The Sunday Times: Q&A with angel investors Matthew Stafford and Kash Aslam


Originally published in The Sunday Times, here.

 Matthew Stafford and Kash Aslam: ‘Two or more co-founders are able to navigate problems much better’

Matthew Stafford and Kash Aslam: ‘Two or more co-founders are able to navigate problems much better’

Every week The Sunday Times talks to a business angel, one of the early-stage investors who collectively inject £1.5bn a year into British start-up companies.

Matthew Stafford and Kash Aslam co-founded Dot Matrix Group (DMG), an angel investor syndicate, two years ago. It has backed Century, an artificial intelligence business, and Coconut, a bank account for freelancers and the self-employed. Their typical initial investment is £50,000.

Stafford, 42, founded 9others, an entrepreneur network, in 2011. Aslam, 39, has worked in mergers and acquisitions for Citigroup, Blackstone and Anglo American.

Patience is our virtue

We give people the time to execute their ideas. Sometimes we take two years to invest while we watch a business grow and learn.

Network effect

We know some smart people who want to get involved, contribute and learn from these companies. It makes us more meaningful to a start-up. We are a more powerful proposition with a team of investors behind us.

Don’t spray and pray

We see accelerator programmes tied to big companies where the start-up has got the money and there’s no link back, no expertise offered. It doesn’t work. Many corporates invest in start-ups only because they want to be seen to be doing it.

Target practice

In the early stages, it’s not about hitting the targets you set yourself. If that was the case, you would just set lower targets. It’s more about character, determination and learning to adapt.

Two’s company

Two or more co-founders are able to navigate problems much better. Sole founders find that harder.

Wish we saw more…

Start-ups that focus on executing rather than raising cash all the time. It is so important to spend money wisely.

Wish we saw fewer…

Founders who think they know everything already. Sometimes you see a real sense of entitlement. Raising money from other funds doesn’t necessarily mean you’re successful and does not mean we will want to invest.

We're Growing the DMG Syndicate

Yeah, but why?

When a startup pitches us and finishes going through what they're doing one of the most effective questions to ask is, "Yeah, but why?". What they say in the next few seconds is crucial to figuring out a number of things: can we help them do this? Is this a mission we can get behind? And, will they keep going when things get tough?

Answering that, "Yeah, but why?" question is something we do many times in person with potential syndicate members (or SMs as we've started calling them) and it comes down to something pretty simple, as most of the best answers do.

We believe in the power of our collective skills & networks

What we can achieve together is far more than we could alone. DMG SMs are people who want to contribute, learn and invest.

Contribute

People who have experiences dealing with what the best growing startups will have to deal with in the future - those who can bring a fresh lens to subjects such as hiring, firing, commercial contracts and legal agreements.

We ask, are you keen to be helpful like this?

Learn

SMs learn from each other. We will share 5-7 investment opportunities to SMs over the next 12 months and we discuss each one in detail over a dedicated Slack deal channel. What SMs get is a short DMG Investment Memo on the opportunity and it’s after reading the memo that discussions amongst SMs begin. The discussion and Q&A that happens amongst SMs augments DMG’s thinking in DD and helps SMs make their investment decision based not only on their own views but what other SMs can bring to the opportunity.

All this is good for our grey matter - learning is a life-long habit to be enjoyed.

Invest

We’re all doing this for a return. As DMG founders we invest personally in every opportunity we show the syndicate. Once we’ve discussed the opportunity a subset of SMs also invest.

And now we can contribute further, learn from that, contribute again.

Investing is a fascinating business - there's a huge opportunity to seek outsized returns through patience and the right contributions. In fact there’s never been a better time to contribute, learn and invest.

Interested?

Get in touch here.

Time to LiveSmart

Dot Matrix Group is delighted to announce its investment in LiveSmart, a digital behavioural change health tech startup based in London.

LiveSmart provides health testing and lifestyle coaching services, delivered digitally

Founded in 2016, by CEO Alex Heaton, LiveSmart focuses on the corporate health and well-being market. After taking a blood test and a survey of the lifestyle of the user, the results are reviewed by a GP and a dietitian and results are made available in an easy to use app and one to one personal coaching is provided to the person by a dietitian on areas to improve, helping to reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes. The product integrates to access other health tracking data from providers such as FitBit.

We love the B2B focus of the product

LiveSmart kit

A testing kit can be sent to the user's home, or a nurse can visit to take the sample

The product is largely sold B2B with employers providing this as a perk for their employees. DMG believes that over the next decade, employers will be increasingly motivated to provide preventative health monitoring services to look after their employees. We also believe that user demand for their health data is set to increase strongly and there will be increasing awareness of seeking lifestyle improvements to avoid chronic diseases. This service will help fulfill that need faster than the NHS will be able to keep pace. These factors add to our view that this emerging market segment will provide a degree of ‘stickiness’, particularly as its corporate contracts are typically multi-year agreements.

Strong traction with key partners and customers

LiveSmart has an exclusive distribution agreement with AXA, one of the top 4 health insurers in the UK to sell their product under the Realise brand. We see this as a great add on to a company health insurance policy, and underpinned by research from Imperial College, they are proving that their product provides a significant improvement to the health scores of users. Employers are also able to access aggregated data to see the wellbeing progress of their employees which can lead to better productivity and potentially lower health insurance premiums in the future. They have already secured multi-year agreements with key corporate customers.

LiveSmart is demonstrating excellence in execution

LiveSmart dashboard

Results can be accessed online or via the app

Having tracked them since 2016, DMG has seen LiveSmart continue its product development, whilst growing and developing commercial partnerships with a range of corporates, both in the UK and abroad. It is providing a service at a price point that is 3-5 times cheaper than the equivalent service from incumbent providers such as Bupa, and has developed a pipeline of contracted revenue from which to build from. Having tried the product ourselves, we can testify that the product has helped us to improve our lifestyles too!

Alex is really pleased with our interactions with them so far - including already leveraging the Dot Matrix Group network to create some exciting potential international expansion opportunities for LiveSmart. 

We look forward to working with Alex and his team to help LiveSmart grow and add value with the network and expertise of DMG’s Syndicate Members.