April 27, 2017

Fred Wilson: some VC lessons from one of the best in the business

A couple of days ago, Fred Wilson, co-founder and managing partner of Union Square Ventures (USV), one of the most reputable and successful VC firms in the world, and the blogger behind AVC (a must read blog for anyone interested in the startup, tech and VC businesses) posted a video of a talk (the annual Georges Doriot Lecture) that he gave at MIT in Boston.

You can see the video here:

The chat is priceless and full of VC wisdom and I thought about summarizing some of the points that I found particularly interesting:

  • A VC's most important role is that of a cheerleader (...). It is everything and just very few VCs can do it.
  • The best time to invest in something  is when nobody believes in it besides you (...). You have to totally believe in it and you have to know why.
  • Entrepreneurs and the companies they build are the VCs' customers - not the VCs' investors, who are their shareholders. The entrepreneurs are the center of gravity in the business and VCs are service providers to entrepreneurs.
  • Even though venture capital requires a sophisticated understanding of finance, technology, markets and strategy, it is ultimately a people business.
  • Three things that USV looks at when investing in an entrepreneur: charisma (the ability to convince people...it goes beyond salesmanship), technical expertise (knowing how to make aomething, not outsourcing the making of sonething to somebody else but leading it), integrity (honesty).
  • In order to have better chances to succeed, he recommends angel investors to build a portfolio as broad as possible - broader than that of a traditional VC - and build networks with other angel investors. He also points out that angel investors should help entrepreneurs get to the VCs to raise their series A and subsequent rounds.
  • On how to getting into VC as a profession, as a general piece of advice, very graphically he recommends spending your 20s and 30s working at startups as a path to dedicating your 40s, 50s and 60s to being a venture capitalist. Ironically, he feels like the best VC investors did not take that path.

Interestingly, as a closing remark, Fred pointed out that if he was 35 now he would probably go do VC investments in emerging markets.... anyone up for the next challenge?

Until next time!

April 15, 2017

Fast decision making: reflecting on Jeff Bezos' annual letter

A few days ago Jeff Bezos, Amazon's founder and CEO delivered his usual annual letter to shareholders. A short must read that is always full of management wisdom, since the first one he wrote back in 2017 - see both the latest and the first ones here.

Rather than reading the countless pieces published about the latest letter, I have followed Brad Feld's advice and have gone directly into the "source".  How he defines Day 1 - "I’ve been reminding people that it’s Day 1 for a couple of decades" and Day 2 - "Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1” - for a company is, simply put, masterful.

He highlights a number of drivers for Day I defense. Leaving aside other aspects, I would like to focus on one of them - high-velocity decision making. According to Bezos, it is not just crucial to make high-quality decisions. It is crucial to make them fast, otherwise Day 2 can be taken for granted. I couldn't agree more. And this just not applies to large corporations such as Amazon but also to any kind of company, yet the most nascent ones that, following an analogous terminlogy, are in Day 0 of their development.

In a very simple, yet compelling, manner, Bezos highlights a few points that drive such high-velocity decision making:

  • decision processes: he argues to "never use a one-size-fits-all decision-making process". Since situations vary, this makes all the sense.  However, a sensu contrario, and as obvious as it sounds, it is fundamental to have a decision process - or several of them - in place. In other words, do not justify not having decision making processes on the basis of how different each situation is;
  • availability of information: obviously, we all like to make as informed decisions as possible. But in real life we hardly face such ideal situations. That is why Bezos points out that "If you wait for 90%, in most cases, you’re probably being slow" and he argues how expensive being slow in making decisions is. In short, make a decision as early as you can and once you have a reasonable degree of information. You can always change courses. Holding off too much will kill your company;
  • disagree and commit: I truly love this one, as it transpires humbleness and trustworthiness in those around you. Leadership. It is natural not to be certain at all times. In those circumstances where you are uncertain, most likely everybody feels similarly. And whoever is in charge of a company, team, project is waiting to be actually convinced to make a decision, that may take ages. It's not about letting everyone do whatever they feel like doing, "a chance for the team to weigh [the boss'] view, and a quick, sincere commitment to go their way". Any organization needs people at any level who can actually be able to push in the same direction than the organization itself when in certain circumstances the former may not necessarily agree with the direction adopted.
  • spotting what is wrong and escalating: sometimes people and teams are not aligned and that creates multiple inefficiencies, reaching the very unfortunate point where "whoever has more stamina carries the decision", which is truly demotivating and frustrating. Therefore, is critical to escalate to sort things out and provide alignment which, at the end of the day, requires considering the three previous points.
All these characteristics must necessarily be part of a company's DNA. Otherwise, the company will be moving from Day 1 (or even Day 0, as I suggested before) to Day 2 at the speed of light.

January 16, 2017

Two weeks in Berlin: my first (biz tech) impressions

It's been two weeks since, with the dawn of 2017, I moved to Berlin. Not long enough to settle anywhere, even less so when you are joining a new company in a city you are not familiar with, where you do not speak the language and know nobody (plus the weather - two cloudy and snowy weeks - and short days do not help either).  But I am taking baby steps each day, slowly but confidently, supported by a couple of acquaintances - how important it is to have friends who can "refer" you anywhere - and a warm welcome at work.

By looking at these past 15 days I can already point out a few local behaviours that have surprised me in areas where technology has been (and is expected to continue) playing a significant part. 

1. Cash is king
After having lived in New York for a long time I got used to paying 90% of anything with debit/credit card (I feel like Spain, or at least Madrid, has also evolved a lot in terms of accepting this payment means in the last years), as I find it convenient and it works great to track my expenses via apps, etc. 

That is not going to work in Berlin, I am afraid. Big bummer. Multiple places - not talking just about the doner kebab shop around the corner - do not accept cards and paying in cash is the only alternative. The same limitation goes for the Stripes of the world. Plus it kind of strikes me that, in particular in a city that has positioned itself as a top European tech hub, payment technology - one of finch darlings - is so detached from the day-to-day.

2. No Sunday shopping 

I typically do not have time Mon to Fri to buy stuff, other than groceries. When it comes to clothing, furniture, personal care, etc, it is Saturday and Sunday for me. 
Realizing that shops close on Sundays in a major and touristy city like Berlin has been a surprise. 

At a time where people are increasingly buying stuff online, this just gives people another reason to continue to do so - for instance, German online retailer Zalando keeps increasing sales vigorously quarter after quarter. I do not see that trend stopping around here (competition isses with Amazon and others left aside). At the end of the day you can buy online any day at any time.

3. No food delivery wars?
In the last few years a lot of money has been poured into food delivery companies such as Deliveroo, Just Eat, etc., just as other players such as Uber launched businesses (UberEats) to get a piece of the action. 

In two weeks I have just seen riders - and not a lot I must say - who work for one company: Delivery Hero's Foodora. I do not know the reason but I must admit I was expecting more activity and more players in the battle field. 

4. Berliners do not like their banks...either
Obviously I needed to open a bank account for my daily operations in Germany. I asked people around and there was no consensus whatsoever about what bank to pick. The consensus was actually on how disappointed most people were with their respective banks.

So, I have decided to give a shot at N26 (formerly Number26), the new German challenger bank backed by Peter Thiel and other VCs. I will be able to provide more info in a few months but I must say that the whole process of opening an account and of getting my cards and activating them was easy, seamless... and all online!

5. Car-sharing is hot
Before arriving in Berlin I had heard stories about how much Berliners use their own bikes - I have not seen a Citibike-like service such as the one in New York - to commute to and from work. Totally true, even if it is -8C outside and snowing. But public transportation - a great network of S-Bahn, U-Bahn, trams and buses is in place - is also very much used. Another thing that has somewhat suprised me is that traffic flows rather nicely when compared - based on my limited perception to date - to New York or Madrid. 

But one thing that is really hot in here is car-sharing. In addition to Mercedes Benz-owned Car-2-Go (which I already used in Spain - the same app works nicely, which is great), BMW has also its own car-sharing service called DriveNow.

There is a lot is to be learned when you relocate to a new country and keeping an eye on how things work is enriching. The European Union may be one single market, but at the end of the day, the differences among country members and their citizens are still very relevant. And I do not see that changing in the short and medium term, it is in each country's DNA.

December 29, 2016

My 2016 in review: the good, the bad & the ugly (of working at a young startup)

There are just a few hours left in this 2016. It's been a curious year, a bumpy, rollercoaster-kind of ride with a lot of takeaways and learned lessons. It's time to look back and do a sincere and objective assessment from a professional standpoint.

(1) 2016 has given me the opportunity to work in the kind of startup environment that I had longed for quite some time, after having worked at multinationals pretty much all my life. I see that as a big success in itself after my bet on pursuing this path and my overcoming the hurdles that I had to face as a result of immigration issues kicking me out of the U.S.

(2) I have learnt a lot of new things following my jumping into an unknown territory that included a new industry, a different role, and multiple and diverse responsibilities. I have had the opportunity to be out there "in the trenches" to a larger extent, to expand my network, to work and get to know some great colleagues and to experience first hand a different way - improvisation, flexibility, I am embracing you - of doing things.

(3) I have been able to go way beyond my comfort zone and to challenge myself as I had not done in quite some time. I am satisfied with my overall performance but, above all, I value my daring to do so. Plus I strongly feel that this has helped me gain new skills and change my personal brand, as I explained in this post.

(4) Leading a learning the in & out's of a fundraising process has been priceless. I have enjoyed every minute of it: from researching, identifying and reaching out to domestic and international investors, to crafting pitch documents, presenting to investors and at different events and negotiating. It's been the most exciting and challenging thing I have done in years.

(5) Enjoying again what going to work means. I had forgotten that magic mix of excitement, cheering, happiness, challenge, commitment... I am aware that such a thing does not last forever but experiencing it again was awesome.

(6) Last but not least, I will remember 2016 as the year in which I was given the opportunity to pursue an exciting fintech opportunity in Berlin, one of the world's tech hubs - more on that here. There is no doubt that it will be a big challenge, both personal and professional, yet I am looking forward to starting.

(1) Things have not finished as I had envisioned them. Twelve months ago I was fully invested in a project and had the stamina and the confidence that we were on the path to building one of the next great companies. Even after having voluntarily decided to part ways, I can't avoid a somewhat bitter feeling of unfinished work and personal failure.

(2) Internal politics. When referring to corporate feuds, I guess we all tend to think of bankers, corporate finance titans such as Gordon Gekko or of powerful Fortune 500 companies' CEOs. Unfortunately, this happens everywhere, even in young startups. And assuming of course that such feuds are no good anywhere in the vast majority of cases, I dare to say that the harmful effects are more relevant in young, smaller companies. Disappointment is probably the word that best describes how I feel about that.

(1) It is cold out there beyond established corporations. Success stories tend to make people think that building a startup - from coming up with an idea through to a billion dollar IPO - is way easier than it actually is. In most early-stage cases, you have limited resources, you do not have a powerful brand to leverage in your sales pitch, you have no significant track record to negotiate with banks and other stakeholders, you face dead-ends any other day... There are times when you feel powerless. You already knew it and embraced the challenge, true...but still.

(2) Having everyone pushing in the same direction and under the same vision is tough. Being able to align everyone in the team, from the CEO to the last intern, is not an easy task. Learning (or trying) to navigate the time-bomb resulting from human relationships in scenarios of uncertainty and cash pressure, is a priceless lesson that I definitely did not learn in my managing organizations course while at business school.

(3) As mentioned above, over the last year I was able to enjoy my work again. But at the same time, I experienced some of the worst days in my career to date. By joining a young, promising project I was confident that I would experience the former, but I would have never expected the latter. Even if this has been the case, I can assure you that I have learnt a lot from the experience, from both my mistakes and those of others.

Overall, in hindsight and having had time to reflect on all these experiences, I can say that it's been a valuable year. Let's see if 2017 is a better year, with more "good's" and fewer "bad's" and "ugly's".

My best wishes to y'all for the coming year!

December 7, 2016

Moving to Berlin: my new challenges ahead in fintech

My new challenges in 2017

A lot has happened over the last 16 months. I have gone through a roller coaster-kind of professional experience where I have had the opportunity to experience the good, the bad and the ugly of what working at a young startup means. I will reflect about such an experience in future posts but one thing is clear to me: I have learnt a lot at multiple levels. And now I am confident that such experience - paired up with my existing background which, as unexpected as it may be, is going to prove pretty helpful shortly - will help me succeed in all all my forthcoming challenges.

There is doubt that 2017 will be bringing me new challenges, opportunities and, in short, a new life in Berlin, Germany. As of January 1, I will be joining Crosslend, an innovative debt capital platform, as Country Manager for Spain.

Crosslend: what is it about

Near-zero and even negative interest rates make it increasingly difficult for investors to get higher returns, while increasingly tighter legal requirements make it harder for financial institutions to lend and push money down to the real economy (ie. SMEs). 

By means of an innovative and disruptive cross-border, single-loan securitization structure, Crosslend is creating a marketplace where both investors and debt originators can better achieve some of their goals. On the one hand, the company wants to help investors obtain higher yields by investing in a sort of new asset class, so the former can better meet their mid and long term yield goals. On the other, there is the challenge of becoming an important player in building the European capital markets union that should helps bridge the existing funding shortage between financiers (banks and others) and underfunded borrowers, by given the former a new alternative to free up capital and keep on going with their lending activities.

Co-CEO Dagmar Bottenbruch summarizes some of the key point sin this short interview at the LendIt conference held in last October.

Getting into fintech

Fintech has always been a sub-sector I have been attracted to and that I have had interest in, mainly as a user/consumer of new tools (wealth management robo-advisors, personal finance tools, international wire transfers, etc.), and also as a follower of disruptive B2B trends (crowdfunding, crowdlending, FX, etc.).

Some friends and colleagues have pointed out in the past that it could be a good destination for me. I think I enjoy an above-average understanding of finance as a whole thanks to my education and work experience, plus now I am able to bring in a more compelling tech / startup background (yet from a different industry) to the table. I am very happy to see that both ends are meeting now and excited about this new opportunity.

Berlin: a great place to be

Anyone who follows the European startup scene knows that in recent years Berlin has become - alongside London (even more so post-Brexit) - the European startup hub. A wealth of entrepreneurs and investors, the availability of international talent, a cosmopolitan environment and a reasonable cost of life (in particular when compared to Paris and London) have given rise to a thriving startup ecosystem. 

Plus Berlin is also a key player in the powerful German (and European) fintech ecosystem - see picture below - which spans across multiple sub-sectors and products, in both B2B and B2C segments.

However, I would be lying if I said that the idea of moving to Berlin has not been a surprise to me. I was not counting on starting my life pretty much from scratch...again. New country, new language (even if you can supposedly live off English quite nicely in Berlin), new friends... it gets harder as one grows older, but still... 

After weighing in Crosslend's promising project (backed by reputed VCs such as Lakestar and Northzone) and inspiring vision, a role that offers me a challenging opportunity and everything that Berlin has to offer, I have made up my mind. It will be curious to jump on a plane on January 1 to kick off such a new time for me.

To an exciting and fruitful 2017!!

November 21, 2016

Reinventing yourself and changing your own market perception

Twenty four months ago I was working in New York and taking the first steps towards what would turn out to be my first job offer at a startup. It was the culmination of a long process - it took me years to get there - that ultimately did not work as planned (after accepting the offer I had received, US immigration authorities ruled out against granting me an O-1 visa that would have replaced my then in force L-1 visa).

Things have evolved substantially since then. Shortly after the disappointment I experienced when my visa got denied, I landed a job at another startup in Spain and, a bit less than 1 1/2 years later, I will be shortly taking a new role at a promising fintech company in Berlin as country manager for Spain.

Even though I cannot say that I have hit a home run yet, I can't help feeling a sense of pride for having accomplished a big transition from professional services - first as an M&A and finance attorney, then in biz dev roles - into the startup space. Little by little, after investing a lot of time and effort, I have been able to change the market perception of my own brand as an employee.

Although certain countries tend to have more flexible recruiting cultures that appreciate transferable skills - e.g. I find the US quite flexible, while Spain is just the opposite - your college degree and work experience will vastly determine how you are perceived in the job market. As you grow older, the "weight" of such background becomes heavier and makes switching industries and functions increasingly harder.

That being said, I thought it would be useful to share my experience and contribute a few thoughts from my own "reinvention" process:

1. Understand your role's and industry's perception: some functions (e.g. financial roles) and sectors (e.g. management consulting) put you in a better place to make a transition, even at a young age. Some others (e.g. law practice - that was my case) are more ring-fenced and harder to leverage outside of their own circle.

Don't get caught for too long in something you know you don't want to do long term, even if it pays well (and assuming you can afford to let it go). You will regret it a few years later.

2. Leverage the master's degree window of opportunity: studying some kind of master's degree can be a good way to change roles and industries (again, I find Anglo-Saxon work cultures more open to change than others). However, bear in mind that the window of opportunity for such a transition is limited: 1 to 1.5 years following graduation, I'd say.

For instance, I completed my MBA from NYU to pursue such change in 2008 when, unfortunately, everything started to fall apart; so my ability to switch was severely compromised.

3. Embrace the two-step transition: you may be able to switch functions and industries at once, but doing so in two separate steps is more realistic and financially rewarding. Leverage what you already know for tour first move; then use what you are learn (and who you know) at your new gig to complete the second step.

I transitioned from being a lawyer to business development roles in professional services. Then, I was able to switch to business-oriented roles in the tech space.

4. Get out of your day-to-day comfort zone: if you want things to change but you keep doing the same things that you typically do in your usual work environment, such change will be much harder. You need to let fresh air into the room. Get out of your comfort zone and find ways to get closer to the industry where you want to be.

I find events and meet-ups particularly useful in this regard. There are plenty of things out there in substantially every industry, so start digging up information and investing time. It is going to be a bit stressful and tiring, but nothing is free, I'm afraid.

Also, network carefully and regularly. Reach out to friends and acquaintances who can make an intro for you. Sometimes it will feel a bit awkward and overwhelming to take the first step but, in my experience, a majority of people are willing to help if they can. Be tactful, thankful and open to return the favor.

5. Show that you really want it: there are many ways these days in which you can show where your interests lie. Start following people and being active (tweet, retweet) on Twitter, start your own blog covering the topics and industries you are targeting, open a Medium profile, be mindful of your Linkedin profile (share your content, tailor your profile), etc.

Again, this will take quite a bit of time but you have an arsenal at your reach.

6. Worship your job hunting: looking for a job is not easy, it is a job in itself, even more so if you are fighting to get to a place where you have never been before.

On the one hand, make sure that you are looking in the right places (it is not the same to look for jobs in, say, startups, than in pharma companies). Once you have spotted those, create customized job search agents to spot openings in a centralized way, search regularly, be methodic and keep track of where and when you are looking.

On the other, make sure that your resume and cover letters convey the messages that you need, both in terms of framing and adapting your background in an appealing way (as you will seldom be as well suited for the roles as others with more specific experience) and highlighting the passion and interest that you have in a specific area.

And if you make it to an interview, research the company as if there was no tomorrow. This is an area where you can beat other candidates who, at first sight, may be better suited for the role.

7. Don't be desperate. It takes time to change jobs. It takes even more time to do so when you are switching drastically. Keep trying, hang in there and cheer yourself for any small accomplishment.

I wish I had been able to transition well before it happened. There were times when I thought about giving up as things were not moving as I would have expected. But I was resilient...and it ultimately paid off.

I hope this helps, until next time!

October 13, 2016

Spanish startups and NBA players: my starting lineup

The new NBA season is around the corner and for any given fan that translates into excitement. I have been a big fan since the Jordan vs. Magic days and, although my interest in the league at some point kind of plateaued out, the increasing addition of Spanish players to the league and my living in the US for 5 years re-sparked my passion.

It is a fact that in the last years we have enjoyed the best basketball generation in Spain ever and the fact that in season 2016-17 we will have 10 Spanish players in the NBA proves that once again. Over the years, an increasing number of Spaniard players has flown across the pond to conquer the Americas - the Gasol brothers being the main case in point - and that is something that we can also increasingly say about Spanish startups.

So, as the new season unfolds, I just thought about giving a shot at coming up with my starting lineup of Spanish startups (across different sectors) that are pushing hard at taking over the US (and global) markets. Obviously, it is hard to pick just five, as plenty of them are doing a great job, so please excuse my bias :). There we go:

1. Ricky Rubio - CARTO: Ricky is regarded as a great defender, passer and stealer, he is one of the best PG in the league. His Timberwolves seem to finally have a promising, yet still young, roster. Success may not be far away. If I had to bet on big success for a young Spanish startup, my chips would go for Carto, the Madrid and New York-based company focused on discovering and predicting key insights from location data. I love what they do and the endless possibilities their product and services offer. They have raised $31M so far and have a great team in place.

2. Pau Gasol - SCYTL: Pau is the best example of NBA success for a Spanish player to date. Little needs to be added, except for the fact that after joining the Spurs he should have another shot (GS Warriors permitting) at another ring. Along these lines, Barcelona-based electronic voting company Scytl has been around for some time (it is not a startup anymore I'd say), has an established presence in the US and there are rumors that it may file for an IPO on the Nasdaq in 2017 after having raised more than $100M in venture capital. There is so much young startups can learn from Scytl, same as young players from Pau.

3. Chacho Rodriguez - WALLAPOP: Chacho is about to start his second stint in the NBA at the 76ers after a not very successful time in Portland and a number of subsequent super fruitful seasons at Real Madrid. Philly is a team that continues to be rebuilt since Allen Iverson's departure and that enjoys the support of Philly's very passionate fans. Chacho has now the ability, experience and the minutes to shine. Following its becoming one of the recent darlings of the Spanish VC scene after attracting a huge (yet non-monetized) community of users to its classified ads marketplace, Wallapop has embarked on its US adventure by merging its US operations with Letgo. However, it will be a tough battle with entrenched players such as Craigslist and others.

4. Marc Gasol - ALIENVAULT: Marc has already enjoyed a pretty long career in the U.S. (in fact, since his high school days upon his family relocation when Pau joined Memphis), has critically helped the Grizzlies get to the next level so they compete face-to-face with the best, plus has also been able to make a personal impact in the league as one of the undisputed best centers. AlienVault was founded in 2006 by Spanish entrepreneurs and since then it has become a quasi-US company based out of Silicon Valley and a very relevant player as a platform providing security solutions for compliance and management threats. The company has raised $118M to date and may pride itself of having renowned investors such as Kleiner Perkins. Does it smell like unicorn here?

5. Willy Hernangomez - SHERPA: Willy will be starting his NBA career at my dear Knicks after a far from ideal last season at Real Madrid. A big challenge for him, as the weight of the Knicks jersey and of the Madison Square Garden is widely known.  The additions of Rose and Noah, the growth of Porzingis and the steady hand of Phil Jackson will hopefully be a good support for Willy. Although its AI-based personal assistant in Spanish has been in the works for quite some time, Sherpa has finally launched and jumped into the battlefield where it will be facing tough opponents such as Apple's Siri or Microsoft's Cortana. Sherpa has already shown big potential after entering into a partnership with Samsung and the growing Hispanic demographic in the US is out there waiting. 2017 will be a significant milestone for the company.

Let's see how the season goes.

October 3, 2016

Startups e inversores: algunas lecciones de Jason Mendelson de Foundry Group

Hace un par de semanas tuve la oportunidad de asistir a una conferencia organizada por Telefonica Open Future para hablar de temas de venture capital y de financiación para startups. A tal efecto, los organizadores tuvieron la brillante idea de invitar a Jason Mendelson, co-fundador de Foundry Group, uno de los fondos de venture capital más reputados y rentables del mundo. 

Jason y su socio, otro mito de este mundillo, Brad Feld (tiene, por cierto, un blog bien recomendable) escribieron hace años el libro "Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist" que se ha convertido en un clásico a la hora de entender las claves de los procesos de fundraising. Según indicó Jason, los principales motivos por el que escribieron el libro fueron “teach entrepreneurs and piss off VCs”. Todo un ejemplo. Por cierto, ahora el libro también está disponible en español gracias a la traducción de Manuel Matés, co-fundador del fondo español Big Sur Ventures.

La charla se centró en recomendaciones y best practices para emprendedores que acuden a venture capitalists en busca de financiación. Aquí comparto algunas de las cosas que más me llamaron la atención:

1)  Cómo acceder a un VC: ser referido por alguien es sin duda la mejor manera. Curiosamente, sin perjuicio de ello, Jason indicó que alrededor del 15% de sus inversiones tienen origen en una llamada a puerta fría del emprendedor.

En ese sentido, si uno va por esta última vía debe ir sí o sí bien preparado porque solo tendrá “one shot to amaze” al inversor, lo que implica tanto conocer bien el background del interlocutor como ser 100% transparente y manejar todos los KPIs y detalles sobre la propia empresa al dedillo.

2) Qué no hacer en ningún caso: tan importante es saber qué hacer como saber qué no hacer. En este último sentido, apuntaba Jason dos grandes errores a evitar: por un lado, no estar preparado (tanto respecto a uno mismo y a su empresa como respecto al VC con el que se va a hablar); por otro, pasarse de autoconfianza llegando a la arrogancia (evitar cualquier sensación de entitlement).

3) Inversores y área geográfica: aunque el approach es diferente en cada fondo, Jason opina que “el antiguo modelo de ser un inversor en tu ciudad ya no es tal”, de manera que hay fondos que invierten más allá de sus fronteras geográficas. Echando un vistazo al perfil de cada fondo y a su portfolio de participadas resulta relativamente fácil hacerse una idea de si siquiera merece la pena contactarle en vista de su ámbito geográfico de inversión.

4) Discutiendo la valoración: es un tema siempre sensible y recurrente y la práctica varía según los fondos. En Foundry Group no discuten demasiado sobre esto y tratan siempre de llegar muy cerca de su mejor oferta desde el primer minuto de conversaciones.  Yo siempre recordaré lo que me dijo Federico Antoni, co-fundador de ALL VP,  fondo líder de América Latina: más allá de la cifra que uno tenga en mente, “tu empresa vale lo que el mercado diga que vale”. En otras palabras, de nada sirve un poner un numerito en tu deck.

5)  Negociando un term sheet: aquí  igualmente variará en cada caso, pero Foundry Group publica en su web un montón de información sobre term sheets – interesante verlo – y sólo negocia option pool, puestos en el consejo y valoración.

6)  La importancia de las aceleradoras: en opinión de Jason, son un player importante para los VCs porque con su selección y aceleración de empresas reducen algo el riesgo para los inversores y dan mayor credibilidad a los proyectos. De manera que si existe la opción de entrar en una, más allá de lo que aporte (indica Jason que es clave mirar su track record, red de mentores, dinero levantado por sus empresas seleccionadas a la hora de elegir), puede facilitar procesos futuros con fondos. Startupexplore publicó hace poco una referencia sobre las que considera mejores en España.

Por último, me llamó poderosamente la atención que Jason indicó que “ser el CEO de una startup es el trabajo más solitario del mundo” y que por eso resulta fundamental que un VC no solo aporte dinero sino que sea capaz de “estar ahí para el fundador y para escuchar sus problemas”. Es por ello que considera fundamental que un CEO sea resiliente, tenga estabilidad emocional y sea capaz de celebrar sus victorias.

Hasta la próxima.

August 19, 2016

My summer vacation and the sharing economy

Speaking about the sharing economy is nothing new. However, when you think about it, it has not been around for such a long time even though we may feel that it is indeed the case. But the truth is that the first companies of this kind were born less than a decade ago - do you remember (some are still around) Ecomodo (2007), Crowd Rent or Share Some Sugar (2008)? Neither do I...

In short, technology has disrupted several industries by making them more efficient, in a way not seen before. This video explains in three minutes the fundamentals behind the rise of the sharing economy, being efficiency the key word at stake.  

But in addition to increased efficiency, the sharing economy as untapped multiple regulatory issues. At the end of the day, the regulator runs always behind the market - you cannot regulate something that has never existed before - and the incumbents in the market are not happy when the, in many cases, quasi-monopolies they enjoy are threatened. The legal issues that, even today, global sharing economy leaders such as Uber (drivers employee status, antitrust issues vis-a-vis taxi drivers) and Airbnb (apartment owners crackdown) are facing in key markets such as the U.S. and Europe have been notorious.

In my view, certain trends cannot be stopped, even more so when users love the service. Incumbents, adapt or get ready to die.

Spain has been, and still is today, a particularly tough market for sharing economy companies. However, little by little the latter are finding ways to overcome legal hurdles and to adapt their business models and operate. And for those of us willing to use them they are increasingly becoming irreplaceable.

A good example of how relevant they have become to me has been my latest summer vacation: Car2Go, Uber, Airbnb, Blablacar. I have used them all and they all have had a common denominator: cost savings + convenience + addressing a need. In other words EFFICIENCY:

(1) UBER: I used it to kick off my vacation in style, by getting from work to the train station. I had to make a stop on the way to pick up some stuff and, even with such a stop, I saved 30% over a regular cab (I hate it when cabs charge you an extra just because you are getting to/from a train station).

After multiple regulatory issues and fights with traditional cab drivers, UberX is finally running in Madrid. The service differs slightly from that in the U.S., as drivers need a specific license to operate (therefore, not anyone can be an Uber driver). Brand new cars in great condition, friendly drivers, increasing supply of cars and competitive pricing. Bye bye taxi!

(2) BLABLACAR: for the second phase of my summer vacation I needed to get from a town in the province of Almeria to another town in the province of Cadiz, both in Southern Spain. In the absence of my own car, I had two alternatives - bus and train - each involving a 5h+ trip and approximately €20. I took a Blablacar for €10 and within less than 2 hours I was at my destination. Plus I shared the ride with three very friendly people.

I have recently become a Blablacar user. It essentially saves me time and money on frequent routes (I still sometimes feel like traveling on my own using "traditional" means, though), and I have now realized that it may be a life saver on less common ones.

(3) AIRBNB: finding a nice and affordable place to stay at a popular spot on the second week of August - peak season in Spain - a week in advance may be impossible. You either sacrifice quality or price. Airbnb did it for me: I found a room at a great house next to a golf course and 10 minutes away from the beach at a very low price.

I have been using Airbnb for many years, mainly for leisure trips and renting the whole place for myself. However, over the last six months I have gone a step farther, using it for work travel and renting private rooms within a larger house. So far so good.

(4) CAR2GO: I used it upon my return in Madrid to get home, instead of taking a cab (or Uber). There were cars available nearby at the time and I was not in a rush to get anywhere. A very cheap and enjoyable drive in an empty Madrid to get ready to get back to work.

The new electric car-sharing platform that has been around in Madrid since last November has become a must for me. It is one third cheaper than a cab, it is convenient as you can park anywhere for free, plus you are "in control" as you drive yourself. A perfect subway match to move around the city and to prevent you from the temptation of buying your own car.

Well, it seems like these four guys are gonna stick around for quite some time. I am sure others will be joining soon too.

July 5, 2016

Kevin Durant, Tesla, Brexit ...takeaways para startups

El mes de junio ha sido rico en acontecimientos de muy diverso tipo. Y varios de ellos, muy distintos entre sí, me han dado algunas ideas para este post. A priori, pensar que podemos aplicar algunas enseñanzas del Brexit, del reciente accidente de Tesla o del flamante fichaje de Kevin Durant por los Golden State Warriors al universo startup resulta una quimera. Pero ya veréis como tiene sentido.

1. Kevin Durant...o la importancia de contagiar una mentalidad ganadora

Esta portada de Sports Illustrated que vi ayer resume perfectamente cómo se ha venido sintiendo Kevin Durant en su exitosa carrera. Y supongo que esto llegó a su máxima expresión estando 3-1 arriba contra los Warriors en la final de la conferencia oeste de la NBA de este año.

Su marcha a los Warriors anunciada ayer se puede interpretar de dos formas. Como la decisión fácil de irse a un equipo que le da probablemente más posibilidades que ningún otro de ganar el anillo el año próximo, abandonando el proyecto de los Thunder, bastante sólido pero no tanto. O bien como una decisión en la que está dispuesto a renunciar en cierta medida a su condición de mega estrella en Oklahoma en aras de un bien mayor: ganar el anillo.

En el plan de convencer a Durant se ha volcado toda la organización de los Warriors, desde Steph Curry hasta los dueños y director deportivo. Todo el mundo ha empujado en la misma dirección, como una sola fuerza. 

Y es ese querer alcanzar un sueño (exit) dándolo todo, ese aglutinar y alinear los intereses comunes para que todos los "estamentos" (empleados, management, accionistas) de la startup renuncien en parte y de forma razonable a su interés propio en aras de un objetivo superior lo que constituye la fuerza motriz, el viento de cola para un proyecto emprendedor. Y no es que sea recomendable, es que para mí es condición sine qua non.

2. El accidente mortal de un Tesla... o la importancia del día a día

Si hay una empresa (y un líder) que en los últimos tiempos ha despertado admiración - la cual profeso personalmente - esa es Tesla (y ese es Elon Musk). Tras la presentación el pasado mes de marzo de su más reciente modelo, el Model 3, Tesla consiguió 400.000 pedidos (valorados en unos $14.000 millones) en una semana. Si a eso unimos las continuas noticias sobre su mega fábrica de baterías en Las Vegas, rumores de adquisiciones corporativas, los éxitos de SpaceX (que ayudan sin duda, siquiera por asociación con Musk)... Días de vino y rosas, vaya. Y de repente, cuando todo iba rodado, llega el primer accidente mortal de un Tesla con piloto automático. Imposible estar a salvo del día a día.

Para una startup en proceso de crecimiento y eventual consolidación el día a día es fundamental. El mercado pronto olvida un gran partnership entablado con una gran empresa, o una potente ronda de financiación suscrita por inversores con pedigree, o el lanzamiento de un nuevo esperanzador producto. Los cambios en las dinámicas del mercado, la presión de los competidores, los intereses de los distintos stakeholders alrededor de la empresa. Cualquier circunstancia puede hacer en cualquier momento que se tuerza un camino que poco antes de preveía recto y despejado. 

3. Brexit...o la importancia del liderazgo

Semanas antes de que se celebrase el referendum en Reino Unido, un buen amigo que vive y trabaja en Londres ya apuntaba que era éste un lío en el que el otrora flamante primer ministro Cameron se había metido solito. Exceso de confianza? Asunciones erróneas? Desconexión con la realidad? Probablemente una mezcla de todo derivada de éxitos pasados (i.e. las últimas elecciones que ganó holgadamente). 

Más allá de las consecuencias "macro" para el ecosistema emprendedor europeo del Brexit, que bien resumía Gary Stewart (Director de Wayra UK & Telefonica Open Future en Reino Unido), a mí me parece que Mr. Cameron y su gente de confianza midieron horriblemente. Y esto es algo que puede suceder, y de hecho sucede a menudo en las startups. 

No seré yo quien descubra que la importancia de los equipos es capital en las startups. Un equipo puede hacer muy bueno a unos líderes mediocres. Y unos líderes mediocres pueden hacer malo a un buen equipo. Y un buen equipo y unos buenos líderes muy probablemente se harán mutuamente muy buenos. Pero para que esta ecuación funcione debe fluir la comunicación, deben conocerse las inquietudes, temores y aspiraciones de cada lado, deben todos ser capaces de ponerse en los zapatos del otro, deben todos comprender y empatizar con los intereses del otro. No valen las asunciones ni los puntos de vista unilaterales. Porque un día te despiertas y ha ganado el Brexit.

Food for thought. Hasta la próxima.

March 23, 2016

The digital media battlefield as ad blocking forces are deployed

I like technology, digital trends, the media landscape...and if I had to pick a hot topic affecting all of them lately my choice would be the ad blocking phenomenon. I guess I am a little biased after having worked at an adtech startup for the last 7 months, but still...

It is obvious that since the advent of the internet, traditional media have suffered declining advertising revenues as readers have shifted from paper to digital editions. Publishers have effortlessly (and not always successfully) tried to find business models (subscriptions, diverse freemium schemes, 100% ad-based, etc.) to rebalance their top lines.

Such eagerness to generate increasing digital revenue has in most cases led to a proliferation of advertising at the cost of the user experience. We have reached the point where such ad proliferation has caused many users to find their navigation experience increasingly disturbing, intrussive, annoying...in short, a perfect storm for ad blockers (and an opportunity for new non-intrussive advertising formats).

According to a report by PageFair and Adobe, ad blocking will result in almost $42bn in foregone revenues in 2016 globally (rising from $21bn in 2015). The same report points out double-digit YoY increases in users' ad blocker adoption.

Bad news for publishers as their already somewhat weak digital revenues are impacted by a tidal wave. Obviously, publishers are trying to react by forcing users to disable their ad blockers in order to navigate a site or by kindly asking them to do so...We have just known that, for instance, leading French publishers such as L'Equipe, Le Monde or Le Figaro are pushing together against ad blockers.

This is obviously bad news for advertisers as well. Along these lines, Fast Company reported in January that at the last Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) annual conference, Adblock Plus (one of the leading players worldwide) was kicked out.

It is probably easier said than done but at the end of the day the solution is about finding a balance between revenue and user experience. It sounds obvious, I know. As users, we have to understand that publishers have to pay salaries, premises, technology, etc (like any other business!), and that advertising plays a critical part in that. We cannot demand "free" quality content just like that and we should tolerate some reasonable degree of advertising. At the same time, publishers have to acknowledge that it does not make sense that any given user just wants - in a majority of cases - to close a pop-up as soon as it opens, or skip any pre-roll as soon as it kicks off.

And it is in this context that finding and implementing new advertising formats - native advertising, programmatic technology, etc. - that provide relevant (as opposed to general), quality (as opposed to junk) information to users may be the key to finding that balance. Happy, recurring users mean more traffic which, in turn, should translate in higher revenue. But finding the right formula for this equation is still something in the works.