For Jessica Nilsson, entrepreneurship is like team sport, where the more the team practises together the better they compete together.
Venture capitalist Jessica Nilsson speaks breathtakingly fast and stays on message with easy confidence and good humour. Even when caught in a hurry, she’s friendly and energetic.
Her career has moved forward with equal speed: at only 32 she has become a partner at Northzone. Her portfolio includes seven companies in which the leading teams can benefit from her help.
As a school girl, she played handball and dreamed of a professional career, but she ended up getting a MSc in Economics and Business, travelling the world, interning in a bank, working as a strategy consultant and becoming co-founder in the successful meal kit company HelloFresh.
“I played handball in Linköping. I practised and practised and even made the national junior team, but then I had to stop because of a shoulder injury,” Nilsson says.
“I love competing and being part of a team that works together, practises together and competes together.”
Today Nilsson finds these characteristics in entrepreneurship, which she now – after leaving her own company – describes as a great learning curve. The new business models brought in by technology and Internet companies can be very challenging and rewarding. It’s a fun industry to work with.
“Analyse what the investor can do for you.”
“As an entrepreneur, I learned how difficult and time consuming it is to raise funding. It wasn’t only a question of getting money, it was also about building relationships and trust. Good venture capitalists also invest more than just capital: they give practical advice, provide networks and help with recruiting.”
That’s why Nilsson advises entrepreneurs to do their homework about the investors before they seek funding. Although getting capital can be very difficult in the beginning, during further funding rounds it’s also the venture capitalists who have to compete to get into the best companies.
“Think about who you would like to get onto your board. Analyse what the investor can do for you.”
Nilsson’s own portfolio companies are mostly internet retailers, but she doesn’t limit her interest to them only.
“I invest in e-commerce, because I have experience in the field. This environment also includes online payments, mobile services, logistics and data analytics.”
Business born in mother’s kitchen
As an ex-entrepreneur, Nilsson understands the value of a great and passionate team. It’s also great if the team leaders have diverse talents – including the ability to sell.
Nilsson herself started a company with two Germans whom she met in London.
“We were all working for a bank when the financial crash happened in 2008. We realised that banking wasn’t for us and we often talked about becoming entrepreneurs together.”
However, it took a few more years before the three got back together again and the thought of entrepreneurship became irresistible. They noticed that online food orders were a growing trend.
In the end the business idea took shape in Nilsson’s mother’s kitchen. Her mother really liked the meal kit that she had ordered online; it came with the ingredients and cooking instructions.
“That’s how HelloFresh was born, but in the beginning we had to try several ways of working. One big step was when we realised that we didn’t have to keep warehouses with a lot of stock. As the customers place their orders a week before delivery, we had enough time to source the ingredients straight from the producers and pack them freshly into the boxes.”
Nilsson and her co-founders Dominik Richter and Thomas Griesel worked very hard, with no days off. They found the model that worked in Germany and later in many other markets, but in Sweden the competition was already tough and the market was also very small.
But Nilsson wanted to move back to Sweden to be closer to her family. She left her work at HelloFresh in 2014.
Role model for schoolchildren
Nilsson is an unusual technology investor because of both her gender and age. She has also been a trailblazer for women as an Internet entrepreneur.
“At the moment more and more women are getting into the industry. As offline retail is already largely in female hands, it’s obvious that their skills are needed in Internet retail as well.”
Nilsson encourages both women and the young to become technology entrepreneurs. As an ambassador of Swedish Prince Daniel’s charity organisation, she visits Swedish schools and talks about her experience to 15 year olds. She belongs to the female entrepreneurs’ poker-playing network Pokerface, and she often accepts invitations to speak at different forums.
- Motto: Good venture capitalists invest more than just capital.
- Partner at venture fund Northzone.
- Portfolio companies: NA-KD, Fyndiq, Outfittery, Klarna, Lesara, Matsmart and Lemoncat.
- Co-founder at HelloFresh from 2011 to 2014, sold her stake in 2015.
- Previously worked as a strategy consultant and as an intern at an investment bank.
- MSc from Stockholm School of Economics.
- Venture capital firm established in 1996.
- Invests primarily in the technology sector.
- Investments in more than 120 companies, many of which are from the Nordics.
- One billion euros under management.
- Offices in Stockholm, Oslo, London and New York.
- Finnish investments: Supponor, PlayRaven, Seriously and Zervant.
- Tesi has invested in Northzone.
The article was first published in Growth 1/2017.