Good things this week #3

  • Chris Hoy’s BBC ‘How to win gold’ including an interview with his hero Graeme Obree
  • The BBC documentary about the building of Crossrail — The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway
  • Swimming at the London Aquatics Centre — feels like a massive privilege two years on from the game
  • Getting into The Last of Us — wow, what a game
  • The Hungarian Grand Prix — it’s the best season for a long time I reckon

Good things this week #2

Bit late this week but here are my highlights:

  • All the pictures of the lightning storms.
  • Running around the Olympic Park — it’s looking really good these days.
  • TEA from Hogback — lovely caramel hit.
  • Brunch at Mare and Beck — good eggs.
  • 7 hour lamb shoulder at Great Queen Street — nom.
  • Finishing Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson — such an amazing book, gives you a sense of what London would have been like in the late 1600s.
  • Rewatching Delicatessen — over twenty years old but still fresh.

Tricky business: awkwardness

[Also posted over on the BGV blog]

If you make the choice to go into startup life there’s something you should know — things are going to get awkward.

You’ll have to have lots of awkward conversations as a team. You’ll have to talk about money, about who gets the credit, about whether people are doing a good job or not. You’ll think it’s easier to avoid these conversations but don’t — short term awkward is better than long term resentment.

You’ll have awkward conversations with friends who just don’t get why you’re going it alone. They’ll nod politely and then there will be an awkward silence as they ponder their nice secure salary and pension.

You’ll get things wrong with approaching investors, customers or journalists. You might bum dial them and then realise later, address the email to the wrong name, sign off with ‘love and hugs’ by mistake.

And then at some point in the future there will be a bunch of people who you find it difficult to talk to, people who are annoyed with you, people that you are annoyed with, people you’ve effectively fallen out with. Things not working out is an inherent part of startup life and it generally leads to things getting awkward.

It’s hard to do but life will be a lot easier if you embrace the awkwardness. Recognise it, celebrate it, laugh about it and then resolve it. Make awkwardness your friend.

[Finally it turns out after a bit of Googling that we’re not the first to think about this, which is awkward. Here’s our friend Banks Benitez of the Unreasonable Institute getting *really* awkward.]

Reshuffle kerfuffle

It’s reshuffle day in the UK as Government Ministers get hired, fired and moved around. It struck me as I looked through the ups and downs this morning that it’s the first major one of this Government. A lot of Ministers have been in post for four years and quite a few held the same brief in opposition. Compared to the Tony Blair days, that’s a lifetime. Most summers would involve moving people around and the whole of the think tank world (where I worked at the time) would spend the day working out where it left them.

Four years is also apparently the average tenure of a Fortune 500 CEO. In this interview with Vinod Khosla, Larry Page laments the fact that you really can’t get much done in four years — 20 years is closer to the mark for him. I’m not advocating 20 year Government posts — there’s a good reason for changing them around — but having people do a job for just a couple of years makes long term planning very hard to do.

It feels very different in the startup investment world. You have to think over longer time periods by default. We’re still working with all the startups and founders that we worked with three years ago when we started and expect to do so for very many more years. I’m looking at our plan at the moment and that goes to 2025.

Productivity hacks: Meditation

I’ve been getting more into meditation recently and I think it’s helping me feel calmer and less stressed, and hence more productive. I’ve noticed that when I’m overloaded I slow down overall. If there’s too much in my head it’s tricky to focus.

I first tried meditation in a pre-app age but tech has helped me get back into it. I was a little bit sceptical when my friend Rohan started talking about the crossover between mindfulness and tech years and years ago but he was absolutely right of course. It’s now become a bit of a tech industry trend with people I look up to like Nic and Brad writing about their experiences.

Buddhify (created by Rohan) is excellent and has a pretty amazing variety of meditation that you can learn. I also like Headspace because of the way it easily gets into a daily routine — just 10 minutes a day to start with.

Anyway it’s definitely helped me to feel healthier, calmer and more productive so I’ll try to keep it up especially when things are busy at BGV.

Good things this week #1

  • Watching the Tour de France go past our office window. Very quickly.
  • The Chicken and Tarragon sausages at the the Southbank Centre Real Food Market.
  • Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring — Saw it 10 years ago but still brilliant.
  • 2046 — the loose sequel to In the Mood for Love, really odd, especially the sequences with the android on a train.
  • Quench from Pilgrim Brewery — lovely light golden ale
  • Les Dauphins Cote du Rhones Village — good hearty red for under seven quid. Glug.
  • Party by Tom Basden on Radio 4 Extra
  • The Rhesus Chart by Charles Stross — wonderful page turning comedy vampire sci-fi with Bob of the Laundry protecting us all.

Google Ventures comes to Europe

I think this might be some of the best news for the European tech scene in a long while. Sure the new Google Ventures Europe fund isn’t the biggest, but having seen how they work in the US, I think it’s going to really change how investment works over here. There will be no thick carpets in Mayfair. No investing in stuff that doesn’t have the potential to change the world. No trying to screw founders over with funny terms.

Even better GV is truly about ‘more than money’ which I think is sorely needed in Europe and will hopefully mean that other investors up their game and start hiring more diversely. As the release says, “Startups need more than just capital to succeed: they also benefit from engineering support, design expertise, and guidance with recruiting, marketing and product management.” Amen to that.

So huge congratulations to Eze, Tom, Avid and Peter. Please do things differently. Don’t accept that startup investment has to be done the way it is now. Then we’ll really start motoring.

Does ‘tech that matters’ matter?

Yesterday Marc Andreessen kicked off one of his now familiar tweetstorms about whether Silicon Valley is working on stuff that matters and whether that, erm, matters.

“make trivial apps” vs “do things that matter” are not actually in conflict-there’s plenty of room and plenty of money to do both.

If you’re A16Z then there is plenty of room to do both and to be fair A16Z do invest in tech that matters. Look through their portfolio and you’ll find Koru and NationBuilder but you’ll also find Zynga and apps for helping you choose shoes. Unfortunately I don’t think there’s yet ‘plenty of room’ in the London tech scene — tech that matters is still squeezed out by tech that just sells more stuff.

I also agree they’re not automatically in conflict and that toys sometimes go on to become amazing things. It’s not triviality that I’m against — it’s starting a startup without wanting to create value beyond just money. I’ve tended to find that positive social outcomes don’t really come from people who don’t intend to create them. If you try intentionally to use technology to solve problems that matter, you’re much more likely to do it.

Investors have one of the most powerful positions in the prioritisation of effort and capital in this debate. Do they want to invest capital into businesses where there’s just going to be a return (even that is unlikely) or do they want to put capital to work in a way that can get a return and help solve one of the most pressing problems facing the planet? I know which I’d prefer to do.

The BGV house rules

Today is one of my favourite bits of BGV — Day 1 of Week 1 when all the new teams come in to start their three months with us. This will be the fifth cohort of BGV so we’re up to 42 teams supported over the past two and half years. One of the things we try to do in the first week is create a safe, collaborative space for the teams to help one another and this time we’ve written down a few house rules for the first time.

  1. Everything that happens at BGV stays at BGV. We want everyone here to feel this is a space in which they can share successes and failures without fear of them being splattered all over twitter. A huge part of the value we offer at BGV is the cohort’s ability to trust each other and collaborate, so please respect each other’s confidentiality.
  2. Ask for help as often as possible. Over the next three months the BGV team, our mentors and the rest of the cohort are here to help you as much as possible. But we can’t help if you don’t ask, so don’t be shy!
  3. No Arsehole Rule. Treat everyone with equal respect irrespective of age, race, gender or ability. Don’t exploit people’s goodwill and desire to help. Always try and find solutions rather than problems.
  4. Be generous. This is kind of the flipside of “always ask for help” — we think the best way to build a community that can really make a difference is for us to work together, so please be generous, it makes everything more fun.
  5. And on that last point, make sure you have fun! Doing a startup is hard, there are lots of late nights, difficult decisions and stressful times but it is really important not to let this overtake your life, going to the pub is very important (as are weekends) — don’t forget!

Tricky business: closing a seed investment round

(Also posted over on the BGV blog)

When people have said ‘yes’ to investing in your venture and you’ve agreed on the basic terms, you’d imagine things might get easier. Unfortunately it’s usually trickier than that. Seed rounds can rumble on for several months before you actually get the money in the bank and start building the business.

There are a few reasons for this, each of which you can do something about to help speed things along.

Not everything is in the term sheet — when you go from term sheet to the actual documents that will be used in your investment deal, you’ll tend to find that the wording of clauses gets a bit more complex and causes a few surprises. I think that’s proabably especially true for social ventures where there might be some wording around safeguarding the social aims. Using lawyers who are experienced with seed investment deals will help here. They’ll know how to go from standard term sheets to standard documents.

Due diligence — at seed stage the due diligence done by investors varies from fairly rudimentary to pretty officious and will often take the form of covenants where you promise that you’ve done or disclosed everything that’s in a list — some will get you to prove each thing. The way to keep this process short is to keep all your key documents organised and ready. Everything from your incorporation certificate to each contract or agreement you’ve signed. Keep them all in a folder in Dropbox.

You need a bit more money to close the round — even when you’ve got one investor committed it might not mean you have enough money committed to get to your next major milestone. If you do need to ‘fill up your round’ ask the people who have committed if they know others who might be interested. Keep your AngelList profile up to date and let the team there know you’re looking for help.

Co-ordination problems — the final reason it takes time to close a round is that there are usually quite a few people involved. Previous investors, founders, lawyers, accountants, as well as the new investors which could be multiple people if you’re working with angels. The only way around this is to be clear with everybody about the process and then overcommunicate so everybody knows what is required of them and when. Working with good lawyers will help here. There are some in London who will patiently explain the practical process as well as watching your back. If you find you get stuck, ask somebody who has been through it before. When you’re in the middle of what can seem like an interminable process, another perspective can help you see the best next step.

So there you go. Seed investment in the bank. Next week we’ll look at other forms of seed financing including what grants are available for tech-based social ventures in the UK.