Two Minutes with a VC is a series of quick interviews with VCs from the Middle East & North Africa.
Kenza Lahlou is the co-founder and Managing Partner of Outlierz Ventures, an early-stage African-focused VC fund, based out of Morocco. Outliers Ventures, per its website, invests in seed and Pre-Series A stage tech-enabled companies solving a real problem in a key industry across Africa including Morocco, Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa. The fund is backed by some high-profile LPs including Y Combinator’s Michael Seibel. Starting in 2018, the fund has made 5 investments across 5 different markets, including two companies in MENA: WaystoCap (Morocco) and MaxAB (Egypt).
She previously co-founded StartupYourLife, an initiative to build a startup community in Morocco. Started more than six years ago, StartupYourLife remains one of the oldest players of startup ecosystem of Morocco. The initiative has connected tens of entrepreneurs in the country with different resources including mentoring, training, networking, and access to capital.
Prior to StartupYourLife, Kenza worked in private equity, management consulting and in the digital industry.
How’d you get into venture capital?
Because of my passion for tech and entrepreneurship, a fair dose of craziness and urge to change the status quo. I had the chance to work in San Francisco Bay Area in 2012 and my experience there was eye-opening. It convinced me that startups and technology could change the world. I realized how fast technology has been shifting the power into the hands of the new generations to re-invent business models and shape their lives. I was frustrated not to see that happen in Africa (yet) and decided to be an actor of the change. It was a calling more than a rational choice.
What’s a day in your life as a VC like?
It’s pretty intense and diverse. It can go from reviewing investment opportunities with the team, taking calls and meetings with entrepreneurs, to doing portfolio company review and setting up calls/meetings for them and sometimes going into meetings with them, to talking to our existing and new potential LPs; very intense and exciting at the same time.
What is it that you love about being a VC?
I am excited about finding talent who have a big vision and the guts to execute it, and helping them build great companies that transform an existing industry and shape the whole region and continent. It’s very inspiring and gives me great hope for Africa. I also love getting my mind into different sectors and business models and seeing an opportunity come to life. Companies are like having children. You want them to succeed, you do whatever you can for them and you are extremely happy when they do and sad if they don’t.
What was your fundraising process like? You ended getting some very big names as LPs. How’d that happen?
We started with private investors who understood what we were trying to and wanted to be a part of it. We are committed to building one of the leading early-stage VC fund for the continent [Africa] and needed to have the best in class with us from day one – the ones who have values and vision that aligns with ours. We are very happy to have the full support of some top serial entrepreneurs and investors since inception including Michael Seibel of Y Combinator, 500 Startups MENA Fund (500 Falcons), Hicham Oudghiri from Enigma and many others. After the first year of investment, our portfolio is already doing very well and we are now moving to the next steps with corporates and institutional investors.
What is it that you look for in startups/founders when making an investment?
We look for founders who have big vision and ‘a why’. They have to be driven by something beyond just making money and exiting a company because the passion for what they are building and why they are building it will give them enough drive and endurance to overcome the big challenges. Ability to execute fast is another key element that’s needed. And finally, founders with a strong experience in the industry they are trying to disrupt is ideal, with complementary skill set.
What’s the biggest turn off for you in a startup pitch?
“I need money to build my product.”
A piece of advice for first-time founders?
Go solve a real problem that customers are willing to pay for, not a ‘nice to have’ one. And make sure the number of people willing to pay for it is big enough (big market) and accessible (distribution channels).
What’s your favorite tech product/tool?
Docusign. It helped us save so much time and hurdle with paperwork.
If you could go back in time and invest in one MENA-based startup that’s not in your portfolio, who would that be?
I would say Swvl. Very exciting industry and company.