As part of our Active Intros series, we speak to a different member of the Active team each month to find out what’s keeping them busy, which consumer trend they’re most excited about and the one brand they couldn’t live without. This month we chatted with our Seed Associate, Courtney Sawatzke.
Courtney joined Active in January 2022 as an Origination Intern before becoming part of the Active Seed team in June. She is currently completing an MBA at London Business School and is the Seed team’s food and beverage maverick…
Tell us about your career so far and what led you to join Active.
Before moving to London and joining Active, I spent five years working as a consultant at Accenture Strategy in the US, first in Chicago and then in New York. I worked with large consumer goods clients on different projects from pricing strategy to organisational design and digital capabilities. My love for the consumer market really came from this era and I learnt a lot about how a successful consumer business operates. It also sparked my interest in challenger brands and the huge opportunity to disrupt markets that have been dominated for decades by large incumbents.
During the pandemic, I realised that I was interested in pursuing the more entrepreneurial route, either on my own brand or working with startups that were using business as a force for good, making the world more sustainable and offering more ethical products. This inspired me to do an MBA and London Business School was a great entry point to explore this passion, expand my horizons, and meet people from all over the world. Alongside studying at LBS, I’ve been working for Active since January 2022, first in the origination team and now in the seed investment team.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I typically spend a few hours a day talking to founders, whether it’s meeting new founders and learning about their businesses or doing diligence on a company we want to bring to an investment committee meeting. I spend a lot of time preparing for pipeline meetings, doing diligence on certain market spaces, and preparing competitor analysis and financial models.
As consumer investors, we have a lot of fun interacting with different brands, from visiting warehouses to taking part in fitness classes and trying lots of samples. Every day is different!
What consumer trend excites you most right now?
I’m really excited about how transparency is playing out across the consumer landscape today. As consumers, we’re totally overloaded with information all the time, whether it’s through social media, adverts, 24/7 news or podcasts. To cut through this noise, brands today have to be really transparent and simple with their messaging. The ones that are doing this successfully are coming off as more authentic and winning market share.
Beauty is a good example of a category where we have seen the consumer demand for transparency play out. While the beauty market is highly saturated and has historically been dominated by large incumbents, challenger brands like Facetheory and The Ordinary have been able to get cut through and rise to the top because they are offering something simple and authentic, which is appealing to the consumer.
What’s your top advice for founders when raising capital?
We always look to build an honest and open relationship with the founders we partner with so my advice would be to try and be as authentic and open as you can with investors while also making sure they are the right fit for you and your business.
Your investors are long-term partners who will help you reach your goals, so you want to make sure they are the right partner to support you and that you feel comfortable asking them for advice whenever you need it.
What do you love most, and least, about working at Active?
I love being on the ground with founders and learning about the latest trends in the consumer space at their earliest stages. We spend a lot of time at pitch days, demo days and conferences and there’s always so much buzz and excitement around new businesses at the forefront of change in the consumer market.
One thing I don’t like is when we have to turn down a founder who is building something amazing, but it’s not the right time or size of business for us to invest.
Name one brand you couldn’t live without
Tony’s Chocolonely. Everybody loves a treat and Tony’s has totally disrupted the chocolate market, using business to shine a light on the huge issues in the chocolate supply chain. Built on three principles of transparency, simplicity and an exceptional product, they are committed to their mission to make all chocolate 100% slave free and are now influencing the big incumbents to follow suit.
The Daily by the New York Times is the soundtrack to my morning (now my afternoon in the UK!). I also love Grace Beverley’s podcast. She takes a human-led approach in the way she interviews and builds deep connections with her guests which allows her listeners to learn a lot about a particular topic.
Top book recommendation
The Secret Life of Groceries. Anyone who has an interest in consumer and food & beverage should read it.