We are reviving the ‘Ask the VC’ series with the first installment going to Principal Boris Golden from Partech Ventures. Thanks for your time Boris!
1. As a brief introduction, how did you make your way into Partech Ventures and how would you describe yourself?
That’s a long & random path that brought me to the VC world and to Partech!
Here goes the reasonably short version of it:
I used to be a computer science & mathematics researcher but I was looking for more “innovation”, “product” and “business”so I did a second M.Sc more focused on these topics and also started doing consulting work in organizational change during my computer science PhD. This is when I discovered the startup world, first by freelancing for a bunch of companies and then by founding my own startups. I’ve had 2 experiences as a founder; the first one was a miserable failure but the second one was more successful as we managed to sell the company. This experience left me with the impression that I had missed an “advisor/mentor” role that could have helped me make much better decisions and be more efficient in the way I acted as a founder. This led me to start mentoring in several startup accelerators and the experience was incredible! I discovered that I loved helping founders and it looked like I was reasonably good at doing this. I’d never thought about becoming a VC but I met Partech by chance at a startup jury, we started a conversation and I ended up joining them to lead our new seed fund in France.
2. Tell us more about the current seed fund and the startups you are on the lookout for.
We have a €100M seed fund, 1/3 for the US, 1/3 for France and 1/3 for the rest of Europe. This fund was launched in April 2015, and we are a team of 5 to invest in around 30+ startups a year.
We look at all “digital” startups, meaning Internet, software & high-tech startups (but no industrial projects, biotech, etc). At seed stage, we especially like when you have something really special that makes it worth, in our view, to be willing to invest early in your journey. It can be a very disruptive technology, an incredible early momentum, a world-class team tackling a big opportunity…
3. In an ideal world, how long would you like to have to build a relationship with entrepreneurs before you invest in their projects?
I’d say 6 months is great. It’s long enough to have seen the momentum of the startup, how founders drive their company or react to unexpected news & readjust their plan & strategy. But at the same time it’s short enough so that the momentum of the founder-VC relationship is very high and it doesn’t feel like the startups are taking too much time to start taking off in some way. But our relationship with the founders can range from a few weeks to years!
4. What are your thoughts on what makes a good founding team/Founder?
That’s a tricky one. Personally, I like founders who…
- Will make it happen whatever it takes, because they are on a mission & have a strong sense of purpose, combined with an ambition to achieve great things and a strong grit & resilience
- Know really well their market & the opportunity
- Have a clear vision of how they want to tackle this opportunity, with unique insights supporting it
- Have assembled a founding team that makes it super credible to make this specific startup happen
- Have the qualities you usually expect from a good lean & agile startup team: super smart, skilled, executing & delivering, having the right mindset & culture, having the right mix between conviction & flexibility, etc
5. What was the most memorable/effective pitch you’ve seen?
It’s actually one of my portfolio companies that is kind of in stealth :). Another one was an email pitch I received; 5 lines maximum, describing the company, why the founder was reaching out to me specifically, and what the purpose of the approach was together with a graph showing the amazing traction & momentum in the last 6 months. I answered right away, because it was the most efficient email that I’ve received since I’ve been a VC. It looked surprisingly simple, but at the same time founders usually have a hard time to really make an “efficient impression” by email in my experience (which means it’s not that easy).
6. Is there any specific area in which you think Partech adds unique value to your portfolio companies?
We work with strategic corporate partners in each vertical and foster business development between them and our portfolio companies. We also have a unique transatlantic approach (we have offices in San Francisco, Paris and Berlin, and we work as a team together), which for instance has lead to most of our M&As happening with US acquirers. And we’re a team with many former entrepreneurs, each of us being dedicated to following his portfolio companies, beyond board meetings.
7. In your opinion are European VCs more risk-adverse than their US counterparts? If so, why?
I think it’s less and less true!
8. What is your Investment focus in Spain? What interests you about the market?
From our office in Paris & Berlin we’re covering Europe and Spain is for sure one of the biggest and most interesting startup markets outside of France & Germany, together with UK and the Nordics. We don’t have a different angle in Spain than in other countries.
9. The French government has been the most active venture investor in 2016 though BPIfrance. France is also very startup friendly with numerous benefits for entrepreneurs although this is not widely known or well represented. Why? What needs to be done?
There is probably still this image of France being a very “anti-business” and an “anti-entrepreneur” country. In France as a tech entrepreneur you can easily get access to public grants, loans, light taxes, founders’ salaries paid by unemployment agency for 2 years, and more. This is an amazing country to launch a startup! I believe that these facts are becoming more and more known, notably thanks to the Frenchtech movement.
10. How do you think Halle Fressyinet is going to impact the startup ecosystem in Paris and Europe as a whole?
I don’t know yet, but having visited them a few weeks ago, I can tell you it’s going to be huge! This will probably be the biggest concentration of startups in Europe. As a VC & former entrepreneur, I’m very excited by this incredible initiative. It will probably help in making Paris an even bigger startup hub.
11. Tell us some funny stories from the trenches
As investors we get to see many, many different kind of businesses, some of them really funny and/or crazy. I remember being at a startup jury where one of the startups pitching was a connected sex toy for women. When time for the questions came, I asked the CEO to clarify the “unique value proposition”, and she began to tell us about how the shape of their object was improving the female orgasm. Not a typical discussion you expect to have in public as a VC! And I could tell you many more but I guess that’s it for today :).