Credit: Sunny Studio / Onepixel
I have been wondering for a while where to start when it comes to address this simple question. I guess we all have a personal story that singularly attaches us to our current path and it certainly shows a lot about why and how we do certain things.
We’re in an industry where outliers and contrarian choices are at the origin of some of the most beautiful ventures. Airbnb struggled to raise their first round, Slack is a fortunate accident, what about an online book seller called Amazon…
We can’t really define the patterns of unexpected successful paths, but we can certainly keep an open mind, a kind of candid and positive approach towards picking non-consensual companies which we believe can deeply transform their industries, regardless how hard it will be.
Being a Venture Capitalist is a long term game. It’s a combination of fortunate events, compounded with disciplined, consistant hard work and a fair dose of rightfulness in picking extraordinary entrepreneurs, helping them realise ambitious narratives, making fortunate decisions throughout the journey… All this while being pro-active, assertive and aware of what the job really implies if we don’t want to owe our fate to hazardous moves and hype cycles.
A continuous feedback and reflection loop is required to learn and progress sustainably in any field. Yet, we have only few or false reference marks in the venture capital industry to improve the way we operate, which make it hard to thrive for anyone lacking autonomy, initiative and genuine long term ambition.
The reasons why…
There are many reasons why people join the Venture Capital industry and many times it’s because from the outside it looks like the dream job where you get to meet and fund the future in a cool, easy and profitable way. That’s why former entrepreneurs and operators jump into it with this kind of retirement life attitude, why former consultants or bankers try to switch, thinking that they have earned it after few years of efforts, or why young students end up as venture capital careerist without having ever touched nor understand the brutal truth about entrepreneurship.
And we can’t blame them for willing to jump into this arena.
Of course it’s cool to be a venture capitalist, your job is to pick and support founders who are hopefully building remarkable companies. The function is easy as the entrepreneurs are the only ones really struggling to create value that we partly collect overtime. And it’s profitable as there is no downside thanks to the guaranteed and uncapped management fees model. Ask leading VC firms how much are paid their General Partners. Ask them why they don’t hire more operators to provide a top-notch level of services to their portfolio companies.
It’s almost like providing a kid with unlimited pocket money. What would you do if your only constraint was to do an incredible job?
Facing unpredictability, uncertainty but also thrilling possibilities ahead, how would you put at work your time and high degree of autonomy to build the best possible relationships with ambitious founders towards maximising their probability to succeed?
My attraction to Venture Capital has nothing to do with the above. I could not even claim a seat in this industry as I had previously failed to become a brilliant student, a successful entrepreneurs or a smart banker/consultant.
It is the dual combination of enchantment and disappointment that triggered my genuine ambition to become a Venture Capitalist.
In 2011, I met with the team of Capitaine Train (later sold to Trainline). I was fascinated by all the remarkable facts that had already paved their way into redefining the apparently simple standard of selling train tickets. I got very excited by their insane attention to details, their ridiculously exceptional customer support experience and their stubbornness in believing that they could beat agressive incumbents. To me, this deal was obvious, it was worth giving this team the resources to battle.
As a fundraising advisor (I know what investors think about that… But everyone should keep their own house in order) between 2009 and 2013, I conducted approximately a thousand meetings with investors. I was shocked by the lack of empathy, discipline and consistency from many of them. And the consensual misunderstanding and lack of belief for Capitaine Train during the seed, series A but also Series B round really stroke me. I realized that people were totally missing all the remarkable facts that I had found so revealing about this incredible team and opportunity. I still believe that Capitaine Train could have become at least ten times bigger with the right support.
Therefore, in 2013, I decided that I wanted to become a Seed investor in order to help the next Capitaine Train become giants. Unfortunately, no one wanted to hire a former fundraising advisor, especially someone willing to question the status quo. Except The Family. Without Oussama, Alice, Nicolas, Erika and Hugo, to only name them, introduced by Martin Mignot, I wouldn’t have fulfilled my current destiny with so much energy and good grit. I owe them a lot. That is also how I got to meet with Xavier Niel, when he invested in Capitaine Train :)
I don’t know how people define their job as a Venture Capitalist. I like to believe that mine is to amplify the faintest signals into finding winning outliers. I love to support entrepreneurs, extraordinary both in their mind and heart, with an incredible ability to build new category definers and the ambition to become remarkable market leaders.
Maximising against the odds
Xavier is the most active business angel in the world. He is more disciplined with his inbox and open to new and diverse opportunities than anyone I know.
Since 2015, aside our 100 new investments with Kima Ventures every single year, we have backed as Series A lead investor a handful of companies: Zen.ly, Payfit.com, Ibanfirst.com, Sourced.tech, Doctrine.com, Dice.fm, Side.co, and two others, still to be announced.
I couldn’t emphasise enough how much I respect all those entrepreneurs:
Antoine at Zen.ly is the most talented mobile consumer person I know with an incredible eye for analytics.
Firmin at Payfit has the genuine look of Clark Kent with the brilliant abilities of Superman.
Pierre-Antoine at Ibanfirst is the most knowledgeable and thorough entrepreneurs of the banking industry with a complete non-bullshit attitude.
Eiso at Sourced has the talent to ingeniously abstract the most complex problems while surrounding himself with the most talented people to execute beautiful and actionable solutions.
Nicolas at Doctrine takes absolutely nothing for granted and always question the status quo for the greater good of the people, whether we talk about the employees or the customers.
And as for Dice and Side, there is something special that connect me to their long term purpose. I don’t know how their inner circles remember the first days of Netflix or Airbnb, but to me, Dice and Side, respectively, reveal a lot of similar traits, both strategically and operationally.
Dice isn’t yet another discovery or ticketing app. When I met with Phil in March 2018, I immediately understood that something singular and powerful was happening. Not only he was clairvoyant about the complex intricacies of the vast live events market, but he also had an exceptional authentic attitude which made me believe in his ability to learn fast and execute thoroughly, at scale, all the complex steps that were ahead of him and his team. It is so rare to meet with someone who is patiently able to make things absolutely right in a market that is doing so many things so wrong. Live shows engage people through incredibly vivid feelings. They are the best memories people remember. Yet, the whole experience around the shows are often deceptive. Dice purpose is to spread the enjoyment of live shows to more people, more often, while providing all the other stakeholders with honest benefits. It all starts with an outstanding discovery & ticketing experience, just like Netflix started with delivering DVD at home so that people could watch more movies more often.
Side isn’t yet another temp agency neither. Pierre told me about eighteen months ago that they were building a new work experience. This sentence stroke me and is still echoing ever since. The future of work is flexible. And it’s not just about matching demand and supply, but offering the most incredible, trustworthy end-to-end experience for people and companies to enjoy their work relationship. Side is building the platform that enables this shift, worldwide, while incumbents are stuck in the past with bad obsessions and poor manners. The level of details necessary to bring this experience is tremendous and that is also why all the new players in the market are going after freelancers or mid to long term temporary jobs, because it is so incredibly hard to offer a seamless experience for short term missions. At the same time, this is only way to build the most exceptional company in this field. Airbnb wouldn’t be what it is today if it had started with mid term rentals. Side is a beautiful company that crafts every single part necessary to provide the best platform in the world of flexible jobs.
This is why I am a VC, to support companies in maximising the great impact they will have on millions of people.