Anamcara Capital General Partner Annelie Ajami Has Big Dreams For Her Venture Capital Firm (And For The Startups It Supports)
Annelie Ajami launched Anamcara Capital, an Abu Dhabi-headquartered pre-seed and seed stage venture fund investing in B2B technologies, in 2021 with a firm decision that founders will always top her agenda.
Annelie Ajami, General Partner at Anamcara Capital, an Abu Dhabi-headquartered pre-seed and seed stage venture fund investing in B2B technologies, admits upfront that the industry she operates in is a very competitive space. "The top investors capture a significant proportion of value in the industry, and they do this by having a very clear strategy and executing relentlessly on that strategy," she explains. "But it all starts with a true genuine commitment to the craft– finding the founders, winning the founders, and then supporting the founders. And this is how and why we are building Anamcara."
Ajami has significant experience in finance and venture capital, having worked for investment banks and asset managers in the UK before moving to Lebanon in 2016 to join early-stage venture fund, B&Y Venture Partners where she climbed the ladder to the position of venture partner and was also instrumental in helping it close its second US$100 million fund. Then, in 2021, Ajami founded Anamcara Capital with a firm decision that respecting founders will always top her agenda. "For example, when we speak to founders, we are always transparent about the process and the likelihood of us investing," she says. "If we decide to pass on an opportunity, we ensure we do this fast, and we give honest reasons why. Even if we decide to pass, we also talk about how we can be helpful to them with other firms that might be more aligned."
Ajami is crystal-clear about the focus of her venture fund -pre-seed and seed stage companies building technologies that serve SMEs- and also about what she needs to do for her fund to be successful- to invest in the right people. "The seed stage is all about the people, and it is important to build trust and honest connections with founders we partner with," she says. "I want founders to tell me what is going well, but also what isn't. This level of transparency helps us as investors to identify the areas in which we can truly add value. I want founders to truly believe that we are there for them. My goal is that one day, founders will say we went to battle for them. This is the type of firm we want to build." Ajami's high hopes for Anamcara Capital are visible from the branding for the enterprise, which is centered around the work of Spanish artist Jesús Sotés, which embraces a touch of the surreal. "This drive to set ourselves apart and to be unconventional is what we kept high on the agenda when we worked on our branding," she says. "We wanted to keep this edge alive."
Of course, Anamcara Capital itself is also at a very early stage in its own journey- where support from others can make or break the business. "We are fortunate that we have the capital to continue to back exceptional founders during these challenging times," Ajami admits. She adds that the type of businesses that Anamcara Capital is interested in -technologies that can make SMEs more productive and resilient- will be even more important "as we enter a potential two- to four-year challenging economic period." She says, "SMEs globally are embracing technology solutions that address all their needs and growth requirements, accessing cloud-based software and technologies, through subscription services and easy to adopt models. Digitization is essential in driving resiliency, global supply-chains, and productivity. Given the role of technology, SMBs are now able to rethink business practices, operations and the way they serve their customers."
The Anamcara Capital website lists a number of their investments so far, which include financial management app Viably, on-demand workspace platform Flexspace, and restaurant management platform Nory, to name a few, with Ajami adding that its focus is "on startups in Europe and opportunistically the MENA region." "We invest in opportunities in verticals such as fintech, future of work, creator economy, supply chain, logistics, and Web3 infrastructure," she says. "As such, we have developed specific views on each of these themes. In addition to being out there with founders, we also spend time conducting in depth analysis, market mapping, and customer engagement to develop views on forces that can shape the sector."
Ajami's biography follows a typical pattern that one would expect from a venture capitalist, including degrees from prestigious universities- in her case, it's a BA in History and Politics from School of Oriental and African Studies, and an MSc in Global Politics from the London School of Economics and Politics. However, there is also something not quite ordinary- Ajami is a retired two-time national boxing champion, with medals won both in the UK and the Netherlands. Speaking of parallels between her time boxing and investing, she says, "Back then, boxing was heavily male-dominated. We would go to sparring sessions, and there were very few women. So, I often trained with men. My coach never made a distinction between men and women. It wasn't a case of go easy on her because she's a girl. I was a boxer. And the same goes for investing. I'm a woman, yes. But first and foremost, I'm an investor and a builder. It is a level playing field for everyone."
Another similarity between boxing and investing, Ajami adds, was that she had to train harder than anyone else just to show she deserved to be there. "An investor I respect once said, 'You are the insurgent until you are the incumbent,'" she recalls. "I think about this all the time. Another valuable lesson boxing taught me is to always be on top of your game. It starts with eating properly, training twice a day, and sparring. Winning two national titles was the result of unrelenting commitment day in and day out. It wasn't overnight." She goes on to quote Muhammad Ali –"The fight is won or lost far away from the witnesses, behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road; long before I dance under those lights"- to underline her point that commitment and grit are important in both boxing and investing.
"It is the weekends you spend working or the millionth flight you take to meet that founder," Ajami explains. "You need to do the work to be successful. When I boxed, I had a brilliant coach Dave who used to come up with classic one-liners that still resound in my ears from time to time. He often said, 'Listen to me Anna, you either do it or you don't!' He meant that there is no half way of doing things. Finally, boxing taught me quite literally that when you fall, you need to get back up and fight back. You need to be flexible when things don't go your way, and you need to be able to think on your feet. Boxing has made me resilient. I have a fighter mentality, and I put this to use when it comes to my founders and the companies they are building."
Ajami is also committed to philanthropic causes - following the massive explosions at the Port of Beirut on August 4, 2020, she and her husband, Ibrahim Ajami, co-founded the Ajami Foundation, a private-born initiative aimed at empowering communities in Lebanon by supporting initiatives that advance entrepreneurship and education. "I lived in Lebanon for six years and fell in love with all its beauty, chaos, and particularities, and having experienced the explosion and witnessed the devastation firsthand, my husband and I wanted to help in a more meaningful way," she says.
"Initially, we reconstructed homes, re-homed families, and provided families in need with necessities. Being on the ground in those days was very confronting. It forces you to think about what is important in life. Following that time, I spend time reprioritizing where I devote my time and energy. Giving back has become a much more integral part of my life. I feel grateful that we have the opportunity to try to make a difference. Today, we are primarily focused on supporting Lebanese initiatives in areas that are close to our heart, such as entrepreneurship and education."
With women who are budding their careers and/or businesses across the MENA region and beyond, Ajami wants to share a lesson she learned from her mother which is that making big decisions is fundamentally important in changing one's narrative. "You need to unlock your own potential," Ajami explains. "Go after what you believe in, be useful, and follow your heart. For instance, when I moved to the Middle East, I didn't know anyone there and didn't speak the language, but I wanted to see it through. It was this place of discomfort that ultimately made me grow. My advice to any woman just starting her career believe in yourself, and get uncomfortable. Don't let anyone tell you you can't do something."All of this can also be summed up in a tip she got from her father, which is that the one who perseveres is the one who wins the game. "I live by this," Ajami adds. "Mind you, I haven't 'made it' yet. I'm still fighting."
Pitch Perfect: Anamcara Capital General Partner Annelie Ajami's directives for entrepreneurs seeking investment for their seed-stage enterprises
1. Tell me your story and your narrative "I want to hear your personal story. What experiences have shaped you? What is your insight? Why are you the right person to build this particular business? At the seed stage, we invest in founders, and as an investor, I want to get to know you better. I want to understand who you are, what drives you, and what motivates you."
2. Tell me why I want to commit to you and support you "Elaborate on the type of business you are building. What is the culture? What type of person is successful in your team? What are his or her behaviors? Who are you as a leader? The ability to hire and retain top talent is core to the success of an early-stage business."
3. Tell me why this is the right time "What is different today from yesterday? What has changed in the market? What is enabling you to build this business now? What resistance will you face?"
4. Share your bold vision, the talent required, and the steps to get there "If all goes to plan, where do you see this business in 10 years? I want to understand how you think about growing and scaling your platform. I want to know how big you think this business can get, and whether you have thought about the execution steps and talent required."