The Halo Effect — Judy Anderson-Firth
A pocket money side hustle was the catalyst for Judy's entrepreneurial journey.

Judy Anderson-Firth’s love of entrepreneurship started in school, as she tackled an important question: how can I make extra pocket money? This saw her create schoolyard side hustles, study entrepreneurship at uni, and work in innovation before becoming the CEO of The Startup Network (formerly known as Startup Victoria) and now the Group CEO of Euphemia (with a quick pit stop in the first cohort of our Explorer program!). Together with Dom Pym, she leads Euphemia’s $70m global investment portfolio while building an angel portfolio of her own on the side.

Can you tell us about the evolution of your career from startup and founder support to running a family office? 

 It was a very natural evolution, although if you'd told me at the start of my career that I'd be doing this role, I would have said, what’s a family office?

I've worked in entrepreneurship, technology, and innovation my whole life. Entrepreneurship was the obvious choice when it came time to choose what to study because I always wanted to invent products and services that would change the world.

From uni, I went straight to working at Deloitte in innovation. I was helping teams within the group develop new products and services for clients. Then, I went into a boutique innovation consultancy where we used the latest scientific research on neuroscience, organisational psychology and management science to teach larger organisations (typically ASX 250 companies) how to protect themselves from the disruption of startups. So, I was kind of working for the enemy for that period of my career! But that was where I got great exposure to other ecosystems worldwide. I used to run a Silicon Valley tour for our APAC exec clients. We would take them over and showcase innovation from the best startups and tech companies, like Apple, Google and Slack. 

That was when I had my epiphany. I realised I'd spent my entire career helping large organisations protect themselves from entrepreneurs innovating with significantly less budget and headcount yet moving faster than any of my clients. And I just realised I'm in the wrong end of town. So, I moved back to Melbourne (I was the head of our Sydney office at the time) and started looking for where the entrepreneurs and founders were. 

That search led me to Startup Victoria. It was Australia's largest startup community at the time, with over 25k people in the network, and today, as The Startup Network, it's well over 60k. Through my role at Startup Victoria, I met Dom Pym, the other half of Euphemia and co-founder of Up Bank

I got to know Dom well over the years and have a lot of respect for how he ran Up. So when it came time for me to hand over the reins of Startup Vic to the next CEO, Dom was someone I reached out to about my next move.

I wanted to get his feedback on some ideas, and he said, "Those are the things I want to work on too; why don't we just do that together?" And before you know it, we had teamed up. I think we didn't even realise what we were building at the time was a family office. 

As the Group CEO of Euphemia, what does your day-to-day look like from an investment point of view?

Euphemia has a $70m global investment portfolio, including venture capital, property, a share portfolio and a foundation to help people in need. We're not VC zealots; there are some revenue-based financing products, debt products and non-dilutive capital for founders.

The venture portfolio has three parts: direct investments, funds and the Euphemia Syndicate. We invest directly into startups from pre-seed to Series A, and cheque sizes range from $5k to $1m. In some instances, we're happy to lead, and in most instances, we're happy to follow. We’ve also invested in funds from Australia and abroad, and our passionate focus is on women and diverse partners to improve the amount of funding going into women-led startups. 

There's a common misconception that you need millions of dollars to make angel investments. How did you start out as an angel investor?

My angel investing journey started before I became a Sophisticated Investor. I started as a retail investor after becoming familiar with equity crowdfunding from sitting outside the Birchal office during some of my time at Startup Victoria. It was easy exposure, to start as a retail investor, because you can write cheques of less than $1k into exciting startups. 

This was before I had identified a personal thesis or completed the Explorer program, I was just following what was happening around me. For example, Bubble Tea Club pitched at a Startup Victoria pitch night and won the People's Choice Award. While they weren’t the right fit for venture-style investing, I loved what the team was doing and wanted to support them. Another investment during that time was Monday Distillery; I was on a personal journey of reducing alcohol consumption, which drove my investment.

From there, my investing journey evolved as my exposure and confidence grew. I've since made two $5k - $10k angel investments per calendar year, but I'd like to increase that to four. That depends on household life things, but I hope to increase to four to ensure I can get to the power law of a portfolio quicker. 

Do you have an investment thesis, and how has that evolved? 

In many ways, Euphemia’s thesis is my personal thesis. The only exception would be my personal interest in health and wellbeing. For Euphemia and me, there’s a focus on fintech, climate tech, startup infrastructure, and women-led startups.

The thesis evolved from Dom and I asking ourselves a few questions. Where do we have an outrageously unfair advantage for deal flow? Where do we have the experience and networks to make our due diligence lightning-fast? And then, what do we love? What are we passionate about? From there, fintech was an obvious choice, and I believe every portfolio should have some allocation for climate. And then, for diversity, balancing the ledger of the amount of dollars going to women is important to us.

What do you wish you knew at the start of your angel journey that you know now?

A big one for me is the importance of regular deployment to build a portfolio. I've done two deals yearly since 2021, so I've got six companies in my portfolio today. That's nowhere near enough to get power law returns. I know I will need at least 30 or more investments to get there, and if I keep going at the same pace, it will take 12 years, which for me is way too long.

The other thing is the importance of co-investors and how much of an influence that can play in a round. I wish I paid much more attention to that when assessing deals at the start. 

The last thing is using syndicates more. They’re a great light-touch way to access deal flow in a broad range of categories you may not have a direct funnel for. We're lucky now with platforms like Aussie Angels and GXE rounding up resources for everyone.

From the founder’s side, what advice would you give founders looking for first-time investment?

I think it’s important for founders to ask investors about their plans for follow-on investment. As a family office, there's often an assumption that we will underwrite, so to speak, future rounds, which is not always the case. So it’s important to ask, how do you think about dilution and follow-on investing?

The other thing would be to check the quality of the introductions you will be getting. There are often a lot of promises made about facilitating connections, and it’s important to audit what the investor is promising you.

I also think it’s essential to look at investors’ pacing. Time is a killer, so sticking to intended timelines and deadlines is vital to create heat around your deal.

What can a founder expect from Euphemia post investment? 

For the most part, it’s up to the founder. You can build your Euphemia support pack however you’d like. Do you want quarterly strategic workshops? Put that in. Do you want to add us into your Slack channel? Put that in. Do you want to have us on speed dial for a midnight call? Put that in.

Are there any requirements or regulations on being a family office?

I think I learned this in the Explorer program, but the typical saying goes, “Once you've met one family office, you've met one family office”. That’s because it’s not a regulated category of the investment landscape; there are no tax incentives to being a family office because the money you’re investing is personal wealth. 

The only categorisation I’ve heard from an Australian perspective is whether you’re classed as ultra-high net worth, which typically starts at $100m. Euphemia is a $70m global investment vehicle, which means we’re on the smaller side of family offices.

Also, we’re not an intergenerational fund, which speaks to our objective for the startup ecosystem. We’re not trying to build a multi-generational family office where we're preserving capital for future generations. Our goal is to, at minimum, maintain the size of the portfolio and support the Australian startup ecosystem. Growth of assets under management is an outcome, not the goal.

For most VCs, the timeline for returns is around ten years. What’s it like for family offices?

I spoke to Jax Vullinghs about this, and she said it’s really painful being a VC because you don't know if you're any good for seven to ten years. We’re less bound by hitting certain returns within specific time frames because we don’t have targets for external investors. Generally speaking, we think about the Euphemia Group’s success over multiple decades. 

Tell me a bit more about the Euphemia Syndicate.

Anyone who's reading this is welcome to join! The Euphemia Syndicate is hosted on Aussie Angels and exclusively for sophisticated investors; the minimum cheque size is $5k. We do, however, make exceptions to that minimum as required.

Our approach so far has been to release the allocation as first come, first served. So once we're oversubscribed, that's it. Euphemia has also dialled back our allocation in the past to make room for people who would otherwise have missed out.

The terms of our syndicate deals are often case-by-case, but they’re always aligned with our focus areas of fintech, climate tech, women-led and diverse founders and startup infrastructure. 

How have you seen the Melbourne startup ecosystem evolve over the last five to ten years?

There have been a lot of significant changes in Melbourne’s ecosystem over the last ten years. Number one, the number of people working in the sector has grown massively. In 2012-2013, it was a niche industry; there were only a handful of angels and investment firms, and everyone knew each other. A lot of talent felt they had to go overseas to raise capital and build global companies offshore.

Now, there's so much more support. The market is flooded with accelerators, community programs, more VC funds than ever, bigger cheque sizes, and grants. You can build a globally successful tech company from here, not just through necessity but because it's a fantastic place to get support, investment and hire talent.

Overall, there’s a general maturity in the industry and broader talent market. More funding is coming from the government than ever, and corporations better understand how to work with startups. We're starting to see some Australian funds coming to their maturity, like AirTree hitting its 100 portfolio companies milestone.

The metrics are starting to show that the Australian venture landscape is a great asset class, helping us unlock more institutional capital from the super funds. It’s all from the passage of time, but everything seems to be going in the right direction. 

Follow Judy on socials at @fasttrackjudy and Euphemia at @Euphemia_Invest.

More articles
No items found.