Q&A with Brandon Yahn, principal and head of US investments, Convivialité Ventures

1. First, just give us a quick overview of who you work for, what you do, and how long you have been doing it.

I lead US investments for Convivialité Ventures, the corporate venture capital (CVC) group for [France-headquartered liqueur provider] Pernod Ricard. We started the fund in 2017, and I am one of the two founding team members.

Pernod Ricard is the second-largest wine and spirits company in the world with brands like Absolut, Jameson and Glenlivet. Our focus is to partner and invest in consumer startups “in the convivialité space” that reinvent the way people socialise, entertain and share experiences together. We have also recently expanded investment into consumer products and business-to-business companies that can be helpful for our brands.

We invest across stages, typically starting at series A and have worked with our portfolio companies through follow-ons into later stages all the way through series D and E. I have led all of Convivialité Ventures’ investments thus far across the US and Europe, including Zola, AvantStay, Glovo, Fever, Peerspace, Common, Wave, IRL and Liquid Death.

2. What attracted you to CVC? 

I love to work closely with founders and help them grow their business. I also enjoy learning new things, so the ability to invest across different areas has been great. The unique part of being in a CVC is that, in addition to financial returns, we exist to provide strategic value to both our startup companies and to our core business. This can be from direct partnerships created through our investment or in strategic insights on consumer behaviour that can guide the roadmap for our brands. We are the ones at the company in charge of understanding the future of our consumer experiences.

3. What have been your greatest successes at your unit? 

I have been here from the beginning, so we have had a lot to be proud of. At first, it was completing our first investment, then our first markup, then it was the first strategic partnership, then having our first unicorn. Most importantly, it is working closely with our entrepreneurs to help them build successful businesses and making our brands aware of the latest consumer trends and tools to grow their business.

4. What have been your biggest challenges? 

One of the main challenges within CVC is building a strong connection with the mothership. We have amazing support from the top of the organisation, but it is also important that everyone else at the company knows why we exist and the value that we can provide. By design, we take a long-term view in venture, but sometimes the people in the core business are focused on the next quarter’s results.

Things obviously move at a different pace between the startup and corporate world. Because I came into this role from the startup side, I am trying to do my best to enable fast and flexible decision-making in the organisation.

5. What is your main professional ambition for the future? 

My professional ambition is to work with the best founders to help solve the most interesting consumer problems. Being an investor allows me to provide the capital and guidance to grow their business. I spent the early part of my career on the operating side of the startup ecosystem, and what I enjoy as an investor is the ability to meet so many amazing entrepreneurs and learn about a variety of different business opportunities.

6. What do you think all CVCs could do better to make it a stronger industry?

CVCs need to be able to have the empathy to understand the ups and downs that founders go through on a regular basis. In order to get into the best and most competitive deals, they need to move quickly and be able to make fast, but informed decisions. It is also important to be a value-add to both the entrepreneurs and the corporate. You need to build strong connections within the core business to do this.

7. And, finally, for colour, what did you do prior to CVC or in your spare time?

Prior to my time in CVC, I spent time as an entrepreneur, venture investor, and in operating roles at fast-growing companies. I was an early business development employee at three $1bn-plus startups: Credit Karma ($7bn exit to Intuit), Datalogix ($1.2bn exit to Oracle) and Evernote. I was also founder and CEO of Student Loans Guy, a venture fellow at Foundation Capital, and started my career as a management consultant at Accenture and Mars & Company. Academically, I have an MBA from UC Berkeley and an industrial engineering degree from West Virginia University.

When I am not working, I spend most of my time with my wife and daughter, and when not under lockdown, like to travel.