Q&A with Will Geiger & Brett Kadesh, principals, Touchdown Ventures

Will Geiger, principal, Touchdown Ventures

Scott Lenet, president of Touchdown Ventures, said: “With approximately a decade of venture capital experience, Will is one of Touchdown’s highest performing team members and he leads our Avery Dennison Ventures relationship.

“Will was also instrumental in forging the relationship with Avery Dennison, and he has been a valuable team member on four other strategic investing programmes. Will has demonstrated consistent leadership in firm development, including recruiting, training, managing multiple junior team members, and developing key infrastructure to scale capabilities for helping Touchdown’s corporate partners and portfolio companies.

“Will has amassed a successful investment track record as a corporate VC, institutional investor and angel investor, and he serves on the investment committee for the Gideon Hixon Fund, the VC arm of the Hixon family office. Will earned his MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management, where he currently teaches corporate innovation together with me.”

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 am a principal on the team at Touchdown Ventures. Touchdown is a venture capital firm that manages funds in partnership with large corporations. We work with more than a dozen companies across different industries, and I have focused on investments in media and entertainment, retail, real estate, sustainability and industrial technology since joining Touchdown nearly four years ago.

Today, I lead our investment programme with Avery Dennison, a global materials science company that specialises in designing and manufacturing a variety of labelling and other functional materials. I oversee fund strategy, sourcing, diligence, deal execution and portfolio management for the Avery Dennison investment programme, collaborating closely with company leadership and business unit executives to identify and close deals that provide financial return and strategic impact for the company.

I also co-manage our programme for building and developing relationships with a network of more than 1,000 VC firms.

2. What attracted you to corporate venture capital (CVC)?

The venture industry has become highly competitive and successful investors differentiate by finding unique ways to provide value to startups. I believe CVCs can do this in the most direct way, including as a customer or supplier, technology partner, and go-to-market or supply chain facilitator for portfolio companies. In my experience, this not only provides CVCs with access to great deals but also fosters an environment conducive to building long-terms trusted relationships with entrepreneurs. Additionally, I love the strategic mentality of exploring some of the most critical challenges and opportunities facing a large company, then identifying ways CVC can be used as a tool to enhance the corporation’s ability to innovate and extend or protect its leadership position.

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

For the last three years, I have led Touchdown’s CVC programme with Avery Dennison. Alongside my Avery Dennison colleagues, we have closed more than a half dozen investments in North America, Europe, and Israel, and we are partnering with each company on key business development initiatives. We have prioritised sustainability and circular economy deals as well as opportunities that can extend Avery Dennison’s leadership position in “intelligent labels” and RFID, among other verticals. We have also facilitated numerous commercial introductions for Avery Dennison’s business units, increasing access to external innovation for the company.

4. What have been your biggest challenges?

There are obvious cultural and operational differences between startups and Fortune 500 companies, especially with respect to speed and risk tolerance. While corporations can use CVC and other innovative tools to collaborate more effectively with startups, the organisational differences still create friction. I have found communication, particularly setting clear expectations and goals for the working relationship, to be critical in managing these conflicts. This is a philosophy I try to apply during the investment process, when supporting our portfolio companies, and when facilitating other types of relationships between startups and Touchdown’s corporate partners.

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

The CVC market opportunity is huge, and I am a big believer in Touchdown’s model and track record when it comes to helping corporations manage professional funds that “play well” with the rest of the venture ecosystem. Personally, my goal is to take on additional leadership responsibilities at Touchdown while helping grow and train a world-class team and expanding our network of corporate partner relationships across all industries. By doing this, I believe we can generate strong financial outcomes for our partners while accelerating innovation across industries.

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

I believe the CVC industry has made great strides in recent years, particularly when it comes to promoting alignment and mutual benefit in relationships with startups. In terms of growth, I would love to see CVC investors collaborate with each other more consistently to drive true impact for startups, especially when industry peers can provide value in different capacities. At Touchdown, we believe this dynamic will benefit the corporations just as much as their portfolio companies, and it is one of the reasons we are so excited about the growth of our network.

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

Prior to joining Touchdown, I worked in growth equity at Kayne Anderson Capital Advisors and in early-stage venture capital at the Gideon Hixon Fund, the VC arm of the Hixon family office. I received my MBA at UCLA Anderson, where I have now co-taught a class on corporate entrepreneurship and innovation for the last three years.

 

Brett Kadesh, principal, Touchdown Ventures

Rich Grant, managing director for Touchdown Ventures, said: “Brett is one of Touchdown’s early team members, joining us almost five years ago out of the UCLA Anderson School of Management.

“During his tenure with us, Brett has helped launch and manage our fund with Kellogg’s, eighteen94 capital, and has been an integral team member on several other funds. In addition, Brett has supported firm development in a number of areas ranging from recruiting and training to CRM and back-office and has helped raise the profile of Touchdown via several speaking engagements and his work as a founding board member of Naturally Bay Area.

“Brett is extremely hard-working and passionate about venture capital. And he does an amazing job of forging relationships with and supporting the entrepreneurs we back as investors. Brett joined the firm as an Associate primarily in a support role but has been promoted twice at Touchdown, most recently to principal, and now leads our partnership with Kellogg’s eighteen94 capital.”

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 am currently a principal at Touchdown Ventures, a leading CVC firm that manages over a dozen CVC funds with hundreds of millions in assets under management. I joined the firm in early 2016 as its sixth employee to focus on consumer investing which covers consumer products, services, ecommerce, nutrition, food tech, and the underlying technologies that support the consumer and commerce ecosystem.

My primary role at the firm is leading our $100m CVC fund with Kellogg’s eighteen94 capital. Kellogg’s is one of Touchdown’s longest-tenured corporate funds, with the relationship approaching its fifth year in the market. Since inception, we have completed upwards of 25 transactions (new and follow-on) that seek to enhance or compliment Kellogg’s $20bn core businesses in breakfast, snacking, and plant-based animal alternatives. Our portfolio companies span branded food products, performance nutrition supplements, nextgen plant-based ingredients, and a digital commerce platform. Year to date, we have added three new companies to our portfolio and completed four follow-on investments to existing portfolio companies.

Aside from managing eigtheen94, I play a variety of advisory and support roles for Touchdown’s growing base of consumer-focused corporate funds. I have also taken on additional leadership roles within the firm by co-leading Touchdown’s consumer practice, which provides expertise, insights, contact networks and deal flow resources for all of Touchdown’s consumer funds.

Additionally, I have also been integral in helping the firm grow by taking an active role in recruiting new talent – to date, I have led the hiring of three full-time employees (the firm has just about 30 full-time employees), all of which are still at the firm.

2. What attracted you to CVC?

My attraction to early-stage venture investing stems from a childhood obsession with exploring what is new and what is next. Looking back on my experience prior to Touchdown, it was a combination of my experience as working in institutional VC (Versant Ventures, Bullpen Capital, Velos Partners) and at Ridemakerz (startup backed by CVC) that attracted me to CVC investor versus a traditional VC investor.

Institutional VC: I spent a total of four years working in institutional venture capital for Versant, both in an operational role as well as an investment capacity. During that time, I always felt like there was a disconnect between investors and the success of a portfolio company because it was rare to see a financial investor provided material, trajectory changing impact to the company beyond its capital.

Ridemakerz: One of the reasons I joined Ridemakerz (a consumer products and entertainment startup) was because they raised strategic capital from Build-a-bear, an established publicly traded company. To me, the risks of joining an early-stage company were mitigated because Build-a-bear could provide invaluable support, advice, and strategic direction. During my four years at Ridemakerz, I saw first-hand how much more valuable a strategic investor was than a purely financial investor including help with manufacturing, marketing, and corporate development.

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

One of my greatest successes was my role in launching eighteen94, our $100m CVC fund with Kellogg’s. The combination of Kellogg’s brand, our investment thesis in red hot categories such as plant-based foods and food tech, and Touchdown’s network of investors and entrepreneurs led to tens of millions of impressions on our first press release. The successful launch resulted in 500 inbound deals almost immediately and sent shockwaves through the consumer investing ecosystem. In the first year of the fund, we reviewed close to 1,500 deals, led investments in two companies (with a third closing just a month later), and built an ecosystem network of 200 people.

In addition to launching the fund, we have also successfully executed our fund strategy for investments in upstream, next-gen ingredients, an achievement that is showing tremendous potential in generating both financial return and strategic benefits. In the early stages of the fund, as we built our model portfolio, we realised that in order to diversify, we would need to invest beyond branded products (Kellogg’s core business). At the same time, we saw disruption happening throughout the food and beverage industry with a push towards healthier foods. But in order to create healthy foods, you need healthy ingredients. So we allocated a part of the fund to invest upstream into next-gen ingredients, especially those that traditionally large CPG companies like Kellogg’s could use in their finished products. We have made two investments as part of this thesis. One of these investments is MycoTechnology, which has a lot of promise and could be an IPO candidate in the near future.

4. What have been your biggest challenges?

The fundamental challenges for all CVCs are getting access and allocation into the best deals and earning respect from investors and entrepreneurs. For Touchdown, investing with a 100-year-old cereal company during a time when “big food” was being criticised for many of the worlds health and obesity issues, was challenging. We are now a sought after investor in the food, beverage, plant-based meats, and nutrition categories after steadily building a strong reputation in the market, but it required a dedicated effort in the early days from the entire team to establish credibility.

In order to establish that credibility, we built into our fund strategy how we would operate as an investor in the market. We wanted a clear message so the market knew who we were and what we were in the market for. In addition, it was important for investors and entrepreneurs to know that our top priority was supporting our portfolio companies and that we would always follow through with our promises. Having early conversations with leaders in the space was the first step, but following through consistently at each opportunity since has been the most impactful.

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

I would love to develop the pattern recognition that allows my team and me to identify new trends, technologies, products, etc. through early-stage investing that materially change the trajectory of a corporation’s future. I believe the best CVC investments provide a healthy combination of both financial returns and strategic value to the parent company. If run properly, a CVC fund can be a look into the future for a corporation, effectively the epicentre of its long-range strategic planning initiatives.

At Touchdown, I want to accelerate my rise at the firm, from an early employee in a support role to a senior leader of the firm. I have a lot of heart for what our firm is doing in CVC. My ambition is to accelerate the growth of our firm (team, corporate partners, assets managed, portfolio companies, etc.) into what I believe will become the largest venture capital firm in the world.

In the short term, my aspiration is to represent Touchdown as the first ranked winner in one of GCVs annual awards and in doing so, become more involved in the organisation.

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

Prioritise financial return as the single most important factor in an early-stage investment. This includes properly valuing companies, participating in follow-on investments, avoiding legal terms that could hurt or limit the potential of the company, and supporting the company and team through its lifecycle. In my opinion, financial return is the primary factor that aligns management, investors, and the board, and that alignment is critical for a successful exit event.

In terms of providing strategic value, CVCs should make sure that they adhere to the promises made at the onset of a relationship. It is integral for the CVC team to be the portfolio company’s strongest advocate and liaison to the broader organisation, making sure business units, specialists, and senior leadership are brought in to help the portfolio company as needed.

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

I began my career in financial services at Ernst & Young, an opportunity that provided a strong foundational business experience. After E&Y, I worked both in venture capital as well as at a startup in an operating role. This combination of experience (client services, investor, operator) has allowed me to thrive in my role at Touchdown by helping bridge the gap between corporate executives and startup entrepreneurs.

In my spare time, I try to explore the world, something that has been ingrained in me since I was a child growing up (my father worked at United Airlines for 25 years). I have been fortunate to visit 50 countries so far and maintain my lifetime goal to visit all 196 countries in the world.