Meet Singular, a new VC firm based in Paris that just finished raising its initial fund. The firm was founded by two former Alven partners — Raffi Kamber and Jérémy Uzan. They have some ambitious goals and an interesting investment model that could help them remain involved even during late-stage rounds. Overall, the firm raised €225 million, or $265 million at today’s exchange rate.
The Singular team doesn’t want to be secretive. But they don’t like talking about themselves. That’s why you may have seen Singular’s name in a few articles I wrote over the past few months. But now it’s time to talk a bit about what the firm has in mind when it comes to startup investment.
Jérémy Uzan and Raffi Kamber spent 11 and 8 years at Alven. They’ve been behind some of the firm’s most successful investments, such as Dataiku and OpenClassrooms. “But every time you raise another fund, you sign up for a long time,” Uzan told me.
The duo left Alven quite naturally as they felt it was time in their careers to take their destiny in their own hands. There’s no hard feeling with their previous fund.
It was the right timing personally but also the right timing for the tech ecosystem. While Singular is based in Paris, the firm plans to build a true European VC firm with its headquarters in Paris. Singular doesn’t think London should be the center of gravity for European tech investment.
Singular started fundraising in late 2019 and early 2020. Kamber and Uzan didn’t know anything about raising a fund and didn’t work with an external financial firm to handle the fundraising effort.
When asked about the coronavirus pandemic and the impact on the process, they both said that the lockdown actually helped as everyone was stuck at home. Around two-thirds of the limited partners that invested in Singular are based outside of France.
“These are historic VC investors. They really believe in tech — and Europe too. They have seen that Europe has been taking off for the past two or three years,” Kamber told me.
Just like a startup, Singular wanted to be backed by some well-known investors. And some of those investors are injecting money in a French VC fund for the first time. Limited partners include a mix of pension funds, funds of funds, sovereign funds and family offices.
Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, Bpifrance, Vintage Investment Partners, Axa Venture Partners, Sofina, MACSF and Mubadala Capital are some of Singular’s backers. Unless you’ve raised a VC fund in the past, you may discover some of those names for the first time. And yet, these investors are significant. For instance, while you might not be familiar with the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, they have over $200 billion in net assets.
Singular started closing investment deals around October 2020. So far, the company has invested in six different startups:
A Series B round in Gtmhub, an OKR management service
A Series B round in Indy, an accounting automation software suite
A Series A round in Soda, an enterprise-grade data monitoring platform
A seed round in Moka.care, a mental health solution for employees
A seed round in Resilience, a full-stack software approach to improve cancer treatment
Another undisclosed Series A round
It’s hard to find some common trends around this list of investments, but I’m going to help you. First, let’s start with the average check size.
“We are mostly focused on Series A/B because we think there’s a lot of room to grow at that stage,” Kamber said. And Singular can invest as much as €20 million in a single round ($23.6 million at today’s exchange rate).
When it comes to verticals, Singular openly says that it doesn’t want to focus on a specific area in particular. “We are a generalist fund and we are quite opportunistic,” Uzan said. Singular doesn’t want to choose between B2B and consumer, between AI and e-commerce, etc.
Where Singular stands out is that it has a unique approach to late-stage rounds. When a portfolio company reaches the Series C or Series D stage, Singular might not have enough money under management for infinite follow-on investments.
The VC firm didn’t want to raise its own late-stage fund. So Singular will be able to structure special-purpose investment vehicles with its limited partners. A few limited partners could put some money in this investment vehicle directly and the startup could accept to raise a new round with this new investment vehicle instead of a late-stage fund.
This way, Singular remains very much involved with the portfolio company in question. It could keep a board seat and have a say when it comes to the startup’s next phases.
It’s still too early to see how it would work in real life and it’s going to happen on a case-by-case basis. But the fact that Singular can offer that kind of investments is significant — it could be appealing for some entrepreneurs. You don’t have to accept it and you’re not tied with Singular forever, but the offer is on the table.
So that’s Singular — Eva Mayoud, Alexandre Flamant and Sonia Pélisson also joined the team. It’s not that often that a French VC firm starts from zero and raises a €225 million fund in a year. It’s going to be interesting to track the firm’s upcoming investments