Investor profile: Adrian Clarke, ‘Gen Z’ Investor and Board Member

Scott Law

Adrian Clarke is a millennial investor, and founded boutique investment firm Delarki Industries Ltd in 2014. Delarki invests in and manages a private investment portfolio that includes Real Estate, Food & Beverage and Technology assets in the UK, US, Bahamas and Hong Kong. On top of this he holds a number of board memberships and directorships and takes an active role in the companies he’s involved in. He has a BA Joint Honours degree in Philosophy and Spanish, is a Seed Investment Board member at Sway Ventures and helped set up their New York office. We spoke to Adrian about what it’s like to be a ‘Gen Z’ investor, and how this benefits his portfolio companies.

Having achieved a great deal in such a short space of time, can you tell us how you entered the world of investment and entrepreneurialism? And what was the initial attraction to this chosen career path?

I grew up in a family spirits business. From a very young age I was exposed to the inner workings of business and was always looking for ways to add value. When I finished senior school I realised that the best way to achieve this was to get involved in ventures that might prove beneficial to the family business in the future – both as an investor and as an entrepreneur.

Before this I wanted to be a sports agent. I love cricket and tennis in particular but it’s probably 90s film Jerry Maguire that sparked my initial dream. Alas, I didn’t go down that path, but business life is remarkably similar to cricket. Whereas a football match is over after 90 minutes, a cricket test match takes place over several days just like in business where a sustained effort over time is more likely to yield results than short bursts of focus. Not to mention you have to know which opportunities to leave and which ones to play to maximise your chances of success.

This way of thinking serves me well as a young investor. I prefer to be a strategic partner to the startups I work with. Someone who is in it for the long run and who brings expertise and access to an industry network along the way.

Can you give us an overview of your current projects and involvements?  

I am naturally interested in the Drinks industry and all that comes with it. My latest project is a Drinks project linked to Latin America, which has seen a surge in popularity lately. As it’s early days I can’t tell you too much, but we are planning to capitalise on the latest gastronomy trends and redefine the experience in the space.

We have also started to see 4D olfactory experiences making their mark within the Food & Drink industry. One of the companies I co-founded takes advantage of this trend with a product called Le Whaf. It uses ultrasound to generate droplets that float over your favourite broth, soup or drink. The droplets settle into a glass to create a sensation without mass or calories. It’s drinking without drinking, although both together obviously gives the best experience!

You have investment interests globally, across Europe, North America and Asia, are there fundamental differences between how these geographies approach start-ups/tech investment?

Yes, I co-founded and am the director of Hong Kong-based Mind Max, which opened its first bar Charcoal in 2016. I also sit on the board of Accelerated IT Ventures, a New York-based VC firm, where I act as an advisor and mediator between the firm and portfolio startup companies.

Working across these regions, it’s clear that cultural differences impact the way people approach business in general, not just startups. Deals tend to move along at a much slower pace the further east you go. In Hong Kong and many other Asian countries visitors like myself also need to show respect by observing the many cultural practices in order to establish trust and develop business relationships. For example, bringing gifts to hosts, being punctual and the order in which you greet people.

Culturally, the US is much closer to the UK but they tend to skip over the niceties in business preferring to get straight to the point. This is also reflected in their approach to startup investments. It’s generally easier for US startups to raise money at the start to support high growth in order to penetrate the entire market before revenue comes into play. In Europe the focus is on revenue generation so growth tends to be slower.

What do you feel are the key benefits of being a “Gen Z” investor? And, how can this benefit your portfolio companies? 

People tend to underestimate the youngest at the table, which I often am. They will naturally expect you to be inexperienced but I have learned to use this to my advantage.

Aside from the threshold to impress founders and fellow investors being lower, younger investors can also persuasively make the claim they deserve a seat at the table to give themselves opportunities to learn. For older investors board seats may come at a higher price.

Of course people will still try to take advantage – in terms of time or capital – so you have to know your worth. I try to be crystal clear from the outset what my role in the company will be. If one were to contribute to the operations of the company beyond making introductions to relevant partners, then it’s not unreasonable to request a better deal than the other passive investors in the round. It’s a win-win for the startup and me.

What makes a company investable to you? And, what type of companies would you like to hear from? 

I would like to hear from startups within the Drinks industry in particular. Drinking culture is very firmly established, which makes the spirits industry less likely to see viably disruptive innovation.

Therefore, a drinks startup, perhaps more than any other startup, needs a phenomenal team behind it that has identified an opportunity and can execute it correctly.

A company can make itself more investable when they show a clear understanding of marketing and distribution. If the startup team has already some work towards building and capitalising on marketing and distribution connections, then they will look far more interesting to investors.

What’s next for you? And what are your long-term career goals?

My immediate focus is to successfully launch my latest Latin American-inspired venture while continuing to support my other business interests.

On a personal level, I believe that in life we never stop learning. I will soon take up my place on the MBA programme at Harvard Business School, which I expect will stand me in a good stead throughout my future career.

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