Operating experience is something that almost every European VC firm likes to talk up these days, as the region’s venture capital industry tries to shed its investment banker image of yesteryear. However, there’s no denying that the longer you’ve been in VC, the further away you are from your experience at the coalface of running a company.
That criticism can’t yet be levied at Stan Laurent, Highland Europe‘s newly appointed Partner, who, until recently, served as chief executive of PhotoBox, the photo-printing consumer company that also owns Moonpig. He joins Highland as a VC after a nearly year-long stint as the growth venture capital fund’s first ever Entrepreneur in Residence. Prior to that, he spent ten years in charge of Photobox, of which Highland was a backer, before the company exited to a private equity consortium in January 2016.
In a call with Laurent, he sounded extremely bullish on Europe’s ability to produce further leading consumer e-commerce companies, arguing that, despite Amazon’s perceived and real dominance, there is still room for new startups that can offer enough differentiation and have an edge in terms of product and brand. He also said there were still sectors where new online marketplaces could still have a role to play.
Another area he talked up is SaaS companies where technology, such as AI, is being applied to solve actual business problems and has already been validated by paying customers. That, of course, is also a reference to the stage that Highland Europe invests at.
The VC isn’t early-stage but pitches itself as a “growth-stage” technology investor and, as I previously noted, the firm’s ‘Highland Europe Technology Growth II’ is targeting startups in the internet, mobile and software space and who are at the “venture and growth-stage” with investments between €10m and €30m.
On a personal level, Laurent says he can help Highland Europe’s consumer portfolio companies further scale, drawing on his experience running PhotoBox where he is said to have grown turnover from £13m to £300m and transformed the company into a leader in personalised products. This included the acquisition of Moonpig, which, he says, required the support of Highland and was viewed as quite risky at the time since it needed to be financed with some debt.
Photobox also danced quite close to an IPO before market conditions for going public changed, meaning alternative financing was required. Again, Laurent says his VC backers were supportive and cited this experience as one of the reasons he was keen to join Highland as a Partner.
Adds Laurent in a statement: “Since leaving PhotoBox I’ve enjoyed working with a variety of entrepreneurs to help them scale, internationalise and finance their businesses. I realised that I could have the biggest impact spending the next chapter of my career investing in and then supporting some of the best growing businesses in Europe – specifically with my friends at Highland Europe.”
Meanwhile, Highland has invested in a range of businesses in the last 18 months, including Starleaf, a cloud-based platform for enterprise video conferencing and calling services; Junique, the online-art seller; LoveCrafts, a community and marketplace for crafters; Featurespace, a machine learning fraud prevention company; and Smartly, a company that automates Facebook and Instagram advertising.