I have had the great pleasure and fortune of knowing Joaquim and the Armilar team for the past fourteen years. Armilar Venture Partners was one of our first investors when my co-founders and I launched our very first company in New York, called Clarity Payment Solutions. Joaquim took a big bet on a bunch of twenty somethings with no track record, who were trying to establish an entirely new payments category, now known as the Prepaid card industry. At the time I knew very little about Portugal, and I was surprised to learn that there was a Portuguese venture group making tech investments in the US.
The Armilar Venture Partners’ bet paid off — we sold that company to the worlds largest credit card payments processor — and our relationship with Armilar has continued ever since. My partners and I have gone on to start a number of new companies in which Armilar has invested, including TxVia, which we eventually sold to Google. That technology now powers Google’s Payments and Wallet infrastructure. Today, I spend my time running the worlds largest fintech event called Money20/20 which I co-founded four years ago, which attracts over 10,000 attendees including 1,200+ CEO’s. I am also a Venture Partner at a $500MM fintech and healthcare tech fund called Oak HC/FT.
Over the years, I have made several trips to Lisbon. I have enjoyed spending time in the city, and greatly appreciated the warmth and hospitality of the Armilar team, which I saw as a reflection of the Portuguese people as a whole. Portugal is a hospitable, inviting place. I found Lisbon a unique and interesting city, but never had enough time to really get to know it, or broader Portugal.
While building various companies, I’ve also been busy growing a family. I now have three kids, ages 12, 9 & 7. My wife and I both lived abroad for many years prior to having children, and found it a valuable experience; one that we wanted to share with our children. Although we love the United States, our home country, we felt it was important for our children to have a sense of the bigger world, too.
When I was finally in a position to pick up and work from virtually anywhere in the world, we faced a “problem”. With so many options, which place was the best choice? We’d had some brutal New York winters, so the thought of a milder climate was appealing, but climate wasn’t the only consideration. My wife had enjoyed living in Cairo, but that wasn’t feeling terribly welcoming. She’d liked living in a number of Southeast Asian cities, but they were awfully far for the kids, and the dogs, far from family… hot, humid and rainy… I’d started my career in London, a great city, and still travel there frequently, but gray and rainy wasn’t on the wish list either. As we went down the list of places we’d lived, or visited, and liked, we found that there weren’t really that many places we wanted to bring our children to live.
We wanted somewhere safe; a cultured but not too big city; somewhere I could travel from without too much difficulty; where we imagined we would feel welcome and at home; where friends and family would be happy, to visit; with a varied landscape and lots of different things to do and see; where my children could attend good international schools, and yes, somewhere with a warmer climate. We put Lisbon, Barcelona and Nice on the short list — all terrific cities which we were at least somewhat familiar with. After making some trips for direct comparison, it was clear that Lisbon was the best fit for us, with Cascais being a beautiful place to live, in close proximity to the schools that they would attend.
Having spent a year here already, I have to say that I am certain this was, in fact, the best choice. We are grateful for the kindness with which we’ve been treated; the help we’ve so generously been given, the accepting attitude of the people we interact with as we navigate our temporary home. Our children are happy here. They’ve made many friends from Portugal and beyond. They eat soup now. And they play outside at 21:00 when they would have been indoors since 16:00 in New York, trying to escape the cold and dark. We go to the beach without having to plan, or pack, or worry about traffic. We stop for pastel de nata and tiny coffees. We enjoy the special atmosphere of Sintra, love the vibe of Lisbon, and look forward to visiting more of the country as time goes on. For a small country, the list of places we are eager to see is surprisingly long.
As for work, the entrepreneurial spirit I’ve seen in Portugal has been a pleasant surprise. I have been to several start up events and have seen a number of really innovate products. I have also been impressed with the quality of engineering talent that exists in Portugal which is a direct result of the quality of the engineering courses and universities available. In fact, I have spoken to several companies in the US that are looking at opening up engineering centers in Lisbon due to the cost of labor and high quality skill set you can get here.
As a fintech investor, most of the European companies that I look at are located in London as you would expect. However, the first European fintech investment Oak HC/FT funded is a Portuguese company called Feedzai, a Armilar portfolio company. Feedzai is a machine learning, fraud prevention big data company, which is a great example of a Portuguese based company that is competing and winning in markets around the world. The question is how Portugal can churn out more companies like Feedzai? It all starts with access to capital. There is certainly a need for more early stage Portuguese venture firms. Successful Portuguese entrepreneurs need to become mentors to first time entrepreneurs and more angel and institutional investment from abroad will be needed to help seed the start up ecosystem. Sweden is a perfect example of how a small country with roughly the same population as Portugal has become known as one of the main tech start up hubs in the world. Success breeds more success. The likes of Spotify and Klarna has inspired a whole new generation of entrepreneurs; and VC’s from all over the world are investing in Swedish tech companies. Portugal needs a few big consumer companies to hit it big globally, which will inspire a next generation of entrepreneurs. The imagination, skill and will is certainly here for this to happen. Portugal is calling!
Venture Partner at Oak HC/FT