Jambu Palaniappan: How do you follow a once-in-a-lifetime operating journey?
I’m excited to be joining OMERS Ventures in London as Managing Partner. The team is outstanding — we’re growing a Series A and B venture fund, and introducing former operators to the European VC ranks.
Here’s a bit more about the reasoning behind my decision:
When I joined Uber in 2012, the company had just 70 employees, working primarily in the US. I boarded a plane for Europe thinking I would be on a two-year expat assignment before heading home. Instead, eight years later, this has become my home.
That decision to get on that plane led me on a journey I could not have imagined — working in over 35 countries around the world. In 2014, I had the opportunity to lead an immensely talented team of 300 who took Uber’s Eastern Europe, Russia, Middle East and Africa business from zero to a >$1B turnover run rate in just two years. Then I had the chance to do it all over again with Uber Eats in EMEA.
When I moved on from Uber in 2018, I wasn’t sure what was next. To be honest, I was mentally and physically exhausted. The past year has been life-changing: I got married, got fit, moved to London, traveled for fun (not work) — while at Uber I went to Kenya four times before I saw any wildlife! — saw old friends on five continents, played cricket, spent time with my family, and joined a FTSE 100 board. But I struggled to find what was next. How can you follow up a once-in-a-lifetime operating journey with a once-in-a-generation company?
During this period, I also started investing — mostly as a way to keep myself engaged. I backed 20 companies as an angel investor (many of which were started by members of my team at Uber), and advised another six closely through their growth challenges. It helped me reconnect with the early-stage challenges that I love.
This led me to face with the question of whether I wanted to be an operator or an investor. The answer to that is that I’m not so sure the line separating the two is as defined now as it once was.
I’ll always be an operator at heart, but I also see that in Europe, operators haven’t become investors in the same way they have in the US, as this recent research by Diversity VC found. I’m not sure why that is — but I think that transition is a much needed one.
Having been an operator, I have profound empathy for what it takes to be in the trenches, powering through seemingly impossible and often existential challenges to a business. My hope is this gives me a real opportunity to build lasting partnerships with founders.
I believe the European opportunity is massive. It’s why we’re seeing Silicon Valley funds open offices and hire teams here. There’s an opportunity for investors here to match the ambition of European entrepreneurs and think bigger, scale faster, and go global.
While getting comfortable with this transition, I had the opportunity to meet the team at OMERS. Harry, Tara, Henry, and the rest of the European team are an experienced and well-respected group of investors — people from whom I have learnt a lot already. As our discussions progressed, I met Damien, the group’s Managing Partner and Head of Ventures in Toronto and learned more about the global ambitions, which also excited me.
OMERS itself was a big part of the appeal. They are experienced direct venture investors — backing companies like Shopify early — with a larger mission-driven organisation backing this team. The capital comes from the retirement contributions of 500,000 people in Ontario; and so I am incredibly excited to shoulder the responsibility of creating impact for this community of investors. Venture is a key part of OMERS global strategy, and their commitment to direct venture investing and to Europe is strong.
I’m excited for what’s ahead, and very grateful to all of those people who have helped me through the last year’s journey and decision-making. None of this would have been possible without their advice and support.
I’m particularly grateful to Niall Wass, Niklas Zennstrom, Jose Marin, Ben Grol, Carolina Brochado, Akshay BD, Shak Khan, Andrew Chen, and Emil Michael for their advice and counsel as I made this decision.
I’m also in debt to some of the entrepenuers who have helped me learn over the last year: Scott at Kard, Omar at Trella, Elliska and Allie at Sherpa, Bahbak at Elephant Healthcare, Anton at Taster, Edoardo at Orekstro, and Chaz at Fat Llama.