Started in 2013, minor update in 2020
The beauty of bright new days
August 2020. We are already more than halfway through a very exceptional and weird year and this is a special edition of our monthly newsletter where we are exploring a different format in order to talk about the changes we are promoting at Bright Pixel.
We have been gradually shifting from the three-step concept of Labs – Incubation – Ventures that we had started with at Bright Pixel to one that privileges the focus in investments and in supporting the increasing portfolio of startups we have in different phases of maturity.
And that is a big change for us.
We pivoted from a company builder studio with an early-stage fund, to an early-stage VC firm with a broader mandate to actively invest in startups with distinctive or emerging tech.
The following conversation is between Celso, our co-founder and CEO, who is starting a new chapter in his life, and Alex, our Chief Investment Officer. In it, they highlight the lessons learnt as investors in the market for four years now, and talk about what awaits them. Let’s start!
Roadtrip to John’s
Alex: Looking back, it is funny to think of how Bright Pixel was born. I had just joined Sonae IM’s investment team when the project was formally put in motion in late 2015. In the initial discussions around the investment strategy, the main goal was to find growth stage venture capital opportunities in projects that already had revenues (ideally, +1m€) and that had ambitious plans to scale globally. But then there was also a will to dabble into early-stage investments as well. Clearly, one thing that was taken into account since the very beginning was that these were two different worlds. The way you analyse and support growth stage startups is objectively different from early-stage projects… That’s when you came along with way too many ideas!
Celso: I remember this. I knew two things when I left SAPO: I wanted to join the startups bandwagon and be an entrepreneur, and I wanted to get my hands dirty and turn a couple of great ideas into products. I knew nothing about investment funds back then. When we started talking, you crushed my dreams and told me: you have to choose one idea, and one only.
Alex: That led us to brainstorm… a lot. We began by evaluating the ideas you had and also further understanding who could be a part of each project. However, we reached some sort of deadlock. We couldn’t choose one idea over the other. We needed to explore these opportunities with some sort of method.
So, we went on a road trip and spent a few weeks looking at and visiting company builder studios, especially in the US. One of the most interesting conversations was the meeting we had with John Borthwick, the founder of BetaWorks in NYC. He was kind enough to explain to us in some detail the merits and challenges of the venture builder studio model.
Celso: That chat with John was indeed the defining moment for the soon to become Bright Pixel. From there, we fine-tuned the concept, the goals, the underlying assumptions and the team that we needed to execute our vision.
Oxpecker & Hell’s Kitchen
Celso: I recall we kicked off with 11 people with varied profiles and the purpose of nurturing the birth of two projects that we initially chose out of all of the ideas we had floated upon and that could then evolve to a startup through our model.
One of those projects is Probely (originally called oxpecker, believe it or not), which has a fantastic team and a great product, and is now close to reaching their Series A stage. The other project was called Grafly but never turned into a startup and we had to drop it after a while (because we did not foresee how it could scale globally). It failed, which is fine.
We also decided to invest in our first startup literally the night before we formally announced Bright Pixel to the world. It was a pre-seed ticket in EatTasty, a company that started in our kitchen and now has an impressive growth potential in the market.
Alex: And, let’s not forget this, a couple of months later we were also launching our first fund.
Now, we must admit that the setup of the whole company builder model was challenging, mustn’t we?
We had this slightly romantic idea that working on tech projects in the Labs, most of which pilots or proof of concepts with bigger companies, would somehow not only be an important revenue stream for the studio, but also play out as a catalyst to create new startups and invest in them.
Celso: Yes, it sure made a lot of sense on paper at the time. But…
Just a title to increase suspense…
Celso: But then the hard cold reality taught us a few things.
In a nutshell, we found that it’s really hard to turn proof of concept projects and tech consultancy into MVPs and startups. Finding the right balance between generating enough revenues to sustain your operation, with enough volume to cherry pick the winners and upgrade them to MVPs, and having the right people at hand to jump from tech consultants to entrepreneurs, all while staying sharp focused on your early-stage investment activity, is near impossible.
There’s a longer explanation, but let’s keep it short. As a team, we decided to reassess the initial Bright Pixel model, and essentially wind down the Labs and the company builder studio configuration. And that’s what we’ve been doing for the last months.
Bright new beginnings
Alex: That made you rethink what you personally wanted to do, right? Whether you wanted to focus on the role as an investor or go back to your origins and be more in touch with product development and building new things.
Celso: That’s right. I learned a ton over the past few years. It’s been a privilege to have known so many interesting people from the startup ecosystem in Portugal and to have discovered so many amazing companies along the Bright Pixel journey.
I have absolutely no regrets. I have never learned so much about so many new things in so little time. For this alone, I feel immensely proud and grateful.
But as much as I like the startup investments world, helping startups and mentoring entrepreneurs, I like getting my hands dirty with tech even more. Drifting away from technology and building products for end users, and doing it at scale, not just proof of concepts, took a toll on me. So, I’m returning to that.
Alex: Can you tell us more?
Celso: I guess I can now. I’m joining Cloudflare as Head of Engineering for their Portuguese office this month. It’s an opportunity to return to my true passion, technology and product, at a global scale, for a company that I’ve been following over the years and I admire for its mission, ambition and culture.
Alex: Nevertheless, I hope we manage to have you around us at Bright Pixel, as an advisor within our Investment Committee, helping us analyse investment options and following the progress of the portfolio we have built together.
Celso: I will definitely stay close and will do my best to maintain a few advisory roles and keep supporting our startups.
Stay Hungry, Helpful, Humble and Happy
Alex: 2020 has been a hell of a ride so far… Yet, we have been lucky enough to see our 15 startups coping rather well in the midst of all the instability felt because of the pandemic. Now, we are focused on investing in new projects we have been screening in the market for a while ago. We have just announced our investment in the emerging field of unsupervised automated platforms for video and streaming services with the round we led at Replai.io. Hopefully, we will soon communicate another investment in a startup that is working in a sphere that has gained even more relevance as a result of Covid-19’s impact in our collective lives.
Celso: We have been talking a lot about this lately, and I see great potential for Bright Pixel in exploring what will be the trends of the new normal. Paradigm shifts always bring great opportunities. These almost five years of activity provided us with a valuable network of advisors and experts, and a growing alumni community, which will certainly help navigate this future like few can.
Bright Pixel will always have a place in my heart, and I’m sure I’ll be reading about many upcoming success stories from the work you, Junior, Fred, Marcos and the rest of the investment team will keep doing.
Alex: Hope so. Bright new days to come! We will be announcing several initiatives and news from our side in the next few months. Well, it is time to wish you good luck, Celso! And I know I speak for all the Bright Pixel family: we see a bright future ahead of you 😉
Weird times… with positive and negative impacts in our individual and collective lives. Personally, I have learned a lot in these last months… to value simple things, to better grasp that sometimes we tend to waste time in matters that simply do not matter, to learn more about the virtues of patience and keeping calm. I lost a bit of weight, I am also increasingly fitter and healthier, and I got closer to friends and family, oddly enough, because of the imposed social distance.
Professionally, we have proven that working together remotely works quite well – we can be highly productive and efficient, working actually more due to a better management of time… but, all of this has a toll after a long period of time. We start to miss personal interactions and the intense back to back routine of endless calls starts to sink in. To maintain company culture and build on top of the long last relationships that we want to explore with our stakeholders, we will need to mix remote with physical contact.
Weird times… indeed. Full of personal and professional challenges to overcome and opportunities to explore to our benefit.
Tech will save us all
Covid-19 sent everyone home and, three months later, not everyone has returned. In the US, before the pandemic, already 4.7 million or 3,4% of the population worked from home, and the number is increasing – according to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly one-third of the U.S. workforce, and half of all “information workers”, are able to work from home.
Now that everyone is experimenting with the benefits of working remotely, the will to return to the offices is vanishing, with 98% of people saying they would like to have the option to work remotely for the rest of their careers. The same respondents praise the flexible schedule (32%), the possibility to work from anywhere (26%) and not having to commute (21%).
Just on a side-note, not having to commute has a very positive impact on the environment too: Xerox estimated that it saved 92 million miles of driving by allowing its remote workers to avoid commuting, thereby reducing carbon emissions by almost 41,000 metric tons.
This opens up new opportunities for collaboration tools companies, as we have seen in past newsletters – is now the time when virtual reality and augmented reality will enter our daily lives? The expectations are high. Also, it gives companies new chances to re-evaluate their cost structure. Yeah, you read well.
Remote working allows companies to avoid some basic costs such as internet, work computer/phone, or food allowance. In an inquiry done with US workers that worked remotely, 80% of the respondents said the company did not pay for home internet; 72% did not get their phones paid; 87% didn’t receive for costs related to drinks/foods in coffee shops. This is something very small – you already pay for the internet and for your phone –, but there isn’t a good principle behind it.
So why should they keep their high cost offices in Silicon Valley if their workers prefer to work from home? And if they can work from home, then why can’t they be anywhere in the world? Twitter closed its offices until September and Facebook is planning not to open them in the long-term. If companies don’t have a physical space, they can hire people from anywhere in the world and we all know that some countries/locations offer higher wages than others.
Events without sales and networking
Tech events are a big opportunity to generate new leads, which is now more relevant than ever, considering that startups’ survival depends on their sales – 50% of them said they had 6 months or less of runway and 72% saw their revenue drop since the beginning of the crisis with the average startup experiencing a decline of 32%. When all these events are being canceled, postponed or done virtually, how can entrepreneurs do business? Experts say: organize your own event, bet on content marketing, be popular on social media and work on your marketplace.
Going back to the offices
But there is also another way of thinking – the Bank of America and IBM (in the US) believe that innovation and collaboration are essential and can only be done right in person, so they are doing all efforts to bring people back to the offices
While companies can send everyone home and expect to reduce their fixed costs by cutting real estate expenses and offer lower wages, some believe that it will have a negative impact on the organizational culture and the emotional connection to the company will be lost, meaning there are no reasons for people not to switch to something new that makes them feel more accomplished. There’s an opportunity for the gig economy to be filled with knowledge people.
If new companies are the new cornerstones of the economy, let’s help them!
New companies, tech companies, can save the economies from a complete breakdown, so shouldn’t all governments take some time to think about how to help them? As Startup Genome recently posted in its annual report, continuing to invest in local ecosystems will reinsure its growth and, consequently, will produce more value.
And since this is all about innovation, BCG shared its annual list of the world’s most innovative companies – led by the three A’s: Apple, Alphabet and Amazon – and Sifted shared some lessons about what we can learn from them.
Although none of these companies are European-based, the old continent is becoming more competitive when it comes to innovation – on the one hand, the EU continues to have a better performance than the United States, China, Brazil, Russia, South Africa, and India; and on the other, Europe has more ecosystems in the Emerging Entrepreneurial Ecosystems list than the other continents. And there are people who strongly believe that Europe is better positioned than ever before to lead the way from now on.
Tolerance to risk is a tough issue to tackle in my line of work… and it is curious to see that each person has different tolerance levels due to their past experiences and the way they see the world… this article is a story that highlights well that… there are three distinct sides of risk:
The odds you will get hit.
The average consequences of getting hit.
The tail-end consequences of getting hit.
The first two are easy to grasp. It’s the third that’s hardest to learn, and can often only be learned through experience.
In early stage investing, most invest without never having a full grasp of the tail-end consequences of getting hit, or some might know what that means but don’t care (aka a lot of money to spare or a less than advisable care with the money of others)… but, I believe that the best early stage investors factor in their approach a big chunk of probability of suffering of tail-end consequences of getting hit in their investments. They have a clear idea of the risks involved and that it is a part of the game, no matter how cautious you are in every step of the way. Informed data driven risk takers are better than gun swinging ones…
a great article from Morgan Housel
He launched recently Tech Deciphered Show – a great podcast about tech and VC (unbiased opinion… really! I listen to a bunch of podcasts and this one competes neck to neck with the best of them!) – with Bertrand Schmitt, an entrepreneur with a great story and track record, that I had the pleasure to also e-meet recently.
I’ve listened to most of the episodes they’ve done so far.
I truly recommend to any entrepreneur or investor that should listen carefully to the two episodes that analyses the impact of covid19 in the world.
The full transcript is also here and is a good reading alternative:
Interesting read that took me back to my economics degree.
In a nutshell, if you do not have the time to read this…
Long on Gold
Be careful with holding USD – it’s reserve currency attribute might be now even more at risk.
Most people don’t pay enough attention to their currency risks. Most worry about whether their assets are going up or down in value; they rarely worry about whether their currency is going up or down. Think about it. Right now how worried are you about your currency declining relative to how worried you are about how your stocks or your other assets are doing? If you are like most people, you are not nearly as aware of your currency risk and you need to be.
So let’s explore that currency risk.
All Currencies Have Been Devalued or Died
The winner takes it all
Today is my 51th day confined at home. I would rather we weren’t in these circumstances, but I must admit I have been enjoying the slower pace. There’s a sense of guilt about it, but it was good to realize I wasn’t the only one.
Unfortunately, most businesses are unable to enjoy the silver linings of this situation. Covid-19 has been putting all companies to test, leaving them to the brutal and unsympathetic forces of natural selection. As it often happens in most crises, some players will thrive, while others will struggle to survive.
The winners and losers could be purely temporary. Most meetings might revert back to face to face, and our problems with overbooked planes and crowded restaurants could soon be back (miss this already?).
Telling long-term winners and losers is much harder than just predicting short-term adjustments. The world has been predicting the demise of cinemas and brick-and-mortar retail for too long now.
At this point, we already have some clues about who these winners are
Enterprise software has seen increasing demand for their services. Zoom is the most obvious one here. As of 28/04, its stock has appreciated 140% since the beginning of the year. Slack is also attracting the attention of remote workers. According to a series of Tweets from the CEO, its user base has grown from 10.4M in March 16 to 12.5M, just 10 days later! Facebook is also joining the party by releasing messenger rooms and even Skype has awakened from the death to make some new announcements lately.
Entertainment is going through some big momentum too. On 21/04, Netflix has crushed investors’ expectations by adding 16M new paying subscribers, more than double of what was expected by investors. Disney+ has seen tremendous growth adding 50M subscribers in its first 5 months, and HBO Max is set to launch in May. Expectations are high.
When it comes to short-video, the youngest social-media giant, Tik Tok was downloaded 2 million times between March 16 and 22, an increase from the previous week’s 1.7 million. The emerging short-video platform Quibi, a high-profile startup in the valley that has raised $1.8B, was made available to the public in April, and Youtube announced it is working on a competitor.
Among the best performing sectors this year is healthcare. Finding a cure for this virus would be the best news for any stockholder (and everyone in general) in a pharmaceutical company. At the same time, technology is also gaining space in a science-led industry. From real-time well-being trackers and medical professional’s support systems, to less obvious spaces like sextech
Many are struggling but not backing down just yet
Mobility is definitely one of the hardest-hit sectors. Even with questionable unit economics, the sector has been one of the hottest investment topics in recent years, with Bird holding the record of the fastest startup to ever reach the unicorn status, in only 2 years. Right now, these companies are reinventing their purpose, such as the micro-mobility company, Felyx, that has made their electric scooters available at a reduced rate to entrepreneurs who want to serve customers at home.
Tourism and hospitality are also going through a rough period with most restaurants and hotels closed. Travel companies are providing virtual booking services for sightseeing and others, such as online-only classes and webinars. Restaurants are selling vouchers for post-Covid-19 meals to keep their businesses alive. Airbnb has also debuted online experiences and their accommodation offers are becoming less short-term and more long-term rentals. Even movie theatres found a way. In a very “back to the future” style, some are promoting drive-in experiences. Do you have Grease vibes?
This time is different
At the risk of falling for the same trap of those who predict the end of industries for too long, we will place our bets on who the long-term winners will be.
The first one is Cybersecurity. The growing importance of this vertical is not new. As people and devices become more connected and dependent on online services, cyber risks increase significantly. Still, IT architectures are shifting towards becoming more decentralized and reliant on 3rd party services, exposing companies to new attacks and increasing their vulnerabilities. Just in March, online threats have risen by as much as six-times their usual levels. By accelerating remote work and promoting digital environments, this crisis emphasizes the relevancy of cyber security for years to come.
As we scale-down human interactions, our reliance on digital engagements is increasing. Existing user interaction platforms must evolve towards automation and new interfaces. We’ve never seen brands being so dependent on customer experience as they are in the digital age, and now, more than ever, customers are unsatisfied. They want refunds of their trips, they expect their favorite restaurants to have take-away, and they order groceries to be delivered within a day. How to deal with such demanding clients? You’re right: with a very efficient contact center and an optimized virtual assistant.
For the near-future, we expect a bumpy road ahead with lower growth expectations, scracer capital availability and rising unemployment. Still, on the health front, things seem to be improving, and hopefully, the peak of the worst health crisis of our generation is past us, and we can go back to business (almost as usual) soon enough
Featuring producers Florian Seyberth and Peter Heider, Boozoo Bajou are a downbeat duo from Nuremberg, Germany known for blending inspirations like reggae, dub, Cajun music, folk, jazz, and pop.
They first appeared in 1998 via the Stereo Deluxe label and the single “Night Over Manaus.” The exotic lounge number drew the attention of Richard Dorfmeister, who hired the duo to remix “Chocolate Elvis,” a 1999 single from Dorfmeister and Rupert Huber’s project, Tosca.
That same year, Bajou’s jazzy single “Under My Sensi” became the chill-out tune of choice. It landed on their 2001 debut Satta! a dub-meets-electronica effort suitably named after the Jamaican Patois term for “relax.”
No surprise, then, that their 2003 mix CD Juke Joint skillfully blended Groove Armada, Burnt Friedman, Gregory Isaacs, Paul Weller, and John Lee Hooker, or that the same year’s Remixes collection found them working with names like Common, Mousse T., and Thievery Corporation.
Their sophomore release, Dust My Broom, landed in 2005 with country-rock hero Tony Joe White appearing on the single “Keep Going,” while Jamaican deejay U-Brown traded lines with Fat Freddy’s Drop singer Joe Dukie on the track “Take It Slow.”
have a look at the lyrics…
I’ve taken part and witnessed several big discussions about changes to how VCs should manage these times of higher uncertainty in the market.
If we should delay or even stop investing in new startups, change our approach to investments (e.g. look at new areas of interest and forget several sectors altogether), put in more protective clauses to have more guarantees if we invest from now onwards, due to these weird and very uncertain times…
The article below is very good and provides insights and details about the typical clauses that can influence investment discussions between VCs and startups now and in the near future.
Personally, I do not like most of the barbaric approaches (it’s a bad way to engage in a long term relationship that should be managed with equilibrium and fairness), but a few might make sense (if we do not over engineer everything in the process). Overall, I believe that VCs (specially the early stage ones) will have to still take the plunge and assume the risk (it’s their job to do so), but there can be fairer ways of having in place some more checks and balances that simply were most of the times put aside in the last upward movement of the VC market, due to mostly competitive deal discussions that typically were skewing things to a more founder friendly approach…
VC terms — Return of the Barbarians.
I hate complex terms in venture investments. Value is created by backing exceptional companies that return your fund, not by word-smithing aggressive legal agreements. In the last decade, we’ve seen cleaner and simpler terms become the norm, which has been great for everyone and created more alignment.
Founders beware. OG venture capitalists like myself remember vividly the days of full ratchet wiping out entire cap tables and leaving founders with nothing.
As we’re entering a new ice age, I’m hearing that paring knives are being sharpened and old weapons might get taken out of storage. I’m hoping I’m wrong and VCs will keep their term-sheets clean, but in case they don’t, here’s a detailed look at the arsenal that these barbarian investors can draw from.
So saddle up, grab you shield and get familiar with the subtleties of Participating Preferred’s, Full Ratchet Anti-Dilution, Pay-to-Plays and more by reading further. As Andy Grove would say, only the paranoid survive.
It doesn’t matter where you are, you are nowhere compared to where you can go.