A few days ago I had the pleasure of having an inspiring conversation with Eze Vidra about the early days of the London tech scene, where he founded Google’s Campus London as the head of Google for Entrepreneurs in Europe. He also told me about his view of the larger European startup ecosystem, as well as the emerging trends he sees from his privileged investor’s perspective with Remagine Ventures, and much more.
But I’ll stop with the spoilers now; here there’s the interview for you to enjoy:
Hi Eze, I am very glad to have you here! Could you kindly give a brief introduction of yourself to our readers?
Thanks for having me! I’m a managing partner and co-founder of Remagine Ventures, an early stage VC fund backed by Europe’s top entertainment and commerce corporates. I’m also the co-founder of Techbikers, a non-profit bringing together the startup ecosystem to build schools and libraries in the developing world, and I’m a board member at Chargifi, Vault and UK Israel Business. Previously I spent a number of years at Google, where I founded Google’s Campus London, the company’s first physical hub for startups, and expanded the model internationally as the head of Google for Entrepreneurs in Europe. I was also a general partner at Google Ventures, where I helped establish its European office. I’m a product manager by training, from companies including Shopping.com, Ask.com and AOL where I led the Search product team in Europe.
You did an awesome job setting up the Google Campus in London, helping to foster what is still the largest tech hub in Europe and one of the most vibrant in the world. How did you do it? Strengthening ecosystems seems to be something that you are particularly passionate and good at.
Thank you, but it was really a team effort. The key to the Campus’ success in the early days was establishing it as an “open source” building, rather than a Google-only hub. We opened up for partnerships and focused on giving back to the ecosystem, putting startup founders in the centre and helping them launch and grow their companies successfully, and it paid off. One thing I’m proud of, is being able to leverage the amazing human capital at Google by offering them 20% of their time to work on side projects such as supporting Google Campus and startups – at one point we had 48 “Google volunteers” running multiple programs and initiatives.
Do you think the Brexit (if it ever happens) will have a negative impact on the London startups ecosystem?
Without getting too much into politics, flow of talent and free access to markets are essential to keeping the UK as a vibrant startup hub. I hope that whatever situation, we can accommodate both. We are now at peak uncertainty and it’s still unclear what the impact will be.
What do you see as the benefits and limitations of being based in Europe for startups?
According to CBInsights, there are 343 privately-owned unicorns, out of which, 31 are in Europe. It’s interesting to see more and more US investors looking at Europe these days. The pros: world class tech talent and lower valuations than the Valley. There are certainly ‘opportunities for development’ – European startups need to establish a growth mentality at least like their American counterparts, be customer-oriented, and think globally from day one. There’s massive potential and plenty of success stories including in relatively younger startup ecosystems like Romania or Spain, so believe in yourselves and keep pushing the boundaries.
As a Managing Partner at Remagine Ventures, which are the sectors that you are investing in the most? Are there any new interesting trends that you see coming up?
We invest in seed and pre-seed startups at the intersection of tech, entertainment, data and commerce. We get especially excited about using technology (AI, ML, computer vision), to solve big problems in a new, creative way.
In terms of trends, the entertainment industry is being rapidly disrupted through technology. From streaming for everything to personalisation, I’m very interested in the use of AI broadly defined to solve problems in a new creative way. For example, our portfolio company, Syte.ai, is pioneering visual search/image recognition, and Vault AI is using deep learning to predict the success of films and TV shows based on a script or trailer. Another trend we see is the rise of eSports. Gaming is bigger than music and film combined and new platforms like Twitch or Google Stadia enable it to spread to more players and viewers. We’ve invested in Novos and Minute Media as bets in that space.
You’ve been in the tech industry a long time, and have seen and done things from all different perspectives – as an employee, founder, investor and even writer with VC Cafe – do you have one single suggestion for startup founders and to people looking to land a startup job?
I’ve had the privilege of perspective. I’ve learned a lot from being in corporate, and equally from being a founder and raising money from VCs in a startup. The Google approach is something that stuck with me. Thinking big and starting small, building a platform that others can build on, measuring everything and keeping in mind that failure is part of the process. For startup founders, the best suggestion I have is: remember that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. If you’re a young graduate, measure the value of an opportunity in learning and experience vs. money early on.
Any English speaking blogs, podcasts or books that you would suggest to follow?
The list would be too long if I were to be thorough, but to name a few:
Books – the last ones I’ve read and enjoyed are The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis, Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene, The Venture Capital State by Robyn Klingler Vidra (I’m biased!), and Flow on Happiness…
Podcasts – A16Z, Masters in Business, Invest like the Best, Product Hunt Radio, Danny in the Valley
Blogs – so many, but Fred Wilson’s blog is a must, Mark Suster’s series on boards, and Stratchery.
Let’s finish with my favourite part. Among all the amazing things that you did, TechBikers is certainly one of the most inspiring (seriously considering joining you on one of your next trips!). Can you tell us a bit about how you came up with that idea and developed it?
TechBikers is a labour of love I co-founded in 2012 around the same time we launched Campus. We bring together the startup ecosystem around long-distance cycling rides to raise funds for children literacy and education in the developing world, supporting Room to Read. Since inception more than 1,100 founders, VCs, and tech execs have registered for the rides and we’ve raised about $700,000 for Room to Read that went to build nine schools and 34 libraries in Nepal, Vietnam, India, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Tanzania and South Africa. And we’re hoping to cross the million dollar line this year.
I first got exposed to Room to Read after picking up John Wood’s book, “Leaving Microsoft to Change the World” in India. I recently went to visit one of the schools we’ve helped rebuild after the earthquake in Nepal and was super inspired by it. I hope you can join one of our many rides this year – techbikers.com/rides.