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!!