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How we met: founder x funder

Multitudes founder Lauren Peate and Blackbird Ventures partner Sam Wong on plugging people together.


Fiona Rotherham

Multitudes founder Lauren Peate

Multitudes, a SaaS product that helps teams improve culture and performance, raised $2.4 million from investors in a round led by Blackbird Ventures in late 2020 during Covid. Other investors included Working Theory Angels, Ellen Pao of Project Include and former Kleiner Perkins staffer, Jon Williams, co-founder of Culture Amp and Pyn, and other founder angels in the people-tech and machine-learning spaces.

Multitudes was started by US-born Lauren Peate in Auckland in 2019 and she bootstrapped her way to building an alpha product before raising a pre-seed round. Using data that companies already have, the startup provides insights and coaching so managers can create better-performing teams.

Peate’s background includes working at Ally Skills New Zealand to help organisations with diversity and inclusion and she’s also an advisor to non-profit organisation the Good Data Institute, which offers data and analytics support to mission-driven groups.

When Peate decided to raise some money she was introduced to Blackbird Ventures by Sacha Judd, CEO of Kiwi family office Hoku Group. She also sought feedback on her pitch from former Blackbird principal Tip Piumsomboom, who worked with the startup founder until leaving the venture firm in July 2021. Principal Sam Wong then took over from Piumsomboom. 

What attracted you to this investor/founder?

LP: Just the reputation and they did a great job connecting me with some of their other founders and I had some real chats about what it’s like working with them when times are good and when times are hard. It was just a resounding ‘these are good people’.  And then I asked around some folks that I knew too.

SW: There were a few things. We really love founders who are doing their life’s work and where you can draw a logical narrative about, this is what they were always going to end up doing and how they have unique insights into solving a problem. We were very impressed by Lauren’s background and her insights into DE&I [diversity, equity and inclusion] and how it applies to dev teams, and she had run the consultancy business and was effectively trying to productise and scale herself. She was very bright and energetic and felt like she could be scrappy.  Also it felt like she could hire the people that would be needed to actually make this a company.  A lot of people have great ideas and may be pretty good at building MVP [minimum viable product] but they just don’t have that X factor that convinces other people to leave perfectly good jobs and join in the mission. I thought the mission was pretty powerful, too, and that would also help them cut through both the talent market and on the customer side with a differentiated proposition.

How often do you make contact?

LP: With Tip we would meet monthly. I still remember [after the Covid lockdowns] I said ‘I have a team, I’ve hired some people’ and she came and had an actual meet and greet in person, which was lovely where she got to meet the whole team and get to know everyone. Our team from the start has been split across New Zealand and Australia. I had some lovely chats with Tip and she connected me to so many people – potential hires and others on the investment side of things and the broader ecosystem too. 

SW: And Justin Angsuwat, who was our operating principal [now chief people officer at Culture Amp]. We have investment partners and operator principals who tend to be folks who are specialised in particular areas and work one-on-one with a subset of companies. He was like our HR tech guru and he would catch up with Lauren bi-monthly to really focus on that proposition.

LP: With Justin we focused on going really deep into the product and the proposition while with Sam it tends to be more focused on the go-to-market strategy. It really felt like we got two partners for the price of one.

SW:  We narrowed it down that Multitudes was selling into a manager and HR budget and we now catch up quarterly unless there are particular areas of activity, or times such as fundraising, and we talk as frequently as we need to.

LP: When I need help with something I just message Sam and we find a time. There’s basically like a calendar in the background that gives us the cadence but frankly I don’t feel like I can’t get Sam’s time. I message and we find time and it has been exactly what I needed.

What’s the norm on your meeting cadence with founders?

SW: It really depends on the startup and the stage. There’s no one-size-fits-all although it’s good to have a recurring meeting in the calendar so the time is there should you need it as a bare minimum. If there’s nothing to talk about, there’s nothing to talk about.

For the first 12 to 18 months of an investment, particularly at pre-seed or seed stage, meeting monthly to every two months is the ideal cadence. Whether that is enough depends on the pre-work. Some founders are really good at – and Lauren is one of those – like clockwork sending out the monthly updates and the metrics so everybody is up to speed when you jump into the call and you can have a very productive meeting. Some founders are less good at structuring their thoughts at that really early stage and so sometimes the sessions need to be more frequent or longer in order to tease that out of them.

With later-stage companies – at late Series A or Series B – they typically have a formal board in place. There’s quite a bit of pre-work and you’re doing a one-hour call a week or two before the board meeting to pre-hash out topics and all the rest of it. And there’s usually a one-on-one session in between. 

Almost all companies go through seasons where they have peak activity and everybody needs to be available whenever they need to be available, and then they taper off and they’re in execution mode and you honestly just want to get out of their way and let them get on with it.

The 2020s have been extraordinary with Covid. It was this black swan event that affected everyone, and everybody had the same concerns and questions and so everybody needed your help at the same time. It was the same, at least for a short period of time ,with the Silicon Valley Bank collapse.

LP: I remember the SVB collapse and I knew how busy Sam must have been but she still took the time to slip me an email and ask ‘what’s your exposure and how are you all?’. We didn’t have any exposure so we were in a fortunate place and could just send a quick reply back but I was really appreciative because I knew how many startups she must have been checking in with.

Who else do you as a founder turn to for advice? Does it include some of your experienced angel investors?

LP: I don’t have an advisory board so the regular cadence is with Sam and was with Justin as well, and then the others I tap into as needed. I know in my head what their areas of expertise are. 

One of our investors, Glenn Gillen, has just been punching above his weight in support and has deep experience on the developer tooling side and is really great for talking to about products. He’s a product leader in his own right. He’s based out in Aus but has worked with a bunch of Silicon Valley tech companies. Just recently, a couple of months ago, we launched this big AI feature so I had a quick back and forth with him because we wanted to make sure we were really thinking through the security and, more than that, the privacy implications of it. 

I’ve got others in the portfolio where they’ve done a lot around the hiring side or folks who have thought a lot about the go-to-market side. And I know in my head who I should ping for different things and I’ll reach out to them and set up a chat. I haven’t had anyone flake on me. Everyone has been incredibly generous; we have such a great group of investors.

Blackbird Ventures partner Sam Wong

Who has been most helpful?

LP: Of all the networks I have had, the founder network is the one that has definitely been the most helpful and Blackbird helped with that too. It ran a founder retreat in September in Queenstown and it was amazing to have a bunch of other founders come and I got to spend some time thinking about other people’s problems. Then I got some fresh perspectives on my problems and it was just so useful both on the motivation and encouragement side but also on the strategic – how do I tackle this challenge?

SW: It was about 60 companies; unfortunately we weren’t able to extend it to the whole portfolio. For the most part it was companies at growth stage with a few crossing into early growth as well. This is the first one where we’ve really done something offsite with more structured programming and a proper recreation day where people can go jump out of planes or skate or whatever they like to do. 

LP: It was about sharing with people dealing with similar things. I’m from the States but I’m running a Kiwi company and I talked with lots of other folks who had to navigate with US investors. I’m an American so I can speak to how inward-looking Americans can be. I’m B2B [business-to-business] and some of the people I was getting tips from are B2C [business-to-consumer] and at different stages and totally different sectors, but it’s a group of people who you can throw a new challenge at and they’re able to look at it and pick it apart. And founders are like masochists – they’re like ‘oh a problem – I’d like that’.

SW: The Blackbird philosophy on great venture/founder relationships is we should be an intelligence switchboard into founder networks and relationships because founders have the best answers. They’re the ones building at the coalface a couple of steps ahead and founders can say things that an investor can never get away with. We know who are the right people to plug together at the right time and you get that serendipity of a bunch of really high-quality people who genuinely want success for the other person and are excited to try and be helpful because they know themselves what it means to be in that position and needing help from another founder. 

What are the three things that make a great investor/founder relationship?

Lauren Peate   

1. A great listener – so listening with humility and wrapping their heads around what is happening for us. There’s so much of this journey that is just figuring it out. 

2. Being willing to share great networks. Sam connected me to a great global group called VC Backed Moms. I became a Mom over the last year so that was a whole life transition. The Venn diagram of startup founder, woman, Mom, starts to get incredibly narrow so that is one of the best founder communities I am part of. 

3. Just caring: So much of being a founder is a grind. There are some great wins and we’re constantly chasing that, but a lot of the time it is slogging it out and slowly figuring out little pieces and that is something I value about Sam, as it can be hard sometimes to talk about the stuff that’s hard and to get support.

Sam Wong

 1. Transparency: What makes a founder great from the perspective of a relationship you build with an investor is someone who shares the bad news. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re being worked or managed. Even before we’ve wired the money, we’re on the same team and I can’t be useful if I don’t know what’s going wrong, and if I only know about the stuff that is going well. I love founders who are really honest with the bad news.

2. Communication flow: I want reliability on the flow of communication – being diligent in following up and closing the loop on stuff, and if they have an ask they package it up and make it easy for me to do it. 

3. Providing feedback – on whether or not it was a good intro or a bad one that I provided. These are things that make a relationship work more productively. Ultimately, I get energy from feeling I’m being useful too. 


Fiona Rotherham

Fiona Rotherham has worked at numerous business publications as editor, co-editor and senior journalist. Her passion for startups was sparked while working at former entrepreneur magazine Unlimited of which she was also editor.

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