Steve’s ITK: Hard things are hard
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Opening thought: Hard things are hard
I’ve often said — albeit, in slight jest — that writing about technology would be the best job in the world if it wasn’t for the writing.
The point I’m making is it is almost always fun (and sometimes even a privilege) talking to entrepreneurs and, more broadly, those who are building the future, but what people seem to forget is that the subsequent article that appears online doesn’t write itself. And when the words aren’t flowing — coupled with an inbox full of people ‘circling back’ wanting you to write about their thing — it’s hard.
I find it particularly challenging when I’m writing something more long-form instead of a pithy news piece. Not only does it (for me at least) require a very different mindset, workflow and level of creativity e.g. interviews, transcribing, finding the overall angle and story arc, but it also simply takes more time.
The only solution I’ve come up with is to try to ignore everything else and not put myself under too much pressure so that the creative neurones start firing, which is what I’ve mostly done over the last couple of weeks as I finally filed a soon-to-be-published 4,500+ word feature, including neglecting to write this newsletter!
The Hoff backs EF!
No, not that Hoff. The big news in London this week is that company builder Entrepreneur First has raised $12.4 million in new funding led by Silicon Valley’s Greylock Partners.
The fundraise — which is for operational costs and separate from EF’s investment fund — also sees Greylock partner and co-founder of LinkedIn Reid Hoffman join the EF board. I managed to secure an exclusive interview with Hoffman prior to breaking the news, which was fun.
Despite never talking to Hoffman before, it was actually a pretty easy interview, given that I knew the subject really well — having covered EF and their unique “talent first” investment model almost right from the start — and that Hoffman undoubtedly knows his stuff.
This was followed at the end of the week by EF’s Demo Day for its eighth London cohort. I’ve waxed lyrical in this newsletter about EF before (see ‘The Magic Pony effect’), but what makes the company builder interesting is that it backs individuals “pre-team, pre-idea” — meaning that, as far as I understand, none of the companies pitching on Friday existed just six months ago.
Based on the quality of pitching startups (within the limitations of a 3–4 minute presentation), I remain bullish on EF, although I’d love to see more data and analysis on how well its portfolio is doing further up the funnel.
Here’s an excerpt from my coverage of Demo Day:
To date, EF says it has helped more than 500 individuals on its program, who have built more than 100 companies with a total (mostly on paper) valuation exceeding $1 billion. As far as I know, it doesn’t break out additional numbers regarding the fundraising success rate of its startups or how many, if any, no longer exist to this day. Now into its sixth year, the program has been running long enough to make that data interesting and potentially quite meaningful, although it is also worth keeping in mind that EF has iterated and grown quite a lot since those humble cohort one and two beginnings.
We were promised flying cars and we got flying taxis? Ok, that’s not true quite yet, but Munich-based Lilium is at least attempting to build something along those lines. The in-development five-seater Lilium jet promises to be a new kind of all-electric vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) device that you’ll be able book almost as conveniently as an Uber.
The company recently raised $90 million in Series B funding, and in covering the news I managed to bag an exclusive english language interview with the otherwise quite media shy Lilium co-founder and CEO, Daniel Wiegand.
Although a commercial launch is several years away, Wiegand told me that Lilium aims to be “the leading company enabling every person to take a jet instead of using the car and be five times faster to their destination… There’s going to be an app and from day one you’ll be able to book this airplane as a service”.
Who said European tech lacked ambition?
Things I wrote
Entrepreneur First (EF), the company builder and “talent first” investor, has just held Demo Day for its eighth London cohort, seeing 14 newly-formed startups pitch their wares onstage to investors, press and other actors in the European tech scene.
A number of challenger banks are skating to where the puck is going, including Starling Bank, which today is launching the Starling Marketplace.
Well, this is quite a coup. Entrepreneur First (EF), the London-headquartered company builder that invests in individuals “pre-team, pre-idea” to help create new technology startups, has raised $12.4 million in new funding led by Silicon Valley’s Greylock Partners.
VizEat, the European “social eating platform” that connects travellers and local hosts around authentic food experiences has acquired EatWith, a similar startup headquartered in San Francisco.
Terms of the deal are undisclosed, though it was widely known that Chew.tv, which has been described as ‘Twitch for DJs,’ had been struggling financially over the last six months.
Atomico, the European VC fund founded by Skype’s Niklas Zennström, has made another promotion. Tom Wehmeier, the firm’s Head of Research and already an existing member of the investment team, is making the step up to Partner.
Aifloo, a Swedish startup that combines hardware sensors and AI to offer a ‘smart wristband’ to help care for the elderly, has raised €5.1 million in new funding.
Imagine some time in the not-so-distant future. After making your way to the nearest community landing strip, you’ll pull out your phone, and, with a single tap, hail the closest air taxi to take you to your chosen destination.
Dubbed Cowboy, the company is building a new electronic bicycle that it claims will address issues that have historically stopped e-bikes from becoming a “fully fledged mobility solution”.
Habito, a London startup that is bringing the entire mortgage process online, has raised £18.5 million in Series B funding.
One growing sector we can add to the travel accommodation list is long term stays for business travellers.
By taking advantage of developments in AI and video camera technology, the company offers a solution for amateur soccer clubs that want to video and stream matches and training sessions without the need for a camera operator or vision mixer/editor.
BunkerEx is a newly-funded startup out of London that is building an online marketplace to change the way shipping companies buy fuel, or ‘bunkers,’ to use the correct industry term.
Berlin startup offers a SaaS to let companies measure internal company culture, and then use this data as the basis to screen job candidates to help ensure that they will also be a good fit.
Skidos, an edtech startup based in Copenhagen after relocating its HQ from New Delhi, offers an SDK to help games developers turn casual games into “learning apps”.
Closing thought: Making a difference
Readers of this newsletter and/or TechCrunch may remember Izzy Wheels, the Irish startup I covered that sells a range of wheelchair spoke guards created by independent designers and illustrators. Well, it turns out that my article was somewhat of a tipping point for the young company.
Izzy Wheels founder and Creative Director Ailbhe Keane emailed me last month with an update since being featured. “Everything really really blew up for us after TechCrunch! We got hundreds and hundreds of messages from all over the world from all sorts of interesting people,” she writes.
“The exposure on TechCrunch caught the attention of lots of other global platforms including INSIDER, Instagram, Adobe and Microsoft. Someone from INSIDER saw the article and and made this video about us which then got 2 million views in 24 hours and 11 million views in a week. We were also picked up by Instagram, who saw your article, and asked us to be their story for 24 hours (225 million followers) and posted this photo. Now 80% of our sales are coming from the USA. TechCrunch was explosive for us!! Still riding the wave after it and the orders are flying in”.
With great power comes great responsibility. In all seriousness, it’s nice to be able to make a difference.
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Till next time,