Under The Hood Of Kima Ventures

Xavier shared with me recently the excellent piece of Fabrice Grinda about FJ Labs Investment Strategy. As an echo, I wanted to publish a post about Kima Ventures.

Kima is the Angel Investment Arm of Xavier Niel, the owner of Iliad, Station F and 42. We are a team of three people (Alexis Robert, Jeanne Cluset and Myself), acting as a proxy of Xavier to invest in 100 new deals per year.

Xavier Niel

Xavier has been investing for more than 20 years in startups. However, it’s in 2010 that he decided to become the most active business angel in the world. I believe it is true with close to 1,000 investments to date.

You can read about Xavier on Wikipedia of course, but I think it’s interesting to understand the character beyond some facts. He is one of the most respected entrepreneurs of his generation in France and Europe. One thing that strikes people when they meet with him is how nice and approachable he is. He is genuinely interested in your story, listen to you, ask relevant questions and make sound comments. Despite his natural aura that comes with his stature, he is always trying to make people comfortable around him, surrounding himself with young ambitious profiles and always trying to learn from younger generations. Kima Ventures, in a way, serves this purpose as well. Another fascinating aspect is how responsive he is. If Flash was playing against Xavier to answer emails, he would definitely lose. Whenever I am in front of an audience, I give Xavier’s email to someone without a single instruction and bet anything that he will reply within 2 hours. I have never let Xavier know about that little game, and he has always replied within 2 hours. Note that he receives more than a thousand emails per day and answers personally to every single one of them.

When people ask us what it takes to work with Xavier, the answer is simple: be nice, be efficient, be honest. Take it from there.

Strategy

In 2010, when Kima Ventures started, it was about investing all over the world in any sector and nationality up to $150k seed checks in up to 100 new deals per year. Of course, the landscape has changed over the years as it always does and we had to adapt our strategy.

Back in the days, in 2011 and 2012, we had access to deals like Carta and Transferwise. Not anymore since the distance in space and time between founders and funders has decreased tremendously. Founders raise more money, quicker, and closer to them. It’s one of the many things that has changed in just 10 little years.

With more and more french entrepreneurs and more concentrated networks of founders and funders everywhere, we had to narrow our strategy and decided a couple of years ago to focus on funding French founders in tech almost exclusively, all over the world.

Also, let’s be honest about another thing, it’s more challenging to build a sense of community or belonging with a portfolio from many nationalities, dispatched all over the world.

Dealflow & Investment

With Kima Ventures, we invest around $150k from pre-seed to series A in 100 new startups per year, only once per company.

It would send too much signal to invest during following rounds in some companies and not others. Also, like a date, it’s easy to say yes or no the first time, it’s trickier the second time, and we don’t want to leave bitter sweet impressions to entrepreneurs who have chosen to work with us.

For those who wonder where our dealflow come from, mostly from our network of founders and co-investors, but also more and more from our in-house tool for deal sourcing. The necessity to build this tool was that companies raise money so fast that we must detect them as soon as possible and not wait for someone to talk about them.

Also, in order to stay alert and see what’s happening in the market, we have a tinder for dealflow that allow us to screen what’s happening on product hunt and several media sources.

In total, we source somewhere around 200 to 300 deals per week.

Kima is a fascinating venture for our team! Whenever we speak with a founding team who share passion, ambition, obsession, resilience, talent… We wonder what could possibly go right; and if we believe there is a match between a market opportunity and a team that we like, we go for it! It takes probably 30 minutes to decide whether or not we want to invest.

The size of the rounds getting bigger and bigger, we tend to be followers, but when a founder requires from us to lead their round, we happily do it.

Regarding the exits, we aim to stay for as long as possible, we have no exit horizon whatsoever. Also, we have noticed that our best performing companies often go from 0 to 1 in 5 to 7 years, and then double their valuation after 2 to 3 years and again in the following 12 to 18 months. Therefore, the longer the better.

Note that we only work with the law firm of the company and take no lawyers on our side (zero fees the past five years). We try to be as efficient as possible in order to close with simple terms in no time, so that entrepreneurs can focus on what matter.

Portfolio management

We are a pretty small team to deal with new opportunities, make deals and manage a portfolio of close to 900 companies. We don’t make false promises. We are a joker in the hands of the founders that they will never regret. Our job is to be efficiently instrumental, to maximize our impact by the minute, not to brainstorm for hours. If we don’t know, we either connect our founders with the right people in our network or we stay silent.

We learn so many things from our interactions with the founders and their reports. It allows us to build a machine of reflections to better assess new opportunities and also share insights with entrepreneurs in a very concrete way, whenever it is possible. Just this week, you could ask the founders of Mojo, MWM, Athenian, Payfit, Unlock, Imparfaite, DICE or letsdeel.com…

We don’t try to sound smart or to brainstorm, we share what we’ve observed and we let them grab what could be useful to them.

  • You tell us about your OKR, we will share with you that every single company took three quarters to nail them and that the process of running OKR matter more than the OKR themselves. We will emphasise the critical importance of the weekly reviews to measure progress.

  • You share your deck for your next round of funding, we will get back to you with a 10 minutes Loom review full of feedbacks and impressions.

  • You wonder how to step up your game as a CEO, we will introduce you to an instrumental coach.

On top of that, founders access to our portfolio management platform, payitforward.vc, from which they are able to…

  • Benefit from perks;

  • Ask questions to the community;

  • Share one-to-many resources (resume, office space…) on various channels;

  • Require introductions to services providers or portfolio companies.

If you want more info about how things work at Kima Ventures, this post is still accurate in many ways

Performance

People say that a decent performance comes from doubling down on the winners. We have two periods of investments. 2010 - mid 2015 when Jeremie Berrebi was in charge of Kima Ventures / mid 2015 onwards when the new team took over. The total invested is 110M€. We must say that the returns are pretty steady so far.

Also, from mid 2015 onwards, our IRR on realised investments is 59.4%, and 29.2% on unrealised investments.

Things to come…

We have built a software in order to share our committed deals with other business angels and venture firms but the process could be improved.

We are still fine-tuning how slack and whyse can become instrumental tools for peer learning and support.

And of course we are open to any suggestion from anyone to beef up our game and we are likely answering any questions as well :) We thrive for new challenges !

👻 Fight 💥

Watch The Great Fight | Prime Video

I have a big mouth when it comes to call out offensive or poor behaviours in the venture capital industry. People rightfully complain about that. it’s a valid comment to say that it’s probably too much. My unacceptable excuse is that I compensate for the colluding hypocrisy of some people in our industry.

I don’t care, I do this job for the founders, not the investors. It has never been about the money. The investment enables the relationship, but I would still do this job of supporting entrepreneurs without it.

Let’s take off the pink glasses, I don’t live in a yes world. I like to pick fights for two reasons: The first one is to defend someone who is suffering from a disrespectful and hurtful behaviour. The second one is to get into a constructive conflict during which I intend to potentially change my opinion/perception of things.

If you are in the first category and suddenly decide to engage with me into the latter, I will reject it, as someone shall first make amend for their mistakes with rightful intentions, and attempt to clean-up their mess.

I hate hypocrisy.

As I said to an investor yesterday over email yesterday… “If we are not aligned in the way we conduct business, it’s useless. If at one point in the future, we are aligned, let’s collaborate. For now, let us stop there.

And more recently over Whatsapp to a Partner at one of the top venture capital firms in the US who was fishing for deals the week before in Europe: “Disappointed by your silence regarding this deal. It's not the output that matters the most, but how the situation could have been handled around the circumstances. I must say, quite poorly this time. Let's hope for better future collaborations.

Actions matter of course, but rightful intentions are the foundations. And it always translates in the way we do things from a behavioural standpoint.

Are you familiar with the notion of Growth Mindset ? In short, individuals tend to achieve more if they worry less about appearance and instead put more energy into learning, through hard work, strategy and input from others.

The latter is a matter of open-mindedness and rational compassion, which are respectively our ability to fully welcome the views from others, contemplating the possibility they might be right, and to put ourselves in their shoes, trying to understand their feelings.

Those elementary aspects for a fruitful discussion are only possible if the parties respect each others and have rightful intentions.

Many times, this is not the ground that is set during an argument or a conflict. People are masters when it comes to hide behind excuses of all sorts, run away from their responsibilities, deny their faults, or force their views.

I don’t think I can change how people behave. Sometimes, we speak our mind, call out wrongful behaviours with no impact, without the ability to provide a solution, and it is frustrating to feel powerless.

This post is for the ones who care and believe that they could do better in the way they engage with people in discussions, negotiations, conflicts.

It’s about positive honesty.

As for entrepreneurs, I advise you to read the two tomes of the five dysfunctions of a team from Patrick Lencioni in order to set the ground for a thriving organisation.

In the meantime, enjoy this late discovery…
I will share with the audience on radiochateau.live today !

A word from Kima - Speed beats Perfection

This is the short note that we shared with our portfolio founders

Publishing the short note that we shared with our portfolio founders


Dear founders,

By the time this letter reaches your inbox, you have already started to communicate with your employees, customers, more broadly any kind of stakeholders. You have started to implement a work-from-home policy and you know that this is not an exercise. You are facing an unprecedented situation.

Many of you have reached out to us in order to gather our comments.

No predictions.
Just precautions.

In January, many of us were joking about it, in February we were kind of moving on already, and in March we simply got caught unexpectedly. Nobody’s laughing anymore. It’s a raw demonstration of how blind and clueless most of us are when it comes to the exponential effects of any given organic situation. Very few have experienced it, those who did will always admit that it came as a surprise. We only rationalize looking backwards. 

It could be 3, 6 or 9 months before we get back to real business. And we don’t know what “back to real business” actually means in terms of intensity.

Be a first mover, have no regrets.
Act fast and now. Here are three precautions:

Gain clarity on your numbers, act upon them, fast, now. Analyze your cohort. People are in survival mode. To save money, people will cut services and miss payments. If your growth rate tends toward zero as people stop spending, that your churn rate increases as people cut or default on recurring payments, your activity might be steady at the very best, but realistically, it could be worst.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast. Employees expect news from you, on a daily basis. Do not fail them. Stress is a factor against performance. Fun stuff / Positive news / Life hacks... All those things contribute to how people will overcome this situation. Shopify just offered $1000 to their employees so they can get the appropriate equipment. You probably can’t provide that much but do what is in your power so they are and feel supported.

You will fight for attention from your current investors, against other portfolio companies. There will be prioritization, whether it’s fair or not doesn’t matter unfortunately. On top of that, your valuation could potentially suffer, whether it’s now or in few months time. Master pro-active strategy, execution, and communication to maximize your chances. If you can get additional runway, go for it.

You can’t beat the situation. If you need to be right before you move, you will never win. You will have to cut things, to reallocate resources. Not in weeks or months, now.

The only thing we truly regret is inaction.
Speed beats perfection.

Yours truly,

Alexis, Jean, Jeanne

— 

Readings

Peacetime CEO / Wartime CEO

Cash, Culture, Creativity

Cash, Culture, Creativity

Racing under slippery circumstances

Metaphor & GIFs ahead.

Sky the limit

When the curve is on the rise, even though we secretly fear the crash, we act like nothing bad could ever happen.

Expectations are high, conditions are great and small mistakes here and there don’t seem to have much impact. We raise more money, burn more, take more risk & some shortcuts.

The tires are burning a little, but every other players are driving super fast as well.

In the paddock, people are kind of enjoying the show and somewhat resting, even though they wear their equipment, ready to act if necessary.

video games car GIF

Then comes the rain

You had planned everything, except this.

It came so fast, so unexpectedly. There is no choice, you must act accordingly here & now if you want to have a chance to make it throughout the turbulences towards there & then.

rain save GIF

Everything is changing. Fast.

The visibility is limited, the new conditions imply adaptation, and small mistakes suddenly seem like they could be fatal.

Everyone is rushing into the paddock.

formula one precision GIF

The moto is simple: keep the engine running, manage the duality of driving reasonably fast. Focus on the things that matter. Speed of reaction, pace of execution, precision of action.

  • Speed of reaction is critical. You can’t go back in time, everything you do now matter for the future, every step you miss is a potential liability or fatality. Cash is a variable, not an infinite resource. Be extra-rational.

  • Pace of execution. Keep high velocity, even though it’s under a lower degree of activity. Keep your people busy and active, but also socially present with virtual gatherings and regular updates.

  • Precision of action. Your margin of error is limited under uncertain and tough circumstances. Require excellence from your team, in everything they do. Accountability gives a sense of togetherness, it’s the ciment of your culture.

It’s not a question of whether the rain will stop or not. It’s fucking raining and you have no clue when it’s going to stop nor how long it will take for the track to dry up.

CASH, CULTURE, CREATIVITY.

crashing crash landing GIF

Your cash is impacted by your burn rate, your churn, your growth. the burn rate depends on your cost structure, subject to churn and growth rate. It’s simple math. Your churn might increase, your growth rate might decrease. Do not add additional pressure on your cost structure. On the contrary, contain it or better, be more rational about it. Not only your survival is at risk, but also your valuation will probably take a hit. Be cautious, take additional money if you can to extend your runway.

Image result for 5 dysfunctions of a team pyramid

Your culture will hold strong only if you manage to keep the pyramid of trust, commitment and results intact and reinforced. Communicate regularly, thoroughly towards employees, investors, partners, customers. More importantly, listen to them as they share their fears and concerns. It’s in the struggle that we see the true face of the culture one has crafted.

zen bruce lee GIF

Let’s be optimistic for a moment. The best thing that can happen during the worst moment is that it triggers a mechanism of singularity as your system reference all of a sudden ceases to exist as you know it. You’re out of your comfort zone, which can foster creativity under the right circumstances. Use this as an opportunity for your team to come up with innovative ideas, different paths and approaches to problems and challenges.

Now what ?

Some of us benefit from better conditions under those circumstances, some of us already suffer from brutal consequences, regardless fairness that isn’t the currency of the world we live in. To mitigate the impact, we shall be coming together to help one another.

Startup tourists will soon become deserters.

As for the others…

Keep riding the tide until the sun rises again because it always does :)


It’s all Upside Down

Ambition

Lesson from a bakery

On the 30th of August, 2019, I received a message from Louis, a baker based in Dijon, the capital of Burgundy.

In his email, he mentioned his mindset, his ambition, his will to scale and grow his business! Surprising, touching, intriguing.

Ibanfirst, our discreet portfolio company despite its impressive results, has its engineering team based in Dijon. With Pierre-Antoine, the CEO, we went there a couple of weeks ago to meet with them, and have diner with Louis Tortochot and his wife the evening before.

Amusing part of the story… when Louis and I started our thread few months ago and until very recently, I didn't know that he was participating in a national tv contest and would be soon rewarded with the title of French best bakery.

We discussed about many things in regards to the expansion of his business during that diner. But one question was still unanswered : where did his ambition come from?

A couple of years ago, he reached out to a successful entrepreneur based in Dijon. After a couple of genuine conversations, this person invited Louis and his wife to fly over to Newport Beach where he would meet with even more successful entrepreneurs. There he learnt the meaning of ambition, that most boundaries are the ones we set for ourselves rather than just constraints from the world.

After this inspirational trip, he came back to France with the will to build something bigger than a local bakery.

Louis has all the qualities from our best entrepreneurs: he is obsessed, he works hard, he never stops learning, he experiments a lot, he takes risk, and also take some radical decisions.

But more importantly, he's rationally limitless. Louis is an incredible example to follow, an entrepreneur at heart who pursued his ambition, reached out to people with the right approach, and traveled abroad to open his mind.

We encourage often our portfolio entrepreneurs to fly over to San Francisco to breath the fresh air of peer pressure and ambition. They are sometimes reluctant to do so…

Afraid to be far from the team? learn to be present while absent. Detect operational or team discrepancies thanks to your absence.

It's not going to be a game changer? You don't know what you don't know. Don't draw conclusions so fast, very very very few people regret that trip, or often it's because they didn't engage properly with the local ecosystem.

As for Louis, regardless if he builds something big or not, he made me realise that ambition is within reach of all people, and that it’s mostly tied to the limits we set or think exist.

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