Successful startup founders rely on mentors to guide them. When that mentor is an investor, too, startups get a real powerhouse partner. One of our favorite mentor-investors is Hayati Molinas, who goes above and beyond the usual expectations of a mentor or an investor and has been an essential part of Sente's success over the years. We talked with Hayati about mentorship, investing, startups, and more.
Describe your career path before becoming a mentor-investor.
After graduating from college as a chemical engineer, I started working for Unilever. I eventually became the sales and marketing director for the Industrial products department. I left Unilever in 1996 and co-founded a foodservice distribution company. In 2009, my foodservice company partnered with the largest private equity firm in the country. Eventually, in 2015, I sold the food service company to a billion-dollar consumer food conglomerate and fully exited the business.
How did your career lead you to work with startups?
Microsoft invited me to one of their pitch days in 2013 In Israel. I ended up investing in a digital health company. Immediately after that pitch event, one of the co-investors in the digital health company contacted me and invited me to join their VC fund specializing in digital health. I have been part of the startup world ever since then!
What stage of startup do you prefer working with, and why?
In the beginning, I preferred to invest in pre-seed or seed-level startups. There were two main reasons for that. The first was to maximize the income multiples in the exit, and the second was to invest a small amount of money in many startups and diversify my portfolio. Then in 2018, I changed my investment strategy and started to invest in post-seed rounds in companies that already started generating revenue. I made the shift to lower the risk to my portfolio by reducing the number of companies going bankrupt, and I believe I can make a bigger impact at later stages.
You're known as a very hands-on investor. How do you leverage your experience in growing, leading, and exiting a business in your board memberships and angel investments in startups?
I really like being a hands-on investor. When you have experience with both growing and exiting companies, it is much easier to mentor the CEO. Most Founders and CEOs appreciate this approach. They want to work closely with investors they believe can add value to their leadership capabilities and growth journey.
In addition, my experience running a logistics business has come in handy when working with startups. I can quickly diagnose where the unit economics of a business needs to be improved. My background makes me aware of red flags in the operations and the choices being made. So I can give high-level strategic advice and dig in a bit more than a typical investor.
How hands-on I am varies. Some leaders want weekly meetings to teach them how to set up their growth machine. Others feel much more comfortable discussing things monthly or at quarterly board meetings. With startups where I am not a board member, I usually connect via email and try to call or visit at least twice a year to discuss trends and opportunities.
How did you come to work with Sente, and why did you join our team?
I heard about Sente through my business connections, and we had a mutual interest in investing in early-stage startups across the globe.
I wanted to work with the Sente team because I was impressed with your ability to scout startups from around the world. Sente properly facilitates and executes the whole process. Managing the entire process is really difficult and expensive for a single angel investor, but with Sente, all I have to do is sign on the dotted line. I also appreciate Sente's approach to the post-investment period. Sente updates their investors about the startups' journey until the investor exits. You don't see that very often.
What do you see happening in innovation and investing in the next 3-5 years?
In the next 3-5 years, I think AI will be a mainstream technology, and almost everything will rely on AI. We'll see this in fintech and digital health with the addition of staff innovation roles. I am also very excited to invest more in mobility, like new business models that come from electric vehicles and the digitization of logistics and transportation.