Venture Games

Joining Frontline Ventures as an Associate

In 2003, I spent most of time playing Counter-Strike, the popular online first person shooter from Valve. Most of my friends played CS, and our time spent playing the game quickly evolved into time spent discussing computer components, mods, and software. In fact, to change many settings, one had to use Counter-Strike’s in-game command line interface.

One of my Counter-Strike buddies came up with the idea that we should use George Hotz’ method of unlocking the iPhone to crack the device, so that we could ship them abroad — taking advantage of big premiums on the hard-to-find device. We went on to sell hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of iPhones on various online marketplaces. I recycled the proceeds into a Playstation 3, the first (I am sure) at the University of Exeter, that I lugged over from the USA.

After finishing my degree, I went on to join the NASDAQ stock exchange in New York. I was very grateful for the position (which I received in the middle of a recession) and for them hiring me sight unseen after a phone interview. On one of my first days, a Russian graphic designer approached me and said, “You know Thomas…we are all the Bawsaq.” His colourful play on words was in reference to the NASDAQ stock exchange in Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto Liberty City (modeled after Manhattan). It felt like gaming has touched nearly every part of my career.

Flying over Manhattan in a four passenger plane

NASDAQ further piqued my curiosity for stocks and investing, so I decided to pursue a career as a hedge fund trader and analyst. On my first day, my boss told me, “We may not be the smartest, but we work the hardest.” Over the next 4 years, I found out exactly what he meant by that. I was working across 5 big monitors showing 3 trading applications, 500 stock quotes, 6 newsreels, our portfolio positions, and 10 price charts — it was like looking at The Matrix. The quick reflexes and ability to pick up on small changes I had learned in gaming proved to be very useful in this role.

My old desk at hedge fund in Connecticut

Fast forward to 2015 and I am living in Berlin, working as an investment manager at a seed fund, Cavalry Ventures. One of the Partners is Markus Fuhrmann (formerly of Delivery Hero), a co-founder of a startup called Dojo Madness. Dojo has software that runs on top of League of Legends and tells you how you can improve your game. For example, they use big data analytics to provide information on skill and item build to help you optimize on decision-making — brilliant! I believe that the prevalence of gaming among the talented people I have worked with is reflection of their deeply-rooted love of technology that extends beyond any immediate business purpose.

Berlin: The TV tower and Bode Museum

I’m particularly excited by the fintech ecosystem in Europe, and am looking forward to exploring that with Frontline as an Associate. The financial system is being rebuilt on the Internet, and is a huge opportunity for both startup entrepreneurs and investors. Nearly every aspect of the banking system — lending, insurance, investment, payments, transfers, and real estate — are being reinvented online. As I join the Frontline team as an investor, I am most excited about marketplace lending, crypto-currencies, and the services built around them.

I’ve also had the opportunity to work with some fantastic big data and adtech startups. Adtech continues to be one of the most acquisitive sectors, despite falling out of favour with many VCs. Inventive uses of big data are changing the way we read, listen to music, travel, and do just about anything. Both of these sectors are an exciting opportunity for venture investment.

London is the most important technology hub in Europe. It has the potential to become even larger and more globally significant than ever before. It produces 3 times as many billion dollar companies as its closest competing European ecosystem. London offers great diversity, with fantastic companies in nearly every category: fintech, e-commerce, consumer, big data, adtech, and mobile. Let’s add some fuel to the fire.

I don’t enjoy playing video games as much as I used to. Technology requires enthusiastic and supportive communities to continue to grow, and many of my friends don’t play anymore. What made games engaging was playing in the same servers, with the same people, understanding the statistics and leaderboards, and making each session part of a larger goal to become the best. Frontline Ventures is building a value-add community in its portfolio, and that resonates with what I have seen throughout both my gaming career and my personal interest in technology.

I am incredibly excited to join Frontline Ventures as an Associate. I’ll be in Dublin for the next 3 months and living in London thereafter. Looking forward to getting to know you! thomas@frontline.vc / @TROlszewski

My new desk at Frontline Ventures!

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