by Felix Martinez, originally published on Medium.
It’s hard to believe almost two years have passed since I joined Seedcamp. It’s been an incredibly fun, intense, and rewarding journey during which I’ve learned a ton from the range of pretty awesome people I’m lucky enough to spend my days with.
Two years ago, I would never have thought I’d be fortunate enough to have a semi-front row seat to see the likes of Hopin, Sorare, Harbr, Ezra, Graphy, Elephant Healthcare, THIS and Sylvera, among others, go from one or two-man bands to becoming category-defining companies which, cheesy as it may sound, are tangibly affecting many people’s lives for the better. I also didn’t think I’d have the opportunity to learn from and be mentored by some of the best investors in the business.
This two-year milestone has prompted me to reflect on some of the stand-out learnings from my time in VC. I’ve purposefully tried to stay clear of lessons I’ve learned where the outcomes are solely related to investing or startups. Rather, I wanted to give a few tangible examples of my own experiences at Seedcamp — right from pre-internship application in 2019 through to the current day — to highlight key learnings which I’ve come to realise regularly manifest themselves across many facets of my everyday life.
I hope these can be helpful insights for anyone who is thinking about embarking on a new career path — be it VC or other — as well as to my peers in the industry who, like me, are very much in the process of learning the ropes.
As with most recent graduates, the prospect of deciding what to do after university wasn’t obvious for me. I’d come from an engineering background before moving from Cape Town to London to pursue a Masters in the hope of keeping my professional options as wide open as possible. Whilst studying, two friends and I decided to explore the viability of a startup aiming to streamline the returns/refund process for online shoppers. After raising a small amount of angel capital to pursue the concept, we quickly realised it wouldn’t work out as a scalable business. Still, the experience had been enough of an eye-opener into the tech scene to make me realise that whatever I did next had to allow me to keep immersing myself in this world. I got to reading everything I could get my hands on about startups, technology, and venture capital.
Given that experience, I was relatively up to speed with the main names in the European VC landscape. That included Seedcamp — partially because I knew of their history in the European seed ecosystem, being first investors in the likes of Revolut, TransferWise and UiPath, and partially because I was already an avid listener of Carlos’ This Much I Know podcast. When I saw they were looking to hire an intern, I jumped at the opportunity for a number of reasons.
I remember watching this video a few times before applying. What immediately struck me was how tight-knit a family the core team and the Seedcamp-backed founder community seemed to be (I even remember saying as much to Tom and Kyran in my first interview when they asked me ‘Why Seedcamp?’). Meeting the small team over the course of the interview process made me realise I was right about that. I could also tell they all genuinely loved what they did. I knew that joining a sector-agnostic fund would give me the chance to meet multiple experts in their respective fields on a daily basis. This exposure would translate directly into opportunities to learn about things I was genuinely curious about and afford me the chance to do digging on my own areas of personal interest. The prospect of learning from and working with the next generation of Europe’s most ambitious founders in the very nascent phases of their companies deeply excited me personally. It was the same excitement I’d seen some of my friends have when staring down the barrel of their own potential career paths — from doctors to clothes designers to rugby players.
Looking back, although I frankly wasn’t sure I wanted to pursue a job in VC at that stage of my life, the one thing I was sure of was that I wanted to contribute to the powerful role technology is playing in the world, no matter how small my contribution. It was clear that Seedcamp would give me that opportunity.
The first thing I noticed after joining the team was the speed at which decisions got made. Everything ran at 1000 miles per hour. One of the many ways that manifested itself in the work I personally did was in the process of ‘screening’ companies for investment. I had to get used to making quick decisions with limited information while reviewing pitch decks and/or tagging along with one of the five Investment Team members in meetings with founders.
Impostor syndrome in those early meetings could be extremely real. In weekly internal meetings with the Investment Team, I was very aware that I had little to no valuable input when it came to helping them come to an investment decision. They’d been doing it for many years and I was new to it all. Even though I was always encouraged to voice my opinion, I’d almost always opt to just keep quiet and listen. It was a similar story when it came to the early meetings with founders, especially those with experienced entrepreneurs operating in non-obvious sectors. As much as I loved being part of those meetings to establish relationships with the founders and understand what they were building, I would still silently think to myself ‘WTF am I doing here’ whilst wondering how I’d ever discern between whether what they’re building was interesting for us or not — in my eyes, it was all interesting.
To compound that, the overwhelming majority of investment conversations we have with founders unfortunately ends up in having to decline them for funding. Although I wasn’t the decision-maker on whether we’d invest in a company or not, if I had the most interaction with the founders, I would often be the one communicating the decision to them. Saying ‘no’ to top experts in their respective fields on a daily basis, many of whom have quit their high-paying jobs to build something impactful, was something I struggled with. On the other side of the spectrum, although one does quickly start to develop a nose for what traits companies have which could make them a fit for investment, the prospect of ‘missing’ a future billion-dollar company was also daunting.
In hindsight, being put in those situations every day was a great forcing mechanism to learn how to deal with being uncomfortable. Learning to face up to difficult conversations and dealing with my own insecurities about being an impostor has proven to be something which has helped me grow as a person. It’s taught me invaluable lessons about the importance of preparedness, the value of being upfront, and the power of trusting your gut.
There’s a great scene in one of my favourite docuseries on the life of Dr. Dre and record producer Jimmy Iovine, The Defiant Ones, in which Jimmy talks about the need for humans to use blinkers in the same way that racehorses do — “If you look at the horse on the left or the horse on the right, you’re going to miss a step”. Building conviction and being decisive is a key trait to have in your arsenal and it’s something I’ve witnessed playing out first-hand many times in our investment process.
For context, the companies Seedcamp considers for investment are extremely early stage — often just a couple of founders, an idea of a product (or a very basic MVP), and often no revenues. The investment decision usually is made after two meetings with the founders. The main thing that struck me was that there are always a million reasons not to invest. Though if there were just one or two key things which resonated strongly enough with the team, it would often be enough to warrant an investment offer. In the case of Hopin, Primer and a few others, the partners just committed halfway through the 45-minute meeting. There would be no looking over the shoulders to worry about which other investors had said ‘no’ or over-thinking what might happen if the company fails — rather, it’d be a case of backing the collective judgement of the team, showing the founders that you believe in their vision, and pulling the trigger.
To this point, I often think back at the chat I had within the first few months of my internship with one of our partners, Reshma, who founded Seedcamp back in 2007. Her advice for a successful career in venture was crystal clear and, given the context, unsurprising: “Don’t be scared to have strong opinions — build your own conviction and voice it”. The reason I think it resonated strongly with me was because it made me realise that my opinions on the companies we met perhaps weren’t as obvious to the team as I may have initially thought. Our team is made up of people with different professional backgrounds, genders, nationalities, and ages — we all form our opinions uniquely and view opportunities through different lenses. Favourable outcomes are based on well-informed decisions and the foundation of well-informed decisions is diversity of thought.
Funnily enough, I’ve been told before by my closest friends that I have a tendency to be indecisive — a trait I can be quick to point out in others. Being in an environment where sitting on the fence is simply not an option has taught me to take the time to build my convictions, put my blinkers on, and go for it.
It’s no secret that, as the intern, I was pretty much always guaranteed to be the least knowledgeable person in the room. With founders, there have been plenty of times where I didn’t quite understand something they said — be it a concept, a technology, or an acronym. On occasion, out of fear of sounding stupid, I’ve been guilty of pretending to understand what was said when I in fact didn’t follow. Bluffing can be a very dangerous game to play, especially with smart founders, as it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out when someone isn’t following something within your realm of expertise. From my experience, being honest about not fully understanding something or being upfront about not pretending to be an expert in the space has often even had a very positive effect on leveling the playing ground of the discussion, getting the best out of the founder and having a frank dialogue.
Post-investment, the same principle rings true. Even though I wasn’t the main person from the Investment Team a founder would primarily interface with, I would often fear I’d bring nothing to the table if a founder we’d backed were to ask me for specific help on a functional area of their business. It may sound obvious, but realising that founders didn’t expect that of me was a big thing (at Seedcamp, we have a wide range of functional experts within the wider team and my job would be to connect the dots and introduce founders to the right person). More importantly, I realised that founders, no matter their seniority, are first and foremost looking for strong human connections with the investors they partner with. They look for people they know they can ring up to be candid about their doubts, ask for opinions on tough decisions, ask for introductions to potential key hires or ask for a helping hand with their pitch decks ahead of their next funding round. The first call I got from a founder venting to me about the doubts they were having about their upcoming fundraise was hands-down one of my best days at Seedcamp.
Being honest is the building block to instilling trust and establishing a healthy relationship. After all, as with most jobs and with most of life, dealing with people is what it’s all about.
Having made the transition to a permanent role on the Investment Team early last year ahead of announcing Seedcamp’s fifth fund in late 2020, it’s hard not to get excited when thinking about what lies ahead.
Seedcamp was founded on the belief that European founders have the potential to compete on a global scale. The last two years have shown that the world is waking up to the fact that Silicon Valley isn’t the only place to build category-defining technology companies. In the last few months from our portfolio alone, UiPath has become Europe’s most valuable private company with a $35bn valuation after Seedcamp’s seed investment in 2015. Hopin has become the fastest-ever growing software company, reaching a $5.6bn valuation less than 18 months after we led Johnny’s preseed round in September 2019. The quality of founders we’re seeing on a daily basis tells us that the virtuous cycle of talent, capital, and infrastructure for the next generation of European success stories is in full-swing.
The future of European tech shines bright and I look forward to keep traveling down the road with the wider Seedcamp family.
We’re going to be hiring a new intern starting in May — keep your eyes on our twitter page for more details!
Big thank you to my awesome colleagues Natasha and Kate for their help on this post.
One of the biggest strengths of the Seedcamp Nation is the huge value that comes from founders helping other founders. Although we haven’t gathered in person in over a year, the impact of our community is tangible through the incredible products and services being deployed around the world and the insights and advice being shared between our founders in private.
Every day founders have questions about logistical challenges, administrative concerns, and more. Questions like how to choose the best cloud hosting platform, legal experts, or tax consultants. But one of the biggest value adds is the human connection; the open, honest conversation about leadership challenges. The pandemic further unlocked the power of our community with the unexpected upside that our founders have doubled down on our online platform – Mobilize – to strike up new points of connection, and engage in discussion. Having founders from across Europe and beyond, brilliantly varies the insights shared and one recent discussion on avoiding pandemic-related burnout was particularly insightful.
It started on a ‘normal’ Monday when Matt Wardle, Founder & CTO of Kasko reached out to the Seedcamp Nation for help with proven strategies for combatting this burnout when leading your team. What followed was an outpouring of useful advice, resources, and ideas from across the Seedcamp community that were far too great to keep to ourselves.
Therefore we present to you the Seedcamp Nation Burnout Prevention Guide, a collection of tools and methods to try out for yourself and with your team to ensure that you’re thriving in remote settings despite the pandemic.
Special thanks to all of the Seedcamp Nation members who shared their experiences and contributed ideas.
Managing Your Team
In the UK alone, 4 in 5 (79%) workers have felt ‘close to burning out’ at some point in the last year and more than half (51%) of workers reported feeling guilty about taking annual leave. It’s paramount to focus on high-risk individuals and pay particular attention to changing behaviours: negative thinking, loss of focus, and feelings of being overwhelmed.
Finding ways to replace water cooler conversation can be tricky, and one aspect of office life that we all miss dearly is shooting the breeze about what’s hot and what’s not on Netflix and in the news. Our Office Manager Alexandra found that she shared a love of the Eames designer with our very own Partner, Tom Wilson.
Here’s a list of other tips, activities, and apps suggested by the Seedcamp Nation to keep the team connected beyond work:
We’ll be adding more resources as we come across them, so watch this space.
(Updated Mar 2021)
The digitisation of how we manufacture goods, via the automation of information and data exchange, is known to industry experts as the transition to industry 4.0. What does that mean and what was industry 3.0? In 1970, computers were introduced to the manufacturing process, speeding up the planning, design, and building process for all. Just 5 short decades later, we’ve arrived at the next stage, version 4.0, of industry. Enter: Full Speed Automation which enables production agility with its intelligent automation software.
We’re excited to join Full Speed Automation on their journey in a $3.2m seed round led by our friends at HCVC (Hardware Club), with participation from Catapult Ventures, Serena Capital, Kima Ventures, Diaspora Ventures, and angel investors entrenched in the manufacturing industry. When we met Luc Leroy, Founder & CEO of Full Speed Automation, it was immediately clear to us that he knew the in and outs of this industry. After all, Luc was the man who drove the Core Automation Engineering team at Tesla to solve the Model 3 “automation hell”, helping make production profitable. While at Tesla, he also developed the team and set up the new controls and software architectures for Gigafactory Shanghai, battery cells, and Model Y production lines. In our minds, there is no one better placed to tackle this issue and accelerate the transition to industry 4.0.
Full Speed’s first product, VITESSE, is the world’s first no-code automated manufacturing platform, allowing fast production bring-ups and rapid iterations on existing production lines as well as new ones. In addition to bringing agility to factories, VITESSE simplifies data acquisition and enables production monitoring with real-time telemetry. The platform increases quality and working conditions; it also boosts productivity, traceability, and takes a step in protecting our planet by decentralizing production and redistributing supply chains.
“Industry 4.0 represents a big shift in the way data and information is used to manufacture things from everyday products to the most complex of tools,” remarks Seedcamp Managing Partner Carlos Espinal. “We’ve backed Luc and the team at Full Speed Automation in their goal to help shape this modern day industrial revolution with their software platform VITESSE. We’re excited to be joining them on this breakneck pace journey to empower the manufacturing industry to not only use all their data and information, but to also protect our supply chains which have never been more under stress and at risk.”
“Full Speed’s vision of enabling the ‘autonomous factory’ of the future was hugely inspiring to us at Seedcamp, and we couldn’t imagine a team better-placed to deliver on that in terms of industry knowledge, experience and ambition,” adds Kyran Schmidt from our investment team. “They are already blazing ahead commercially and becoming a real magnet for strong talent. We’re delighted to be joining them on their journey.”
No one stresses the need to make the transition more than the team at Full Speed Automation.
“It has become critical to accelerate the transition to industry 4.0,” comments Founder and CEO Luc Leroy. “While initiating pilots with brands in Automotive, Smart Warehousing, Biotech and Greentech, we met incredible traction from customers which attracted investors and motivated them to close fundraising quickly. To enable production agility with smart automation is key for a better future; our platform increases quality and working conditions; it also boosts productivity, traceability and is essential to protect our planet by decentralising production and redistributing supply chains. VITESSE is the missing universal automation operating system that will support this transformation, and we are thrilled to have passionate venture capital partners and experts on board to help us on this journey.”
The team will be using the seed funding to charge full speed ahead in the development of VITESSE, hiring people in the US & Europe. Interested in being part of the manufacturing revolution? Apply to join the team here.
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