Goeido’s perfect sumo tournament: when talent and consistency converge

September 25, 2016

goeido-yusho-sep16For the niche segment of entrepreneurially inclined readers of this blog who also appreciate sumo, the latest tournament that ended today in Tokyo offers some relevant lessons.

Winner of this tournament’s yūshō, a 30-year old ōzeki from Osaka named Goeido demonstrated a flawless 15 – 0 performance. I extend my sincere congratulations to Goeido for finding his rhythm and delivering an awesome performance! This milestone also represents a victory for Osaka (first since 1930), for Japanese wrestlers (second in 10 years), and for the whole ōzeki rank (who have collectively impressed over the past 7 tournaments).

I always liked Goeido indirectly for his role as spoiler in numerous tournaments. Goeido often cleared the way for my favorite rikishi (yokozuna Harumafuji) to win by defeating the nearly invincible yokozuna Hakuho in key matches. However, of the four sumo wrestlers currently holding the #2 rank of ōzeki (second only to the three yokozuna, or grand champions), Goeido always struck me as least likely to win a championship. I was usually dismissive of goeido for one essential reason: inconsistency.

Goeido had never left us doubting his potential. Just as he often spoiled Hakuho, Goeido seemed to be able to conquer just the right opponent, whatever his rank, just when it mattered most. Yet his failure to compete consistently weaved him on and off the precarious kadoban status (threat of demotion from a losing record).

The importance of consistency extends more broadly to many areas of business: especially to entrepreneurship. I have the honor of working with a lot of high-caliber startup teams. All possess deep talent in their respective domains. High potential is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for scaling a startup successfully. Luck and market timing play a role of course. But among the factors one can control, delivering consistency is probably the most crucial, I submit. Building a business often entails accomplishing the basics, day in and day out, in a diligent and persistent manner.

When talent and consistency meet, look out; you’re unstoppable. Deep bow to Goeido-san, who demonstrated exactly that today.

Tour de Tohoku 2016

September 19, 2016

What an honor to return to Japan’s Great Northeast again for the Tour de Tohoku this past weekend!

The brainchild of Yahoo!Japan CEO Manabu Miyasaka (a visionary business leader and also an incredible athlete), the annual Tour de Tohoku bike race brings attention, visibility, and funds to the Tohoku region, an area heavily devastated in the after-effects of the 2011 earthquake.

Intermittent showers this year made the repeated climbs feel even steeper, though the views were no less breathtaking, and the supporters were no less energetic. The cheering residents of the region survived a freakin’ tsunami, so who am I to complain about a little rain? As usual, the race’s ambassadors included many of Japan’s champions: professional cyclists, triathletes, supermodels, and business leaders. Even actual Ambassador Caroline Kennedy rode the one-way course. Japanese pro-cyclist and Tour de France rider Fumi Beppu (and really cool guy) tore away from the pack to complete the 211km first like a leisurely walk in the park. Amazing, though I suppose that is his job!

The Tohoku region remains in reconstruction. While all of the rebuilding works in progress that I witnessed back in 2013 have been completed, much remains to be done. The devastation proved simply too massive.

My heartfelt gratitude to Miyasaka-san, Shimizu-san, Sunaga-san, and Kaji-san for your generous hospitality. And a deep bow to the people of Tohoku whose resilience inspires me so much.

めげない。にげない。くじけない。tour-de-tohoku-2016

French VC sector brain vastly under-illuminated

September 7, 2016

Remember International Women’s Day back in March ? Oh, so you’ve forgotten already…

Since apparently women in France are only slightly less attracted to entrepreneurship than men (and by slightly, I mean 0.1%), it feels like the French VC industry stands at a mere fraction of total brain capacity. What do YOU think?

rudevc-france-women-vc

[graphic credit: Julien Penguin]

One last cheeky summer riddle

September 3, 2016

As summer winds to a close, here’s one last cheeky brain teaser. What do the following entities have in common?

cimetiere1

Here’s a more blatant clue:

cimetiere

Dash Camp Automne 2016 à Sapporo

August 28, 2016

Dash Camp est de retour !

Compte tenu du succés de l’implication d’une délégation #FrenchTech à sa dernière édition, on m’a accordé des places à nouveau pour le prochain évènement: le 17, 18 octobre à Sapporo, Japon.

Pour rappeler, Dash Camp représente le sommet de référence en Asie qui facilite les échanges entre les entrepreneurs innovants et les dirigeants des grands groupes tech japonais. Il est pertinent pour ceux qui souhaitent être sur le radar des acquéreurs japonais, chercher des partenaires commerciaux au Japon, ou bien attirer les investisseurs asiatiques qui ont une appétence pour l’Europe.

dashcamp_palmares_2016

Eligibilité

  • startups tech de moins de 8 ans d’existence
  • ambitions au-delà de la France pour le marché japonais (démarche commerciale, partenariat, m&a)
  • domaines d’intérêt: AI, objets connectés, fintech, adtech, agritech, jeux mobile, m-commerce, sharing economy

Informations et inscriptions

ようこそ !

Perceptions on the Brexit vote

August 23, 2016

Interesting graph from the FT this month. Could it be that France sees something that the rest of Europe overlooks ?

brexit-perceptions

#FirstSeven…

August 13, 2016

Ok it’s August holiday period so why not a little fun joining in Twitter’s #FirstSeven meme. Here are my first seven…

#FirstSevenJobs

  1. Paperboy: SF Chronicle and SJ Mercury News
  2. Dishwasher at a convalescent home
  3. Grocery bagger at Nob Hill Foods
  4. Stock clerk and Cashier at Toys-R-Us
  5. Manufacturing floor gopher at Raychem
  6. Reggae DJ: 89.3 FM radio and Chicago’s Wild Hare club
  7. Entrepreneur

 

#FirstSevenLanguages

  1. English
  2. French
  3. Basic
  4. Pascal
  5. Patois
  6. Dyula
  7. Japanese

 

RudeVC’s Summer reading list 2016

July 25, 2016

As long-time readers of this blog know, around this time every year I publish a short list of summer reading recommendations. The guiding selection criteria for books on this list are generally: i) some connection to startups, technology, VC, or Europe; and ii) not too heavy or intensely intellectual. I also try to limit the list to one business book, maximum.

Zero to OneFor the one business book quota this summer I’m recommending Peter Thiel’s Zero to One. The book is actually a compilation of lecture notes from Thiel’s course at Stanford, thus very conversational in tone. Regardless of your opinions about Thiel, Zero to One is an enjoyable read and will inspire some healthy contrarian thinking over the summer. The book also strikes me as quite timely given the controversy surrounding Thiel’s backing of the lawsuit against Gawker and his enigmatic participation in last week’s Republican National Convention.

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A Brief History of Seven KillingsA Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James. Awarded the 2015 Man Booker Prize, A Brief History… tells the story of Jamaica in the 1970s and early 80s, when the guns flooded in, CIA agents took up residence, and the island experienced one of its most violently defining moments. If you appreciate reggae music, you’ll know about the attempted assassination of Bob Marley, which the book recounts in deep context. This culturally rich island nation’s phase of excessive conflict and strife during this period represents a broader lesson for many fire-burning regions around the globe today.

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AncillaryTrilogyThe Ancillary Justice trilogy by Ann Leckie. A science fiction writer and friend of mine recommended I try this three-book series by a relatively fresh new author to the genre. I started reading book one during take-off of a 12-hour flight and found myself still fully engrossed in the story during landing. Wow! My friend was right when she told me, “Trust me, you’re going to be rooting for the lesbian AI killing machine with a conscience.”

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For those interested, here’s a list of what noteworthy business leaders are reading these days.

A smooth face on demand

July 21, 2016

Two years ago I wrote a piece about Dollar Shave Club that provoked an unexpected reaction from some quarters (I hadn’t realized there were so many razor-blades-on-demand haters). The irony is that my article at the time was more an ode to the revenue model — give away the razor for free and make money on selling the blades — than to DSC, Harry’s, Bevel per se (although I admire them too).

It’s with admiration that I read about Unilever’s $1 billion acquisition of Dollar Shave Club in this week’s press.

For some great insight into the ingredients of this success story and its implications, I encourage you to read Dollar Shave Club: How Michael Dubin Created A Massively Successful Company and Re-Defined CPG by DSC’s lead investor David Pakman at Venrock, as well as Dollar Shave Club and The Disruption of Everything by Ben Thompson.

DollarShaveClub

I’m bullish on Fintech investment in Japan. So are a bunch of CVCs.

July 8, 2016

tokyo-stock-exchangeA few months ago I summarized my first impressions of Japan’s burgeoning Fintech sector. Now that I’ve had an opportunity to meet more of the key actors, I’m relatively bullish on this market for both innovation and venture investment.

Perhaps reinforcing my appetite, this recent piece in TechCrunch offers a worthwhile primer on the Fintech world beyond Silicon Valley and Europe but ostensibly neglects to mention Japan.

The Japanese government’s support of innovation in Fintech, such as by way of its modernizing of financial regulations and offering business incentives to firms that encourage the creation of startup incubators — is one contributing factor. Another is the average Japanese consumer’s substantial investable asset base, especially after the mid-life step function I explained earlier. Although I would not quite characterize the Japanese consumer of holding the same degree of mistrust for banks the way we do in the West, investing experience of the average household is relatively more limited in Japan than say in the U.S. In fact, I observe a more kindred mindset of conservatism (or prudence) with European households.

That is not to suggest that Japanese consumers are close-minded to creative financial products. On the contrary, some very promising young firms are tapping into a consumer appetite for solutions ranging from robo-advisory (Money Design) to peer-to-peer small business lending (Crowdcredit).

Financial institutions in Japan are determined to not just remain bystanders. To their credit, many acknowledge that innovation can take place outside their corporate walls… and sometimes even outside the country’s borders.

Increasingly, these established corporations are taking small stakes in Fintech startups. A new draft measure in Japan’s parliament will ease the restrictions on banks’ ability to invest in operating companies.

Many are also setting up dedicated venture capital units. Although historically, corporate venture capital funds underperform independent VC firms on a purely financial return basis, a corporation’s objectives also encompass strategic considerations, so making direct investments in startups can make sense.

By last count, I’ve counted over 20 corporate venture capital funds in Japan who make Fintech investments. This list is by no means exhaustive, but includes (listed alphabetically):

Adways Ventures Mizuho Venture Capital
Credit Saison Ventures Monex Ventures
DBJ Capital Opt Ventures
Dentsu Rakuten Ventures
GCI Capital Recruit Strategic
GMO Venture Partners    Partners
Gree Ventures Salesforce
Intel Capital SBI Holdings
Itochu Corporation Shinsei
Mitsubishi UFJ Capital SMBC Venture Capital
Mitsui Fudosan YJ Capital

Although I haven’t met all of them yet, the relatively few of this group with whom I’ve shared deals have behaved much like a purely financial VC would expect of them. By this I mean that these funds have issued relatively market-standard term sheets, have not demanded any special privileges, and have at least in my experience properly balanced the financial objectives of the investment with their own strategic agenda. Far from viewing them as competitors, I welcome the opportunity to coinvest with CVCs because of their complementarity with independent, financially-driven VCs.

In addition to open innovation initiatives or establishing in house CVC units, I submit that another option exists which merits serious consideration for Japanese corporations and financial institutions. More on that soon…

VC fishing expeditions vs. genuine inbound interest

July 4, 2016

vc-fishing-expeditionThis post caught my attention on how entrepreneurs should handle unsolicited inbound fishing expeditions from VCs. Manu Kumar of micro-VC fund K9 Ventures writes about instances where an individual at a VC firm requests a phone conference with one of his portfolio companies in order to hear the entrepreneur’s views on the sector.

To cut straight to the conclusion, he suggests to not waste any time in responding to most of such inquiries. In an effort to gain market intelligence, VC firms often task junior hires, sometimes college interns, to amass information on a space by surveying experts: who better a resource to tap than startup founders in the given space? They’re casting a wide net over the market in order to build a knowledge base from the best practitioners in an emerging field.

Serving as a free consultant for some junior associate at a VC firm that has a brand name attached to it does nothing for you — other than perhaps stroke your ego that a brand-name firm was interested in your fledgling startup.

– Manu Kumar, K9 Ventures

I believe Kumar’s advice is directionally accurate, certainly for startups in North America. In the cases where the inquiry is coming from an overseas VC — it’s more often a North American VC practice anyway — and the entrepreneur is foreign, however, I would offer a slightly different take.

For entrepreneurs with relatively light international experience — and I encounter several outstanding individuals in both Europe and Japan in this situation — I often recommend that they accept one or two such solicitations from VCs outside of their home market in order to hone their pitch and sharpen their game.

However, as Kumar rightly points out, time is an entrepreneur’s most precious asset. Such conference calls should be properly qualified and prepared to ensure an efficient and mutually beneficial exchange. Here are a few tips I give to my portfolio companies:

  1. Qualify the inquiring person first. Kumar offers some suggestions on how best to do so. Understanding the source of the inquiry will give you some indication on how much credence to give it. If it comes from a decision-maker or the VC partner who sits on the board of a highly complementary portfolio company, the inquiry may be seriously genuine and warrant responding quickly. [Note: Kumar also warns to beware of VC “Partners” in title only; one litmus test is the VC’s number of board seats.]
  2. Time-box the call and manage the clock. 30 minutes is often ideal, and one hour should be a maximum.
  3. Make your pitch and any answers to their inquiries as concise as possible. Make sure you leave time to ask questions. Take control of the conversation assertively by the 20-minute mark if necessary.
  4. This means that you should prepare some questions for the inquisitive VC in advance. What are their views on your sector through the lens of an investor? Who in their opinion are the most innovative players? What is their thesis on the winning strategy? Where do they believe the ultimate exit avenue could lie?
  5. Think of this as an opportunity to learn from someone who, by brute force if not by way of any special expertise, will likely possess some context about your sector that you may not have. I’ve even known clever founders to persuade the VC to send over their firm’s in-house analysis of the space (in the spirit of knowledge sharing).
  6. Once you recognize the VC’s agenda, don’t hold it against them. The person is simply doing his/her job, even if your respective goals don’t match. Moreover, they could be a resource for you at some point in the future.
  7. A word of warning, the inquiring VC firm may be already actively pursuing an investment in your sector and is simply attempting to glean competitive intelligence. While you cannot judge with certainty the veracity of their answer, it’s worth asking them point blank if they are before scheduling the call. Most VCs act with integrity, and all rely on their reputations.

Brexit not our problem? Think again.

June 27, 2016

I received a few intriguing comments on Friday’s fretful post about the worrisome consequences of Brexit for Europe’s innovation ecosystem.

One person affiliated with LaFrenchTech believes England’s departure from the EU will prove a boon to France’s tech scene. Another purported that Paris will now become the Continent’s rightful hub of Fintech.

I hope such a rosy outlook bears out, but I’m not so sure. In a very provincial sense, certain countries in Continental Europe may benefit from a relative shift in startup activity. Nordic or Baltic startups previously planning to base their operations in London may instead choose Amsterdam, Berlin, or Paris as their platform (or simply keep their headquarters at home).

Yet on the world stage, I fear the ramifications of Brexit for Europe will outweigh any short-term uptake. Europe’s appeal for foreign investment from Asia and North America derives largely from its outside perception as a unified, developed market. While nobody held any illusions about its heterogeneity, the differences among member states could be somewhat overlooked by outsiders attracted by Europe’s scale of disposable income and mass consumption.

europe-divided

The Brexit vote represents an acute reminder to the rest of the world that Europe is far from unified.

It is an exclamation point reinforcing a message that was subtly insinuated for years by well-meaning politicians. When LaFrenchTech fosters an atmosphere of rivalry, rather than one of collaboration, with London’s Tech City… When Berlin produces analytical league tables suggesting its superiority as a startup hub… these actions remind outsiders that Europe’s tech ecosystem is a collection of rivals, each with their own agendas, just like the political project of Europe itself. It reminds outsiders that Europe is complicated.

I mentioned on Friday in the wake of the Brexit vote how two Japanese tech actors decided to cancel their trips to France this week. Both were planning to attend the upcoming VivaTech conference at Porte de Versailles. “But VivaTech is in Paris. It has nothing to do with the Brexit!” one French political insider bewailed to me.

His exasperation demonstrates exactly my point. It’s easy on the inside to remain wrapped up in one’s own little local bubble. The very attraction of VivaTech for Japanese investors and entrepreneurs was its opportunity to be a starting point for a broader European rollout. I can understand their sudden apprehension, now that the fluidity of innovation across Europe is in question. Let’s not forget that last Thursday’s vote was called the EU Referendum.

Sometimes shocks can jolt politicians into doing the right thing. I hope the Brexit vote can galvanize more cooperation among the Continent’s disparate (but in the end, more similar than different) tech communities.