Just as many other employee services have gone digital, so too is mental health. In the consumer space there are growing startups like Equoo, but the race is now on for the employee.
And since telemedicine has gone digital and video-based, so too is mental health provision. A number of companies are already playing in this space, including Spill Chat, On Mind, Lyra Health, Modern Health, Ginger and TalkSpace For Business.
Oliva’s take on this is not to create a marketplace or pre-recorded videos, but to put trained professionals in front of employees to talk directly to them. And there is even science to back it up. Indeed, some research suggests Psychotherapy via the internet is as good if not better than face-to-face consultations.
Oliva’s on-demand, professional-led mental healthcare for employees and managers has now attracted investment to the tune of a $2.2m pre-seed investment round, led by Moonfire Ventures, the new seed-stage VC firm from Atomico co-founder Mattias Ljungman.
The UK and Spain-based startup has also attracted angel investment from tech executives from Amazon, Booking.com, DogBuddy, Typeform, Hotjar, TravelPerk, and more.
Oliva is founded by Javier Suarez, who previously co-founded TravelPerk, and Sançar Sahin, who previously led marketing teams at Hotjar and Typeform, so both are well blooded in startups.
Suarez says he was inspired to create a mental health startup after the rigors of TravelPerk: “Employees are a company’s greatest asset – the better they feel, the better your company performs. But organizations are not set up to support their employees’ mental health in and outside of the workplace, which creates a massive problem for teammates, managers, and the organization as a whole. We’ve launched Oliva to give employees access to comprehensive online mental healthcare and to help organizations overcome the related challenges—from attracting & retaining talent and training managers to supporting remote workers.”
Privacy is addressed via the use of a secure and encrypted personal portal, where employees can chat with a care provider who matches them with a professional. They get 1-to-1 video therapy sessions from a range of mental health professionals, and can also track their progress.
The team has also attracted Dr. Sarah Bateup, who has spent over two decades teaching and training mental healthcare professionals, who is now Chief Clinical Officer.
She said: “Oliva improves the way mental healthcare is accessed, supported, and paid for, while also adding more ongoing oversight and accountability to the process. Our ambition is for Oliva to be viewed as a badge of quality and set a new standard for workplace mental healthcare.”
Mattias Ljungman, Founder at Moonfire Ventures, added: “Mental health has been an overlooked area of care and wellbeing, especially in the workplace. Oliva’s founders are the only team we’ve seen taking a holistic, impact-driven approach to supporting mental health. While employer-funded mental health is becoming a well-established model in the US, Oliva is the first to bring a truly comprehensive approach to UK and European businesses.”
Oliva platform is integrated with Slack, providing employees with mental health drop-in sessions, therapy courses, and dedicated training and support for managers.
The startup investing market is crowded, expensive and rapid-fire today as venture capitalists work to preempt one another, hoping to deploy funds into hot companies before their competitors. The AI startup market may be even hotter than the average technology niche.
This should not surprise.
In the wake of the Microsoft-Nuance deal, The Exchange reported that it would be reasonable to anticipate an even more active and competitive market for AI-powered startups. Our thesis was that after Redmond dropped nearly $20 billion for the AI company, investors would have a fresh incentive to invest in upstarts with an AI focus or strong AI component; exits, especially large transactions, have a way of spurring investor interest in related companies.
That expectation is coming true. Investors The Exchange reached out to in recent days reported a fierce market for AI startups.
The Exchange explores startups, markets and money.
But don’t presume that investors are simply falling over one another to fund companies betting on a future that may or may not arrive. Per a Signal AI survey of 1,000 C-level executives, nearly 92% thought that companies should lean on AI to improve their decision-making processes. And 79% of respondents said that companies are already doing so.
The gap between the two numbers implies that there is space in the market for more corporations to learn to lean on AI-powered software solutions, while the first metric belies a huge total addressable market for startups constructing software built on a foundation of artificial intelligence.
The exit market for AI startups is more than just the big Microsoft-Nuance deal. CB Insights reports that four of the largest five American tech companies have bought a dozen or more AI-focused startups to date, with Apple leading the pack with 29 such transactions.
Katana, an Estonian startup that has built manufacturing-specific enterprise resource planning (ERP) software for SMBs, has raised $11 million in Series A funding.
Leading the round is European venture capital firm Atomico, with participation from angel investors Ott Kaukver (Checkout.com CTO), Sten Tamkivi (CPO Topia, formerly Skype), Sergei Anikin (CTO, Pipedrive) and Kairi Pauskar (former TransferWise HR Architect). Previous backer 42Cap also followed on, bringing the total investment raised by the company to date to $16 million.
Founded in 2017 by Kristjan Vilosius (CEO), Priit Kaasik (engineering lead) and Hannes Kert (CCO), Katana positions itself as the “entrepreneur manufacturer’s secret weapon” with a plug-and-play ERP for small to medium-sized manufacturers. The idea is to wean companies off existing antiquated tools such as spreadsheets and legacy software to manage inventory and production. The startup is also playing into macro trends, such as the advent of online marketplaces and D2C e-commerce, that are resulting in an explosion of independent makers, spanning cosmetics to home décor, electronics to apparel, and food and beverages.
“We are seeing a global renaissance of small manufacturing driven by the rise of e-commerce tools and consumer demand for bespoke products produced locally,” says Vilosius. “Just walk around any big city from London to San Francisco, and you’ll see workshops all around you. Someone’s making organic cosmetics here; over there, someone is making electric bikes. These companies are run by passionate entrepreneurs selling through traditional channels, but also selling through direct-to-consumer channels, e-commerce stores and marketplaces, etc. This is a massive boom of makers wanting to create products and sell them globally, and it is not a trend that will disappear tomorrow”.
The problem, however, is that small and medium-sized manufacturers don’t have the right software to support workflows necessary to sell through multiple channels — and this is where Katana comes in. The plug-and-play software claims a superior UX designed specifically to power boutique manufacturing, including functionality supporting the workflows of modern manufacturers, i.e. inventory control and optimization, and purchasing materials, managing bill-of-materials, tracking costs and more. It also offers an API and integrations with popular e-commerce sales channels and accounting tools such as Shopify, Amazon, WooCommerce, QuickBooks, Xero and others.
“We have built the world’s most self on-board-able manufacturing ERP, and that’s a very important differentiation between us and competitors,” explains Vilosius. “Implementation is so simple that more than half of Katana’s users self-onboard. It takes less than a week on average to get Katana up and running, compared to months for competitors”.
As an example of how a company might use Katana, imagine a boutique manufacturer using Shopify as their main sales channel. Once configured, Katana pulls in orders from Shopify and knows whether or not the product is available so it can be shipped immediately. If it’s unavailable, Katana displays if the necessary raw materials needed to manufacture are in stock and by when the product could be finished. “We handle the entire process from getting the raw materials in the warehouse to planning manufacturing activities, executing and shipping when the product is done,” says Vilosius.
Image Credits: Katana
Cue statement from Atomico partner Ben Blume, who joins the Katana board: “Atomico has always believed in the strength of Estonian-built engineering and product, and as we got to know the team at Katana, we saw a familiar pattern: a relentlessly product-focussed team with the incredible ability to build and think from their customer’s point of view, and an unwavering belief that a new generation of manufacturers with big ideas shouldn’t have to settle for less than world-class technology to support them.”
The step up from principal to partner comes after 8 years spent at Atomico, which Blume first joined in 2013 as an associate. In 2017, he was promoted to principal and has built a reputation within the VC firm and beyond after leading an array of promising and successful investments.
They include Spacemaker, a startup that has developed AI-supported software for urban development and was acquired by Autodesk late last year. He also led Atomico’s investments into Onna, and Automation Hero, where he currently sits on the board. In addition, he is said to have helped manage Atomico’s early backing of U.K. chip company Graphcore, and sourced the VC’s original Series A investment in recent unicorn Hinge Health, where he currently also serves as a board member.
Prior to joining Atomico, he was a consultant at Bain & Company and a software engineer at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. He holds a first class BA in Computer Science from Queens’ College, Cambridge.
Also being promoted are associates, Hillary Ball and Luca Eisenstecken, both stepping up to principal. Eisenstecken has supported Atomico’s investments into Infarm, MessageBird and Scoutbee. And Ball has supported investments into Masterclass and Framer, among others.
French President Emmanuel Macron sat down with Niklas Zennström for an interview on the European tech ecosystem. Macron listed everything that’s needed to create European tech giants that compete with the biggest American and Chinese tech companies.
According to him, Europe needs to focus on “financing, integration of our markets and an actual single market, regulation for privacy and technological innovation, and having European data, a European cloud and European technologies to be sure that we don’t depend on others,” Macron said.
Zennström founded Skype and is currently running prolific investment firm Atomico. As Zennström isn’t a reporter, he wasn’t particularly confrontational during the pre-recorded interview. Earlier today, his firm released its annual State of European Tech report and held a virtual conference that featured Macron’s interview.
In the report, you can see that French startups attracted over $5 billion in funding rounds in 2020. Macron listed some of the reasons why French startups have been growing, including the French Tech Visa, some tax reforms (flat tax on capital gains and the end of the wealth tax except on real estate), some private efforts to improve diversity, such as Station F and Ecole 42, etc.
But Zennström didn’t come to the Elysée Palace for Macron’s year-end performance review. Macron wants to foster a truly European tech ecosystem without borders. “We need European financing, European solutions, European talent. Now, when you look at the map, we have what we call the GAFA in the U.S., the BATX in China and GDPR in Europe,” Macron said.
“We have regulation, fair point. But we don’t have the equivalent of these very, very large caps,” he added.
According to him, it starts with European financing. Last year, the French government has convinced institutional investors to invest more heavily in late-stage tech companies. Other countries should follow suit to create more public tech companies in Europe.
Earlier this year, the French government unveiled an ambitious support plan for startups during the economic crisis. “It’s been copied by other European countries,” a source close to the president said.
But Macron doesn’t want to be the inspiration for other countries. He wants to position himself as the leader of a single European tech ecosystem.
“We need an actual European digital market. Today, a lot of entrepreneurs have to deal with 27 regulations. This why the different directives arriving in the coming weeks, around mid-December — for digital services and digital markets — are critical,” he said.
And yet, the current economic crisis has shown us that European governments all have their own stimulus plans. In Europe, when it comes to taking ambitious economic decisions, it’s hard to find common ground.
Sebastian Siemiatkowski, the co-founder and CEO of Klarna — the Swedish fintech “buy now, pay later” sensation that is currently Europe’s most valuable private tech company — is dismissive of the suggestion that non U.S. companies should relocate to Silicon Valley if they really want to grow.
“We did hear that and I think it’s very poor advice,” he says. An overheated market for tech talent and the fickle nature of employees that are constantly job-hopping, he argues, make it harder to build a company for the long term.
Then he goes further.
“When I went to San Francisco for the first time about 10 years ago, [it] was a magical place. It was the early days of Facebook, there was an amazing vibe. When I go to San Francisco today, it’s changed to become, in my opinion, fairly cold.”
Siemiatkowski, a Swedish national and the son of two immigrants from Poland, is also sceptical of the “American dream.” In contrast to America, he points out how Sweden is among the most successful societies in the world from a social mobility perspective — referencing its free education and free health care, which sets up as many people as possible for success. But there is one caveat: he doesn’t think first-generation immigrants in Sweden do nearly as well as their children.
“We didn’t have a lot of money,” he tells me. “My father was driving a cab, he was unemployed for many years, even though he had basically a doctorate in agronomy. That’s kind of the unfortunate part of this, but that has obviously created a massive amount of hunger with me.”
As second generation success stories go, the rise of Klarna is up there with the best, even if it has already been 15 years in the making.
Backed by the likes of Sequoia, Silverlake, and Atomico, a new $650 million funding round in September gave the company a whopping $10.65 billion valuation — almost double the price achieved a year earlier, cementing its status as a poster child for Europe’s ability to build tech companies valued far above $1 billion. Siemiatkowski still owns an 8.1 percent stake.
Klarna is also, perhaps, even more mythical than a unicorn: a fintech that has been profitable nearly from the get-go. That only changed in 2019, when it decided to incur losses in favor of investing millions trying to conquer the U.S. market, choosing New York and L.A. over San Francisco for its American offices.
The company has been built on the concept of giving consumers a way to buy things online without having to pay for them upfront, and without resorting to a credit card. It does this both by offering online retailer integrations where Klarna appears as an option at check out, and through its own “shopping mall” app, where users can browse all the stores that let you pay with Klarna. On the back of this, the company hopes to foster a bigger financial relationship with its users as a fully-fledged bank.
If a bank is partly about corralling enough users on to your platform to pay money in and out, Klarna is well on its way. Today, the company boasts a registered customer base of 90 million, 11 million of which are in the U.S. In the last year alone, 21 million users were added globally. Klarna’s direct to consumer app, which sits alongside its 200,000 strong merchant point of sale integrations, has 14 million active users globally. Combined, Klarna is processing over 1 million transactions per day through its platform.
Image Credits: Klarna
This growth has continued apace as Klarna rides one macro trend and bucks another: Prompted by the pandemic, e-commerce has gone gangbusters, while, conversely, consumer credit as a whole has been in decline as people are paying down longer-term debt in record numbers. Even before COVID-19, Klarna and other buy now, pay later providers had been successfully picking up the slack created by a credit card market that, in some countries, has been steadily contracting.
Yet with a business model that generates the majority of its revenue by offering consumers short-term credit — and against a backdrop where the idea of easy credit and infinite consumption is increasingly criticised — the fintech giant is not without detractors.
When I mention Klarna to people who work in the European tech industry, the reaction tends to fall into one of three camps: those who reference the company’s “weird” above the line advertising and social media campaigns; those who use the service regularly and talk in terms of guilty pleasures; and those who are outright scornful of the impact on society they perceive Klarna to be making. And it’s true: You can’t help but be suspicious of something that gives consumers the feeling that they can spend money they might not have. And those “Smoooth” ads (below) certainly don’t offer much reassurance.
Delve a little deeper, however, and it becomes clear that the company’s business model can be misunderstood and that the arguments playing out in the media for and against buy now, pay later is only one part of the Klarna story.
In a wide-ranging interview, Siemiatkowski confronts criticisms head on, including that Klarna makes it too easy to get into debt, and that buy now, pay later needs to be regulated. We also discuss Klarna’s business model and the balancing act required to win over consumers and keep merchants onside.
We also learn how, under his watch and as the company began to scale, Klarna missed the next big opportunity in fintech, instead being usurped by Adyen and Stripe. Siemiatkowski also shares what’s next for the company as it ventures further into the world of retail banking after gaining a bank license in 2017.
And, told publicly for the first time, Siemiatkowski reveals how he once sought out PayPal co-founder Max Levchin as an advisor, only to learn a little later that he had started Affirm, one of Klarna’s most direct U.S. competitors and sometimes described by Europeans as a Klarna clone.
But first, let’s go back to the beginning.
Klarna’s first ever transaction took place at 11:06:40 am on April 10, 2005 at a Swedish bookshop called Pocketklubben, according to the abbreviated history published on the company’s website. However, what is made less explicit is that there was likely very little technology involved. The real innovation was a business one, with Klarna’s young and non-technical founders, Sebastian Siemiatkowski, Niklas Adalberth and Victor Jacobsso, taking an old idea and reconfiguring it for the burgeoning e-commerce industry.
By enabling customers that shopped online to be mailed an invoice with 30 days to pay, online shopping could be made easier and safer for consumers, which in turn helped increase sales for retailers.
“The invoicing company”
“When they started, they didn’t position themselves so much as a startup or as a tech company,” recalls Skype founder Niklas Zennström, whose venture capital firm Atomico would eventually become a Klarna investor in 2012. “People referred to them as the invoicing company.”
Today, Klarna is most certainly a tech company, employing 1,300 software engineers out of a staff of over 3,500. The company is now entirely cloud based and with various fully automated processes, from credit risk processing to algorithms in the Klarna shopping app to personalize content for individual consumers to AI/machine learning for 24 hour customer service.
Crucially, however, even this early and rudimentary version of what would become ‘buy now, pay later’ ticked two important boxes. Consumers, especially those who were distrusting of e-commerce, could be sure they’d receive goods before being charged, and if for any reason a product needed to be returned, customers wouldn’t have to wait weeks to be reimbursed as they hadn’t outlaid cash in the first place. Arguably both problems were already solved by credit cards, but in countries like Sweden, credit card take up was low, while the humble debit card doesn’t carry the same consumer protections as a credit card.
“The reason that we were able to launch it and be successful was because we were in a market where debit cards were much more prevalent than credit cards,” says Siemiatkowski. “And most people who have credit cards don’t reflect on the fact that if you have a debit card and you shop online, you face a number of struggles that a credit card holder does not.”
Those “struggles” include tying up your own money for the time it takes to return an item and process a refund. In contrast, when you spend on a credit card, the merchant is effectively holding your credit card company’s money.
“If I am buying some items and feel a bit unsafe about the merchant I’m using, if there’s a credit card, I don’t feel like I’m risking my money. If it’s my salary money you’re actually holding as a merchant for three weeks while you’re processing the return, that’s a problem,” Siemiatkowski argues.
Instead, Klarna would step in and offer to pay the merchant up front while providing customers 30 days to settle their invoice. Later this would be extended to include installments as an option. In return for taking on all of the risk and promising to increase conversions, merchants would give the Swedish upstart a percentage cut of the transactions.
“They wanted to make it really simple by just putting in your name, your Social Security number, and then you can instantaneously get an option to get an invoice sent to you later on. So what it did was remove a lot of friction from buying,” says Zennström.
Meanwhile, the more retailers sold, the more revenue Klarna would generate, all without consumers having to be charged interest on what might otherwise be described as a short-term loan. Pitch perfect, you might think. However, in early 2005 and before the company was incorporated, the concept was stress-tested at a “Shark Tank”-style event held at the Stockholm School of Economics and attended by the King of Sweden. The judging panel, made up of prominent Swedish financiers, were not convinced and Klarna’s invoicing idea came last in the competition. Despite the loss, Siemiatkowski held on to feedback from an unknown member of the audience, who surmised that banks would never launch something similar. Siemiatkowski left undeterred.
Angel investment from a former Erlang Systems sales manager, Jane Walerud, followed and she put Klarna’s founders in contact with a team of developers who helped build the first version of the platform. However, it soon surfaced that there was a misunderstanding in relation to the equity promised and how it should be linked to a longer commitment to the project.
Reflects Siemiatkowski: “One of the drawbacks that we had at the company was that none of the three co-founders had any engineering background; we couldn’t code. We were connected to five engineers that by themselves were amazing engineers, but we had a slight misunderstanding. Their idea was that they were going to come in, build a prototype, ship it, and then leave for 37% of the equity. Our understanding was that they were going to come in, ship it, and if it started scaling they would stay with us and work for a longer period of time. This is the classic mistake that you do as a startup.”
Eventually, the original five engineers quit, leaving Siemiatkowski to manage something he didn’t understand. “We obviously hired a CTO, but I also needed to be able to evaluate his decision making and all of these things in order to be able to assess whether we had the right setup to achieve what we want to achieve,” he says.
Between 2006 and 2008, Klarna continued to grow as more people started shopping online. The company expanded beyond Sweden to neighboring Nordic countries Norway, Finland and Denmark, with a headcount that had reached 120 employees. Even though there were signs of growth, Siemiatkowski says it still took a long time to realise that if Klarna was ever going to be really successful, it needed to fully transform into a tech company.
“We were really good at sales, we were okay at marketing, [and] we were service oriented: we really delivered to our customers. But it wasn’t really that technology driven,” he concedes.
To attract the kind of tech talent required, Siemiatkowski decided he needed to woo a renowned tech investor. Further backing had come in 2007 from Swedish investment firm Investment AB Öresund, but by 2010 the Klarna CEO had two new targets in his sights: Niklas Zennström, the Swedish entrepreneur who had already achieved legend status back home after building and selling Skype, and Sequoia Capital, the Silicon Valley venture capital firm that had invested in Apple, Google and PayPal.
“Part of our thinking about how we make Klarna attractive for people with engineering backgrounds was to get an investor that really had the brand and could kind of put their mark on us and say, ‘this is a tech company,’” says Siemiatkowski.
There is every likelihood that Zennström’s Atomico would have joined Klarna’s cap table in 2010 if it weren’t for a single line of text published on the VC firm’s website, which read something like, “don’t contact us, we’ll contact you.” Europe’s startup ecosystem was still immature and what now seems like aloofness was probably nothing more than a crude way to deter cold pitches from non-venture type businesses. But whatever the intent, it would be another two years before the firm eventually had the opportunity to invest in Klarna at what was almost certainly a much higher valuation.
“That was our loss for being too arrogant,” says Zennström. “Clearly we didn’t pursue them, we didn’t discover them because we didn’t have them on our radar. When we got to know them [two years later], what we liked a lot as a firm was the pain point that they were addressing.
“E-commerce was a relatively low single digit penetration of all retail, but of course growing, and we have always believed that e-commerce is going to continue to grow and become bigger than physical retailers. We thought that if you can remove that friction of the payment, and offer people different payment methods, that’s a really big proposition.”
“I always tease Niklas about it,” admits Siemiatkowski. “They wanted to, you know, keep it exclusive and I get it. So we were like, ‘okay, we can’t get hold of them, so let’s talk to Sequoia instead.’”
However, cold calling Sequoia wasn’t going to cut it either, not only because the firm didn’t generally invest in Europe, but also by Siemiatkowski’s own admission, Klarna didn’t look much like a tech company at the time. Luckily, a mutual contact got wind that Sequoia was on the lookout for interesting companies in the region and Klarna’s name was promptly thrown into the mix.
“Chris [Olsen], who was working at Sequoia at the time, called me, [but] I had this idea that I needed to be hard to catch. So I decided to not call back for three days, which was a very nervous time where I was just sitting on my hands not doing anything,” he said. “It was like, I don’t want to look like I’m too interested in this. Eventually, after three days, I call back and we did an exclusive deal with them, which I don’t recommend companies do.”
In hindsight, the Klarna CEO advises that it’s always smarter to foster competition in a round. As the only show in town, Sequoia invested at a $100 million valuation. “They bought 25 percent of the company and that was kind of it,” he says.
Siemiatkowski believes a company is made up of three things.
The first he calls internal momentum: “How fast are we moving as an organisation? How good are the decisions we are taking? How much are we avoiding [company] politics? How much of a true meritocracy are we?”
The second is profit and loss.
And the third is valuation. In a small company these three things are closely correlated in time, he says, “so if you have great internal momentum, you will instantly see it in your P&L, and then you will instantly see that hopefully in your company valuation as well.”
But in a large company, because of its size, the challenge is that they start to become disconnected. “They’re obviously in the long term always 100% correlated, but in the short term, they can vary a lot,” cautions Siemiatkowski.
Unsurprisingly, fueled by Sequoia’s cash, Klarna continued to grow in 2010, ending the year with $54 million in annual revenue, an increase of 80%. In December 2011, General Atlantic and DST would invest $155 million in a round that gave Klarna the coveted status of a unicorn.
Siemiatkowski says, compared to the company’s subsequent $5.5 billion and $10.65 billion valuations, this is the one that put him under the most self-scrutiny.
“In just one and a half years, we went from $100 million to a $1 billion. And then I felt the pressure,” he tells me. “I felt like we made it such a competitive round because we wanted to compensate for what we saw partially as a mistake with Sequoia that we kind of went too far the other way.”
Klarna finally took Atomico’s money in 2012, and within two years had grown to over 1,000 employees. Along with multiple offices around the globe, the company moved to bigger headquarters in Stockholm and expanded to the U.K. with an office in central London. Yet, somewhere along the way, Siemiatkowski says Klarna had lost internal momentum.
“As the company scaled and we started adding more markets and growing fast, for me as CEO and co-founder, I found that very difficult,” he admits. “As long as we were up to 100 people, I found it easier, I understood how to talk to people, how to get things done, how to develop new products or features and so forth. It was all much less complex, and then we started approaching a couple of hundred people and I felt more and more lost in all of that.
“It was difficult, and at the same point of time, we still had a lot of success because we had built this product that worked really well and there was a lot of momentum coming solely from the product itself.”
Siemiatkowski says that most startups don’t recognize that “once you get the snowball rolling, you can actually do quite a lot of stupid things, and the snowball will continue rolling.”
The Klarna CEO doesn’t say it, but one of those “stupid things” came in 2012 when the startup faced a backlash in its home country. Instead of sending payment instructions in the post, the company had switched to email without considering that messages might go to spam or simply remain unread. This saw customers unintentionally defaulting and then being chased for payment, leading to accusations in the media that Klarna was tricking people so it could generate more revenue through late fees.
Autodesk, the U.S. publicly listed software and services company that targets engineering and design industries, has acquired Norway’s Spacemaker, a startup that has developed AI-supported software for urban development.
The price of the acquisition is $240 million in a mostly all-cash deal. Spacemaker’s VC backers include European firms Atomico and Northzone, which co-led the company’s $25 million Series A round in 2019. Other investors on the cap table include Nordic real estate innovator NREP, Nordic property developer OBOS, U.K. real estate technology fund Round Hill Ventures and Norway’s Construct Venture.
Founded by Håvard Haukeland, Carl Christensen and Anders Kvale, and based in Oslo, Norway — but with a number of other outposts around the globe — the 115-person Spacemaker team develops and sells cloud-based software that utilises AI to help architects, urban designers and real estate developers make more informed design decisions. By having Spacemaker look over a designer’s shoulder, as CEO Haukeland likes to say, the software aims to augment the work of humans and not only speed up the urban development design and planning process but also improve outcomes, including around sustainability and quality of life for the people who will ultimately live in the resulting spaces.
To do this, the platform enables users to quickly “generate, optimize, and iterate on” design alternatives, taking into account design criteria and data like terrain, maps, wind, lighting, traffic and zoning, etc. Spacemaker then returns design alternatives optimized for the full potential of the site.
“It was never our plan in the beginning of 2020 to sell the company,” Haukeland told me on a call last week. “But when we started talking to Autodesk, who have reached out for a while, we realized they share our vision. And we understood that this can put our vision on steroids and we can really reach that vision much faster. And that’s what drives us, that’s what we want to do: We want to realize our vision and get our offering out in the world, at the hands of millions of architects and engineers and developers”.
During a call late Friday, Andrew Anagnost, CEO and president of Autodesk, said the acquisition of Spacemaker is in line with the company’s long-term strategy of using the power of the cloud, “cheap compute” and machine learning to evolve and change the way people design things.
“This is something strategically we’ve been working towards, both with the products we make internally with the capabilities we roll out that are more cutting edge, and also our initiative when we look at companies we’re interested in acquiring,” he said.
“We’ve been watching this space for a while; the application that Spacemaker has built we would characterize it, from our terminology, as ‘generative design’ for urban planning, meaning the machine generating options and option explorations for urban planning-type applications.
“Spacemaker really stands out in terms of applying cloud computing, artificial intelligence, data science, to really helping people explore multiple options and come up with better decisions”.
Image Credits: Spacemaker
Post-acquisition, the plan is to keep Spacemaker as an autonomous unit within Autodesk and (hopefully) not interfere too much with the formula and startup ethos that has seemingly been working, while also enabling the team to have the resources needed to continue on their mission.
“They want to let Spacemaker be Spacemaker; they’re not [just] acquiring our product, they’re acquiring the potential and the journey we’re on as a team,” says Haukeland. “They’re acquiring the mission we’re on, the way we work, the knowledge we have, [and] all our failed attempts along the way… so it’s much more than just swallowing the product”.
That knowledge and those “failed attempts” span not only the Spacemaker CEO’s own background as an architect, but the path to product-market-fit and the technology itself.
“Initially they targeted architects directly, but realised that they have relatively small budgets,” recalls Michiel Kotting, who led the startup’s Series A round on behalf of Northzone. “From Håvards experience in the industry they decided to pivot to serving [property] developers who then give the software to their in-house and external architects. They were surprised to see that they could get significant six-figure deals per project out of the gate”.
He also says the team was convinced early on that generative design is the future. “Rather than be software that can do what architects used to do on paper, the full power of modern day compute is put at the disposal of architects,” he told me. “The path to get there has been a bit like Deep Mind’s AlphaGo project — a myriad of different techniques, ML, AI, rules based optimisation etc. that jointly provide the most powerful result, rather than just ‘lets just throw the latest deep learning model at the project and see what sticks’ “.
“They were actually solving a problem, a problem that our customers were telling us that they wanted solved and liked the way they were solving it,” says Anagnost. “So it wasn’t just a great team with a great idea and some great technology, they actually solved the problem. And I think this is really important: You can play with technology all you like, but if you can’t find the intersection of either creating a whole new opportunity or market or solving an existing problem in a completely new and disruptive way, then you really haven’t created something useful. They’ve created something useful”.
“When we led Spacemaker’s Series A round less than two years ago, we saw a world-leading product and a company with the DNA to push the boundaries of what was possible in applying AI to architecture and property development,” says Atomico’s Ben Blume . “As the global leader in architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) software, and with products that set the standard across the industry, Autodesk’s acquisition validates our belief that world-class AI products are being built here in Europe”.
Image Credits: Spacemaker
In building out the product iteratively, Northzone’s Kotting says the Spacemaker team “honed the art of ‘human in the loop’ “. “The generative design calculates the possible solution space, and the architect can then navigate that space and figure out interesting starting points and see the impact of design choices. So you can design something that is both beautiful/fit for purpose and optimal”.
He also doesn’t think the team would have been able to do that if it wasn’t for a combination of architectural talent and “bleeding-edge” software designers. This is where founding the company in Norway may have been an advantage. “It might not be so obvious you’d find a lot of those in Norway, but some of the hard-core optimisation problems in oil and gas are very similar to the Spacemaker problem, so it is actually a very fertile country for that,” adds Kotting.
The challenge then wasn’t Norway’s talent pool but persuading the most talented people to work for a startup. This is where Spacemaker’s mission, and Nordic culture more generally, was also a strength.
Reflects Haukeland: “What we experienced in the early days is that when you’re trying to solve such a hard problem, [with] such an ambitious journey, you need incredibly talented people who are able to get a lot of autonomy and solve problems, because there are so many problems you need to solve. And I think what we experienced in Norway four years ago was that a lot of the really good people went into either oil and gas or, you know, consulting. And what we saw was that people really want to join a mission where they can have a positive impact, and they can use their capacity and their talent and their brains to solve difficult problems. We were lucky to get so much incredible talent to join us because of that”.
Anagnost also cites Spacemaker’s culture and its European vantage-point as a differentiator. “This is a European high technology company using cutting-edge algorithms and approaches in the cloud and they start it from an ethical framework that might not be as common as startups in other places,” he tells me. “So if you were to ask me what was differentiating here, I think the ethical framework they’re coming in with this is, ‘we’re going to use this data to enable this audience to do a better job of what they do every day. And we’re going to do it in such a way that we’re partnering with the customers, and we’re also creating better outcomes, not just for them but for the whole ecosystem of stakeholders… and one of the stakeholders is the environment of the area. That ethos from a technology company, probably, you know, rose up faster in the European market than it might have in some of the U.S. markets where it’s more about, ‘let’s plow through things,’ and not so much about what is my ethical foundation here and what I’m trying to accomplish?”
However, with Europe’s current infatuation with unicorns — and a growing track record of producing companies valued at $1 billion dollars (or a lot more) — one legitimate question that can be asked is did the Norwegian startup sell too early?
“I think that’s a very VC-oriented perspective, because what it’s really about is, are they selling out earlier on the return for the VCs?” argues the Autodesk CEO. “I think if you look at it through the lens of what the employees and the company is trying to accomplish, they’re going to be able to accomplish more working closely inside of Autodesk than they would have, even if they continue to accept dollars and have their valuation increase. Maybe the VCs might see a smaller return, [but] I don’t think the employees are going to see a bigger net return to their vision. And if you’ve talked to these people, they’re very passionate about what they do”.
“Even though for our taste this exit comes early in the journey, we share the enthusiasm for achieving maximum impact fast, and have seen in the process how important Autodesk believes the Spacemaker product is in their future,” says Kotting.
Meanwhile, Haukeland maintains that Spacemaker has only built “5% of what can be built” and says the industry as a whole is at the beginning of a huge transformation in the way people work. “When you go from designing something and checking how it works to asking your computer for help and having the computer advising you on your shoulder, it’s really changing the game. That is such a fundamental change that it’s more than just putting a product out there. It’s really a shift that’s going to be changing the industry over the years”.
“We’re going to continue to encourage them and drive them to build out that product,” says Anagnost, “but they’re also going to have other avenues to extend their technology and other places where they can link their technology to parts of the Autodesk ecosystem”.
Still, don’t dismiss Orlando residents who report seeing flying taxis overhead because they may just be coming. Lilium Aviation, a five-year-old, Munich, Germany-based, venture-backed startup that designs and makes electric vertical take-off and landing jets, is reportedly seeking tax incentives from the city to build a 56,000-square-foot transportation hub with the promise that it will create 100 high-wage jobs in return.
According to the Orlando Business Sentinel, the proposed facility — a takeoff and landing area that would be part of Lilium’s first transportation network in the U.S. — would represent a $25 million investment and, according to the city’s own estimates, generate $1.7 million in economic impact in a 10-year period. (Lilium in September began separately exploring with Germany’s Düsseldorf Airport and Cologne Bonn Airport how to turn the two airports into regional air mobility hubs.)
It’s seemingly a smart time for Lilium — whose planes aren’t expected to be up and running until 2025 — to be talking with cities about additional airport revenue. Passenger traffic has fallen through the floor, owing to the pandemic, and cargo traffic has not been immune, either. Meanwhile, 95% of revenue from airports comes aeronautical and non-aeronautical services.
Lilium also has a little more spending money, after raising $35 million in fresh funding in June led by Baillie Gifford, the largest investor in Tesla, a round that brought the company’s total funding to date to $375 million.
Earlier investors in the company include Atomico, Tencent Holdings and Freigeist.
We sat down with Atomico founder Niklas Zennström in late 2016 when the firm had just led a €10 million Series A in Lilium, a bet that seemed early at the time despite the existence already of rivals like Terrafugia and AeroMobile, yet that may be a reality fairly soon. Indeed, there are now at least 15 so-called flying cars and taxis in development.
As part of Disrupt 2020 we wanted to look at the contrasting positions of both early and later-stage investing in Europe. Who better to unpack this subject than two highly experienced operators in these fields?
After a career at Spotify and then as a VC at Atomico, Sophia Bendz has rapidly gained a reputation in Europe as a keen early-stage investor. She recently left Atomico to pursue her early and seed-stage passion with Cherry Ventures. Bendz is a prolific angel investor, with a total of over 44 deals in the last 9 years. Her angel investments include as AidenAI, Tictail, Joints Academy, Omnius, LifeX, Eastnine, Manual, Headvig, Simple Feast, and Sana Labs. She is known for being a champion of the femtech space, and her angel investments in that space include Clue, Grace Health, Daye, O School, and Boost Thyroid.
Carolina Brochado, the former Atomico partner and most recently a partner at SoftBank Vision Fund’s London office, recently joined EQT Ventures to help launch EQT’s Growth fund, which is positioned between Ventures and Private Equity. Brochado led investments in a number of promising companies at Atomico, including logistics company OnTruck, health tech company Hinge Health and restaurant supply chain app Rekki.
After establishing that these two knew each other while at Atomico, I asked Bendz why she headed back into the seed stage arena.
“I’m a trained marketeer and storyteller by heart… What makes me excited is new markets opportunities, people, culture, teams. So with that, in combination with my angel investing, I think I’m better suited to be in the earlier stages of investing. When I was investing before joining Atomico, I said to myself, I want to learn from the best, I want to see how it’s done how you structure the process and how you think about the bigger investments.”
Brochado says the European ‘cat is out of the bag’ as it were:
When I first moved to Europe in 2012 and first joined Atomico, after having been at a very small startup, there was still a massive gap in funding and Europe versus the US. I think you know the European secret is no longer a secret, and you have incredible funds being started at that early stage seed and series A, and because I was here in 2012, I’ve seen the amazing pipeline of growth companies that are coming up the curve, how the momentum of those companies is accelerating and how the market cap of those businesses are growing. And so I just became super excited about helping those businesses scale… I just you now felt like bridging that gap in between ass really exciting and.
One of the perennial topics that come up time and time again is whether or not founders should go with VC partners who have previously been operators, versus those with a finance background.
“Looking back, my years at Spotify, we had great investors, but there were not many of them that had the experience of scaling a big company,” Bendz said. “So, I’m happy to give [a startup] more than just the check in a way that I would have wished I had a sounding board when I was 25 and tackling that challenge at Spotify.”
Brochado concurred: “Having operators in the room is just is an incredible gift I think to a fund and at certain levels, having people that understand you know different forms of financing and different structures can also be incredibly helpful to founders who may not necessarily have that background. So I think that the funds that do it best have that diversity.”
Bendz is passionate about investing in female founders and femtech: “It’s such a massive business opportunity that is completely untapped. We’ve seen it many times when you have a female investment partner [that] the pipeline opens up and you get more deal flow from female founders…. So I think we have a lot of work to do. I think it’s definitely improved a lot in the last couple of years but not enough… That is one of the drivers for why I put my money where my mouth is and invest in lifting the founders, but also because there are incredibly interesting business opportunities… There are so many opportunities and products or services that we will see being developed. When we have a more equal society, and more women, both building their own companies, coding and also investing… I can’t wait to see what that world will look like.”
Brochado’s view is that “even beyond founders… the best managers today are putting a lot of focus on this and I think what’s exciting is, I think we’re past the point where you have to explain to people why diversity matters.”
Is there a post-Series A chasm?
Bendz thinks: “We have more big funds in Europe [now]. We have a really solid ground here in Europe of a, b and c investors.”
Brochado said: “it’s definitely getting better. You don’t hear as many founders say that to do my Series B or my Series C I have to move to the Valley as you used to. But there’s a lot of room still for growth investors in Europe. I think Series B is the hardest round actually because, at seed or series A, you can raise on very early traction or the quality of the management team. At Series B the price goes up but the risk doesn’t necessarily go down as much. And so I think that’s where you really need investors who are sector or thematic focused, who can come with conviction and also some knowledge around the company to really propel that company forward.”
Did they both see European entrepreneurs still making silly mistakes, or has the ecosystem mastered?
Brochado thinks ten years ago was it was hard for European founders as a lot of the talent to scale companies was still in the US. “What you’ve seen is a lot of big companies grow up in Europe, a lot of people come back from the US, and so I think that pool of talent now is larger, which is very helpful. I don’t think it’s yet at the scale of where the US is. But it gives us, you know as investors, a great window of opportunity to help get some of that talent for our portfolio companies.”
The impact of COVID-19
Bendz thinks we will “see a much slower Spring, but… I think it has been overall a good exercise for some companies, and I have not seen a slower deal flow. I’ve actually done more Angel deals this Spring than I normally do… Some businesses have definitely accelerated their whole business concept because of COVID. Investments are being made even though we haven’t met the founders. We’re able to do everything remotely so I think the system is kind of adjusting.”
Brocado’s view is that at the growth stage “there’s been a flight to quality. So actually, the really great companies or the companies that are seeing great tailwinds or companies that will still be category-leading once [have] seen a lot of interest. It’s been a very busy summer, which usually it isn’t usually, particularly at the growth stage… I think a lot of money is still in the system, and has flown into technology. And so if you look at how tech in the public markets has performed it’s performed extremely well. And that includes European public companies and within tech.”
Im aktuellen #DealMonitor für den 17. September werfen wir wieder einen Blick auf die wichtigsten, spannendsten und interessantesten Investments und Exits des Tages. Alle Deals der Vortage gibt es im großen und übersichtlichen #DealMonitor-Archiv.
+++ Jetzt offiziell: LGT Lighthouse, der Beteiligungsarm des Prinzenhauses Liechtenstein, Hanaco, Bonnier, Haniel und Latitude sowie die bestehenden Investoren Atomico, TriplePoint Capital, Mons Capital und Astanor Ventures investieren 170 Millionen US-Dollar in das Berliner Unternehmen Infarm, einen Vertical Farming-Anbieter. “Das finale Closing der Runde soll sich auf 200 Millionen US-Dollar belaufen”, teilt das Unternehmen mit. Die Financial Times hatte bereits Ende Juni über das Investment berichtet. “Das frische Kapital – eine Mischung aus Eigen- und Fremdkapital – erhöht die Gesamtfinanzierung von Infarm auf mehr als 300 Millionen US-Dollar”, teilt Infarm weiter mit. Infarm wurde 2013 in Berlin von Osnat Michaeli und den Brüdern Erez und Guy Galonska gegründet. Die Jungfirma entwickelt ein “intelligentes modulares Farming-System”. Edeka, Aldi Süd und Kaufland nutzen Infarm bereits.
+++ Die Familie Pohlad, Fertitta Capital und der Sony Innovation Fund investieren 6 Millionen UD-Dollar in Bayes, früher als Dojo Madness bekannt. Das Berliner Startup ist auf die Entwicklung von Software für den E-Sports-Bereich spezialisiert. “Den Kern der Unternehmensaktivitäten bilden Shadow.GG, Marktführer im Professional Esports Analytics Bereich, und Bayes Esports, 2019 gemeinsam mit Sportradar gegründet”, heißt es in der Presseaussendung. Gegründet wurde Dojo Madness von Christian Gruber, Mathias Kutzner, Markus Fuhrmann und Jens Hilgers.
+++ Mehrere Business Angels und ein “Institutioneller Investor”, die allerdings alle namentlich nicht genannt werden, investieren eine sechsstellige Summe in corefihub. Das Unternehmen aus Bruchsal kümmert sich um die “Digitalisierung der gewerblichen Immobilienfinanzierung”. corefihub möchte Banken, Vermittler, Immobilienunternehmen, Investoren und Projektentwickler unterstützen, ihre Finanzierungen schneller, einfacher und günstiger zu bearbeiten”. corefihub wurde von Daniel Rodriguez, Oliver Klemm und Sebastian Schefzcyk gegründet.
+++ Der Münchner B2B-Company Builder Finconomy steigt bei MiFIDRecorder ein und sichert sich dabei 25,1 % am Unternehmen. Die Jungfirma bietet “Taping-Lösungen für Banken, Haftungsdächer, Maklerpools, Vermögensverwalter und Finanzvermittler” an. Zudem stellt MiFIDRecorder seit einigen Monaten auch eine Aufzeichnungssoftware für Video-Konferenzen bereit.
+++ Die So1-Gründer Raimund Bau und Sebastian Gabel kaufen die Überreste ihres insolventen Unternehmens – siehe FinanceFWD. Der tief gefallene Zahlungsdienstleister Wirecard übernahm den Berliner Big-Data-Dienst im Juni dieses Jahres. Der Kaufpreis soll im hohen einstelligen oder niedrigen zweistelligen Millionenbereich gelegen haben. Im Zuge der Wirecard-Insolvent schlitterte auch So1 in die Insolvenz. “Der Kaufpreis liegt im fünfstelligen Euro-Bereich und damit deutlich unter der Summe, die Wirecard im Frühjahr für die Firma überwiesen hat”, heißt es im Artikel.
Archimedes New Ventures
+++ Die familiengeführte Böllhoff Gruppe aus Bielefeld, ein Hersteller und Händler für Verbindungselemente und Montagesysteme, gründet mit Archimedes New Ventures einen Corporate-
Venture-Ableger. “Verantwortlich für eine neue digitale Innovationskultur liegt der Schwerpunkt der Gesellschaft auf der Entwicklung und Förderung neuer digitaler Geschäftsmodelle für die Böllhoff-Gruppe”, teilt das Unternehmen mit. Mit Joinect, einer KI-basierten Cloud-Software, die Ingenieuren die Suche nach Verbindungslösungen erleichtert, schob Archimedes bereits das erste Startup an.
Achtung! Wir freuen uns über Tipps, Infos und Hinweise, was wir in unserem #DealMonitor alles so aufgreifen sollten. Schreibt uns eure Vorschläge entweder ganz klassisch per E-Mail oder nutzt unsere “Stille Post“, unseren Briefkasten für Insider-Infos.
Startup-Jobs: Auf der Suche nach einer neuen Herausforderung? In der unserer Jobbörse findet Ihr Stellenanzeigen von Startups und Unternehmen.
Varjo, the Finnish startup that has developed a virtual and mixed reality headset capable of “human-eye resolution” for use in various enterprise applications, has closed a $51.7 million in Series C funding.
Backing the round is Tesi, NordicNinja, and Swisscanto Invest by Zürcher Kantonalbank. Existing investors including Lifeline Ventures, Atomico, EQT Ventures and Volvo Cars Tech Fund have also followed on. It brings total raised by Varjo to around $100 million to date.
The company is also announcing the appointment of Timo Toikkanen, who was previously president and COO of Varjo, as its new CEO. Co-founder and previous CEO, Niko Eiden, becomes CXO where he’ll be tasked with continuing to drive the company’s technology innovations and, notably, remains a board member.
Varjo says the injection of capital will be used to accelerate its global expansion and development of industry-leading hardware and software products. Global enterprise clients using the company’s various headsets include Volvo Cars, Boeing, Audi and Siemens. Applications span immersive astronaut and pilot training, designing “cars of the future”, and streamlining product development.
“We are seeing tremendous demand for virtual and mixed reality use cases, particularly as much of the world continues to work remotely,” says Timo Toikkanen, CEO of Varjo, in a statement. “When you combine the photorealistic resolution and accurate, integrated eye tracking found in our devices with the broad software compatibility we offer, the possibilities for creating, training and running research in immersive environments are endless. With support from our growing group of investors, we look forward to scaling our operations and delivering the cutting-edge technology our customers need to transform the way they work”.
The Series C round follows a number of cited milestones, such as expansion of the company’s global operations and reseller network to over 40 countries in North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia Pacific. This includes the launch of sales and direct shipping to “key markets” including Singapore, Israel, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
Varjo has also signed a commercial partnership with MeetinVR to deliver photorealistic virtual collaboration, a much-needed solution for users to be able to collaborate remotely. Can we say the new normal? (sorry, ed.)
Habito, the London startup that has spent the last few years moving the mortgage process online, including offering its own mortgages beyond acting as a broker, has completed £35 million in Series C funding.
The newly disclosed round — comprising an earlier Series C equity raise and a more recent Series C extension in the form of a convertible loan note, was led by new investors Augmentum Fintech, SBI Group and mojo.capital, with participation from various existing investors including Ribbit Capital, Atomico and Mosaic Ventures.
The convertible loan was also matched by the U.K. taxpayer-funded Future Fund, set up by the government to help mitigate the coronavirus crisis’ affect on the country’s venture-backed startup ecosystem. It brings the total raised by Habito to just over £63 million since launching in 2016.
In a call, Habito founder Daniel Hegarty that the new investment will be used by the company to continue digitising aspects of home financing and buying which still remain a pain-point for homebuyers and sellers.
The fintech/proptech started out by offering a digital mortgage brokerage, promising to help you secure a new mortgage and monitor the competitiveness of your existing mortgage. The idea was to make applying for or switching mortgages as frictionless as possible.
In July 2019, Habito announced that it would begin direct lending via its own range of mortgages. Starting with ‘buy to let’ mortgages, the move saw the company expand beyond brokerage after it received regulatory approval to become a mortgage lender. By doing so, the aim was to cut the timeframe from mortgage application to offer in half, enabled in part by Habito’s integration with the conveyancing process to add more transparency for the homebuyer, while the number of documents needed was also significantly reduced.
In January this year, Habito launched “Habito Plus,” something getting closer to an end-to-end homebuying service. It brings together a buyer’s mortgage application, conveyancing needs and surveys “under one roof” — which feels less vitamin pill and more actual painkiller for anyone who has ever experienced having to deal with and coordinate all of the various stakeholders and parties involved in buying or selling a property.
Most recently, Habito launched its broker portal, providing more than 3,000 external brokers access to its own buy-to-let mortgage products and “Instant Decision” technology capabilities. Hegarty tells me the company intends to develop a suite of “innovative” residential mortgage products for all types of homeowners, not just ‘buy to let’.
Notably, Habito recently become a “B Corp” certified company, meaning it has made a legal commitment to put “people and planet on the same level as profit”. Resembling somewhat of a movement, there are more than 3,000 accredited B Corp companies globally, including Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, and WeTransfer.
Her stated reason for leaving the London VC firm — which mainly does Series A and Series B rounds — is that, having made the difficult transition from seasoned operator to venture capitalist, she wants to focus on seed stage where she can do more deals and work closely with founders and their teams at a much earlier stage.
Bendz is already a prolific angel investor, with a total of 44 deals in the last nine years. However, although she was promoted to partner at Atomico in November 2018 and has helped source and carry out due diligence on a number of deals, she didn’t end up leading any during her time at the firm.
That will quickly change once she starts officially at Cherry, which does far more deals per year than Atomico, being that it is focused on an earlier stage of the startup funding funnel.
To find out more about her latest career move, I caught up with Bendz the day before her announcement. In the conversation that followed, we dug deeper into how she approaches angel investing, why the new focus on seed stage makes sense, and what it’s like to compete for deal flow.
Astafyeva previously spent three years as a principal at Felix Capital . In her new role, she’ll lead “sourcing, due diligence, and management” of consumer tech companies, according to a company statement.
Originally from Ukraine, Astafyeva was previously head of business intelligence and strategy at Lyst, a London-based online fashion marketplace. She has also worked at online real estate marketplace VivaReal as the company’s VP of finance and business intelligence and did a stint at Dafiti, a Latin American online fashion company.
We caught up with Astafyeva for a conversation that spanned the coronavirus crisis’ impact on her area of interest, new trends during and potentially after lockdown and how it feels to be a consumer-focused investor in turbulent times.
TechCrunch: Congratulations on joining Atomico as a partner. However, isn’t this a terrible time to be a consumer-focused VC, given that we are facing the worst downturn in many of our lifetimes?
Sasha Astafyeva: Thank you for the congratulations, first of all! I’m very excited to join the team and help lead our consumer-focused efforts. It is absolutely an interesting time to join as we find ourselves in a world with highly elevated levels of uncertainty, tremendous economic hardships across the world and varying, and often fast-changing, responses of countries to this new reality. I think that we are only seeing the beginning of this and time will tell what our new reality will look like.
However, I would respectfully challenge the idea that it’s a terrible time to be a consumer-focused investor today. There are sectors of the consumer space that have been resilient and have even thrived, in the current environment, and speaking in a more macro way, I do think that there will be a trickle-down impact to other sectors of the economy beyond consumer as we continue to see the full effects of the current crisis. The task becomes for all of us, not only consumer investors but investors in general, to think about long-term impacts of the current situation we find ourselves in and adjust accordingly.
More personnel moves at Atomico. The European VC firm, founded by Skype’s Niklas Zennström, has recruited Sasha Astafyeva as its new consumer-focused partner, and former-Googler Terese Hougaard as principal.
Sasha Astafyeva (pictured left) previously spent three years as a principal at Felix Capital. In her new role as partner, she’ll be leading “sourcing, due diligence, and management” of Atomico -backed consumer tech companies.
Prior to VC, Astafyeva, who is originally from Ukraine, held the role of Head of Business Intelligence and Strategy at Lyst, the London-based online fashion marketplace. She has also worked at VivaReal, an online real estate marketplace in Brazil, as the company’s VP of Finance and Business Intelligence. In addition, the newly recruited Atomico partner did a stint at Dafiti, the Latin American online fashion company.
“I’m very excited to join the team and help lead our consumer-focused efforts,” Astafyeva tells TechCrunch. “It is absolutely an interesting time to join as we find ourselves in a world with highly elevated levels of uncertainty, tremendous economic hardships across the world and varying, and often fast-changing, responses of countries to this new reality. I think that we are only seeing the beginning of this and time will tell what our new reality will look like”.
Meanwhile, new Atomico principal Terese Hougaard (pictured right) joins from CapitalG, Alphabet’s growth equity investment fund based in Mountain View. Originally from Denmark, Terese spent five years at Alphabet and partnered with companies like Stripe, Robinhood, Gusto, and UiPath.
Prior to that, she worked in London in Google’s SMB marketing organisation, in addition to holding roles in internal strategy and e-commerce business development at the London and New York offices of American Express.