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Steve's ITK: Skin in the game

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Steve's ITK

April 18 · Issue #73 · View online

Steve's In The Know: Thoughts from a European tech insider.


I’ve been activated! Energised by teamwork, Atomico’s angel programme, storyflow to dealflow, guesting on the Sifted podcast, and more…

In good company: Congrats to Atomico's new angel cohort!
In good company: Congrats to Atomico's new angel cohort!
Opening thought: Skin in the game
This week is my one year anniversary since quitting journalism to return to the startup side of the table as Zapp’s VP of Strategy. It’s also been roughly a year since I wrote an edition of this newsletter, mostly because I’ve been entirely heads down helping Zapp to scale and on an exponential learning journey of my own as part of the company’s leadership team. So far it has been everything I hoped it would be and I’m really glad I made the agonising decision to join.
If I had to name the one thing I like most about being an operator at Zapp, it’s undoubtedly the teams I get to work with every single day. For the most part journalism was a solitary affair and I got most of my energy from the thrill of scooping news and beating competitors. Oftentimes it was a slightly ridiculous game but, as I was fond of saying, if you’re gonna be in it you might as well be in it to win it. 
At Zapp, the mission is clearer: to make customers happy by getting them the things they need when they need them. What customers don’t typically see is that we really are on a long term journey to build an entirely new tech-enabled supply chain that can deliver 1000s of different products to 100s of millions of customers around the world faster and more sustainably than any other supply chain can today.
It’s a really difficult mission, especially when factoring in the unique challenges of a venture-backed scale-up growing as fast as we are, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. Even in the tougher moments, I get so much energy from my direct reports and the other teams I work closely with. Twelve months in, I still genuinely feel lucky to get to do what I do every day and to be part of something bigger than any one single contribution.
Leaving journalism has also freed me up to contribute to the European tech ecosystem in ways that I was previously unable to do because of the potential conflicts of interest. This includes advising startups for equity (hello, Send-Off) and, starting this month, making angel investments of my own. That’s because I’ve joined Atomico’s angel programme.
I’ve been activated!
When the Atomico angel programme first launched, I remember it being pitched as a way to help activate potential angels from the European ecosystem who might not have the cash or investment knowledge to have already begun angel investing. 
The first few cohorts lived up to that billing by being more diverse than typical high net worth individuals and also proved that if net worth or socioeconomic status isn’t the defining factor, there is a huge pool of potential investor talent in the European ecosystem to draw from, many of whom combine exceptional operational experience with their own incredible and diverse networks and platforms. Put simply, to change who gets backed, you first need to change who is doing the backing.
The less altruistic business case, of course, is that by igniting these networks and putting Atomico’s cash to work, more great founders and startups will get the early backing required to eventually go on to become the unicorns or decacorns of tomorrow.
Why I’m trying my hand at angel investing
As long time readers of ITK will already know, I’ve previously been a founder and raised venture capital. However, when I was a journalist I was never allowed to invest in startups because of the potential conflict of interest, even if I couldn’t really afford to anyway. Yet over the years I’ve built a pretty decent network, and at TechCrunch I made it my business to cover startups super early, even when it probably wasn’t the smartest career move to do so. 
That meant that European founders would often seek me out to be first to learn and write about their new startup and often told me I asked the right questions without pulling any punches. Many of those companies have gone on to become hugely successful. If just a fraction of that ‘storyflow’ turns into dealflow, combined with the value I hope to add as an ex-journalist and founder, and now operator, I’ll hopefully make a half decent angel investor. Either way, with $100.000 of Atomico’s cash to invest, it’s going to be thrilling finding out. 
What’s my investment thesis?
With only enough capital initially to make 4-5 small pre-seed/seed-stage investments over the next 12 months, I’m not going in with a particular investment thesis or targeting a specific sector, but will be largely optimising for founder-market-fit, in addition to believing that the problem space exists for enough people and that the company in question fits the VC model. 
I’ll also want to understand what value I can bring beyond cash and also hope to co-invest with other angels and pre-seed/seed funds that I trust and have tracked closely throughout my career. Investing is a team sport and one of the biggest risks of angel investing is a startup’s inability to raise the next couple of rounds. That’s the harsh reality.
Talking of which, any founders that choose to partner with me will always know exactly what I think. Good or bad, I’ll always say it as I see it, because I truly believe that the fine line between success and failure always favours honesty.
And luck, of course. You always need luck!
Send me your deck or share dealflow:
Go deeper on Atomico's angel programme
VC firm Atomico launches fourth angel programme — and switches things up | Sifted
The Atomico Angel Programme’s Fourth Year | Atomico
Podcasts I've recently appeared on
Steve O’Hear: The importance of journalism and how to pitch your business to the media.
EP 5 / Claims of toxicity at Glovo: How ‘good vibes’ turned into a ‘nightmare’
Get in touch
Have feedback or questions? Hit reply and I promise to get back to you within 48 hours (but probably a lot sooner!).
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