Q&A with Assia Grazioli-Venier & Rachel Springate
Founders & Partners of Muse Capital.
Family Office Insights sits down with Assia Grazioli-Venier and Rachel Springate to discuss how their Seed to Series A venture fund that specializes in strategic investments is the bridge between Silicon Valley and the Entertainment industry.
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What is Muse Capital?
[RACHEL SPRINGATE, Founder & Partner]
Muse Capital is a Seed to Series A venture fund that specializes in strategic investments – typically in companies that touch the consumer in some way. My partner Assia and I like to think of it has the bridge between Silicon Valley and the Entertainment industry. Our relationships with companies and organizations like Juventus, Spotify, American Express, WME, and CAA allow us to bring highly strategic value to the companies we invest in, connecting the biggest organizations in the world with some of the best rising startups.
[ASSIA GRAZIOLI, Founder & Partners]
We are a year old now and have made 8 investments to date, and due to the strategic value that we bring from our non-VC backgrounds, we are have been able to co-invest with some of the largest names in the Valley. Everyone from Andreessen Horowitz, Bessemer, RRE, Trinity Ventures, Cross Culture Ventures, Lowercase Capital and Madrona to name just a few!
What type of companies do you like to invest in?
In terms of co-investment, we like to come in on deals that target companies we know can greatly benefit from our backgrounds in business development. We add strategic value to those who need help with partnerships within the entertainment industry and Fortune 500 companies. As an example, we closed a major deal for one of our portfolio companies with Universal Music Group (the largest music company in the world), activated a deal with Selena Gomez, helped get strategic investment from Disney, an ex VP of Coca-Cola and Troy Carter –all in the first 6 months of working with us. This company was sold recently to Nordstrom in just over a year of us investing!
In addition to that, another major acquisition is on the way from our current portfolio, which is pretty unheard of for a fund just 14 months old (typical fund returns are 5-7 years on average).
We are all about improving the odds of success. Our process is to do our due diligence by assessing the lead investor and his/her track record, and then figuring out if Muse Capital can support and add significant value to help the company grow and succeed. Rachel and I have incredible relationships and complimentary skill sets. Zach White, our Principal, is our brilliant financial expert with a background in Hedge Fund and Management Consultancy. He adds that financial expertise to fill our circle.
How are you different from your competitors?
Entrepreneurs are usually just looking for a check, but you have to be more strategic in this environment, and that is our core competency.
We add the strategic value. It’s not about just having a vast network, but knowing what to do with it. We are also proud to be a female-led venture fund, which is rare to find, on top of our level of strategic hands-on experience.
Many people claim that they know a lot of people in this field, but in a start-up environment, you need a very niche skill set. For example, structuring a deal with startups and partnerships with celebs is something that comes with knowing the right people. It’s a skill set that Assia and I have over 20 years of combined experience in.
Tell us about your background that allows you to have this level of strategic influence on the companies you invest in.
I started off my career in brand research out of the UK. This work lead me to building relationships with Marketing Directors of some of the world’s largest brands such as Coca-Cola, Apple, Disney etc. In 2007 I was headhunted by the leading luxury lifestyle group Quintessentially. The Quintessentially Group is one of the world's foremost luxury concierge services with offices in 63 cities from around the world that provides an intricate network of access to the world's most exclusive experiences. I was asked to start the corporate division of the company, so instead of selling to high net worth individuals, I was asked to speak with brands about leveraging the services for their C-Level or VIP customers. My first two clients were Jaguar and British Airways. This job had me living and traveling all over the world over a 4 year span, both training teams in global offices and helping to close major deals. I worked with everyone from the Gucci Group, Google, Richmond Group (Cartier), HSBC Private Bank, LVMH, to name just a few. The largest deal I ever did was the Amex Centurion (the Black Card). Constantly travelling on behalf of Quintessentially allowed me to build a major network of Fortune 500 executives, celebrities, entrepreneurs, and by 2011 I had come to realize that I had reached my potential at Quintessentially. After leaving I was doing some consulting work in Asia and was introduced to Troy Carter. Troy at the time was a hugely respected music manager responsible for the likes of Lady Gaga, he was also starting to invest in young tech companies, famously telling me in our first meeting that he’d just angel invested into this company called Uber… Troy has since become one of the most successful angel investors of our time with other wins such as Dropbox, Warby Parker, Spotify and Snapchat. What most intrigued me was his ability to leverage his powerful network to help these start-ups grow. This is what planted the seed and sparked my interest in the tech space. In 2013 I decided to move to the USA and start my own consulting business working with early stage tech entrepreneurs and leveraging my network to help them grow, with everything from helping to build advisory boards, celebrity partnerships, brand partnerships etc. Through this work I got to work with everyone from Jay-Z’s company Roc Nation to Eminem to Selena Gomez, brokered deals with major brands and companies. It was through this work that I met Assia.
I started my career before the era of YouTube and before phones were smart. My first work in the media space involved creating made-for-mobile programming and content, which, at the time, referred to the videos and applications that were pre-loaded on cellphones. The space was small and new, and there were very few creatives knowledgeable about how to capitalize on mobile content successfully. After learning the lay of the land, I left that company (Inventa) to join Ministry of Sound, one of the most prominent music brands of the world at the time. Ministry of Sound had a record label, nightclub, and lifestyle brand, but they had yet to delve into the digital media landscape. I was tasked with launching digital TV, video, and radio. This mission led me to structuring a deal with YouTube, which was one of the first brand license for the young streaming company. During my 3 years at Ministry of Sound, I advised brands on digital strategies, while also connecting various VC investors to players in online video space. It was during this endeavor that I met Daniel Ek, the founder of Spotify. I went on to advise him and the company for 9 years, watching the business grow from 40 employees to 3,000 and as Director of Special Projects was responsible for several M&A reviews and strategic partnerships for the business. In addition, until we started Muse Capital in 2016, I was also on the board of advisors of Northzone, one of Europe's leading technology investment partnerships whose portfolio includes Spotify, iZettle, MarketInvoice, Outfittery, Trustpilot, Fyndiq and Qapital.
In 2012, I was appointed by Italy’s legendary Juventus Football Club to be the first female (and youngest) board member to serve in the 120-year history of the club. I have so far served 6 years on the esteemed board of the publicly listed football franchise.
In 2015, Rachel came into my Spotify office to pitch me her client, Dubset. We struck a deal in 4 minutes, which is a testament to her skills as the best opener and closer in the business that I have ever encountered.
Through my consulting work, I was asked by my then music tech start –up clients Dubset at the time to help them put together a deal with Spotify. The person I was introduced to in the team was Assia! Assia and I started working together on the Dubset/ Spotify deal for a year. As we finished that deal, we realized it was exciting and effective working together. The deal we struck was a big deal in the music industry at the time.
In July 2016, Assia and I were in NYC together meeting with a mutual friend who is a successful investor. He suggested that we should start our own strategic fund given our unique experience and complimentary skillsets. We jokingly answered, “Sure that's a great idea if you want to become our first LP” within 24 hours he contacted us saying he would be happy to do just that. As we began finalizing this plan, Assia was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer, (thankfully she is now fully recovered!) so during her 6-month recovery period, we dreamed up what Muse Capital should and would be.
That’s when we figured out the mission and ethos of Muse Capital and closed the deal with our LP.
Muse Capital is a highly strategic co-investment Seed and Series A venture fund.
By November that year, Assia was well enough to travel, so we flew up to the Valley to meet with our friends at some of the top valley funds to pitch them our idea to gauge interest. The response was overwhelmingly positive, they agreed to send deal flow our way in return for the strategic value we could provide.
How are you changing the landscape of your industry?
We are changing the landscape of our industry by influencing the future of the world we live in. We have run the gamut in the analysis of deals that have come through the table, and we have seen that women and diverse groups have a broader view of what makes the world tick and are able to see opportunities others cannot.
A female-led fund is important to us to set an example and show young women how they can come into the male-led industry. In terms of changing the landscape, there are so many young entrepreneurs pitching to white male venture funds that do not understand areas like beauty and hair products, which is a huge market that benefits from diverse backgrounds.
What are some of the challenges you face in your industry?
It’s the perceived lack of track record for a new VC that presents a challenge. As a first-time fund, everyone is going to ask about track records. The reason why we launched a year ago with a single LP was to prove what we could do. We proved we could add value and get co-investments with the big names, which is a great way to show traction.
[ASSIA GRAZIOLI VENIER]
But two acquisitions in a year fund is no small feat! That should help with our track record “issue”.
In regards to venture as an industry, a challenge we face is that many VCs are focused on the growth stage and less interested in Series A. However, we have an advantage due to the uniqueness of our relationships in the seed space.
How much are you looking to raise and who is your ideal investor?
We are raising $15M and we are purposely keeping the raise small to retain our positioning with the other co-venture funds. We don’t compete with them. Rather, we invest alongside them so that our access and strategy becomes beneficial to all parties within a deal.
Our ideal investor has to be curious and interested in this space with us. We have an impressive portfolio and LP base, so we are fortunate to be selective and smart in choosing our investors.
Our ideal investor is someone that is interested in early stage Venture Deals but does not have access to good deal flow. Muse Capital would be an effective co-investment vehicle to get into some of the best deals in the Valley, alongside the best investors in the world. It would also help if they are connected in their own fields so we can call them for potential intro’s to sectors outside our network. We started our fundraise in January this year and the initial response has been fantastic with 35% of the fund already committed in just 2 months we hope to close the fund ASAP.
What’s your mission?
Our mission is to become the premiere strategic co-investment fund. We want to prove to entrepreneurs that we are much more than the average investor.
Frankly, if we keep going the way we have been the last year, we’re already the premiere strategic co-investment fund! We’re here for the long haul to add more value to entrepreneurs. We’ve been doing this for a combined experience of 20 years, so we are confident in our ability to continue to build Muse Capital.
What’s next for you?
We want to close this fund as soon as possible. We already have incredible deal flow that we want to take advantage of. Assia and I are also all about brand building. We want to grow Muse Capital into a great long-term brand that has a strong voice in the venture community.
You can’t be what you don’t see, and for young women especially, the venture career path may not look like a sustainable one at the moment. Assia and I are passionate about showing women that they can be successful in this space without having a traditional background in investing.
To add to that, we also speak at a number of conferences such as TED and The Milken Institute, which allows us to be vocal about the work we are doing.
We also have quite a few press outlets about to write about us over the course of the next few months, which is exciting.
We just want to keep the momentum up of deal flow, reputation, and return on investment for our LPs!
Assia Grazioli-Venier & Rachel Springate
Assia is a media executive, investor and advisor to high-growth tech startups, entertainment companies and venture capital firms.
A sought-after digital media strategist and consultant to international organizations and leaders, Assia is on the board of directors of Italy’s legendary Juventus Football Club. Appointed in 2012, she is the first female and youngest board member to serve in such a role in the 120-year history of the club. Until she started Muse Capital in 2016, Assia was also on the board of advisors of Northzone, one of Europe’s leading technology investment partnerships whose portfolio includes Spotify, iZettle, MarketInvoice, Outfittery, Trustpilot, Fyndiq and Qapital.
From 2010 Assia was senior advisor to Spotify for over six years, where she was involved in global strategic initiatives that contribute to Spotify’s growth and innovation.
Assia is often asked to speak at international conferences, such as her Milken Institute speech on the value of diversity in business, her TED talk on grit, and speaking at the Rolex MBA Regattaon leadership. Never short on strong opinions, Assia is regularly invited to participate on international business podcasts and news outlets.
Assia has a BA with Honors from Barnard College, Columbia University in the City of New York, and completed the London Business School’s Emerging Leaders Programme.
Born in Rome and raised in the US, Assia is fluent in four languages and has lived in New York City, London, Milan and Stockholm. She currently lives in Los Angeles. She is a proud breast cancer survivor.
If you have any questions, please contact Assia at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally from the UK, Rachel started her career at Superbrands, a brand research company and membership organisation for some of the worlds most prestigious brands, developing relationships with the worlds leading Marketing Directors such as Coca-Cola, Jaguar, Apple, Aston Martin, Disney, etc.
In 2006 Rachel was then headhunted to start the Corporate sales division of the leading luxury lifestyle group Quintessentially, Rachel lived and traveled around the globe, building relationships with some of the world’s leading CEOs, celebrities, entrepreneurs and brand directors working with the likes of Amex Centurion, Cartier, Google, HSBC, Gucci Group etc.
In 2013 she moved to the US and founded a company dedicated to bridging the gap between entrepreneurs and her vast media and entertainment network – an “A&R for start-ups”. Over the last few years Rachel has worked with key decision makers across the entertainment and technology space, representing young technology companies and creating valuation-changing partnerships between Silicon Valley and Hollywood.
If you have any questions, please contact Rachel at email@example.com.