“The White Star Guy”

Three years ago, I posted that I was leaving Facebook to start a new Venture Capital firm, White Star Capital. I started the post by counting the number of days since I had joined the amazing rocketship that was FB.

I just checked and today marks 1,404 days since that post.

It shocked me to realize that I have now indeed been a self-employed “dark-side” VC for longer than I was “the Facebook guy” hawking Likes and OpenGraph across the European startup ecosystem.

The realisation also made me think about what has changed in the transition and what I’ve learnt in the past few years.

Move slow and break things: In operating roles you can take action and see short term results as you control the operational levers and resources to do so. As an investor you need patience… a lot of patience… as the decisions you make today (to invest and partner with an entrepreneur) will likely not be proven out until many years later.

Soft power: As I have posted before, as a VC, you are a minority investor in a business and maybe a Board member, but you are no longer part of the management team. Your ability to influence relies on soft power and hopefully this is built through a relationship of trust with the entrepreneur.

Intellectual curiosity is a must: What I have enjoyed the most about my transition into Venture Capital has been the constant ability (or rather constant requirement) to learn. You have to continue learning about emerging technologies, comparing geographic trends, assessing platforms, trying to learn as much as you can about the space an entrepreneur is attacking to build conviction on an investment. It is probably one of the few jobs in the world where I can (excitedly) see myself continue to learn for the next twenty years.

It’s collaborative: I am not sure if this is also the case in the West Coast where there is a lot more competition, but I have been surprised by the openness and level of collaboration that exists between investors in Europe. Many of us actively co-invest with each other, refer opportunities and share impressions on a company or founder. I specifically have to call out Kevin Comolli of Accel and Eric Archambeau of Wellington who have acted as mentors in this apprenticeship-style business. There are dozens of others who opened their rolodex to introduce us to their own LPs, who refer deals, who invite us to look at something together. Life is too short not to sorround yourself with good people and I must admit there are some really, really good people in the European VC ecosystem with whom I hope to spend more time with and learn from in the future (looking at you Daniel Waterhouse, Suranga Chandratillake, Mattias Ljungman, Carlos E. Espinal, Fred Destin, Tom Hulme, Ciarán O'Leary, Florian Heinemann, Chrys Chrysanthou)

You need resilience: The role does come with a fairly intense emotional roller coaster. From the challenge many of us face when raising a first-time fund (think of it as a really, really long seed round with a few zeros after it… To the emotional process of deciding to do a deal and then fighting to be part of it…To the inevitable pivots, management changes, risks, competition, and risks of subsequent funding rounds that you get to experience alongside your entrepreneurs.

It’s fun: Above all, when people ask me what the last few years have been like, I have to admit it’s been fun. When I first shared with Kevin that I was planning to go into VC he shared some wise words “Don’t do it for the money. Do it because you think it’s fun. If it’s fun the money will eventually follow.” It’s still too early to know whether the money will follow [but I promise dear LPs that our portfolio is rocking!] but it has certainly been fun. Being a master of my own fate alongside my Partners, gaining the trust of entrepreneurs that have allowed me to back them, seeing so many of them scale and continuing to learn day in and day out…

So, 1,404 days later I am pretty comfortable having evolved into “the White Star guy”…and I’m very much looking forward to the next 10,404 days.