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Every month we run an open office hours. It’s a great way for us to meet with lots of founders, improve our deal flow and hopefully give a little back to teh community.. Many other VCs do something similar.
We’ve just had our October office hours, and we’ve now met with approaching 100 founders through this programme. Most entrepreneurs come here to pitch us. They don’t have to, the session is theirs to do what they want with – take advice, ask about market trends, anything – but most choose to pitch. Some do it well, whilst others do it badly.
The meetings are only fifteen minutes, and that makes them difficult. Here are some tips you could follow if you are pitching and want to get the most out of the session:
Our next open office hours will be on November 21st. You can apply here.
NB 15 minute meetings are a little painful, but I think that’s worth it because we can meet more people. Literally twice as many as if they were 30 minute meetings.
There’s an interesting post up on Stratechery asking whether we are approaching Peak Google which features the graphic above. The central argument is that in the way IBM fought to protect their PC platform and missed the Windows opportunity and Microsoft fought to protect its Windows franchise and missed the web opportunity Google will fight to protect their search platform and miss the native advertising opportunity. Search is a c$50bn out of a total advertising market of c$450bn, and hence a winner in native advertising winner could be bigger than Google.
I’m a big believer in the increasing importance of native advertising. The best companies these days have interesting products and brands that lend themselves to this new medium. That said, I’m not sure that means another company will eclipse Google. Search always looked like it might have one major winner, but I don’t see the same network effects at play in native advertising which will find its audiences on the multiple content sites where they hang out.
33bn connected devices in the next six years, up from 12bn predicted at the end of this year. That will be four for every person on the planet. As others have said before me, our grandparents could count their electric motors, our parents could count the things they owned with a chip inside, and we can count our connected devices….
Here’s a quick list off the top of my head of inventions enabled by integrated circuits and/or electric motors.
Most, if not all, of these things would have been impossible to imagine one hundred years ago and it’s reasonable to expect that similarly unimaginable inventions will be spawned by the internet of things. And it will happen faster this time.
Our goal is to partner with the companies creating that future.
I read two startling different commentaries on the health of the UK as a society this morning that made me recall the “best of times, the worst of times” quote from Dickens.
First up was a highly optimistic piece in the Financial Times titled Miserablism risks causing Britain serious harm which argues that we should all wake up to the fact that times are good right now and be wary of policies and politicians proposing radical moves that might well make things worse – e.g. price interventions and exiting Europe. This is the money quote:
Look at Britain as an informed foreigner might. Here is a country that responds to a secessionist threat to its existence by holding a free and fair referendum. It has evolved an economic model that is more hospitable to business than much of Europe and kindlier to the poor than America. It cuts public spending year on year without any civil disorder to speak of. Crime is falling. Unemployment is at 6 per cent. The politicians are small-time but basically honourable. The capital city is a miracle of the modern world.
Then I read the Guardian’s Bleak figures show a relentless slide towards a low-pay Britain which featured the graph below showing that real wages in Britain have now been declining for seven years in a row – only the third time that has happened in the last 150 years.
Between them these too perspectives capture the overall situation well. On the plus side the economy is performing well and society is stable, but on the downside, the spoils of growth are going to the rich, wage inequality is increasing and the social contract is in danger of falling apart.
The important question is what will happen next. The Guardian suggests two possibilities. The first is that unemployment is now reaching levels where there is little slack in the labour market and employers will find themselves having to increase real wages for the lowest paid. The second is that technological advances will continue to take jobs from mid-skilled workers, forcing them into lower paid jobs and driving real wages down. I’ve written about this before: Robots and artificial intelligence are replacing jobs.
Cycles in the economy and labour market will come and go, but the trend towards automation will run and run. For me the most likely scenario is that tightness in the labour market will force wages up over the next few years, but when the cycle turns again real wages will cycle sharply downwards. Our opportunity is take action now to help the situation. A couple of weeks ago rich Americans were worrying that The pitchforks are coming … for us plutocrats. That will be our fate too, unless we do something.
The solution is not to protect jobs or try to limit the adoption of technology, but to invest heavily in programmes that help people re-skill and get back to work. That would be the play that keeps us as when of best performing societies in the world. If we get through the current period of austerity successfully there might just have the money to do it.
In a recent interview Marc Andreessen said:
I’m optimistic arguably to a fault, especially in terms of new ideas. My presumptive tendency, when I’m presented with a new idea, is not to ask, “Is it going to work?” It’s, “Well, what if it does work?”
That got me thinking. Andreessen is a smart guy who has a lot of experience with startups and who spends a lot of time thinking about the best ways to invest and build businesses. I don’t agree with everything he says, but when I don’t agree I always stop to think why. In this case I half agree, but think that only asking “Well, what if it does work?” is too simple.
I half agree because asking “Well, what if it does work?” forces you to think about how big something can get and to focus on the upside. The startup investment game is, as we know, all about finding big winners. For us that’s £100m+ exits. For Andreessen I’m sure it’s over $1bn. Thinking optimistically about the upside helps you find those big winners.
However, there’s no point in backing something that has no chance of succeeding, so it’s also important to think about whether an idea will work. In particular, it is important to think about whether the company will deliver it’s plan over the next twelve months (or at least something resembling it’s plan). This has two parts, asking “Does the plan work?” and asking “Can the team execute on the plan?”. Skepticism is helpful when asking these questions.
Time is plentiful when it comes to delivering the upside and it’s reasonable to assume that entrepreneurs can and will figure a way to make things happen – provided there are no fundamental reasons why they won’t be able to (e.g. it requires chip speeds we won’t see for another ten years). When it comes to delivering the next twelve months time is short and there is limited scope for experimentation and re-work. If Plan A fails badly everyone is going to wish they had done something else so it makes sense to think hard about whether it’s going to work. There will inevitably be lots of unknowns but identifying those assumptions up front leads to smarter investments and better plans.