Reflections on eight years in VC
I count myself incredibly lucky that I get to spend every day doing a job I love.
I was fortunate to join an ambitious team in a remarkable industry early in my career. Almost eight years ago, it was a team that took a chance on me, mentored and developed me, and gave me as much opportunity as I could take. Today it is a team that welcomes me as a Partner.
It’s been quite a journey. I’ve seen Atomico raise progressively larger funds and more than double in size. We’ve partnered with over fifty exceptional Founding teams, building some of the most exciting technology companies in the world. And it has been an incredible time to see the European technology ecosystem grow and thrive.
As the VC industry itself grows and evolves, I wanted to share a few reflections on my experiences to date, which will guide me going forward and I hope might be useful to others too:
- It takes patience. As with many young and ambitious people early in their careers, at times I’ve found myself to be impatient to develop and to progress. VC is not an industry for the impatient though. Feedback takes time and requires you to experience the journeys of many companies, and building a track record and progression can take fund cycles. I’m still very early on what I hope will be a career-long path, but am just starting to feel the benefits of working with the same colleagues and Founders for multiple years. My experience is that it’s not a career where optimising for the short term pays off.
- There is no ‘right’ background. I’ve asked many people since I started in VC whether having operational experience is crucial to becoming a successful investor, and unsurprisingly I’ve heard the full range of answers. My view now is that there is no ‘right’ or ‘best’ background to be a VC, and equally there is also no right personality or style. What’s key is to play to your strengths and expertise, recognise your gaps and not try to be an expert in things you aren’t. But a great VC investor is an all-rounder, and I’ve continually had to move outside my comfort zone to develop the areas I’ve felt I was weakest, for example in giving my views in a group forum when I naturally prefer to wait and address these one to one. Having no ‘right’ background is also part of the reason I believe VC investing is best done as a team, and I’m fortunate to work with people whose strengths and experiences complement my own.
- You have to thrive on change. VC is about spotting opportunities for technology to drive change in the world, and unlock economic value as part of that, and as such that potential for change has to excite you. More tactically too, as the technology investment landscape continues to rapidly evolve, you need to be someone who thrives on looking at new and better ways to do things to help make your team a winning one. This is the kind of problem solving I have always personally enjoyed, and I’m also fortunate that I found an organisation that has this at the core of its DNA.
- You have to separate the professional and the personal. VC is a business about relationships, people and trust. While most of the time everyone is aligned and working towards the same goals, the nature of the relationships means this can’t always be true. My most challenging experiences so far have come from the situations where Founders I’ve worked with have felt we weren’t aligned and that trust was impacted. I’ve found the best way to find resolutions has been by moving beyond personal emotions, and dealing with a situation professionally, logically and rationally.
- We are not in the business of 100%. Throughout your education and in many early career roles you are taught to aim for 100%; every task must be complete and every answer must be right. It’s taken me a long time to recalibrate to what the VC industry requires. We are in the business of assessing risk and judging opportunity. This means that not every investment will work out, and you will say no to some that go on to be highly successful. You’ll also never be able to do enough, there are always more emails to respond to, more founders to meet, more help you could be giving, and this feeling takes time to adapt and get comfortable with. I’ve found you have to learn to trust your judgement about what has the most impact and optimise based on that.
- It’s a job you have to love. VC is a job that requires significant self-motivation — to hunt down the next opportunity, research the next trend, develop the next relationship, provide the next piece of support — and so it is a job that you need to love in order to turn up every day with the determination to be successful. When I interview new investors for our team, it’s now one of the main things I look for. Does this person genuinely seem like they will love this job as much as I do.
I’d also like to use this opportunity for a few public words of thanks.
Thanks to the Founders and teams at Onna, Spacemaker, Automation Hero, Oden, Hinge Health, Bitmovin, Uniplaces and Gengo for allowing me to be a small part of your journeys.
Thanks to Niklas, Hiro and Mattias for giving me this opportunity, and along with Chris Dark, Carolina, Teddie, and Siraj for mentoring me along the way. And thanks to everyone on the Atomico team, past and present, who it has been a pleasure to work alongside.