How did you start Coterique?
I grew up really liking fashion from the editorial side. When I was younger, my dream job was to be the Editor-in-Chief of Vogue.
I’m from Egypt and went to The American University in Cairo. I was 19 and started a fashion magazine at University. I worked with different boutiques to style our photoshoots. It was around 2011 and no one was really creating stylized content in Egypt, let alone from different stores. We were mixing and matching clothes – high end and low end. I ended up getting hired as a buyer at one of the boutiques. It was the same time as the Egyptian revolution, so people weren’t really buying in stores. There was a lot of leftover inventory, and I realized it was a great opportunity to set up an online website to help these boutiques sell their clothing.
Coterique started out as a platform where we worked with boutiques around the world and sold their items online. Many brands that were earlier in their sales cycle and not yet stocked in stores began approaching us; we decided to take a chance and pivot the model to work with exciting, emerging designers. We ended up shipping 2,000+ orders to 32 countries and made over $1M in revenue.
What did you do after founding Coterique?
Coterique is still up and running today. I spent eight years building it but was ready to do something different.
I moved to London and started an alternative MBA program. Through that program, I ended up interviewing at firstminute Capital, $240 billion VC fund based in London. I was interviewing with various other companies at the same time. It was only when I reflected on how much I enjoyed the interview with firstminute that I realized I loved dissecting companies. Turns out that by founding Coterique, I’d been involved in the VC world but from the other side of the table. I understood how businesses work. I ended up joining firstminute and that’s how I got in to Venture Capital.
How would you characterize yourself as a VC investor?
I’m an early stage investor, so the most important factor is the team. Of course you dissect other factors such as the market opportunity, competition, potential execution, but above all else, I’m looking at the team.
At this stage, you don’t really know what the company is going to be. Nine times out of ten, companies pivot from their initial idea. You have to make sure that you’re not investing in the initial idea because ideas can change.
If you don’t believe that this team can really execute and deliver on their promise, it’s likely to fail as an investment.
How did you start angel investing?
It started with the company July, a modern window AC company. From my very first call I was drawn to how customer centric the team was. They had the kind of hustle I love seeing in founders. For their first 100 orders, they installed the ACs themselves to better know their customer base. As they thought about the seasonality of ACs and space restrictions in cities like NYC, they began to introduce a service where they’ll pick up the AC unit at the end of the summer and then store it over the winter and bring it back to you once spring / summer hits.
In addition to being interested in the business model, I had many conversations with the founding team and really thought they were fantastic – they also had a couple of unfair advantages that gave them a competitive advantage. Originally I was sourcing July for the VC firm I was at, but the firm had changed their investment thesis – investing in more European companies vs US companies – and July didn’t fit it.
I reached out to the founders at July and told them our firm shifted its thesis, and July wouldn’t be a fit. However, I really believed in what July was doing and I wanted to support them, so I wrote a check as an angel investor.
I think everyone feels there’s a huge barrier to entry to angel investing. That check I wrote to July was my first angel ticket.
As an angel investor, what is your thesis?
It’s never been more important to have a very clear brand and website with great user experience.
Never say never, but I can’t imagine myself investing in a company that doesn’t understand this. A strong brand is so important for consumer companies.
How do you overcome self doubt?
As a founder or an investor, you get imposter syndrome all the time. The interesting thing people don’t talk about in investing is that it’s so easy to go on TechCrunch – or any website – and see news or alerts about fundraising, round announcements, brand partnerships, etc. The truth is, as an investor, you don’t know if you’ve done well until the company exits – which is a good 7 – 10 years down the line.
What is your favorite dish to cook?
I’ve been making a lot of Udon. I really enjoy cooking, and it’s my artistic outlet. I tend to spend at least an hour every day cooking.
For those testing their chef skills, what do you recommend they make?
Hm, a dish doesn’t come to mind, but a cookbook does. It’s called Simple and everything in the book is 10 ingredients or less. I’ve never made a dish from that cookbook that people didn’t love and thought it took me ages. You end up impressing everyone, including yourself.
Whose closet would you love to have for a day?
Lauren Santo Domingo. Her instagram is @thelsd.
Best advice your parents ever gave you?
In Arabic, there’s a word for patience “alsabr.” My parents constantly told me to have patience, and in this day and age, especially our age group, we just want everything instantaneously. We want it now – quick and fast.
I think patience is probably my biggest lesson of 2020.