Isabelle Azoulai Amiel (La Maison): Access to Resilience
Our day-to-day dependence on technology during the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated the resilience of the tech sector says Isabelle Azoulai Amiel, Managing Partner at La Maison Compagnie d'Investissement. And she explains how La Maison’s model, method and networks helps secure global access to this sector’s most sought-after investments.
Can you describe La Maison in a few words?
The idea for La Maison was not as an investment vehicle - but an investment club founded by Michel Cicurel. We brought 15 families to share deals they couldn’t normally have access to. From the start we told them we didn't just want their capital but their personnal presence and the value they could add. Our first investment vehicle after the evergreen holding was a tech fund investing in Israel with our members helping firms gain access to European markets. We have since created a growth opportunity fund in the Silicon Valley and the same thing in China.
For the first time the tech industry has become a very resilient industry, a very safe area to put investments. That contrasts with people’s past mindset: that tech was always a bubble and always overvalued.
How can institutions invest with La Maison?
The founding members didn’t want to let everyone in as that would dilute the values of the club. So, we let in young family lines with a minimum of €5 million, as associates, not directly, but through limited partnerships of the new funds. We co-opted families that really want to bring value and create something around the ethos of the club. Now, for the first time, the fintech fund will be open to institutions but not families so the ticket is €10 million. We already have three big institutions that have decided that they will join this new club. Looking ahead it’s very open, we might do another Silicon Valley fund in the next year and we are talking to families about another Israeli fund in the next two years.
How would you describe start-ups’ strengths and weaknesses in the US, Europe, Asia and Israel?
The Israeli tech environment is unique: there is no Israeli market. Tech companies are founded and organized to be international from day one. That contrasts with Silicon Valley with mega-growth venture funds who mentor start-ups. But like in Israel, investments are super hard to access. You have to fight for the best investments bringing something more than just capital. Access in China is even worse. It is essential to partner up and give your trust to others if you want to engage in the tech market. We decided not to invest in international companies, only in companies that focus on China’s huge local market. In the last five years, France has not offered the environment to help tech companies become “unicorns”. There is a lot of early-stage funding and then nothing to help growth. If the good ones weren’t bought by the Americans or the Chinese, they’d stay as mid-level companies or die. But it’s now changing, the French government has launched an initiative to encourage the growth venture industry to start thriving.
How would you analyse the current economic context?
During the worst of Covid-19, tech enabled us to survive, to communicate and to buy food. It created a huge opportunity for the sector. I told my investment committee, “For the first time the tech industry has become a very resilient industry, a very safe area to put investments. That contrasts with people’s past mindset: that tech was always a bubble and always overvalued.” Now if you look at tech companies’ results, they have been growing and growing, a lot of unicorns now have the capital to become profitable which no one thought would happen. If you look at the health or food tech industry, there is a lot to do. This Covid period has changed perceptions that will help the tech sector perform well.