Giving and taking as an investor

Giving and taking as an investor

The ultimate act of giving as an investor is of course when you wire money. Hopefully you give a lot more over time by helping the entrepreneur a long the way.

But as an investor you also do a lot of taking. It starts with shares. But it goes on with reporting requirements, board meetings (although they should be giving opportunities), info requests, LP conference attendance for CEOs, the (hopefully only) occasional wrong opinion / advice, etc. It can be a long list.

Nearly everything in life and business is about giving and taking. But every now and then as an investor you need to step back and check whether you are giving or taking more. And if you ain’t doing a lot of giving, you may want to slow down on the taking part too.

I think net-giving is the best long-term strategy for investors.

Entrepreneurship is the new normal in Europe

Entrepreneurship is the new normal in Europe

A few weeks ago the folks at the factory put together a great pop-up (as you do these days) tech conference called Startup Europe Conference. Lots of people came from all over Europe – an ecosystem of increasingly connected dots.

What stuck with me though was something Christophe Maire said in passing. He probably didn’t think much of it; I’ve been thinking about it a lot since then. He said, “you know, entrepreneurship is now the new normal in Europe.”

Christophe is right; something has changed over the last 1-2 years and we didn’t notice it. Thinking about it, the attitude has developed like this over the years:

  • Wow we’re a [Berlin / Stockholm / London / etc] startup
  • Wow we’re a startup
  • Wow we’re solving this really big problem

And politicians, media, non-tech folks have started admiring their local scenes and celebrating them. It’s not a freak show any longer.

Don’t get me wrong – there is so much left to do; but I like this new normal.

The panel at the conference was a few weeks back and I’m not even sure what we were talking about. But I do know it was called “50 Shades of Green” and was fun:

Europe, it’s time to kick off the blockchain revolution

Even in the tech community there are a few people left that think that the blockchain is something you lock your bike with (and oddly enough, they would be right if you assumed a connected smart-lock that uses the blockchain!).

Don’t get me wrong – there are some great teams out there across Europe building blockchain apps / services and investors willing to back these folks real early. But there should be 10x more on both sides.

Right now I am thinking how we can help more to get this thing started in Europe. We are putting our money where are mouth is and have backed our first team recently (enabling market places on the blockchain) and I hope we do a lot more soon. I’m encouraging every first time entrepreneur to look at the blockchain closely. I have the same conversation with entrepreneurs in between companies. I’m thinking how our existing companies can embrace the blockchain. I need to do more.

The media needs to shed more light on this – we need to talk to them. Our politicians should embrace the blockchain for government services; create a competitive environment regarding the ability to use blockchain within the legal system etc. We need to

The Lisbon Awakening

The Lisbon Awakening

Man was I in a bad mood when I touched down in Lisbon. The last days had been stressful, a comically bad Bayern team were well beaten by Porto the evening before and I had to leave my home at 4am to catch the flight.

Well Lisbon sure did change my mood quickly. I went from grumpy cat to curiosity to extreme enthusiasm within a few hours. Every now and then you’re in a city for the first time and you just “feel it”.

It then struck me that I had felt like this before. I had seen this movie before. This was the Berlin movie:

  • The tech scene is organic – it happened on its own, came out of nowhere. That is much more fun and sustainable than any kind of political or targeted economic strategy.
  • There are a ton of constraints (funding, local talent base, etc.) so entrepreneurs need to hustle to make things happen. Hustle is good.
  • Berlin was an economic void, Portugal had a massive economic crisis and Lisbon sure isn’t letting that crisis go to waste.
  • Entrepreneurship has the real chance to be a center stage act, not a side gig. It’s everywhere.
  • The city is very, very cool. You just want to be here.
  • You
Leaped like a tiger, landed as a bedside rug – the risks of overselling your round

There is a German saying that goes something like this:

“Als Tiger gesprungen und als Bettvorleger gelandet.”

A rough English translation is “leaped like a tiger, landed as a bedside rug” – it basically means someone came roaring in to say a negotiation / argument / situation but essentially was overselling and or bluffing from the start in an over the top way – eventually the bluff is called and all credibility is lost. The outcome for the former tiger, now turned bedside rug, is never a good one.

Every now and then I’ll see this failed stunt in startup fundraising and it ends in tears a lot of the time. Actually I am seeing it more and more so I thought I’d write about it. It’s important because it can ruin your entire raise and risk your company – without any need.

The movie goes like this. “Hey you need to know we have XX term sheets at XX valuation and funds X, Y and Z are really keen. You have until XX to decide.” Sometimes the founders will say that, sometimes the existing investors will put in a call to us.

Per se that is OK –

Onboarding your investors

Onboarding your investors

Your job is hard enough as a CEO to be dealing with a board / investors that only roughly understand what is actually going on. This happens more than it should.

So one of the things you can do to make sure your investors / board are really up to speed from day 1 is to run them through a structured onboarding process. Here are some ideas on how to do that:


Cross publisher app constellations & bundles

Cross publisher app constellations & bundles

We all know that folks increasingly prefer to use their favourite app from a specific developer / publisher for a specific use case vs. say using a wide range of apps from a single developer / publisher that is trying to cover all the bases. You can’t be great at everything and user experience on mobile matters so much more than on desktop – so that’s why highly vertical applications are winning.

Most of these vertical apps are freemium services and you can do a lot with them without paying. But once you want to go premium say with a whole bunch of these apps – that can get a little pricey on a per month basis and folks aren’t yet used to that (vs the old world where you paid hundreds up front to have MS Office etc. as part of your new PC).

So Evernote, Lastpass, Pocket and Wunderlist (a portfolio company of ours) teamed up to offer a pretty cost attractive bundle of their premium services for a limited amount of time.

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Now these folks can do that because they have

Low gross margin allergy

Low gross margin allergy

I saw this a while a go on Michael Moritz’ bio and it has stuck with me since:

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I have no problems with Cabernet grapes, I quite like garlic, I do have hay-fever (not sure about Wildgrasses though) but what stuck with me is the allergy to low gross margins.

I have a severe allergy against low gross margins too.

Why? I am going to over-simplify a lot and there are a ton of exceptions and caveats – but here it goes:

If you are building something difficult, that creates real value to users / customers / companies, something that is hard to replicate and unique with a great distribution model – well then you generally get to charge a lot more for your product than it cost you to produce it.  This can apply to anything from a unique consumer app to a niche SaaS company. There are a million ways to get there.

If you are doing something relatively straight forward (e.g. buying and selling on for a margin), something that is not so hard to replicate, something where customers will think twice about the price – well then you

A week on twitter, maps and democratizing data

A week on twitter, maps and democratizing data

Note: Scroll all the way down if you are interested in methodology and some caveats around how to interpret the data.

I built a map this morning showing twitter mentions of 4 portfolio companies during last week:

That’s pretty noisy so I looked at each individually.

Here’s CartoDB’s week on twitter:

CartoDB is platform and community for map builders (and folks building data apps on top of maps), so you would not necessarily expect a lot of folks talking about them on twitter. Except that when the community builds something and shares it. You can see activity increasing a lot towards end of the week when Simon Rogers built his #JeSuisCharlie map.

My guess was that of course most tweets would be out of France, so I toggled a switch to look at that:


Here’s EyeEm’s week on twitter:

EyeEm is a community and market place for mobile photography. It’s pretty popular everywhere and there are no obvious useage patterns. Well, except I figured Japan must be especially active as they are positively crazy about photography . So I toggled a switch to look

Eating animals

Eating animals

I have been thinking a lot recently about how as an individual my choices shape the world we live in for good and for bad. It is very easy to talk yourself in to the mindset that really your choices do not matter in the wider scope of things.

This is simply not true and nothing short of a comforting cop-out. The psychology behind it is clear: only by forgetting, living in denial, etc can you afford to continue with the lifestyle you hold so dear. I am going to elaborate on this in a longer blog post when I have finished collecting some more data and crunching some numbers on the impact an individual can have.

But today I am going to keep it short and just recommend one of the best books I have ever read on the topic of making conscious choices as an individual that can have a huge impact. I think this is a book everyone should read; it should be required reading at schools in my view:

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It’s Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. You may know him from “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”

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