Can a consultant become a great investor? My journey with the Delta Partners Investment business
Sitting in our office in Dubai overlooking the palm trees, I started thinking about my almost nine-year journey with Delta Partners. It was less a straight path than a roller-coaster ride, turning me from a young, unexperienced finance student into a TMT consultant and later a tech investor in emerging markets. The ride has tested my resilience, but eventually rewarded me with great moments and unique experiences.
Joining Delta Partners has been like going on a years-long round-the-world tour. I was initially based in Sub-Saharan Africa for almost 3 years as a management consultant advising telecom operators and media companies on a variety of strategic matters. South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia and Mozambique are some of the places where I either visited or worked before being catapulted to Dubai, a place I now call home, and from where I travelled across the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Tunisia. And let’s not forget a brief stint in Asia.
As a Management Consultant at Delta Partners, you are given responsibilities and pushed into battle from day one. There is a steep learning curve and you have to master a diversity of hard and soft skills: pulling order from chaos with a structured approach and focusing on what really matters with analytical thinking while generating consensus and motivation through client governance and people management. All of those skills are required to win client trust, provide expert advise and generate value.
My last projects as consultant were focused on helping telecom operators rethink their strategy and move from connectivity to digital services in cooperation or competition with digital players. It was a great learning experience, involving topics such as fintech, over-the-top media and e-commerce, and it gave me an insider’s view into how technologies can disrupt a traditional yet tech-oriented industry such as telecommunications.
Armed with these experiences, I got the opportunity to join the Investments team and work with super talented individuals and very experienced leaders/investors. We were based in Dubai, but our hunting ground was the world — from the US to Myanmar we scouted for exceptional products and great teams to help them scale across new markets. Since starting this new adventure, I often asked myself, “Can a consultant become a great investor?” Like much in life, there’s no straight answer. In management consulting, project dynamics and incentives might favor short-term goals while investing is a longer term business.
Moreover, I greatly benefited from a “make-it-happen” mentality that is a part of the DNA of Delta Partners. Our firm is no different from any start-up that has to jostle for space among larger and cash-rich competitors. We have developed our unique IPs and managed to create a brand that is recognized by clients as different. We have applied this same attitude to our investment practice to identify like-minded founders and provide them with hands-on support to accelerate their growth.
In the investment world, I had to adapt existing skills and develop new ones. Excel spreadsheets and slides took a backseat to on-the-ground scouting and due diligence. That means multiple calls or meetings with companies each day, which adds up to getting to know thousands of companies over the year. It’s not unusual to feel overwhelmed by inputs and things-to-do, which requires an even stronger capacity to focus. I had to undertake a crash course in business law by reading through tons of transaction documentation and get acquainted with jurisdictions, tax implications and other less fascinating but utterly important realities of the corporate world.
Additionally, the job involves a fair amount of conflict management, from negotiating with competing parties to standing your ground during heated board meetings. People management in investing is just as important as it is in management consulting. The difference, however, is that in the Investments business those skills require finding an often delicate balance between protecting your limited partnership’s interest without impairing the company’s chance of success, or your reputation among the investor community (“you always meet twice,” my chairman used to say).
Investing in technology is tough, and investing in technology in emerging markets is tougher. We have made some mistakes, but celebrated more successes — from exiting our businesses to large listed entities to winning battles against global tech giants by supporting locally-grown businesses. Personally, I have gained much from my associations with incredible individuals. I’ve had the opportunity to build a profile that is different from the average, much as the Delta brand is different from the average, and I look forward to finding and engaging with another generation of companies looking to make their mark on our future.
Alessandro is currently a Vice President in our Investments practice based out of Dubai. He has completed more than 20 deals in tech companies across emerging markets and currently serve as board directors of Virgin Mobile Poland and Cash Credit.
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