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Marc Steven Schröder of MGV: “You have to genuinely care about the founder”

Before making a VC investment I’m looking for 5 specific things from the founder. I use the metaphor that startup founders are like the captain at the helm of a ship. They must be able to brave fierce storms with bravery and conviction, but be humble enough to adjust course as needed. They also must […]

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Before making a VC investment I’m looking for 5 specific things from the founder. I use the metaphor that startup founders are like the captain at the helm of a ship. They must be able to brave fierce storms with bravery and conviction, but be humble enough to adjust course as needed. They also must be capable of making the tough decisions expected of a leader while being able to motivate a crew that has their livelihoods on the line. On top of all that, they must have the personal drive to continue with confidence and persistence. So to summarize all of those, what I look for before making a VC investment is a founder who is brave, humble, decisive, motivational and infinitely driven.


As part of our series about “5 Things I Need To See Before Making A VC Investment” I had the pleasure of interviewing Marc Steven Schröder.

As the Managing Partner of MGV, Marc is focused on working with world-class tech entrepreneurs and establishing the MGV legacy. Having founded a successful HR and staffing agency that served all of Germany, Marc has a deep background in building and mentoring highly motivated, successful teams. Before Co-Founding MGV, Marc served as the Head of Global Sales at the Maschmeyer Group and was an investor at Seed + Speed Ventures. Originally from the Netherlands, Marc grew up in South Africa and graduated with a law degree from Bertolt-Brecht University.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you please share with us the “backstory” behind what brought you to this specific career path?

I was born in Holland and I currently live in Munich, Germany. My father was a cardiothoracic surgeon and at the time everyone wanted to operate with Christiann Barnard, the first surgeon to successfully transplant a human heart. He was based in Cape Town, South Africa, and was hiring surgeons. Instead of sending in his resume like everyone else, my father made the decision to fly down to Cape Town to interview in person. That personal touch and display of effort was enough to earn him the job, so he moved family to Cape Town. I lived there until I was 13, but when the Apartheid regime luckily fell and my parents were worried about political instability and the effect on my future and as a result, they decided to move the family to Munich, Germany. After finishing my school there, I went to law school, during which I founded an HR startup -not even knowing the term startup then- where I found great people to fill part-time jobs. The company was profitable from the start and I grew it to 1.7m dollars in revenue per year while still going to law school. We staffed everything from drivers to au pairs for notable celebrities like Steffi Graf, Andre Agassi, and the German actress Veronica Ferres. Veronica and I became good friends and remain close to this day. Veronica eventually introduced me to self-made German billionaire, Carsten Maschmeyer, who I met and became close with over the course of two years. When I finished law school he convinced me to sell my company and -together with a few others- we started what we call today the Maschmeyer Group. At first, we were a pure sales organization that serviced the largest financial institutions in Germany. Over time, we began investing in growing tech companies in Germany. This was something that I had been interested in for a while & eventually the Maschmeyer Group grew into an investment company that covers everything from seed to growth investments in Germany across two investment vehicles based out of Berlin and Munich. Since 2017, I’ve dedicated myself to expanding our presence into the US startup scene with MGV where I and the entire team focus completely on identifying, mentoring and guiding some of the most exciting young US tech companies and their Founders.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

How to Win Friends and Influence People is one of my all time favorite books and I recommend that everyone read it. As you can imagine, German / US culture are extremely different. In Germany you could go eat at a bar or restaurant alone for months without starting a conversation, let alone expand your network. One thing I love about the US is that the mindset is completely the opposite in many ways. I love being able to walk into a place where I know no one and come out friends with a bunch of interesting people. All the best things in my life have happened because of the people I’ve met in life, friendships I’ve been lucky enough to build and maintain. When you look back at your life, it won’t be the car, the watch, the house, it’ll be the people that touched your life that matter.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

I’m a huge believer in the power of teams and it’s something I stress to every MGV founder as well as my team. “Together everyone achieves more” is not only a great acronym, but it’s something that I truly believe. The one thing I’ve learned throughout my professional experience is that teams are essential not only for the growth of companies, but also to the personal growth of their founders, teams and even investors. The founders MGV invests in are part of our team and we are a part of theirs. Markets may change, customer behaviour may change, circumstances may change, products will need to be adapted, but the Founder stays! Together we achieve more!

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I define leadership through the metaphor of a captain sailing a ship on a long journey. There will be storms, hardships and challenges along the way and the captain’s ability to navigate the ship, motivate the crew and make hard decisions is essential to the survival of everyone onboard. To succeed at the task, a leader must listen deeply, unite widely and act boldly. One great example of this is Alyson [Friedensohn] Watson, the CEO and Founder of Modern Health. I knew as soon as I met her that she had the ability to listen deeply and understand her environment, the humility to unite teams widely and hire experts that surpass her in particular skill sets at the same time as possessing the fierce confidence to act boldly. This is a difficult combination of character traits for any human to achieve, but I think it’s the optimum formula for successful leadership.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I live by the motto, “Leave people better than you found them” and that’s how I look at building my team, investing in founders and interacting with the world. It’s important to me that my interactions with people leave them better than I found them and the reason I love my position at MGV is that I’m able to do that every day.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main part of our discussion. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share a few things that need to be done on a broader societal level to expand VC opportunities for women, minorities, and people of color?

The team at MGV recently looked into this when a founder put us to the test asking directly about our diversity in the portfolio. To be honest, we had never really looked at this important aspect with a quantitative eye and our research not only pleasantly surprised us and the founder asking us the question, but it also reaffirmed the value in the MGV investment strategy. For some context, the industry average amongst VCs currently shows that 2.2% of VC funding goes to female founders and that 13% of VC backed companies have female CEOs. At MGV, 17% of our investment dollars have gone to female founders and 25% of our companies have female CEOs. Now, as much as I’d like to take credit for intentionally selecting a bunch of female founders, the truth is that I’m 100% dedicated to finding founders who I believe in, regardless of race, sex, religion, etc. The data we found reaffirms the fact that extremely high levels of quality in female leadership exists and that they will rise to the top based on their merit. I believe our portfolio is amongst the most diverse in the space because we follow these values and because these values have guided my decisions on hiring the diverse team we have at MGV as well.

Can you share a story with us about your most successful Angel or VC investment? What was its lesson?

One example that comes to mind is Modern Health and the company’s amazing CEO and Co-founder, Alyson [Friedensohn] Watson. I met Alyson at a Y Combinator event and we quickly became friends. Alyson exemplifies what I look for in a Founder — I immediately recognized her infinite drive, humility, her capacity for leadership and, most importantly, the contagious energy that motivates the people around her. Now Modern Health boasts a 500M dollars + valuation and is on track to be one of the next Silicon Valley unicorns. The lesson here is that VCs have to be founder-focused and that in the world of spray-and-pray early-stage VC, it actually pays to slow down and focus on quality founders over a large quantity of investments.

You have to genuinely care about the founder — it’s all about that conviction you get when you look them in the eye and you know that they’ll fight for their success. They must also be able to recognize their weaknesses to achieve the optimum balance. Founders who are unable to recognize their weaknesses often try to take on jobs better left to others and the company suffers.

Can you share a story of an Angel or VC funding failure of yours? What was its lesson?

One specific company comes to mind from early in my career. As with all the founders I invest in, I’d developed a close friendship with this particular founder but that friendship resulted in me being too lenient with them and I put good money after bad due to pride. I learned that sometimes not investing can be the best investment and I didn’t pull that lifeline when I knew I should have, writing one more check without the conviction I usually bring to these decisions. The lesson I’d tell other investors is to listen to yourself and have conviction in your opinions even when they might hurt some feelings. The most valuable conversations are often the most difficult and removing pride in order to get to that place of conviction, though challenging, is essential.

Can you share a story with us about a problem that one of your portfolio companies encountered and how you helped to correct the problem? We’d love to hear the details and what its lesson was.

Every startup has the same issue: sales. That’s why I insist on providing every MGV founder sales training. Every founder has to be able to sell — and not just to customers. Founders must sell the company every day to investors, new hires and the team. The best founders are able to convince the smartest, most talented people in the world to work for them and no one else, so being able to sell the company to anyone any time is an essential part of the equation. So, founders, no matter how awesome your company is you’ll need to master selling it and you better figure out how to do that early on!

Is there a company that you turned down, but now regret? Can you share the story? What lesson did you learn from that story?

Without naming any specific companies, the message for VCs here is that it’s not about regret or missed opportunities, it’s about failure. I insist that failure is something good. Missing a deal can be a good thing because there are valuable lessons in there. The most valuable lessons come from failure, so when we miss a deal we celebrate the opportunity to reassess our process, perspective and outlook. Asking hard questions about why we turned the deal down or didn’t participate can lead to finding the next amazing deal so I’m always excited when these types of failures happen because I know that we are on the path to success in the future.

Super. Here is the main question of this interview. What are your “5 things I need to see before making a VC investment” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Before making a VC investment I’m looking for 5 specific things from the founder. I use the metaphor that startup founders are like the captain at the helm of a ship. They must be able to brave fierce storms with bravery and conviction, but be humble enough to adjust course as needed. They also must be capable of making the tough decisions expected of a leader while being able to motivate a crew that has their livelihoods on the line. On top of all that, they must have the personal drive to continue with confidence and persistence. So to summarize all of those, what I look for before making a VC investment is a founder who is brave, humble, decisive, motivational and infinitely driven.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

As a Kaufman Fellow, I want to inspire a movement of mentorship. I want to inspire people to leverage their influence to invest in the next generation. It’s my lifelong goal to be a core part of helping the next generation succeed, bring meaning to their lives and to install the ethos of growth through teamwork and self-reflection. It’s simple on the surface, but if everyone took this lesson to heart and set out to mentor those around them the world would be a better place. This is well within the grasp of anyone with knowledge or perspective to share and the willingness to listen. When I see the world today, I hope the future is less about competing with each other and more about helping each other succeed. Together Everyone Achieves More.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

Instead of a private lunch or dinner, I’d love to have a beet with The Rock AKA Duane Johnson. He embodies so much of what I strive to achieve and seems to be an overall champion of good in the world. He’s a smart businessman, mentor to those around him and brings a positive, motivational energy to everything he touches. If you’re reading this, Duane, look me up! I’d be happy to share a fine ice chilled Teremana Tequila with you and talk about ways we can make the world a better place!

This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.

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