Elio Leoni Sceti is one of the two founders of The Craftory, the idiosyncratically named venture capital fund focused on ‘challenger’ brands.
Investing in cause-driven CPG brands with a positive impact is not a brand-new concept, but The Craftory has turned the concept itself into a brand. Prior to its foundation, Leoni Sceti had a long career in corporate management – primarily in fast-moving consumer goods – and, later, as CEO of the EMI Group.
‘My background is in marketing; I am a brand guy.’
Ever the debonair Italian with a disarming smile, Leoni Sceti represents a fusion of accomplished competence, a nous for investing in zeitgeist propositions and building them into brands. The accent is still there but not immediately detectable because, in his long career, he has lived in seven countries and raised a family of four children with his American wife.
Born and raised in Rome to a Roman father and a Sicilian mother, Leoni Sceti began his career with Proctor&Gamble in Paris, followed by a management position at Reckitt Benckiser. In a corporate career spanning 3 decades he built brands in 50 different markets and sits on the board of several CPG companies.
In 2018, he founded The Craftory along with American-born serial entrepreneur/investor Ernesto Schmitt (who was CMO at EMI at the time Elio was CEO) and set up shop in Piccadilly. I ask why London in particular.
‘London is exciting, both culturally and business-wise; it has exceptional people and a great talent pool. Although Brexit has had a negative impact on how things function and detracted from people’s sense of curiosity about all things unfamiliar – a hugely important attribute in my view – we still feel there is an alignment with our business ethos and concept here.’
The idea of The Craftory was based on the realisation that many major brands are losing touch with consumers who are increasingly prioritising value and cause-driven consumer goods. Increasingly, consumers opt for consumer goods that are healthy, good for the environment and for society at large.
The Craftory positioned itself as the first investment house for consumable CPG brands focused on a mission to make their category better for people, planet or society. These brands build consumer communities of shared values, and the brands themselves embody these values. The Craftory calls them ‘challenger brands’.
They are typically big enough to achieve significant scale and more importantly, to make the difference they profess to strive for. The investment goal, then, is to grow them enough so that when they are bought out (and absorbed into a corporate behemoth) they won’t lose their impact and individuality in the process.
The concept of a cause-driven investment house (as opposed to a time-limited investment fund), with a permanent capital, attracted sufficient interest to raise a £400m to start and an additional £20m since.
How does one find a brand worth investing in? Leoni Sceti credits his cofounder and team with creating a ‘magic box’ of information – drwaing from ‘real’ retail data and ‘tech/online’ data – on brands that meet the investment criteria. This informs the team on which brands are growing in any given trade channel or country, or are generating a large online buzz; and what consumers like and prefer to purchase from.
The Craftory has a very well-defined investment strategy, which helps with the process.
‘With The Craftory, we’ve created an investment brand that speaks about what we do.
‘We have a number or criteria: The brand has to be a consumable CPG, a brand driven by ESG first and foremost, with that claim on the front label (as opposed to on the back label); it has to have consumer traction translating to yearly sales of £20m plus; and a CEO/founder/leadership team we feel we can back, rather than want to change.
‘The company needs to have brand power and a clear message as a consumer reference. We want “brands with a blade”, because a sharp blade edge drives recognition. We also need to see the potential of financial returns of at least five times the initial investment.
‘We typically take a 20-60% stake with the aim of exiting our entire position at some stage. So far, we have not exited any of our investments.
‘On day one we were joined by a group of 3 investors and our uniqueness – our “own blade” – is to have a dedicated team of expert craft partners, with operational experience in brand building, digital amplification, innovation, strategy and scale up, as well as ESG. We partner operationally, which distinguishes us from run of the mill investors.
‘I am fully invested in The Craftory brands because I am fanatic about embracing what you sell, what you know and understand.’
Elio’s cousin, a former banker, is his partner in LSG Holdings, a family office in the same Piccadilly building. LSG’s focus is on wealth management and property, more specifically building a portfolio of senior living accommodation.
Leoni Sceti identified a gap in the sector of residential property for 55 year olds and over; LSG addresses the needs of that rapidly expanding demographic. It is currently developing 150 units outside of London, across various regions in the UK.
The family office is also invested in the Progeny Group, a £5b plus wealth platform in the UK, and recently invested in very early-stage research & tech transfer in Italy. Through Scientifica Venture Capital, LSG acts as an incubator and a champion of Italian ideas in Advanced materials, AI, Advanced manufacturing and Quantum tech.
Elio is, in common with all eminently successful people we interview, a discreet but active philanthropist. He is the UK chair of Room to Read, and a founding counsellor and trustee of One Young World.
Ultimately, and in common with all Italians, he is the quintessential family man. A few months before this interview he took part in the Mongol Derby, partnering with his daughter. It is the longest and toughest equestrian race in the world. The 1000km course recreates the horse messenger system developed by Genghis Khan in 1224.
Participants, who train for a year prior, spend thirteen to fourteen hours a day in the saddle for a week, riding semi-wild Mongolian horses. His daughter finished the race, an accomplishment that few achieve.
‘I have come to appreciate the adage that the scarcest resource is time.
‘At this stage in my life, I tend to interact primarily with the people I like and love. It is important to me that my contribution to my environment is positive, that I enhance it, and have fun at the same time.’