were the early days of Jumia, Konga and ecommerce in Nigeria.
Peter: I was born in Nairobi, Kenya and have spent most of my life here. In most African households, parents expect their children to become either a lawyer, doctor or engineer. Naturally, my undergraduate degree was in mechanical engineering. However, I was never really passionate about pursuing a career in engineering. After graduating, I ended up working across the ICT hardware, renewable energy and financial services sectors in the Nairobi startup ecosystem for 5 years in a strategy and analytics role. In 2020, I was selected as a Chevening Scholar (the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Development Office International Awards Scheme for developing global leaders) and enrolled for a Masters in Financial Technology at the University of Glasgow’s Adam Smith Business School. Undertaking a postgraduate degree in the middle of the pandemic was a blessing in disguise as it provided me with the opportunity to take a step-back and reflect on my career aspirations. While in the UK, I was fortunate enough to be part of multiple remote engagements that deepened my interest in the venture space. Some of the companies I worked with while studying include: Pariti (an African founder and institutional investor platform), Optimizer Foundation (SSA focused impact investor) and Soar (a UK digital banking platform for community development banks). These cumulative experiences helped me realize that I wanted to work closely with founders to solve pressing challenges, particularly in emerging markets. I could think of no better place to accomplish this than through a career in venture capital.
Lavanya: What diversity of thought or new perspective do you bring to VestedWorld and the investment community?
Martin: Well, I come from a traditional finance background given my time in private equity, so I am more of a cashflows, EBITDA and maybe recurring revenues kind of person. So naturally, I expect to be the antagonist in the room when we hold discussions for potential investments. My career has been more focused on investing in businesses that expect a 5% to 30% year-on-year growth, whereas VC investments are more used to faster growing companies. I also have experience working across Nigeria and Ghana and expect to leverage this in assessing and supporting investment opportunities and companies. My short stint in VC has exposed my thinking to weigh more of my assessment on a view of the market’s development than the current performance of the business. This is a key skill which I believe will allow me to transition into this role and provide valuable input and support to the investment process.
Peter: I believe my experience working in startup environments and my Kenyan heritage are well-suited to the investment community. Working with early-stage companies has inculcated a deep empathy and understanding of the challenges founding teams face when seeking capital to scale their enterprises. I hope to bring this operational perspective and empathy into my everyday work at VestedWorld. Furthermore, being Kenyan I bring a solid geographical understanding of the wider East African market which is particularly important when assessing direct to consumer business opportunities where cultural norms and consumer preferences can make or break a B2C company.
Lavanya: What are you most looking forward to in this role?
Martin: I am very passionate about supporting companies to achieve their goals of becoming regional leaders in their sectors. I have been a part of this journey in my previous roles, and I am really excited to see how we can help support firms VestedWorld’s investees on their respective journeys. I also look forward to developing my understanding and network within Africa’s buoying tech landscape. In 3 to 5 years, I would like to look back and see how much progress the ecosystem has made, most importantly in improving the socio-economic situation of the continent and in terms of exits and partnerships with both leading global firms and the local counterparts.
Peter: Venture capital as an asset class has the potential to spur economic growth by funding the growth and innovation of transformative private enterprises. This is what excites me about working in the ecosystem — the ability to work with resilient African founders building industry shaping solutions for the future. Entrepreneurship is an extremely lonely and arduous journey, I look forward to supporting the founders of early-stage companies on their journeys to solve the most pressing challenges on the African continent.
Lavanya: What’s been surprising or challenging about your experience thus far?
Martin: From my experience so far at VestedWorld, the most surprising aspect must be the level of detail that goes into the due diligence process. Upon joining VestedWorld, I had the opportunity to be a part of a live deal we were looking to close on quickly. I was thrown into the deep end in my first week — preparing investment memos and conducting interviews with the companies’ stakeholders to understand the business dynamics. The experience, although challenging was instrumental in helping me settle in quickly and appreciate the required pace of work at the firm. VC deals tend to move a lot faster than in private equity as founders need feedback sooner to close out rounds and execute on their ideas. I also got a chance to grasp the key themes of the firm’s investment philosophy, especially the focus on intentional investing (i.e. investing with high conviction or focused on ideas and sectors one is passionate about). This will be instrumental in assessing opportunities and sourcing for deals.
Peter: As a venture investor, time is your mortal enemy. Compared to developed markets such as the US, Europe or Asia, the African startup ecosystem is very much in its infancy. This means at any given moment, there are multiple founders innovating in the space competing for finite investment resources. Thus far, allocating sufficient time to engage with the barrage of investment opportunities that I have the privilege of reviewing on a daily basis has been by far my biggest challenge. In addition to effective time management, one often underestimates how much time an investor spends writing; when we’re not meeting founders, co-investors, or modeling financials, chances are we’re busy fighting for our lives on a google document to convey the attractiveness of an investment opportunity.
Lavanya: What are some investment themes you’re particularly excited about?
Martin: I am interested in businesses that offer infrastructure like services to other business (B2B services). These firms enable other business to operate more efficiently and effectively. Most founders in this space tend to have encountered the problems they are trying to solve either at their previous jobs or have some sort of first-hand experience with the issue. This often gives the entrepreneur a unique insight into the problem, allowing them to have a good perspective on how to tackle the problem. Businesses in this sector include B2B software solutions such as SaaS companies, payment solution providers, B2B ecommerce, etc. I also have an interest in agriculture, financial services and more recently education. These are all driven by my experience supporting various businesses in those sectors and appreciating how tech can be used to enhance product and service delivery. There are also some new trends in the industry I would like to spend time wrapping my head around such as use cases for cryptocurrencies and artificial intelligence.
Peter: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is the basis for my investment thesis. Most emerging markets struggle with the provision of basic human needs such as food, clothing and shelter which constitute the physiological level of Maslow’s hierarchy. For developing economies to advance and mature, it is imperative that we get the fundamentals right first. Opportunities that enhance access and improve the service delivery around these essential needs typically get me excited. While there have been significant public and private sector investments into agribusiness, affordable housing and retail, I believe it is also important to allocate capital into the auxiliary services supporting these primary sectors. In particular, I have three core areas of interest: Financial Technology Infrastructure, Business to Business Software as a Service (B2B SaaS), and Future of Work. How are these related to Maslow’s physiological needs? In a capitalist society, income is the prerequisite for accessing food, clothing or shelter. The growth and evolution of financial services infrastructure will lead to financial inclusion and wealth generation opportunities for the populace that is currently underserved. B2B SaaS will augment enterprise productivity creating new employment categories; this shift is already happening with B2B SaaS companies being the largest employers of remote workforces. Lastly, with pervasive unemployment in emerging markets and increased automation through machine learning and artificial intelligence, we need to be extremely deliberate about ensuring sufficient investment and thought are going into the future of work.
Lavanya: What are you currently reading that might be interesting to others?
Martin: Currently, I am reading Zero to One by Peter Thiel, a recommendation I came across on the partner of a US VC firm’s blog. The book is based off Thiel’s contrarian views to commonly accepted concepts in the VC industry. I also plan to start reading Blitzscaling by Chris Yeh and Reid Hoffman, a favorite of one of my mentors. For leisure reading, I am about to finish a book called Soldiers of Fortune: A History of Nigeria (1983–1993) by Max Siollun. I personally like reading books on history.
Peter: I recently read Out of the Gobi by Weijian Shan — a remarkable memoir from one of the world’s leading financial minds. Weijian Shan is currently the Chairman and CEO of PAG, one of the largest asset managers and private equity funds in the Asian market. At the age of 15, as part of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, Shan was exiled to the Gobi desert disrupting his education. Through resilience, hard work and some good fortune, Shan received the opportunity to travel to America where he received an MBA from the University of San Francisco before going on to receive a Masters in Economics and Doctorate in Business from the University of Berkeley. The truly astonishing bit is that Shan had never completed high school prior to earning his MBA. The book illustrates the devastating economic effects of Chairman Mao’s policies in one of China’s most tumultuous periods and the undying endurance of the human spirit.