Chris Smith is Managing Partner of Playfair Capital, an early-stage fund that invests in entrepreneurs building technology companies that rethink the way we live and work. Since launching their $32m Fund II in March, he has lead deals in the UK and Israel. Prior to joining Playfair, Chris was an angel investor (14 deals; 3 exits), operator (Vannin Capital/plan.com), corporate lawyer (Weil) and founder.
What is your / your fund’s mission?
We look to invest in the world’s most ambitious founders at the earliest stages. Our distinctive approach takes the best aspects of angel investing — enthusiasm, empathy, hands-on experience and speed of decision-making — with the professionalism of a fund that is able to write larger cheques, make follow-on investments and has a bigger team and wider network of contacts.
What is one thing you are excited about right now?
I’m excited about loads of things — that’s why being a VC is such fun!
If I had to pick one it would be Urban Air Mobility. The technology to allow autonomous (and semi-autonomous) urban flights as an alternative to ground transportation is more advanced than a lot of people realise and regulators are broadly supportive of opening up the skies.
Who is one founder you think we should watch?
Matt Wilson at uMed — he combines the domain expertise of a clinician, the work ethic and tenacity of a former marine, and a burning passion to modernise healthcare and research to improve outcomes for millions of people.
What are the 3 top qualities of every great leader?
- Leading by example
What and when was your very first investment? What struck you about them?
At Playfair, it was Sightec, a computer vision and AI software business powering autonomous flights that we closed earlier this year. I actually wrote a blog post about it, but, in short, it was the stellar team, defensible tech and huge market potential.
My first investment as an angel was back in 2008 in a company called Wrap it up! What struck me was how delicious their chicken roti was and how, as a corporate lawyer, it provided a little bit of joy in my day! They are doing great, but all my subsequent angel investments were in tech businesses.
What is one question you ask yourself before investing in a company?
Am I as excited about the business as the founder is? — if I’m not, then we’re not going to do the deal.
What is one thing every founder should ask themselves before walking into a meeting with a potential investor?
Do I see myself working closely with these people for the next 5–10 years?
What do you think should be in a CEO’s top 3 company priorities?
- Creating a culture where employees thrive and people want to work — happy employees = happy customers = happy investors
- Keeping the company pointing the in right direction by clearly (and relentlessly) communicating the vision and strategy.
- Understanding the big picture so that the vision and strategy take account of what’s going on in the market (technology developments, competition, regulations, etc.) — not getting sucked into the day-to-day too much.
Favorite business book, blog, podcast?
Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell — it gave me a new understanding of how people achieve success.
Obviously my favourite blog is the Playfair Capital Blog :)
What is your favorite thing to do when you’re not working?
Travelling and eating, preferably at the same time, in the sunshine, with my wife and our families. I’ve also been hooked on yoga for a while.
Who is one leader you admire?
Rose Marcario of Patagonia — she’s shown that you can build a very profitable business whilst also being a good member of community and giving back.
What is one interesting thing that most people don’t know about you?
I bake bread by hand using my grandfather’s recipe that was handed down to me.
What is one piece of advice you’d give to every founder?
Ask yourself if you are passionate about what you are doing. If you are, go for it; if not, being a founder is one of the toughest jobs out there and requires a lot of sacrifice.
Startups interested in an opportunity to pitch Playfair Capital can apply here.