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London’s Top VCs: Google Ventures in the UK has £100m to spend and a great team but strangely, online visibility is not its strong point

google venturesThis week in the Haggerston Times we’ll be looking at 5 of London’s prominent Venture Capital Tech investment firms. The goal is to research the firms to try to find out more about what each stands for, who its key staff are, what kind of company culture they espouse, and what the future holds for them and, by extension, the companies they invest in.

Hopefully this will provide a little insight for founders searching for funding, business people operating in London and perhaps for the VC’s themselves to see how others perceive them and whether their marketing is co-ordinated and realistic. Fundraising is a serious endeavour, but it’s also a gamethat’s fun to play, and different people interpret the rules differently. Here are our interpretations, far from definitive, very subjective, intended to provoke debate and hopeful that something good might come of it. We’re starting with Google Ventures, the European version, which was launched in June last year with a £100m “prize pot”.

About

This is the Venture Capital Investment Arm of Google, providing seed, venture and growth stage funding to Tech start-ups. It was founded in the US in 2009 with a £100m capital commitment, which increased to $300m annually from 2012, and now has $1.5bn under management.

Google Ventures announced in July 2014 that it would be launching a £100m fund to invest in European start-ups, which would be administered from offices in London.

Google Ventures does not just provide funding, but prides itself on its ability to provide a fuller “venture capital services model”, working intensively with the start-ups they choose to invest in and providing them with “unique access to some of the world’s best engineers, scientists and technology. They are also at pains to make it clear that, although they have just the one limited partner, Google itself, they are dedicated to funding the “best companies” and not making “strategic investments for Google.”

The Team

Google ventures UK is currently made up of just 4 team members; they are, however, a phenomenally experienced bunch with no shortage of star quality and exceptional investment credentials.

Tom Hulme: is an entrepreneur and Angel investor, best known for his work at multi-award winning design consultancy firm IDEO, where he was design director and responsible for the launch of OpenIDEO and OIEngine, respectively an open innovation platform with 60,000+ users and an online platform for IDEO clients used by Harvard Business School.

Before that Hulme was MD of Marcos, a British Sports car manufacturer, and also founded magnetic filter start-up Magnom, whose designs are used by Formula One and JCB amongst others. Hulme was selected as one of the Evening Standard’s 1,000 most influential Londoners and has also featured on Wired’s Top 100 Digital Power Broker’s in the UK every year since the list began, as well as being awarded an honorary doctorate by University Arts London.

Hulme is an influential design evangelist with a strong Twitter following who thinks at a global level and believes in the importance of empathising with customers; “falling out of love with your customers is the precursor to failure”, he says. Here he is speaking at the G8 Innovation Conference back in June 2013.

Avid Larizadeh Duggan: Educated at Stanford University and Harvard Business School, Larizadeh Duggan has been “a developer, product manager, founder, investor and advisor” since first entering the start-up ecosystem in 1998. She made her first investments at Accel Partners in 2006 and has worked in product management at Skype and eBay.

Having been a programmer since her college days, and as well as founding Bottica, a global marketplace for independent fashion accessory brands, Larizadeh Duggan is probably best known for leading Code.org and the “Hour of Code” project in the UK, which has signed up over 1,000 classrooms. A recent session took place at no. 10 Downing Street where the Prime Minister spent an hour being taught how to code by a group of school children.
Well-connected, influential and very highly thought of on the London Start-up scene Avid specialises in ecommerce, media/content properties and online communities.

Peter Read: “active angel investor and advisor for more than 15 years in London, Berlin, Stockholm, and the US”, Read was also president of Nielsen Entertainment in Los Angeles, and MD of Entertainment Insights.
An Oxford graduate, Read’s LinkedIN profile reveals that he has made a substantial number of angel investments, examples include FarFetch, Qapital, Wool and the Gang and CityMapper, as well as advising companies such as LoveFilm, Skype, JustGiving and Yahoo.

Read is also a supporter of Entrepreneur First, a Fellow of Wellington College, and a Digital advisor to Oxfam, Sport England, and the Roundhouse. His Twitter feed shows him to be an extremely active and dedicated follower of trends, hot companies, tech and investment.

Eze Vidra: Vidra is the ex-head of the European arm of Google for Entrepreneurs and the figure most responsible for Campus London, the start-up centre and event space near the “Silicon Roundabout” which forms an integral part of the Tech City eco-system. Like his fellow team members, Vidra has an exceptional CV, including leadership roles at Shopping.com, Ask.com, and AOL Europe.

Popular and charismatic, Vidra founded Tech Bikers in his spare time, a collaboration of London cyclists drawn from the start-up community who support charitable projects. He writes for VC Café, an Israeli technology blog with a Silicon Valley focus, and was also responsible for the Launch of Google Shopping in Europe and also Google Wallet.

google ventures2

Bill Maris is President and managing Partner of Google Ventures in the US

The culture

The reputation of Google Ventures in the US speaks for itself; evangelical, influential, progressive, disruptive and rewarding of hard work, dedication and inspiration, and, perhaps most importantly, not afraid to put its money where its mouth is. Having assembled something of a dream team in London there’s no reason to doubt that Google Ventures can come to represent and hopefully spend a similar amount in the UK and Europe. The only caveat would seem to be a lack of concrete information around what Google Ventures in the UK has been doing since launch, and what it is planning to do.

Google Ventures is active on social media, nevertheless, it is tricky to find any information that specifically relates to its investment activities. Generally the portfolio investments spoken about and celebrated are the ones being made by the US arm of the Company; we were unable to find a UK focused website, or  a company structure explaining what will happen in Europe and how the £100m war chest will be spent.

That’s not to say there isn’t one; and if there wasn’t, it wouldn’t be that surprising as the project is only 9 months old, but perhaps there is a risk that Google Ventures in Europe could come across as elitist, or unwilling to share information with aspiring founders by placing it in the public domain.

With Tech City bigwigs celebrating London becoming the world’s no. 1 Tech Hub, the thinking behind Google Ventures is, or certainly was, clear, but since the high profile launch, signs of progress or a willingness to step out from behind the shadow of the US arm are quite hard to find online. Show us the money! in other words. Or to put it more mildly, indicate how it will be spent?

The Investments

See above; it is not easy to establish exactly what Google Ventures Europe has invested in. The GV website provides details about more than 280 investments that have been made, but the vast majority if not all of them were made in the US, or at least no distinction has been made between the two entities. A quick trawl through twitter, Facebook and Google (natch) is not especially revealing either; Is this a strategic decision, an oversight, or have there not been any significant investments to date? £100m that belongs to the European arm.

Kobalt has been in the news, a music publishing firm whose $60m recent funding round was led by Google Ventures, but again it’s all about the the guys in the US, whose practically world famous collection of investments include Uber, Nest, Cloudera, 23andMe, and Doctor On Demand. If Google are getting ready for a similar splurge in Europe, it can only spell good news for the European tech start-up eco-system across Europe.

The future

This would appear to be the key question. Google has decided to invest £100m in European tech start-ups, this much we know. We also know who they have asked to make and lead the investments. But beyond that, it’s difficult to say much more. There is intent, clearly, but, from an outsider’s perspective, no activity as yet. How would an aspiring founder with a brilliant and disruptive new idea submit it to the team? Is it a case of “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know? Perhaps we’ve just been looking in the wrong places, or perhaps, for whatever reason, the fund has decided it does not need to tell all online. Perhaps it’s easier to find the real deal(s) by leveraging a strong personal network of contacts rather than online. It would be a bit ironic though, wouldn’t it?

Almost everything on the GV website; the portfolio, the workshops, the information about partnering with Google experts, recruitment, marketing and engineering mentoring, video library and contacts assistance seems to relate to the US. It feels like Google Ventures Europe needs an operations team, a marketing co-ordinator, some scouts, and a stronger presence at start-up events if it wants to become a fund that founders believe they have a realistic chance of obtaining financial backing from.

It all seems a tiny bit remote at this time, but given the calibre of Google, its reputation, and the people involved in the project, it would be very foolish to think they won’t come good when everything is ready.

The Twitter Verdict!

Google Ventures Europe is a big deal, with £100m to invest. We know who, but not why, or how, or where. Fingers crossed all will be revealed!

 

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