Two things destroy companies

"Two things destroy companies... mediocrity, and making it all about yourself." - Halt and Catch Fire, ep. 3

If you haven't watched HCF, it's worth it. I think it's on Amazon Prime in many territories.* 

This is a great quote. There's lots of things out there about what kills companies. Running out of money. Being too early. Not making something people want. 

But the core, really, is not being good at what you do and ego. Both can be fixed. But in conjunction, they're 100% fatal. 

Remember: truth, love, and growth. This is exactly what that means. To make it about the thing, and to be excellent at making the thing. 

*How I hate geofencing. It's one of the most pure expressions of the hold the "real" world now has over cyberspace. It's time the pendulum swung the over way again. 

Contemplative thoughts upon returning from Israel

Love never fails. 

But where there are prophecies, they will cease; 
where there are tongues, they will be stilled; 
where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 

For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 
but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears... 

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; 
then we shall see face to face. 
Now I know in part;
then I shall know fully,
even as I am fully known.

- Corinthians 13:8-10, 12 (NIV)

This is the passage in my weekly email from Contemplative Outreach (Fr. Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O.), the organization that's bringing back contemplative prayer, a Christian version of meditation that finds its roots in the practices of the Desert Fathers.

Israel was an emotional trip for me, particularly the stunning Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth. The cult of Mary is one of the few redeeming features of Catholicism (not the Church) for me: the archetype of the God-mother in all its facets of Earth - fertility, birth, nurture, care, comfort, sacrifice, sorrow, fortitude... I use the pietà as a Twitter background image for that reason. 

In the imagery around Mary contributed by countries all over the world lies an otherworldly quietude and grace. It points towards the yearning for the indwelling spirit, the program for divine transformation we each carry within us. This is the Secret of Secrets: the mother's love for her child.

Below is the image contributed by Japan:


The other overwhelmingly emotional bit was our visit to the Western Wall. Rare are the places where you can sense such deep loss and sorrow. It opens the heart. 

The flip-side of Israel was the elevation of holy sites to a sort of Golden Calf idolatry. It echoes the worst of Christian literalism, the narrative overshadowing an ill-interpreted message. 

But I also sense that my contempt for the Church following the Pennsylvania report and the ongoing gay/trad civil war may blind me to the deep connection that others feel to Christians throughout the ages. 

And so we touched the Stone Handprint in Jerusalem (Via Dolorosa V) and felt a bit of that, too. 

Image result for jerusalem cross franciscans


Making board meetings fun

I have two companies in my portfolio that make every board meeting an incredible experience. They shall remain nameless, but they know who they are.

They both raised money from international  investors early. They are both headquartered in European cities that are not London or Paris. 

When I started first attending these boards, I was shocked. They would have an elaborate board dinner at a top restaurant (and I mean Michelin star, internationally renowned chef, Pellegrino list type). They would add a cultural event, like attending the symphony, or touring a city, or visiting an art gallery. We'd meet the conductor, the mayor, the artist.

They would vary locations across the European continent where there was some connection  (perhaps an investor was based there, or a supplier). 

I estimated each board meeting cost tens of thousands of dollars given travel expenses and extracurricular activities. Sure, these companies had raised millions of dollars in venture capital. But it still seemed like a massive expense relative to really frugal operations.

I've come to believe operating boards like this is 100% worth it for a few reasons:

First, no one misses these boards. No VC, no independent director. No one dials in. They are awesome, fun experiences. People travel for a day or more to attend. 

Second, the social cohesion on these boards is the very best in my portfolio. People have gotten to know each other over time and there's trust and empathy and a willingness to go the extra mile. Folks are consistently available for management and the board members for each other. It's invaluable when things get tough. 

Third, attending the board meetings for management other than the founders of the companies is a great experience. They get significant exposure to the board in a social setting and the trips serve as a big incentive. 

Fourth, they make what can be a tough trip for VCs and NEDs (flying in for a few hours, turning around and flying out) into a social event that lasts ~1.5 days. People start to spend real time with the company. They start to grok the business and its challenges at a more detailed level. The depth of discussion increases.

Overall, I wish more of my companies took this approach. Turning boards into a social event beyond a few hours spent in a room together pays off over time. 

The next iteration of co-working spaces

My colleague Deepka has a new post about the next iteration of co-working spaces on Medium right now.

Her thesis is that co-working will verticalize and deepen, with new propositions possible/probable in beauty (more flexible salons), DTC brands (pop-up retail space with warehouse/logistics + office), and gastronomy (shared virtual kitchens using Deliveroo/UberEats as front-end). We've already seen a few of the latter and invested e.g. in Taster, a take on the virtual kitchen. 

The independent contractor/freelance economy is growing very rapidly. A partial cause is lower transaction costs of the internet and hence the smaller theoretically optimal size of the firm (see Coase). Another is people preferring a more flexible work life that isn't tied to a specific location. 

The gig economy isn't just Uber drivers. I've seen projections where freelance work will become a majority of employment in developed economies. That's a major opportunity for many people, especially educated folks around the globe. But it also poses challenges in pensions, benefits, and social cohesion. 

It will be interesting to see what happens when the trade war moves to services. 

Travelperk raises $44 million Series C financing led by Kinnevik

A bit over two years ago I got on a plane to Barcelona to meet with Avi Meir and Javier Suarez, the founders of Travelperk

Travelperk had started building a business travel platform, allowing companies to manage trips from booking to accounting all in one place - using the world's largest global travel inventory to take the pain out of business travel. 

The company was the perfect case for our thesis of consumerization of business services, bringing the benefits of the consumer internet to small and medium sized companies. 

It helped that phenomenal people were surrounding the business from day one: Johannes Reck, the CEO of our portfolio company  GetYourGuide, introduced us to the founders and was considering joining the board. Alex Finkelstein, GP at Spark Capital and our co-investor in GetYourGuide, was leading the Series A. The original seed investment was led by Robin Klein at Localglobe. Phillip Riese had started advising the founders and would become a potential board member, as had Fritz Demopoulos, the founder of Qunar. 

Since we closed the Series A in the summer of 2016, Travelperk has built out its product and added hundreds of customers. The business closed a Series B co-led by our friends at Felix Capital and Target Global in 2017 to support its rapid growth. But good things happen fast when companies are doing well. 

And so today Travelperk is announcing a $44M Series C led by Kinnevik, one of Europe's most prominent growth investors, with co-investment from Yuri Milner, Tom Stafford, and existing investors Sunstone Felix, Target, Spark, Localglobe, and Amplo.

There are lots of VCs who are hesitant about celebrating funding rounds. And it's true that financing is not always a necessary and never a sufficient condition for building a great company. 

But the path to building a phenomenal business is long and it's good to take these moments to congratulate the team on the hard work that has gone into putting the company on a phenomenal trajectory. And so it's a good day for Travelperk. 

We are spending the day visiting Jerusalem with the founders, team members, and board, before sitting down to the board meeting tomorrow. Good times. 

Working on my sleep

I recently got the new Fitbit Charge 3, which has been replacing Patek on my wrist. That’s bad news for the Swiss watch industry. 

Besides the heart rate tracking, which is cool, my main use case is to improve my sleep patterns. I rarely get enough sleep and it’s starting to wear on me. 

Here are my sleep patterns from the past week: 



Notwithstanding the jet lag that comes from the Israel trip, that’s clearly not enough. I’ve set it up so that the tracker reminds me to head to bed at 10pm latest. 

We’ll see how that goes. 

Flying to Israel

We are sitting in Terminal 5 en route from Houston to Tel Aviv. I have never been to Israel - we don't invest there - and I'm looking forward to a few days touring the country, and two days of board meetings + dinners. I'm excited to see all the folks around the companies. 

I came across the below while reading about the Holy Land.


The Pilgrim by Sophie Jewett

"Such a palmer ne'er was seene,
Lesse Love himselfe had palmer beene." 

NEVER TOO LATE


Pilgrim feet, pray whither bound? 
Pilgrim eyes, pray whither bent? 
Sandal-shod and travel-gowned, 
Lo, I seek the way they went 
Late who passed toward Holy Land. 

Pilgrim, it was long ago; 
None remains who saw that band; 
Grass and forest overgrow 
Every path their footing wore. 
Men are wise; they seek no more 
Roads that lead to Holy Land. 

Proud his look, as who should say: 
I shall find where lies the way. 

Pilgrim, thou art fair of face, 
Staff and scrip are not for thee; 
Gentle pilgrim, of thy grace, 
Leave thy quest, and bide with me. 
Love shall serve thee, joy shall bless; 
Thou wert made for tenderness: 
God's green world is fair and sweet; 
Not o'er sea and Eastern strand, 
But where friend and lover meet 
Lies the way to Holy Land. 

Low his voice, his lashes wet: 
One day if God will—not yet. 

Pilgrim, pardon me and heed. 
Men of old who took that way 
Went for fame of goodly deed, 
Or, if sooth the stories say, 
Sandalled priest, or knight in selle, 
Flying each in pain and hate, 
Harassed by stout fiends of hell, 
Sought his crime to expiate. 
Prithee, Pilgrim, go not hence; 
Clear thy brow, and white thy hand, 
What shouldst thou with penitence? 
Wherefore seek to Holy Land? 

Stern the whisper on his lip: 
Sin and shame are in my scrip. 

Pilgrim, pass, since it must be; 
Take thy staff, and have thy will; 
Prayer and love shall follow thee; 
I will watch thee o'er the hill. 
What thy fortune God doth know; 
By what paths thy feet must go. 
Far and dim the distance lies, 
Yet my spirit prophesies: 
Not in vigil lone and late, 
Bowed upon the tropic sand, 
But within the city gate, 
In the struggle of the street, 
Suddenly thine eyes shall meet 
His whose look is Holy Land. 

Smiled the pilgrim, sad and sage: 
Long must be my pilgrimage. 


Source: The Poems of Sophie Jewett (1910)

Peak venture in Europe? Private markets make for strange numbers

There's little point calling the top of a market. If you're right, you're the harbinger of very bad news. If you're wrong, you're a pessimist.

The news that European venture financing has slowed considerably in Q3 was surprising (VentureBeat based on Dow Jones report, [PDF]).

European VC financing in Q3 according to Dow Jones was $5.2 billion (€4.5 billion), down 21% year-on-year. We already knew the number of financings is falling. This trend is continuing: 9% fewer deals than in the same quarter last year. According to Dow Jones. Which kind of is the operative qualifier here.

If you look at Invest Europe numbers (the association of the venture capital and private equity industry in Europe), the Dow Jones numbers don't make that much sense.* According to them, European venture firms invested $7.4 billion (€6.4 billion) in total in 2017, a ten year high. That would assume international investors make up more than 50% of the market in Europe (I really doubt it). 

Anecdotally, the market in Europe at growth stage is red hot. Lots of new capital, deals happening very rapidly, limited diligence being done. Things have changed dramatically over the last five years.

In Series Seed and early Series A (€2-€5 million), we are seeing more hesitancy and more waiting around for syndicates to emerge. That's a pity, but it's the reality of a market that had a large influx of new funds which are still finding their feet.

Perhaps this is what a peak feels like. Overall Europe is a sleepy backwater compared to China and the US. 

But I hesitate in calling the top of this market. There's still so much potential in Europe and companies can really emerge from places not previously perceived as hubs (see UIPath, Wargaming, Outfit7). 

*If you disagree, please comment. Zero ego here - more interested in the truth and clean data.

The Inboard M1: Surviving in Copenhagen for 24 Hours

Our portfolio company Inboard makes the M1 electric skateboard, an awesome smart urban transportation tool. Here's Ammar from Yes Theory about a day spent surviving in Sunstone's hometown Copenhagen for 24 hours with nothing but an Inboard M1. It's a fun short video to watch:

Inboard has recently announced The Glider, an electric scooter. Rather than spend your cash feeding the networks of Bird, Lime, et al. who are cluttering up our cities with inferior ride experiences, the thesis is that you're way better off owning a fantastic piece of smart hardware that can get you all around town. 

While Inboard hasn't announced prices for the Glider, you can sign up free here for your spot on the waitlist + exclusive access to the pre-sale price.

Image result for inboard glider

Introducing Simby: fighting the smartphone zombie apocalypse

Humans are social animals. We have an innate need for connection. There are good evolutionary reasons for this (you stray from the pack, you die). Or if you prefer, psychological reasons (security, validation, affection). Or even spiritual reasons (shared metaphysical truths). 

Product designers have ruthlessly exploited this need to feel connected. It may have started out rather innocently when we learned how to design good websites. But for a decade or more it has been intentional. To maximize retention, engagement, ad sales, to keep you always on.

As an industry we have let the dopamine loops of smartphone apps slowly replace social proximity and living in reality. But that dopamine reward is temporary, ephemeral - it creates addicts. So your hand strays to your phone countless times a day.

The average smartphone user picks up their device 80 times a day. And scrolls 6 miles a year. Higher than Mount Everest. An infinite loop of mostly worthless content engineered to keep you addicted.

We're fiends, junkies, addicts, users. It is making us more lonely. Less connected. Less healthy. Poorer. And it is by design

The tech industry is harvesting your distraction and monetizing the personal data they generate from it. And they have zero incentives to let you out of the hamster wheel.

We invested in a company last year that's trying to change this. Trying to put you back in control of where you look first thing in the morning. What you think about when you have a minute to spare. How you interact with technology in your life. To get you back to living in reality. 

That company is called Simby and it goes against everything that the tech industry today is built on. And so they're raising an army. 

You can read more about Simby here. Or you can find out what they're up to by signing up for their launch on http://simby.com/

Please join me.


Credit: Steve Cutts