John Kells Co-Managing Partner

With a relentless appetite for seeking out inspirational opportunities, a drive to empower companies to ‘create the future’ and a deep-seated passion for multi-faceted teams, meet John Kells…

Why venture capital?

“The real question is – why not sooner? I spent 14 years in the UK working for one of the largest hedge funds in the world as a front office Equity Analyst. I held what many would call a ‘dream role’, yet I wasn’t passionate about what I was doing.

At Tesco Pension Investment, I was privileged to influence a fast growing $14b dollar scheme which meant we could be more risk seeking than most. I ended up managing NZD3 billion of that and invested in a large number of the best VC firms in the world.

Over a period of eight years, I traveled the breadth of the US, Europe and Asia absorbing how these firms operate and their approach to closely supporting the founder journey right through to exit. I was involved in investing in some incredible VCs who went on to invest in some of the world’s most well-known success stories, including DocuSign and Fitbit (with Scale Venture Partners); HubSpot (with Scale); Pipedrive (with Atomico); and others.

I was instantly hooked on the relentless pursuit of inspirational opportunities and started to actively angel invest in my free time, going on to found my own company when I returned to New Zealand before my transition into VC five years ago.

There’s really nothing that compares to being a VC, especially within an incredible fast-moving tech ecosystem. The true value of each of the companies we invest in lies in their teams who must face constant challenges, self-doubt, and relentless pace head on…but it’s incredible to be a part of the journey and witness their real-time value creation across product, team and the forging of a team culture.

It’s empowering to actively support resilient founders on their journey and it’s never been a more exciting time to be a tech founder and a VC in New Zealand!”

More importantly, why GD1?

“With career experience spanning VC investment, angel investing, and being a founder, I was ready to join a VC where I had the ability to influence the company’s direction and get involved at every level of the organisation. GD1 is a team of super smart, intelligent individuals who don’t hold back; and where we encourage everyone to use all of their skills to add value to our portfolio companies. I love this approach of going ‘all in’ and investing through a global lens – and I believe it’s an essential part of our success.”

What do you do at GD1, 9-5?

“No one day matches the other. Meeting with potential portfolio companies to understand their company leadership, culture and what makes their solution unique to customers is critical; and we’re still raising our fund, which means pitching to investors. A lot of my time is spent on strategic insight for portfolio companies; and doing whatever it takes to help them succeed. I also help manage the company’s team of nine incredible people. I love it that we are growing our team and adding capability!”

What makes a good VC Partner?

“I believe the best VCs offer a diverse mix of Partners with unique skills, international experiences and backgrounds – and that this has a seriously additive effect on the team. GD1 has made a conscious choice to guard against homogeny; against taking a single-lens view of things. I consider the GD1 team as a close family but each one of us is completely different – and there’s alchemy in that mix. What we do have in common is that each of us has been a founder. We’ve ‘walked the walk’ and can offer a deep level of empathy and understanding because we’ve all been there ourselves. These kinds of lessons are unique to New Zealand VC.”

What’s your superpower?

“Apart from being analytical by nature, I believe that I have the ability to put people at ease. I treat everyone like a friend – because it’s the best way to have a genuine authentic conversation. People matter. When people feel at ease; they don’t need to be guarded and you can get to the heart of a matter far more quickly.”

What gets you up in the morning?

“Not coffee! I have a really active mind and get up at the crack of dawn. I’m happiest when I’m engaging with something, so quite often that means getting on my bike, tackling the hills, going for a run, or even reading. It’s all about momentum, and the minute the day breaks, I like to find mine.”

If you won the lotto, what would you do?

“I wouldn’t stop working for GD1! I have always made it a priority to support those in need, so I’d ramp up my charitable giving; and I’d probably invest in loads more promising local tech companies with global ambition…”

What would you say to someone wanting a career in venture capital?

“Start a company and/or start investing. In short: get involved! The more you put on the line; the more you learn, so get amongst it! Never fear making mistakes, in fact celebrate them as well as your successes. And make it a priority to spend time with people from unique walks of life, and those who are smarter than you.”