Balderton

Leaving Silicon Valley: Reflections on my first month as a European venture capitalist (part 1)

DEC 14, 2015

Last month, on an otherwise unremarkable Friday evening, terror rippled across Paris and echoed around the world.

Less than a week later, as French gendarmes were storming houses in Paris, part of the effort to confront the terrorists, I found myself in the city’s Sixth Arrondissement, at a bar packed full of tech entrepreneurs. If you were just reading the headlines, you may have missed it. But there it was before my own eyes: Parisians were continuing with their lives, undeterred, pushing forward with a verve that warmed my soul.

Over fantastic French food bites, wine and beer, I met founders of all kinds of companies: a robotic car parking service, a peer-to-peer file sharing network, a music streaming platform, a social network for moms. For me, the diversity and enthusiasm that I saw in this group embodied the broader European entrepreneurial spirit, and encapsulated the continent’s momentum and expertise in imagining new services — and bringing them to life. One of the entrepreneurs was an early engineer at Box, rival of my old employer Dropbox. Another had attended a startup bootcamp in New York. Both Frenchmen had good reasons to stay in the U.S. but both had decided to move back to Paris to launch their new businesses.

Speaking to these guys reminded me of the feeling I had when I first moved to Silicon Valley from Europe in 2008. It was an exciting and transformational year for technology. Apple launched its first App Store, and in San Francisco, tinkerers and dreamers were working on apps called Uber and AirBed & Breakfast. I was full of dreams then. And I’m even more so now.

In 2013, my friend and former colleague from Skyhook Wireless Ryan Sarver(@rsarver) left Twitter to join Redpoint as general partner. Four weeks after he jumped into his new role, he wrote an insightful blog post that was, and still is, a great read.

I now find myself in a similar position, having jumped to the other side of the table, as they say. After several years at Dropbox, I joined Uber’s San Francisco office, and left that role this summer to join Balderton Capital, a leading European venture firm. It was no small decision: also moving with me from Silicon Valley to Europe were my wife and three little kids.

The way I see it, this is a four-dimensional shift: Not only have I shifted from being an entrepreneur to being an investor; I’ve also relocated myself and my family from one continent to another.

When I first announced the move, some of my friends and colleagues didn’t get it. Leave Uber? The world’s hottest startup? Leave Silicon Valley? The world’s center of innovation? Let me explain. Balderton Capital is one of the largest venture capital firms in Europe. Its mission: to make Series A investments into European tech companies with global ambitions.

In practical terms, Balderton is a small firm, with just thirty employees or so. In some ways, you could call it a startup, both in terms of size and enthusiasm! And this tightly-knit team boasts an impressive yet understated track record. Two of the partners have built billion-dollar businesses, and the others are at the very (very!) top of their game with investments like Kobalt, The Hut Group and Yoox all flying — hungry but humble.

Just as important for me, Balderton has a strong entrepreneurial culture, which is what most attracted me to the firm in the first place. As my fellow partner Suranga Chandratillake (@surangac) points out, Balderton is an equal partnership which reflects the way the firm operates, as one team. As an entrepreneur myself, this resonated very strongly with me.

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