The Halo Effect — Maxine Minter
Angel investor, syndicate leader, founder, and now the first solo female GP in Australia. We ask Maxine what it's like wearing all these hats.
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There’s a common misconception that you need hundreds of thousands of dollars to start angel investing. This doesn’t hold true for Maxine Minter who started her angel journey writing $2,500 cheques into pre-seed startups. She cut her teeth running angel syndicates in Australia and San Francisco while managing her high-growth coaching and advisory business Co Lab, before becoming the first solo female GP in Australia with the launch of her fund Co Ventures. She was also part of the first cohort of the Explorer program back in 2020.

How did you get started in angel investing?

I would say the theme of my journey so far has been standing on the shoulders of giants. I've been very grateful to be shown different ways for how to think about and approach angel investing and, from that, forge my own path.

My first proper angel investment was alongside some other angels who I met in The Assembly, a female-first co-working space in the Bay Area. From meeting these angels, I became one of the founding members of The Council, a community of early-stage and later-stage investors, operators and exited founders that share deal flow and diligence deals. 

In the first meeting of The Council, there were 10 angels, and of that group, three started their own fund, and another two started accelerators.

What were the main characteristics of that group that helped you grow as an angel investor?

I think so much of the ecosystem and professional development is about collaboration, and that’s something this group deeply understands. We do everything we can to lift each other up, whether that’s investing in each others’ funds or sharing deal flow.

I also think humans closely approximate the people they spend the most time around. Seeing each other do the work and be successful, it built everyone else’s confidence to do the same. It was a really effective compounding cycle where we were accelerating and inspiring each other.

That’s why I wish someone would start a female-first co-working space in Australia. I don’t have the time to build it, but I really want it to exist, and there’s so many resources I would throw at it.

What was the secret sauce of your group?

I think one part was really intentional selection. The people who started The Assembly were extremely thoughtful about community curation and were very effective at finding folks while maintaining the feel as they grew. I think that’s the open secret of any community—it's really hard to maintain quality as you scale.

When I first got back to Australia, I spent time digging into whether a group like The Assembly could exist here. I built a prototype called The Reservoir, and put it in front of a collection of the most awesome women I could find.

During user research, I was having conversations with women asking, “Do you want to find more friends?” or “Do you want to find a broader network?” and the answer was often no. I think in Australia, a lot of people stay in the same city throughout school and their entire professional career. So they’re not on the same hunt for expansion that you see in the Bay Area and across the US, where very few people stay in one city for their whole lives. So I think that was part of it too; an openness and excitement from that group to learn from and network with other individuals. 

There's the common misconception that you need tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to start angel investing. What was your journey like?

My journey definitely didn’t start with huge cheques. My first angel cheque was $2,500, and I absolutely couldn't afford it at the time. I had met a founder and a founding team that I had a lot of conviction in, and was faced with the choice of: do I pay my credit card or invest? And I chose the probably fiscally inadvisable option of investing instead of paying my credit card. All of the financial advice would say that's not a good decision, but I'm so glad I backed Aditi and her startup Zeta. I still believe she’s building one of the best companies.

How did you get onto the cap table with a small cheque?

I asked. I think it’s a misconception that you have to have a specific connection with small cheques. Most people are happy for you to come on to the cap table, provided they're not running up against retail limits. There’s definitely an art of asking through, a big part of which is communicating how you can add value, like here's how I think I can be helpful and I’d love to support you.

I think asking is much more common in America, and in Australia we don't ask as much as we should. There’s so much more opportunity in front of us that people could take advantage of if they felt comfortable to ask in a respectful way.

I think that’s part of the thesis behind Co Ventures, like how can we help you close informational asymmetry? The thesis being that once people outside of Australia understand how awesome what you’re building is, it’ll be worth more.

So you’ve been an angel investor, founder, board member and now fund builder. What was the pivotal moment that led you to build a niche fund?

I'd always toyed with the idea of building a fund, but the catalyst was a chat with Sophie McNaught and Cass Mao (who’s now one of our venture partners at Co Ventures) when we were sitting at Crissy Field in San Francisco on a nice sunny day. Both of them, pretty matter-of-factly and without much reverence, asked, “Why don't you start a fund?” 

Cass has this wonderful way of being super direct about the things that are really obvious in hindsight. She was the one who planted the seed. And then Soph asked, “Has there ever been a woman in Australia with a solo GP fund?”

And I thought, huh I don't think so, let me go and find out. Once I realised that it had never happened in Australia before, I thought that sucked. How have we gotten to 2022 without a woman doing this by herself?

In the US, you can find so many examples of women who started their funds solo. I think it sucked that Australian women didn’t have any examples of that, and I wanted to be the first.

How long did it take you from that moment to actually launching, and what were the steps?

It took about six months from my first conversation with Sophie and Cass to start fundraising. 

I then went for a walk with Jax [Vullinghs] and James McGrath and proposed the idea to them. They were both super supportive and said I should do it, but also flagged a few things I needed to think about, which was fair. I'd run syndicates, and I've been an angel investor before, but I've never built a fund. And so I had to look into, structurally, how to do that. Starting at the bottom felt uncomfortable because I didn’t know any of these answers and felt like I should.

The first thing I did from there was a fund accelerator. There's a bunch of fund accelerators all around the world that operate like company accelerators. Having the accountability and a space to ask questions through the program was super helpful, especially because I was building solo. From there, I worked on getting the entity set up and then started fundraising in September 2022.

I found social accountability really impactful during this time. Once I told people I was going to build a fund, it would have felt uncomfortable to go back on what I’d said and decide not to do it. So I used social accountability to get me through the bumps, and asked for a lot of advice from people I knew who'd done something similar.

Where do you see the VC ecosystem and specifically niche VCs going in the next few years? How does it differ from the US?

I don't think it's going to differ hugely from the US, I think we're just a couple of years behind. I think we’ll see a whole bunch of micro funds pop up that will add an enormous amount of value to companies. Of course, like any market, there'll be some niche funds that don't add value and don't do well. Fund dynamics generally perform along a similar curve to portfolio companies; a handful of funds will outperform everyone else.

I think we’ll see a lot of niche funds catering to specific industries, alumni groups and also probably around particular demographics, like people of colour and LGBTQIA+ founders. 

As a solo fund manager, how important do you think it is to have a public profile?

It's definitely important. It was extremely important back in 2020-21 when money was essentially commodified, but it’s still significant now.

Brand in our industry really matters because, at the end of the day, if you don't have any unique value add, all you're doing is applying capital. However, I don't think it's everything, and definitely don't want it to sound like the only way to be successful in VC is to have a loud voice on Twitter. I think there's many different versions of success.

There's so many different strategies and so many different ways to win in this market. Especially if you're building a micro fund or a small fund, you have much more flexibility around how to generate returns. They’re tough businesses to run because you don't have revenue, but they're so much fun. 

What advice would you give to first-time angels?

Angel investing is a team sport, and you get better by working together. So share deal flow, be brave and share why you’re excited about a company so you can work out what’s helping you make great decisions and what’s getting in the way. 

Also remember the value of diversification—early-stage companies are a risky asset, so the broader your diversification, the better protection you’ll have against uncontrollable risks and the more you’ll learn. A wonderful way to do this is through syndicate platforms like Aussie Angels.

The views expressed in this post are not professional financial or investment advice. They are views based on the interviewee's personal opinions and experience and are intended for informational purposes only. We encourage everyone to consider their personal circumstances and seek independent financial advice from a professional before investing.
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