Investor Spotlight: James Lette, Executive Director of MAIN
By: Samantha Ignacio
MAIN.ph, also known as the Manila Angel Investors Network, is a group of investors who came together to find and vet deals in the local Filipino startup landscape. These angel investors provide funding, mentoring and support for early-stage startups, investing not only part of their personal assets but also providing industry tips and tricks for entrepreneurs to further ensure the success of their companies. We spoke with MAIN Executive Director James Lette to look into MAIN’s involvement in shaping the Philippine startup community.
Diving into Angel Investing
While James currently helps run the operations of MAIN, he did not come from a traditional finance background. Originally, he began his career working with communities to help them address local challenges to improve community resilience and received several industry awards for his work. For over 25 years he has worked with international organizations and the private sector in Asia, Europe, the South Pacific, Africa, and Australia.
James Lette speaking at the Interspace Pitch Rally event
“When I arrived in the Philippines, I was introduced to some of the members of MAIN. When they explained what they do, and the impact they were having, I knew I wanted to get involved,” James shared.
MAIN’s impact in the local startup community
MAIN was formed to support the Philippines' startup ecosystem by connecting investors with promising, early-stage companies. On top of providing capital, they also mentor entrepreneurs, share expertise, and open networks. MAIN offers a variety of start-up mentoring and support services, and will soon commence ‘Office Hours’, providing startups with the mentoring and assistance to make them investment-ready.
MAIN holds quarterly General Membership Meetings
“MAIN was started because of a desire in the local business community to invest in early-stage technology startups. However back in 2016 when MAIN was formed, it was challenging to do this as an individual. One needed to write large cheques, and it was hard to get a seat at the table unless startups knew who you were. So MAIN came together as a group of investors from around the world. Investing as a group also permits portfolio diversification, which is a way of minimizing risks. Plus it’s always more fun to work in groups!” James explained. “The group now has a robust deal sourcing process enabling access to the best early-stage companies in the Philippines, backed by the due diligence expertise of experienced angel investors and business leaders”.
Founded in 2016, MAIN is now the largest committed private investor network in the Philippines to date. They only started with 5 people, and are now fast approaching 70 members and counting.
Members of MAIN all go through a vetting process that includes the endorsement of a current member and various meetings within the network to ensure that the prospect meets the standards of the organization. “They need to understand the risks involved and they must have the capacity to invest,” James explained. As an active investment group, members must commit to deploying a minimum amount of capital per year. The group has invested approximately USD$1 million in 6 startups over the last 18 months.
MAIN intentionally seeks to support impact enterprises, looking for positive social and environmental impact alongside a financial return, and when the pipeline permits, holds impact investment focused investment meetings. “Our members believe that fostering this innovative startup ecosystem will benefit both our members’ portfolios and the Philippines’ growth”, added James.
The Hunt for Ventures
When looking for ventures to invest in, MAIN does thorough screening in order to ensure that they find companies with great potential. Just like any other investment group, they look at the “big idea” of startups, and whether it is something that they think would succeed. But a larger part of their decision-making process is dictated by the team and their ability to implement. As James puts it, “there are very few original ideas in the world, so it all boils down to execution and grit.”
They don’t just go with any team, they choose the team that they think is the best of the best and the team with the highest chances of succeeding in the market. “We are early-stage or seed investors, so we don’t really need large revenues. But we do need some sort of comfort that the ventures we choose have found a product-market fit so they can necessarily earn revenues. It needs to be more than just an idea,” James explained.
For more information about MAIN and their portfolio, you may visit their website here.