Born in the pandemic, Moonfire’s first $60M seed fund will combine remote investing with Big Data

During the pandemic, we’ve seen the rise of “Zoom investing” — where VCs literally use remote video conference tools like Zoom and Google Meet to take pitches from entrepreneurs. Now a new European seed fund plans to leverage that emerging behavior and bake it into their model.

Mattias Ljungman, the former co-founder of Atomico, formed Moonfire when he left in December 2019, but few details were revealed about his new operation. Today Moonfire reveals it will be a $60 million seed-stage “data-driven” VC that will also leverage the new advantages of remote working that entrepreneurs themselves have had to adapt to.

Admittedly Ljungman didn’t have much choice. Starting in January 2020, he ended up having to found, raise and close the fund, as well as invest, almost all remotely. But, he says, that means it will continue to take advantage of this “new normal.” “We are doing Zoom investing. It’s the death of geography, and people are now pretty comfortable with that way of living,” he told me, literally via Zoom.

Moonfire’s first fund has been raised from LPs spanning the usual swathe of institutional investors, entrepreneurs and VCs. Cendana, the U.S.-based seed fund investment firm, is the anchor investor. It is joined by Utah School & Institutional Trust Funds Office (SITFO) and Reference Capital, among others. Moonfire says the fund was significantly oversubscribed.

Moonfire will focus on a very broad range of areas, which will include health and well-being, work and knowledge, gaming, community and leisure and capital and finance. Its most recent investments across Europe include Humaans, Electric Noir Studios, Skunkworks, Pento, Awell Health, Mindstone, Business Score, Homerun, HiPeople, LoveShark, WillaPay, Oliva, Equify and more.

Ljungman “knows his onions,” as the phrase goes. As a co-founder of Atomico he spent 20 years investing in tech startups-turned-unicorns including Klarna, Supercell, Viagogo and Climate Corp.

Mike Arpaia and Candice Lo will partner the firm with Ljungman. Former computer scientist Arpaia joins Moonfire with experience from Etsy, Facebook, Kolide and Workday. Lo has been an entrepreneur but is an operator turned investor with experience at Uber in Europe and China, as well as an early-stage investor with the U.K.’s Blossom Capital.

Ljungman says data will form the cornerstone of the fund. He said: “Venture will always be a relationship business, but it should be powered by data, software, and machine learning to hone and optimize everything we do from discovery, screening, and evaluation to delivering better insights for our founders. We are able to enhance traditional thesis-driven investing and make decision-making quicker and more effective.”

Of course, just about every VC these days says it uses data to invest — Inreach Ventures in London, for instance, is just one of many that makes a great play of this idea.

Over a video call, Ljungman countered: “You’re looking at utilizing software, automation, and machine learning. If you look at any industry that is what happened — software is eating it up. It touches every component of your process from discovering companies to managing them, evaluating them, helping them with support. So we still have our thesis-driven approach, but what we’re doing is pairing it with software, like a bionic suit, so this is how to augment what we do and do it bigger and better.”

He added: “The European ecosystem is a lot bigger today, so relying on gut instinct, relationships, networking is not going to be efficient. Utilizing software is going to be critical for us. We have 1.4 million people already in our database. These entrepreneurs usually have a really nice history. The average entrepreneur is a lot older than it used to be, as well. If we’re looking at thousands of companies per year, there are real network effects. The more you build out your data the more you build out your portfolio, the more you make more investments, the better you are at helping and supporting your portfolio companies because you’ve institutionalized that knowledge.”

Graham Pingree, partner at Cendana Capital, said in a statement: “We’ve been watching the European startup ecosystem mature and grow in the past year and we’re excited to have the opportunity to partner with the team at Moonfire as they look to expand their portfolio. Moonfire, like Cendana, is passionate about supporting founders at the earliest stages of their journey and they have the skills and expertise needed to nurture a new generation of founders.”