What comes after the family?
Restlessness is a key element of the entrepreneurial spirit and as anyone who knows me well will tell you, I am an entrepreneur to my very bones. After eight amazing years where Index has been my home, I will be moving on this summer to follow my passion — creating new companies and working with founders at the formational stages of their businesses as they plot product, team and go-to-market strategy.
My love affair with the Index family began almost twenty years ago in 1995, when I struck up a friendship with my now partner, Danny, while in Boston, where I was helping to build Firefly, my first Internet startup. At the time, Danny was in investment banking at H&Q, working on taking icons like Amazon, Netscape and Verisign public. Meanwhile, his brothers Neil and David were working with their friend Giuseppe to bring the Silicon Valley mindset to Europe, as they set up Index in Geneva.
Timing is such a key part of business and while Danny and I never had a chance to work together in the US, collaborating had always been an aspiration. When we both moved to London in 2002, an opportunity finally arose: I was starting the business that became Lovefilm, and Danny had moved to London to open Index’s first office with Bernard and Ben. Lovefilm went on to become one of the first investments Index made in London, and I was lucky enough to have Danny on my board. As an Index entrepreneur, I began to get to know the rest of the partnership and gain first-hand experience of its one-team ethos.
My days at Lovefilm also taught me that there is enormous personal and professional pleasure in helping a business grow, and then handing on the reins to others to support it as it scales. While it was very exciting to work with great co-founders like Alex Chesterman and William Reeve to help build something of real value, it was no less pleasurable to watch Simon Calver, whom we hired as CEO, take the business to the next level.
It was around then that Danny encouraged me to meet with, and ultimately join, Niklas Zennstrom, who was just moving Skype to London. Timing again ☺ Skype was a crazy journey — not just because at the time it was one of the very first hyper-growth companies built outside Silicon Valley, but it was a unique learning experience to have a front-row seat when a product, brand and organization evolves from little-known to household name in just a few short years. It was exhilarating and exhausting — kind of like sprinting up a mountain.
When Skype was sold to eBay in 2005, it was an iconic exit not just for Index, but also for Europe. I learnt so much at eBay (and PayPal) and met some amazing people — most memorably, the sadly-missed Rajiv Dutta. But since I’d already been through a startup exit to a tech icon in 1997 with Firefly and Microsoft, it was clear to me that I was not going to be at eBay long, and in 2007 Danny asked me to come and hang out at Index instead.
An accidental VC?
You could say I was something of an accidental VC. It wasn’t something I’d set out to be; I have just always loved spending time with entrepreneurs and working with them on the challenges they face in building great businesses. But actually the thing that probably drew me most to Index in 2007 was the people. By then, I had come to know and love spending time with the Index team, across all three dimensions of: being an entrepreneur at Lovefilm, an executive at Skype and as a seed co-investor with Moo and Mind Candy.
So having a chance to work with the Index team on a more full-time basis and help my new partners shape a world-class venture capital firm, born in Europe, was too good a chance to miss. The team’s entrepreneurial drive was palpable and our ambition to build something long-lasting grew in line with the new opportunities we saw in the market.
It was soon clear to me that Index was a series of internal startups. First Dom joined to work with Giuseppe to launch our presence in late-stage investing, which was later developed with Jan. Then in 2009, Mike moved to London as a prelude to starting our now significant and growing presence in San Francisco with Danny in 2011.
My first startup focus at Index was around seed. It began soon after I joined in 2007, when I pitched my partnership on supporting the long-term foundations of a vibrant European startup ecosystem, first by creating Opencoffee, and then Seedcamp with Reshma Sohoni. Eight years on, I couldn’t be prouder of our contribution, with Seedcamp — now firmly under Reshma and Carlos’ leadership — recognised as one of the world’s leading seed accelerators, having clocked up 150+ investments and with Transferwise as its first unicorn.
In 2010, Robin joined to further develop our seed investing. In the last five years we have continued to significantly expand and evolve our support and approach for seed stage founders. Today all 20 technology investment professionals at Index meet with, mentor and source great seed opportunities across every geography and sector we invest in. We also have a very active and engaged community of 36 seed founders constantly sharing notes and leveraging our network and collective insights to build their businesses.
In addition to making seed investments, we have extended our support of some of the best seed platforms in the world beyond Seedcamp, by funding TheFamily in Paris, actively supporting and investing in Ycombinator founders and Thiel Fellows, as well as pushing the envelope, by supporting teams who want to leverage new crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Crowdcube. Seed is part of who we are — and we are always on the lookout for more and more ways to do it ☺
My second startup focus at Index has been around services. Today, Index has around 140 active investments across 39 cities and 21 countries and, collectively, these businesses generate over $7bn in annual revenue, grow over 100% y/y and employ over 25,000 people and have nearly 2,500 open vacancies. So for the last three years we have quietly been building a set of services and nurturing a collection of active communities, to better support not just the founders and CEOs that we work with, but critically their teams as well.
This is becoming an extremely powerful marketplace for knowledge and expertise — a distributed Fortune 500 if you like. As a partnership, we have invested significant time, resources and thought to begin building what we hope will become a world-class network that goes well beyond the capital we can provide entrepreneurs to build iconic businesses.
We have also challenged ourselves to deliver all the core functions of a modern top tier venture firm with a ‘one team’ ethos and a single partnership across multiple geographies: namely, investing, operations and services. It was this family approach that first attracted me to Index in 2002, and I am proud to have been part of a team that has scaled significantly since 2007, raising eight new funds, hiring 50 new people and opening a Silicon Valley office, while all the way doubling down on the one-team principle which sits at our core.
We talk mostly in venture capital about the deals we’ve done and I’m really proud of the investments I’ve led over the last eight years, as well as the deals I’ve participated in. But what stands out for me the most as an entrepreneur and operator is the journey of helping my partners to build the best possible firm at Index and continue to nurture our tight-knit, collaborative partnership.
So now it’s my turn.
The experience of starting Kano in 2012 with Yonatan and Alex reminded me that what I’m most passionate about is starting companies. It’s a stage of a company’s life cycle that I find incredibly exciting. It’s in my blood and I can’t shake it.
So from this summer, I will focus my energies on starting new companies and investing in, supporting and mentoring founders at inception stage, when their teams are still being formed and decisions on product and go to market strategy are yet to be finalised. On these (and other projects), I will continue to work with my dad, Robin.
I’m moving on from day-to-day responsibilities at Index in the knowledge that there has never been a stronger team in place and that I’ll always be part of the family; a professional family, that’s profoundly shaped me in so many ways. I’ll continue to do monthly office hours, represent Index on boards and work closely with the wider Index network.
When I first started to work with the firm, the notion of ‘the Index family’ was often used disparagingly, because of people’s misconception that it was literally a family firm, built around the Rimers. But what’s clear to anyone who has worked with Index is that by ‘family’, we mean something different. Like any strong family, Index is made up of deep emotional bonds and shared values. And above all else an overriding sense that, together, we can achieve great things.
*the awesome graphic from Sciberia up above was a present from my Partners last week ☺