HomeInterviewsOxx, Interview With Principal Gökçe Ceylan

Oxx, Interview With Principal Gökçe Ceylan

Oxx Principal Gökçe Ceylan
Oxx Principal Gökçe Ceylan

Gökçe Ceylan, Principal at venture capital firm OXX, replied to our questions about herself, the firm and its overall investment strategy and shared with us some thoughts about the tech and business world.

VCWire: Hi Gökçe, can you please tell us a bit more about you? What’s your background? 

I began my career in venture capital after studying Operations Research and Financial Engineering, and interning at a consulting firm, investment bank, and retail bank. I joined a pre-seed B2B tech fund in Turkey, as employee number 1, where I was involved in everything from sourcing to fundraising. It was an incredible experience right out of university.

After two years, I transitioned to working as the right hand to the Global CEO at one of the largest conglomerates in Turkey, shadowing him in all portfolio company board meetings and working on new B2B business models. Our annual innovation budget was significantly larger than my previous fund, so it gave me a broad exposure to a high number of ventures across multiple industries.

I then moved to Amsterdam to follow my then boyfriend (and now husband) as he was starting a new role there. I worked at an international bank, but was itching to go back to the entrepreneurial side the entire time. In 2018, we relocated to London, where I joined Koru Kids, a childcare tech company, as employee number 13. It was an intense, hands-on experience as we scaled rapidly after finding product-market fit.

Then, seeking a balance between investment and operational roles, I joined Deloitte Ventures. There I explored new business models for consulting, working with clients to validate problems and design B2B SaaS solutions. After three years, I felt ready to come full circle back to venture capital, to ‘come home’, and joined Oxx in 2021, where I was recently made Principal.

That’s all to say, in my career, I have had the benefit of exploring both operator and investor roles, which has given me the fundamental insight of an operator, with the business mindset of an investor.

VCWire: Can you introduce your firm? 

Absolutely! Founded in 2017, Oxx is a venture capital firm co-founded by our General Partners Mikael Johnsson and Richard Anton, with the singular mission to furnish the support, expertise and network to help scale SaaS companies working in the B2B space. Beginning with Mikael and Richard – who had previously worked together for roughly 10 years before starting their own firm – Oxx is now a team of about 15 self-proclaimed ‘SaaS geeks’. Our investments focus on European and Israeli B2B SaaS companies at the scale-up stage, with offices in both Stockholm and London, which is where I am based. 

VCWire: Which is your overall strategy (geo/amount/sectors)?

Essentially our strategy is to discover and invest in the most promising emerging SaaS companies in Europe, whilst they are still at the Go-To-Market fit stage. This is when they begin to have a predictable acquisition, retention and upsell of customers. Our aim is to invest in industries which are ‘hype-resistant’ – avoiding temporary trends – because we are looking to back solutions with a strong impact over time. Alongside this, we are relatively sector agnostic. 

All our investments are around the $5-10m mark, and tend to have a real product depth to their work. We partner with companies in both the application and infrastructure layer, so both software for business users, and technical tools for developers or data practitioners. 

VCWire: Beyond capital, how do you support startups?  

Oxx takes a tailored approach to investing in a portfolio of companies we believe we can best help to grow. We only invest in around 10 or 12 companies per fund, enabling our whole investment team to work closely and share their expertise with each company throughout their growth. Our aim is to provide what the team needs, when they need it. In particular, Oxx supports companies at the emerging go-to-market-fit stage, as it’s where we are most proficient, and this is where we place most of our attention in the first few years working with a company. 

Activities include adjusting positioning, refining messaging, or even exploring new channels with the company. Do take a look at our ‘Go-To-Market Fit’ toolkit which is updated regularly as we gain new learning from working with each company in our portfolio. 

A large part of our work is also introducing new team members to our portfolio companies, in particular CXOs. Our wide international network gives us the reach to identify the best talent to help a new company get to the next level. In fact, there hasn’t been a single company that I worked with at Oxx where we haven’t actively supported the company with the recruitment of key roles such as CRO, CFO, Independent Board Member, VP of Ops, etc.

Finally, we frequently support teams to expand into the US, a goal which typically goes hand in hand with the funding they receive from us. We work in partnership with the team to hone their positioning for a US market, to a certain degree de-risk the US entry and expansion execution by sharing all our learnings from having worked with multiple companies who have been on that journey, connect them with downstream investors for the next round of fundraising, and try to prepare them for the road ahead – the good and the bad – based on what we have learned from our previous experience in expanding companies stateside. 

VCWire: What do you like to see in founders?….And what don’t you like to see in them? I mean, is there something which impresses you at a first glance?  

I’d describe myself as more introverted than your typical outgoing VC, which is why I can’t wait to fast forward to the stage of the relationship where everyone knows and feels we are on the same team. For me, I’m keen to skip the top-level conversions: ‘hi, this is what we do and why we are so great’. I would much rather get stuck into deep discussions: the good, the bad and the ugly. That could also be why I’m more drawn to straight shooter founders, those who demonstrate high self-awareness, presenting a fair and sober picture of the world. I think it’s also partly related to me having grown up in Turkey, a country that’s a lot more volatile from an economic and political perspective in comparison to European countries. There, I’ve developed a deep appreciation for entrepreneurs who are incredibly resilient and when faced with adversity show a great deal of resourcefulness and creativity. They tend to have a clear head and down-to-earth nature, which I would look for in a founder.

VCWire: Please, tell us a bit more about the portfolio. You can list five startups whose paths have made you particularly proud of.            

Across both Fund I and Fund II, Oxx has twelve active companies across Europe and Israel. 

I’ll be guilty of personal favorites and recency bias here:

  • Our latest partnership – SOCRadar is on a mission to democratise proactive cyber risk management against all external threat factors  for a more secure digital world. They are following a disruptive go-to-market strategy with an enterprise grade, top-quality product, uniquely positioning them to address a globally distributed, and underserved customer segment. Founded in late 2019, the company has scaled to over 25,000 freemium and more than 600 paid users across 150+ countries. They had only raised $5m in Series A funding when we met them, and we were lucky enough to join their $25m Series B round led by PeakSpan, US investor, earlier this year. They’re now doubling down on their US expansion, growth through MSSPs, and AI strategy.
  • The very first deal I worked on at Oxx  – Crunchr is a people analytics solution, enabling data driven decision making. Founder and CEO Dirk has guided Crunchr to develop the world’s most intuitive enterprise platform for self-service people analytics, HR dashboards, and strategic workforce planning. Using Crunchr, large enterprises get a clear picture of what’s really happening in their workforce and organization. Crunchr’s platform has been adopted by companies around the world including MetLife, Booking, AkzoNobel and many more to support their tens of thousands of employees. Originally HQ’d in Amsterdam, they’ve launched and been growing in the US post our investment to respond to the strong demand pull from the region. 

VCWire: Which sector/s would you bet 2 cents on in the next five years?  

The first one I’ll say is cybersecurity – we believe that cybersecurity will remain critical whilst expanding down market, so the new wave of cyber solutions that address the needs of SMEs and mid-market leveraging new distribution models for access to customers, and AI and automation for scalability is very interesting. Our investments in Cybersmart and SOCRadar are great examples of this thesis.

For the second one, if I don’t mention AI today, am I even a VC investor? But the sub-segment I’ll highlight as a European B2B SaaS investor is AI solutions that enable companies to overcome barriers to AI adoption, particularly in security, privacy, and governance. You’ll come across many articles (and memes) suggesting that when it comes to AI, Europe is leading in regulations, so I believe Europe-born companies will have an edge over their international counterparts in these areas. (So what might seem as a disadvantage can be an advantage if you approach it from the right angle.)