“I was hired when I was 8 months pregnant, so kudos to Niklas for betting on someone who was pregnant,” Sophia Bendz tells me. “That meant I was working a couple of hours per week in my first year and then I ramped up my engagement and now I’m at a point where I’m fully committed. So it feels like it’s been a sort of organic journey that has happened”.
The former Spotify Global Director of Marketing (and Spotify employee no.9) is being unveiled as the newest Partner at venture capital firm Atomico. For the last two and a half years, she’s been Executive-in-Residence at the London-based venture capital firm co-founded by Skype founder Niklas Zennström, helping portfolio companies with marketing strategy and recruitment.
Since 2011, Bendz, who is Swedish, has also been an increasingly active angel investor in the Nordics region, where she’ll be tasked with sourcing deal-flow for Atomico. Companies that she has angel invested include Tictail, Joint Academy, Engaging Care, Bokio, Karma, Hedvig, Simple Feast, and Sana Labs, among others.
Bendz says that she was first introduced to Zennström through her work with GoEuro, one of Atomico’s portfolio companies. She was helping the mobility company distill its mission into a coherent marketing message that could be more easily articulated both internally and externally, the type of help that would have been of benefit in the early days of Spotify and that Zennström recognised could be of huge value to other startups in the Atomico portfolio.
“When I was at Spotify, I was fairly alone in my role and I didn’t have anyone to use as a sounding board or a mentor, if you will, so I needed to reinvent the wheel all over again… on my own. I would have benefited hugely from being able to talk to someone from time to time that have already been on a growth journey and built a company and built a consumer brand from scratch”.
During her eight years at Spotify, Bendz saw the music streaming service grow from 10 employees, in which she was the first marketing hire, to around 3,000. In her role at the company, she also spent five years in the U.S., where she was instrumental in launching Spotify across the pond.
“I think what I bring to the table [at Atomico] that we haven’t had already is obviously my operating experience,” says Bendz. “One of the things that I’m excited about doing is of course to leverage some of those learnings to the people that we work with in the portfolio companies, and that ranges from international expansion to how to maintain culture when growing really fast and marketing and communication and branding strategy”.
Atomico is also keen to tap Bendz’s personal network of early-stage founders and investors in the Nordics. She tells me that an important part of her pitch to Zennström was that the London VC firm should work closer with angel investors, as they know best what’s happening on the ground.
“I have been good at fostering a lot of relationships both with my former colleagues and many of them are now at interesting new companies, and then [there are] the founders of the companies I have invested in,” she says. “My network of talented entrepreneurs and founders will be a great benefit to Atomico because, you know, most of the time many of the good leads are coming from existing founders that are recommending other founders”.
Bendz’s angel investments lean towards consumer startups, unsurprising given her self-professed “love” for building consumer brands. Her personal investment interests include food tech and health tech, and she says she is particularly excited about companies that are solving a “real problem”. “I’m seriously worried about climate change, so I’m always looking for companies that are tackling that in some way,” she adds.
Meanwhile, it’s perhaps noteworthy that Bendz is Atomico’s fourth female partner, meaning that the VC firm is certainly walking the walk and not just talking. I ask Bendz if it is important to her that more women become investors and what role she sees herself playing in helping to improve the opportunities for women in the tech industry more generally.
“I’m a passionate about it and I do whatever I can to support female entrepreneurs and operators and investors; I myself have benefited hugely from having a huge support network of amazing women,” the Atomico partner replies. “And I’m not a big fan of just complaining about it, I rather want to do things about it. So, you know, looking into how we can scale it. That is something I’m passionate about and I definitely think it’s easier for a female entrepreneur to ping me and ask for, you know, 25 minutes of coffee and pitching her idea to me rather than someone who is an older man”.
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