This interview with Oliver Mauss, Founder & CEO at DRVE, was originally published on Investor Story.
Who are you and what do you invest in?
In the early 2000s, I started my own marketing agency and worked in that field for a few years after finishing my studies in computer science and business administration.
I really moved from being an entrepreneur to being an investor in 2010 when I created a company to invest and build startups. As an investor, I’ve always looked to create value and help founders scale their businesses instead of just giving them money.
A few years later, when I was running a venture-building business in Singapore, I found that startups kept on coming back with the same problems. A lot of them were having a hard time scaling their sales and were wasting valuable time and resources on strategies that didn’t work.
In 2018, I centralized all these experiences in entrepreneurship, investment, marketing and growth into one business: DRVE. DRVE is an investment firm that backs ecommerce companies and helps them scale their online sales.
Our portfolio includes +60 global companies from the consumer goods, lifestyle, luxury, electronics, IoT, and beauty sectors. We offer an investment program called Velocity which combines capital with hands-on expertise and data-driven systems to accelerate sales for businesses selling online.
Walk us through your process of identifying and executing on investment opportunities?
I would say the short answer is similar for many investors: I look at KPIs for online sales revenue, margins, and team. I also look at their numbers and efforts in ad spend since at DRVE we manage, fund, and execute online paid marketing for eCommerce companies.
We don’t have long due diligence processes and our approach is different from other investors: we make data-driven decisions coupled with expertise. We’ve consolidated all the key metrics into our rating dashboard and analyze companies based on their historical growth data. This rating system is a great way to take away any bias in the decision-making process and gives an objective view of the business’s health.
My goal as an investor is to see what these great companies can do with more capital, expertise, and systems. If the company’s indicators are good, we can work together and make it profitable. The good thing about our data-driven investment process is that we can move faster, spot opportunities quicker, and start working with the founders right away.
In my opinion, ideas, experience, and a good network are valuable to amplify the impact you can have as an entrepreneur but it takes more than that to succeed and founders tend to underestimate sales and operations.
Besides all these indicators, I look at the founding team: just because the founder has the grit to start and drive a company it does not mean that he or she will be able to move the business forward. I look for entrepreneurs with a clear business strategy and long-term view, so they don’t get tangled up in day-to-day operations and figures like monthly sales.
In addition, I back companies led by founders with the ability to hire ahead of the curve and attract the right talent for every position. At the end of the day, it is about the team and how everyone can constantly perform to add value. Founders need to learn how to focus and where their priorities are, even if it means not doing certain things sometimes. Recruiting is very important but it takes time, money, and a good network to bring the right ‘doers’ on board.
Since you first started, what have you learned that has had the biggest impact on your success and the growth of your portfolio?
The great thing about investing and working with companies worldwide is that you can learn a lot! As an investor, sometimes it is tempting to jump on board and try to guide the course of the business and that can be a big mistake. At DRVE, we support founders strategically with our expertise in paid growth and we let them take ownership of their business. For me, the key is to take away the concern about scaling online sales and minimize the risk of ad spend, so the founders and their teams can work on the rest of the process and achieve the best results. In some cases, it can be hard to foresee the mismatch in growth expectations between investors and entrepreneurs. As I see it, it is essential to learn how to work with different types of founders and get involved in their decision-making without creating friction. This is something I believe requires a lot of effort from both sides to work together. One of the key learning points has been that in some opportunities we moved too fast. So we’ve learned to work closely with the companies in our portfolio to ensure they have the support they need to keep up with the growth. A big part of our job as an investor and growth partner is to facilitate this support. We care a lot about execution and as businesses scale, they naturally need a big network and high-value partnerships. That’s where our network of partners plays a huge role because they can provide founders with services in different areas such as logistics, payments, customer care, design, and more. A valuable takeaway from my background as an entrepreneur and an investor is to always listen more; to founders, to my team, to other people. I’ve learned that sometimes you need to lean back and listen. Talk less, listen more, and you will avoid getting caught in daily business. An important part of my job is keeping an open mind and understanding what makes people tick – what motivates them and how they are thinking about their needs and desires. Finally, a piece of advice that never gets old: never burn bridges. Whatever happens, it is not worth it.
What books, platforms or resources have you found useful as an investor?
I read different news sites and add some business-oriented outlets like Forbes, Fortune, Entrepreneur, Business Insider, etc. Personally, I don’t use social media platforms much since I find the overload of information and short-term discussions can be distracting. I also think that looking too much on the neighbour’s lawn can kill innovation and if you are a founder or an investor, you want to stay focused on your business and be ahead of the curve.
I’m an avid reader and one book that I would like to recommend to founders and investors is Early Exits: Exit Strategies for Entrepreneurs and Angel Investors (but Maybe Not Venture Capitalists) by Basil Peters. It talks about why companies should adopt a simple approach: start small, keep it lean, raise only the money you really need, grow the business in a smart way and then execute an early exit instead of waiting and running that company for another ten years.