Expectations vs. Reality: What I learned in my first year @ Speedinvest

Having just completed the first year at Speedinvest as the latest team member joining in the US, it was great to reflect back over the holiday period and think about the great things that happened, and compare the actual events to the expectations I had joining the team.

What an amazing opportunity!

At Speedinvest we’re seeing on average 30 new startup decks, pitches, etc. per month – and more when Oliver is on TV in the Austrian version of SharkTank. We only invest in about 1.5% of those, but what’s clear is that

  • There is a great (technical) founder talent pool in Europe and they’re building amazing technology – but sometimes disconnected from the nexus of the market they operate in.
  • Business experience among founders is less than in the US – serial entrepreneurs are rare
  • Valuations are, say, 25% of US valuations for comparable early startups with similar technology
  • Most European startups have opportunities to attract significant government grants

Clearly there are a lot of opportunities for investors and founders alike to take relevant companies with world-class technology and IP to the US.  Helping founders in that process is simply one of the most rewarding things ever!

Silicon Valley is all that people think it is – and then some

Within days of arriving in the Bay Area you can feel and experience firsthand how conductive the environment is to business. The sheer breadth and depth of resources (skills, expertise …) is simply breathtaking. The efficiency of the ecosystem is unparalleled and incomparable to Europe. The network is highly interconnected and dense. And people generally like to help! There are experts for everything, and they are never more than a few phone calls – and a 30 minute drive for a f2f meeting – away. This is a scale as well as a cultural thing.

I cannot see how SV can be replicated elsewhere except through many years’ application of brute force public investment firepower and a 180 degree shift of mindset.

In California, your next critical meeting is tomorrow, not next month

If you want to meet the VP of so-and-so and you have an interesting proposition, you’ll be meeting her within days. Asking for a meeting in 2 weeks means you’re really not that interested in a reply. Compare this to Europe where meeting any senior management requires weeks of careful planning (read “waiting”).

Water

Austrian tap water is superior. Even better, there is tap water in Austria, and it is readily and abundantly available.

What an amazing opportunity! Cont.

US investors – by and large – have a limited interest in investing in European early-stage companies. Even though you may have a great idea or technology, and good initial indications of product-market fit, unless you are located close-by and within arm’s reach of US VC’s it will be challenging to raise funds in the SV. This is not necessarily due to fiscal/legal complexities related to cross-border investing, they are well understood and the process scales. It is more a matter of Silicon Valley already having very good access to a deep pool of great entrepreneurs and startups – and doing weekly sync calls at 7am for the next 2 years and flying 11 hours to attend a start-up board meeting in Munich may not be all that attractive to everyone. But a European startup that moves to the US, or at least having the commitment and plan to do so, and willing to play by SV rules will find US investors well accessible.

Founders moving to the US

There’s an almost mystical appeal for (European) founders to move to Silicon Valley. It’s the tech vortex, where you walk among the superstar founders and investors contemplate multi-million dollar funding rounds, multi-billion dollar valuations and grow your venture to biblical proportions. Some of that can happen, but a few conversations with immigration and financial/tax advisors can easily bust that bubble. The reality is that there are transaction costs moving to the US, the process can be “messy” and benefits are realized mainly in the long term.

If you were dreaming of very low tax rates – dream on and apply for your next government grant in Europe. If you have not incorporated your startup over 1 year ago, come back later as your immigration options may be very limited. If your partner wants to join you moving to San Francisco, and you’re not married and she’s not on the Olympic team – book a minister and call a caterer now.

Low touch, high impact.

At Speedinvest we’re high touch. We work operationally with many of our portfolio companies on a wide variety of business aspects of running their company. Every day. All day.  It’s the only way to bring consistent results.

Although I do want to be a “low touch, high impact” investor when I retire grow up.

Founders: Get ready to compete

There are orders of magnitude more startups in SV, with founders as smart as you (and smarter) and they are building their 3rd venture backed startup. They have discussed IP licensing agreements and terms sheets over lunch with their classmates in college, and taken their first M&A courses as freshmen, and have seen more startups being created and folded up by the time they get out of university than the number of issues of Wired you have ever read. As well as a place of great opportunities, SV is a highly competitive place for startups.

Americans, including most investors, are super friendly. They’ll ask “how you are doing” and will think you pitch was “very interesting” and definitely a reason to “stay in touch”. Spoiler alert: You can color them red in your spreadsheet pipeline tracker. By all means keep them updated, but you can expect very clear signals when there is serious interest – “staying in touch” is not one of them.