Recent innovations in technology ranging from blockchain to AI to better e-commerce functionality to the Metaverse are pretty exciting. The developmental leaps combined with the investment in free educational offerings from the tech giants makes me hopeful. Now, more than ever, there are multitudes of options for young people wanting to get into tech and for more experienced people wanting a change in career. This bodes well for big tech corps and startups alike, there's more talent than ever available and this means more can be achieved.
In the last year we've been able to launch a chat bot (which I learnt to build for free during lockdown) and build an app on a tiny startup budget thanks to the new functionality that Flutter & Firebase allow. The future of tech is bright.
The ecosystem continues to grow and mature, and we’re seeing an increasing number of exceptional founding teams with global ambition. This is partly due to the success of European founders like Daniel Dines from UiPath. To see Daniel start a company in Romania and go on to define a category, is hugely inspirational for the next generation.
It is great to have a diverse set of visionary entrepreneurs such as Daniel from Spotify, Guillaume from Checkout, Taavet from Wise or the Strüngmann brothers (BioNTech / Hexal) that do not only strongly believe in the strength of our European tech ecosystem but play a very active role in amplifying it with capital as well as in-depth knowledge and conviction in contrarian ideas they thrive for that really make a dent for Europe. Strüngmann’s EUR 150m seed investment in BioNTech in 2008 during the financial crisis is a great example of such a contrarian investment – the rest is history. The challenge with European VCs is that we are sometimes too numbers and return focused too early on, don’t have large enough fund sizes to back the bold technologies and think too short term in terms of our returns.
Stronger pressure from regulators and consumers who are increasingly more aware and engaged makes room for startups to establish themselves as category leaders. We've seen some interesting trends through some of our portfolio companies, like Sylvera on the infrastructure end, or Treecard, on the consumer front. Both startups have been able to attract world-class talent from day 1, as today’s employable generation is looking to join companies with stronger missions rather than financial returns. Furthermore, they have been able to assemble diverse teams from the get-go, which we deem to be crucial in building products and solutions for wider adoption.
I arrived in the UK as part of the Kindertransport in July 1939 when Europe was on the brink of collapse. It is almost unbelievable to see Europe as it stands today, a thriving hub of entrepreneurship.
I know now that our community can grow despite great hardship, proved again by the pandemic. Founders across the region stepped up and set the stage for this extraordinary year of investment. We now have much-deserved world-class recognition of our talent and skills. To continue this trajectory, we need to even the playing field for people from all walks of life.
My advice to founders today? Make the most of the world’s new interest in European technology and stick with those who inspire you. Relay your successes back to those who helped you, and pay your debt forward to those who still face extraordinary barriers.
We know that companies with a women only founding team have raised late stage capital that are half the round size of mixed gender founding teams and male only teams. To change that, we need more women writing the cheques, more women sitting at the table, leading decisions. That doesn't just mean having the title of Partner, that means having an active voice on ICs. If LPs were able to challenge funds on these points too, that would make a real difference too, although it is the responsibility of funds to challenge themselves on their pipeline. If your pipeline is not diverse, scrap it, and start again, diversity of founders are there if you search for it.
Hiring associates is important, but what about challenging the accepted criteria for hiring partners? Assembling a truly diverse senior team gives more access to deals and it’s widely proven that diverse teams are stronger and more robust in the long term.
For me, it can look like investors asking my male CTO about revenue and unit economics through kind words from well meaning investors telling me that I’ve “done well”, even though I know my male peers are not spoken to like this. It affects confidence. They might be small comments that we laugh off, but the truth is that these everyday examples chip away at that sense of self belief that is critical to being a successful founder. I’m looking forward to a day when I’m not asked this question anymore or when I mention these examples - and my kids look at me in amazement because it’s such a relic of the past!