Life as we know it has changed in the last few months. It started as something that was only happening in China to something that’s keeping us all awake at night and concerned. Some said it was inevitable; that, sooner or later, something like this would happen. 14 years ago, Larry Brilliant, the epidemiologist who helped eradicate smallpox, described to a TED audience what the next pandemic would look like. At the time, it sounded almost too horrible to take it seriously.
We’re not facing the end of the human race, but what everyone failed to predict were the human and economic consequences of such an impactful event. Research, medicine and, unfortunately, even some lives will help us overcome this situation and build a better world, based on our learnings from our previous errors.
However, once we are back to our daily lives – even before that – we will face a new economic reality. Right now, our lives and markets are frozen still. As USV founder Fred Wilson noted, while all assets are probably subject to a sell-off in a crisis, the market begins sorting winners and losers fast.
It’s time to look at this atypical situation as an opportunity to change, to start creating and implementing solutions that we wouldn’t dare to think about before in such a globalized, interconnected, fast-paced world. Let’s take the time we have been given to reinvent ourselves and face a new market reality.
A brief look at the world
Tribe Capital warns that a downturn can take years of cascading developments to fully express itself, if we consider similar past events. The international issues that have marked 2020 so far led to a spike in market volatility leading the S&P 500 declining 30% from its peak in just 16 days. In the 2008 debt crisis, it took 350 days to decline almost 60% from its peak and it still didn’t bottom out for another 200 days.
While ones are experiencing the need to dismiss their employees, others like Amazon or Walmart are surfing the wave and foreseeing the possibilities ahead of them. This tech giant announced plans to make 100 thousand new hires for its logistics operations and the Walmart is hiring another 150 thousand. Moreover, specifically in venture capital, there are new attempts emerging to counter the panic by mediating between firms still cutting checks and the companies that need the money. A new program called Luma Launch out of LA has already gathered 400 names of investors seeking activity. There is a sense of irony, however… because Luma itself will not be among those investing…
The VC narrative
There is more than one voice advising to prepare for tougher times, so investors are slowing down their analysis of new opportunities whilst reaching their portfolio companies with important recommendations to keep their businesses sound. Priyamvada Mathur lists the need to cut unnecessary expenses to extend cash runway, expand the customer base, be sure to have a dependable board of directors and, at last, but not least, how to become a great storyteller about how the company is successfully solving a problem…
Redpoint Ventures’ managing director Tomasz Tunguz also leaves six startup disciplines for challenging times, including the focus of the team: while sales teams need to keep pipelines primed by wooing existing customers, CEOs need to think about transitioning from management to leadership roles. Sequoia also warns their founders and CEO’s for the effects of Coronavirus, the black swan of 2020: some companies may experience softening demand; some may face supply challenges. While the Federal Reserve and other central banks can cut interest rates, monetary policy may prove a blunt tool in alleviating the economic ramifications of this global health crisis
What’s coming next?
We don’t know exactly what that world will look like – although Sequoia has published a matrix with several economic macro scenarios -, we can imagine some of it. Basically, take the trends that were already in motion and hit the fast-forward button. Virtualization of events, activities, and interactions – the MIT Technology Review says that social distancing is here to stay for much more than a few weeks. Automation of processes and services. Political and economic decentralization. “Now is the time when we need to think about what we would like the new world to look like, and start planning for it and building it”
What do the numbers say? CB Insights sees a 16% quarterly decline coming in Q1’20 – second only to the 36% fall between Q2’12 and Q3’12 – and it is expected to decrease even more in the next quarter. While the analysts at Pitchbook see COVID-19 as, at least in part, exacerbating old trends. Sustainability and profitability, which are quintessential to surviving any downturn, had re-entered the VC lexicon no later than the WeWork debacle. The founder-friendliness in term sheets had already taken a blow, with investors simply demanding more, and that should be expected to continue. Exits, which had already receded somewhat after the IPO frenzy, will also fall again; despite SoftBank’s considerations mentioned above, many firms will also probably be less than willing to sell assets at lower valuations. At the same time, there is no lack of potential dry powder, so even with fewer exit possibilities, investments will probably not be hit in the same way as in 2008
A moment to enhance the Portuguese entrepreneurs
Some Portuguese startups, among them some of our portfolio companies, such as Jscrambler, Probely, Automaise, Taikai, Reckon.ai, or EatTasty, are taking efforts to become even more relevant and put their know-how and solutions at the service of the society and health entities. We’re proud to see that when needed, there’s no competition
I joined recently the 351 Portuguese startup community!
First time I actually tried to do something like this… but it was fun!
Live, Learn, Iterate, Share, Collaborate, Research, Recommend, Discuss, Think, Act.
Recently, we had an interesting discussion at Bright Pixel about our willingness to share more and give back to our community.
We have been dwelling about the fact that we have constant and regular access to interesting information related to tech investments, namely to some privileged and/or highly relevant content that could benefit a wider audience. We also have specialised knowledge and a growing experience related to early stage tech investments that are trying to scale in several geographies and explore different market opportunities.
So, we decided to launch a monthly newsletter, where we will share with you things that caught our attention, stuff that we have learnt, ideas for you to explore and research about.
We hope this newsletter can be useful for investors like us, entrepreneurs that are exploring their own projects, people in love with tech, innovators and curious minds. This is the first edition of many, we hope. Please send us feedback and help us improve. This is from us, with bright intentions, to you, the bright minds that will change the world.
Top Early Stage Investors – a family business?
Rocket Internet is a well known story, led by Oliver Samwer and his two brothers, Alexander and Marc.
When we started Bright Pixel based on a venture builder studio model, we looked at several players with similar approaches, namely the aggressive and highly criticized strategy, followed by Rocket Internet, that was known for extensively applying copycatting techniques in its portfolio companies, inspired by successful and proven formulas of companies in other geographies. At the time, we did not like that type of approach and built our startup studio with a different DNA.
Nevertheless, if you fast forward 4 years, clearly it looks like their aggressive approach has paid off. Now, they have reached a considerable size in terms of portfolio and assets under management, under now the umbrella of GFC. Oliver is also co-author of the entrepreneur’s handbook “America’s most successful startups”, that gathered several fans and haters (e.g. professor Jürgen Seitz identified 4 things Silicon Valley can learn from this investor)
To be a copycatter, or not to be?
Bright Pixel is reaching its fourth year of existence as an early stage tech investor focused on emerging tech opportunities. We have now 15 portfolio investments and we are always discussing how we can be a better investor, differentiate ourselves from the pack and add extra value to the entrepreneurs that we work with. That’s why we frequently look at what other more established players are doing in the market.
Dealroom is one of the many great sources of truth about the startup world. They have recently launched a European VC 2020 ranking that ranks all the players, based on quantitative and transparent criteria. As the European VC space has been steadily growing and maturing in the last years, Dealroom has improved their rankings, distinguishing the Top Seed VC investors from Top Series A Investors.
Global Founders Capital, tightly linked to the german based incubator Rocket Internet, leads the Top Seed VC ranking. They now have a 220+ portfolio with 36 deals in 2019, 7 potential unicorns and 8 realized unicorns, closely followed by LocalGlobe and Seedcamp in the second and third spot
We’re a family too
We actually respect more and see higher value in the approach followed by another family of VCs, based out of the UK, that currently are in the second and third spot of the Top Seed VC ranking. Localglobe was founded by Robin Klein, considered by many as a pioneer of Europe’s venture scene, and his son, Saul, that later also founded Seedcamp with Reshma Sohoni.
In 2015, Robin Klein shared his vision on what were the biggest mistakes startups should avoid making – something worthwhile reading! – and you can also listen to him talking about LocalGlobe’s approach when evaluating early stage startups, how he sees the european ecosystem and the next wave of disruption in the world.
At Seedcamp, where we have a well-represented Portuguese batch within their startup portfolio, it is interesting to understand and hear Sohoni talk about their vision of how Seedcamp can help their companies rise from difficult times to household names in the market. They also shared a great deal of information about essentials for startups
Powered with love… in what we do!
The term “first principles” was coined more than 2,000 years ago by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, who believed that the best way to understand a subject is to break it down to its most fundamental principles.
In a 2012 interview with Digg founder Kevin Rose, Musk explained how to apply the first principles method, using the cost of car batteries as an example:
Step 1: Identify the problem and its common assumptions.
“Somebody could say, ’Battery packs are really expensive, and that’s just the way they will always be. Historically, it has cost $600 per kilowatt hour,” Musk said, referencing the “common assumption” about car batteries.
Therefore, he continued, most people would just accept that “it’s not going to be much better than that in the future.”
Step 2: Break the problem down to its fundamental truths.
This is often the most difficult part, and the key is to ask the right questions — by challenging the common assumptions. Keep digging deeper and deeper until you are left with only the fundamental truths.
“With first principles, you say, ‘What are the material constituents of the batteries? What is the stock market value of the material constituents?’ It’s got cobalt, nickel, aluminum, carbon, some polymers for separation and a seal can,” explained Musk.
Then, he continued, “you’d break that down on a material basis and say, ‘If we bought that on the London Metal Exchange what would each of those things cost?’ It’s like $80 per kilowatt hour.”
Step 3: Use the fundamental truths to plot a new course.
Fundamental truths are like building blocks. Once you’ve gathered them, you can use them to create an entirely new and innovative solution.
With the batteries, “you just need to think of clever ways to take those materials and combine them into the shape of a battery cell,” Musk said. “Then you can have batteries that are much, much cheaper than anyone realizes.”
A ‘powerful, powerful way of thinking’
Musk has referenced the value of first principles thinking several times. “I think it’s important to view knowledge as sort of semantic tree,” he wrote in a 2015 Reddit AMA. “Make sure you understand the fundamental principles, i.e., the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details, or there is nothing for them to hang on to.”
In a 2014 commencement speech at the University of Southern California, he offered a similar piece of advice: “Don’t just follow the trend. It’s good to think in terms of the physics approach — the first principles,” he said. “This is a good way to figure out if something really makes sense, or if it’s just what everybody else is doing.”
He added: “It’s very hard to do. You can’t think that way about everything. It takes a lot of effort, but if you’re trying to do something new, it’s the best way to think. It’s really a powerful, powerful way of thinking.”
Other cool links
I started off with Headspace but lately I’ve used with some success the Calm app, but never wanted to pay for it!
Now I am testing two free alternatives to then stay with one!
Smiling Mind is in testing mode now!
Top picks for the best meditation apps of 2020:
3. Simple Habit
7. Smiling Mind
Product Focus for tech companies in San Francisco
All under 40…