Saul Klein: What is Europe’s top investor doing in Lisbon?

May 4, 2016

‘Hey Maria. Saul Klein was just confirmed as speaker for the Lisbon Investment Summit 2016. Do you want to interview him?’

Wait. Let me just stop for a moment here. Saul Klein? The Saul Klein? The one who is a former partner at Index Ventures, considered by many as Europe’s leading VC? The founder of Lovefilm International, which was acquired by Amazon? The founder of Seedcamp and Kano, the incredibly fun computer kit for kids (well, I kind of want one for myself)? Yes, that’s the man we’re talking about here.

Saul Klein, has spent the last 2 decades building and exiting companies in the US, Israel and Europe, and, despite my startling nervousness, of course I wanted to interview him. So, I had brief conversation with him over the phone last week, while he took a cab drive in London, I imagine. However, this quick chat was more than enough for me to understand that he’s not the average type of investor. Why? Because he’s truly passionate about building great products and helping entrepreneurs with their challenges, at the earliest change.

So, who is Saul Klein, in which kind of startups does he invest, and what will he do in Lisbon?

“We focus on the surfers, not the waves”  

When leaving Index, Saul Klein, realised that what he’s most passionate about is starting companies. “It’s a stage of a company’s life cycle that I find incredibly exciting – it’s in my blood and I can’t shake it” as he admits.  

So, the man who considers himself as an “an accidental VC” moved on from Index to focus entirely on helping startups in what he likes to call “inception stage”, with Local Globe VC. And what is inception stage you ask? “It’s the earliest stage, when startups are still building the product, setting up the team, and go-to-market strategy is not yet finalised” explained Saul over the phone.  

But how does Saul and Local Globe VC choose the founders they’re gonna work with?

According to Saul, they usually invest in founders “who have a good product sense, unique insights, who are targeting a big market, and who are based in London”. Why? “Because we give the mentoring and feedback but then, it’s up to the entrepreneur to go forward with their own company – we just have to trust that the founders we invest in will be smart and take the right decisions”.  

But he goes even further at describing their investment strategy. When I asked if he was looking at specific industries he confidently replied: “No, we focus on the surfers, not the waves”. Meaning, in Saul’s opinion, it all comes down to the founders, the core team and the size of the market, other than particular industries, sectors or business models.

“We always ask ourselves: can this business be big at scale? Is the market big enough? Are these founders capable of raising from top tier investors? Because if you’re unable to fundraise, then it probably means you’re unable to sell to big customers…”  

So, what will Saul Klein be doing in Lisbon this June?

Well, he’s using the Lisbon Investment Summit as an excuse to come and get to know the Lisbon startup scene. “I know some startups who are in Lisbon, like for example Uniplaces, and I think it’s a very promising ecosystem”. He even admits that he’s “a bit late for the party” but he’s looking forward to getting to know the local tech community this year with the Lisbon Investment Summit, and then later on the Web Summit.

At this point, I hear the cab’s door close and I know we’ve ran out of time. Saul is a busy man so I politely say goodbye by thanking him for the interview, and Saul kindly replies: “You’re welcome, see you in Lisbon soon”.

Well, and if he can say all this in a 15 min. interview, in a cab, imagine how much we’ll all learn from him at #LIS16… You should probably get your ticket, like now.