I built my first website in the pre-iPhone era. Frustrated with having to call a dozen taxi companies to get ride quotes, I created a web app that sent customer ride requests to local taxi companies who offer bids in return. I’d coined the service “Gogotaxi”. Uber before Uber? It could have been, but Gogotaxi only lasted a few months. Whilst the idea may have been decent, I was rather clueless on execution and in startupland, not much else matters. A first-time founder must wear many hats while fighting a steep learning curve on several fronts. Whilst it may not have turned into the success I hoped, I learned a valuable lesson in the process: building startups is bloody hard work, especially when it’s your first rodeo.
When the chance to work at Playfair Capital arose, I jumped at the opportunity. Federico Pirzio-Biroli, or ‘Fede’ as he is more commonly known, was angel investing at the time and was making one investment a month. He had 20 investments already under his belt. I joined because it was a rare opportunity to help grow an angel portfolio into a venture firm from the ground up and it would enable me to learn a great deal about building and scaling businesses.
I’m immensely proud to have been part of the Playfair journey — we’ve come a long way since I started:
- It was a one man band (Fede)
- We had no clear value add support operation
- Most people outside of London had never heard of us
- Fede had invested in 20 companies across a wide range of sectors
- There was no website, logo, brand, file management system, CRM system or even a company email account
- A Partner and expert in artificial intelligence, Nathan Benaich, who organises one of the the best annual AI events in London
- A talent expert, Joe Thornton, who works with our founders to build great teams by hiring the best talent
- A Partner with legal expertise Georgia Taylor Foster, who enables us to execute quickly on investments
- An incredible chairman and sole backer, Fede, without whom, Playfair would not exist
- A clear focus: investing in early stage companies that are solving high-value problems using technology and design to improve the way we live, work and play
- Made 50 investments across 8 countries
- A strong international network of entrepreneurs and investors
- An increasingly strong, founder friendly, and approachable brand
- A much more process-driven, focused and effective organisation
Like all companies, we are learning and improving each day. I’m excited about the road that Playfair is on.
It’s been a phenomenal few years and the decision to leave has not come lightly. I’m leaving a lot behind; — an incredibly talented team, founders, advisors and fellow investors — many of whom have become good friends. You’ve all been an inspiration in so many different ways and I’m lucky to have had the opportunity to work alongside you.
My entrepreneurial itch is now calling once again and I simply can’t ignore it. If there is one thing that the past few years has taught me, it’s that building companies is as much a science as it is an art. Human time and financial capital are being wasted on a colossal scale when building, managing and scaling companies and I intend to do something about it — by creating a business builder platform. I’ll be announcing more details on the platform shortly. In the meantime, if you’d like to follow my progress, you can sign up to the beta here.
I won’t however be leaving the Playfair family completely. I’ll be staying on as a venture partner referring new investment opportunities and helping Playfair portfolio companies in whatever way I can through the platform. I hope the eventual knowledge from a smart ecosystem of people and organisations will be many hundreds of times more valuable to our portfolio than I could ever be by myself.
Farewell Playfair and thank you for your support in my next venture. Despite the perils of entrepreneurship, I feel ready to join the other side of the table once again. Only this time, I have a much clearer grasp of what great companies look like, the pitfalls I can likely expect along the way and a large network of people to call on for advice when the rough patches come. Like all companies, it’s just a matter of time before they do.