Startup Grind
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Startup Grind

VC Corner Q&A: Irina Haivas + Ben Blume of Atomico

The 2019 Startup Grind Europe Conference kicks off next week in London! Irina Haivas and Ben Blume will be taking the stage together at #sgeurope for not one, but TWO fantastic sessions — “The New Era of AI + Deep Tech” and “Q+A: Navigating a Career in VC” — on June 6. Don’t miss it.

Irina and Ben are Principals at Atomico and based in London.

Irina works on sourcing and due diligence of global investment opportunities. She focuses on businesses that use advanced technologies such as machine intelligence or robotics and automation, to transform large industries. She also focuses on the intersection of science and technology, including next generation biology, as well as on companies in healthcare.

Ben works on sourcing, evaluation and due diligence of investment opportunities. His focus is on enterprise software companies, with a particular interest in companies building software powered by emerging technologies including machine intelligence and advanced analytics. He also spends time looking at new and frontier technology developments including in robotics and the Internet of Things.

— What is Atomico’s mission?

I+B: Atomico partners with ambitious tech founders at Series A and beyond with a particular focus on Europe, leveraging deep operational experience to supercharge their growth.

— What’s one thing you are excited about right now?

I: The potential of advanced technologies — or so-called “deep tech”- to transform sectors that haven’t been touched by technology, and in that address large problems of the 21st century, like sustainability and health. I’m also excited by the progress that is started to be made on the diversity front.

B: The way in which technology is taking on bigger and harder problems, transforming traditional industries like manufacturing and construction (well summed up by Benedict Evans here). This is creating huge new company building opportunities, and I’m excited to find and partner with Europe’s exceptional depth of technical talent to do this.

— Who is one founder you think we should watch?

B: Dan Perez at Hinge Health. Scaling from 14 people when we first met him to over 140 today, the Hinge Health team are building a fantastic business, and their product has helped thousands of people with musculoskeletal conditions to significantly improve their lives.

— What are 3 top qualities of every great leader?

I: - Authenticity — a mix of self awareness, openness and consistency
- Nose for value — recognising what matters and act timely and decisive on priorities
- EQ-powered grit — persevering despite failures and obstacles while being aware of the “softer” dynamics

B: - First, they take in as much information as they can from their employees, customers, expert advisors and board;
- Then they form their own view and act decisively based on this;
- Finally they hold nothing sacred and are willing to change course when needed.

— What was your very first investment? What struck you about them?

I: At Atomico it was AccuRx — what stuck us was the deep passion, and the clarity of the long term vision combined with focused execution.

B: Automation Hero was the first investment I led for Atomico. Stefan is an exceptional founder who is both deeply technical and highly commercial, and he and his experienced team had built the best product I’d seen for making machine learning led automation accessible to large enterprises, an opportunity seeing significant demand from the market.

— What’s one question you ask yourself before investing in a company?

I: Is this a founder that I believe can build a game-changing company? Would I want to work there?

B: Is it a Gamechanger? Is there a core metric where we can see it is 10x better than the alternatives?

— What’s one thing every founder should ask themselves before walking into a meeting with a potential investor?

I: Who is the person I am meeting and do I want to work with them for the next years?

B: How can I clearly communicate why I am best placed and highly motivated to solve this significant problem?

— What do you think should be in a CEO’s top 3 company priorities?

I: -Hire and retain the best talent you can get (both skills and values/fit), and be deliberate in building the culture

- Keep the “north star” and long term vision alive, while being clear on short-term milestones, constraints and priorities

B: - Building and retaining an incredible team and culture

- Setting and holding the team accountable for near term priorities

- Communicating and rallying the team behind the long term vision

— Favorite business book, blog or podcast?

I: (Non-business) biographies — I like learning about the personal journeys and the many small decisions and turns that leads people to where they end up. I find I internalise and keep more learnings from that, than frameworks and rules set out in business books.

B: LAUNCH Ticker newsletter is a twice daily 5 minute tech news digest and a lifeline for staying up to date.

— What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not working?

I: Spend time with the people I love, preferably travelling somewhere sunny or new/different.

B: I find cooking is a creative and practical break from work, and love that you can practice and improve every day.

Who is one leader you admire?

I: I’d like to steer away from singling out one leader. We have a tendency to create personality cults around a small set of people; there are great leaders everywhere, at all scales, that may be less visible to us/media but whose stories deserve the same admiration.

B: I admire leaders who empower their teams to do amazing things. Supercell founder Ilkka Paananen has built his whole organisation on this principle, he wants to be “the world’s least powerful CEO”.

— What’s one interesting thing most people won’t know about you?

I: It would be less interesting if everyone knew it.

B: At age seven I was interviewed for the BBC’s ‘Computers Don’t Byte’ programme on having a globally ‘famous’ family home page (think ‘profile pages’ in the pre-social network era).

— What’s one piece of advice you’d give every founder?

I: Cultivate a growth mindset.

B: There is no ‘right way’ to build a business. Challenge convention, and then challenge the people who question this.

Ready to make a pitch? Startups looking for an opportunity to pitch Atomico can apply here!

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