With offices in London and New York, Octopus Ventures backs pioneers in the areas of health, money, deep tech and consumer. Laura Willming is Head of Portfolio Talent at Octopus Ventures. She leads a team to build people and talent operations with portfolio companies, while also equipping the Octopus Ventures community with the resources and skills they need to build a successful business in an ever-changing world.
In an inspiring chat, Laura explains how Octopus Ventures structures its portfolio support team. She also covers which problems founders typically face while entering the US market. Additionally, Laura provides insights into how founder expectations of VCs differ in Europe compared to the United States.
1. Sompani Talent Communities: Laura, it’s a pleasure to talk to you. The Octopus Venture’s core team has grown to nearly 50 people and invested in over 120 companies worldwide. How has the platform team developed, and how do you internally structure portfolio support?
Laura: It is a pleasure to connect with you as well! Our team is growing and we are excited about all the fantastic companies we continue to invest in. At Octopus Ventures it is a core belief that talent and people play a critical role in the shape and outcome of a business, and our portfolio support team has evolved as such. We have developed a Portfolio Talent team made up of People Professionals with deep experience scaling venture-backed startups. It’s our mission to help companies build amazing teams that can bring pioneering visions to life, and we do this through the resources and network we offer, but primarily through direct partnership with companies. As a portfolio talent team, we like to consider ourselves as an extension of any of our companies, and hope they do the same.
2. Sompani Talent Communities: Which tools help you in your efforts to support founders across the globe?
Laura: There are a couple of tools that we rely on: Sompani being one. We lean on a number of comp database resources as well, and also are big fans of Airtable.
We also work with wonderful partners like Harley Therapy in London, who provide mental health resources for anyone that would like to access it.
3. Sompani Talent Communities: Would you describe portfolio support at Octopus Ventures as being more reactive to founder requests, or rather proactive in assisting founders with an accessible platform they can leverage at any time?
Laura: Today it is a mix of both -- we aim to move at a pace that matches that of a startup (fast) and so are working on making as many resources available as possible so that we don’t become the blockers there.
4. Sompani Talent Communities: What are the particular challenges in supporting a portfolio of founders that are scattered around the globe?
Laura: Timezones of course! But seriously, a big challenge is making sure you understand the culture and context that a founder has come from and is working in today. Each business will function a bit differently based on the sector they are in, and the location they’ve centered itself around. It’s really easy to impart your preferences but important to check those at the door so that you can meet a business’s unique needs.
5. Sompani Talent Communities: Octopus Ventures invests in companies with an UK presence but global ambition. Before joining Octopus Ventures, you were responsible for Operations and Talent Support at a US-based VC firm. Do you see differences in how founders in the US expect to be supported by their VC investor compared to European founders?
Laura: Great question that’s hard to answer without making broad stroke generalizations. I don’t see differences per se, but in the VC community overall we are seeing an exciting shift to what feels like a more holistic approach to founder support. I’ve been really excited and inspired by a lot of the efforts across VCs in Europe and the US to elevate a focus on coaching and mental health support for founders.
6. Sompani Talent Communities: Octopus Ventures supports entrepreneurs in getting a foothold in the American market. What is the main lesson European entrepreneurs typically need to learn when entering the US market?
Laura: I think people are generally surprised at the pace at which talent moves in the US. A two-week turnaround is not atypical for people at all levels. Which is very short compared to the 3 - 6 month notice periods here in the UK!
Sompani Talent Communities: Thank you very much for these insights Laura, we are thrilled to share these insights with our community as well.
Read more about Sompani Talent Communities here.