How does Grant unearth startups with game-changing technology? Our Q&A shares the founder conversations that lead to Tidal investment and a surprise area of interest!
25 Oct 2022 · 3 min read
Which experiences have shaped you as a venture capital investor today?
I think working in the technology and product-led operating teams at Yahoo really opened my eyes to how digital businesses could be built, scaled and developed into profitable businesses. There was such big target audience we needed to attract, engage and retain, and that was a key challenge. The technology sector might have changed since the early 2000s, but the principles for growing core customer segments remains the same. I think having a broad set of experiences and accumulating knowledge in different technology market conditions has shaped my approach to venture capital investment significantly. It not just about identifying opportunities and allocating capital, it’s about building audiences into products, and that’s how we think when we invest in companies at Tidal.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started as an investor?
I now have over 20 years of experience investing in and advising early-stage companies, and one of my earliest learnings was to take extra time in making decisions around thematic investments. We know that the venture capital market is about velocity and 'fast decisions', but to get real conviction at an early stage it takes research, patience, and time. There’s not always much information available to you as an early stage investor, so during interactions with a founder you have to form assumptions.
And even if what you learn is very appealing, you need to keep acquiring more information. Waiting for a clearer picture to emerge about a sector, founders, products and customers means our investment decisions and formed from strong convictions rather than just enthusiastic assumptions.
A great example is one of our Tidal portfolio companies Upflowy. Their ability to find product-market-fit is what was initially appealing, but by also seeing how they built their low-code product and gained early validation with customers, gave us both enormous confidence in their team and more certainty in our investment decision. Read Upflowy Investment Notes - here.
As a ‘seed stage' investor you have to be willing to wait for signals that prospective companies are finding market-fit and growing product proof points. In saying this, sometimes it is also purely about the founder and the vision in the right segment, but that’s the exception to the rule.
What was your most memorable first meeting with a founder?
In my first meeting with PredictHQ's Campbell Brown, he was pitching his new company to me while simultaneously sending a fax to sell his current business. Great founders never wait to solve a problem they truly care about and Campbell was a perfect example of this in action. His passion and drive was right on his sleeve, and this kind of energy and hustle is something we really look for in our Tidal Wavemakers. It was also quite memorable to see him using an actual fax machine to do business - surely one of the most important innovations in human communication (at the time)!
While there’s much wisdom in the world, my top piece of advice is don’t use the past as a point of reference for the future.
What are you interested in that might surprise other people?
I’m an avid reader of European history, from the late 1800s to 20th century events like WWI and WWII. The geopolitical dynamics that led to these turning points in history are fascinating to learn about. For example, the end of the Czar dynasty in Russia might have been precipitated by successive defeats to Germany during WWI, but underneath it was also a nation desperate for change. The build-up of war with Japan, constitutional reforms that were not delivered on, and systemic poverty, ended up pushing Russia over the edge in 1917.
What new technology do you wish you could experience again for the first time?
Oh that’s easy: Bose noise cancelling headphones. They’re essential for getting through long flights and noisy commutes. There are a variety of noise cancelling options on the market nowadays but I have found the Bose to be the most effective for my sanity.
What advice do you live by?
While there’s much wisdom in the world, my top piece of advice is don’t use the past as a point of reference for the future. If Steve Jobs had just replicated the functions of a traditional phone, we would not have the iPhone. At the time, a handheld device with internet, apps, photos and video capability was revolutionary. The first car was not invented by thinking about how to make “faster horses”. Innovation is always forward-looking.
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