Infraspeak on How They Never, Ever, Lost a Customer

Infraspeak on How They Never, Ever, Lost a Customer

Almost all the talented entrepreneurs we meet at Beta-i put their customers first and above all things. Felipe Ávila da Costa, the founder of Infraspeak, a startup from Porto that has been through Lisbon Challenge and at the Lisbon Investment Summit, is one of them.

However, what Infraspeak has achieved over the past few years is truly remarkable. They have apparently ‘cheated’ an inevitable fate and made the impossible, possible.

Infraspeak is the first startup I know that has never lost a customer, like ever. And, if that wasn’t enough they kept on growing unbelievably fast – 243% growth in 2016.

I bet your jaw just dropped. However, there’s a trick to it.

A few weeks ago, I spoke to Felipe who calls himself the “business guy” of Infraspeak to talk about all the tricks they’ve been holding up their sleeves. We talked about how they kept their customers extraordinarily happy, how they grew 243% in 2016, and how they bootstrapped during the first 2 years and later joined 500 Startups in San Francisco after meeting Marvin Liao at the Lisbon Investment Summit.

Follow the footsteps of startups such as Infraspeak

Find out more about Lisbon Challenge

In the end, it was an honest conversation about customer development, building a great product, defining a strong company culture, going from direct sales to inside sales, and getting investment at the right time.  

Keep on reading and learn from Infraspeak’s story.

Infraspeak is a facility management software so, you have a product that can be used by many different segments but, you clearly have a focused portfolio of companies. Why is that? How did you define your target?

It was really by the book because I spent 5 years attending and giving workshops about the best practices to start a startup at UPTEC, the biggest incubation center in Portugal. So, in the beginning, we spoke to as many segments as possible, we reached out to our network of contacts, and that’s when we realised that a lot of different segments needed a solution such as Infraspeak. We had a good problem on our hands because we had a lot of different segments interested. This whole thing was a challenge, because we talked to a lot of people and they were all very receptive so, at that stage, we weren’t really focusing. What happened was that we were getting lots of feedback and we were trying to iterate the product according to completely different opinions. By the time we got to Lisbon Challenge, one year later, we realised that we had to focus in order to be more efficient in our sales process. So, at the time, we decided to focus on hotel management and in companies that provided technical assistance for air conditioners. And the good thing about our product is the cross-selling opportunity because it’s easy for these segments to spread the word about our product and then it gets used by more companies. Infraspeak is a management solution that can be used by both the maintenance sellers and the maintenance buyers, so we set up this natural cross-selling mechanism for the business to grow. For example, we send operational reports from Infraspeak to both sellers and buyers, so they all get to know the product.

And how is your sales process? How did you define that?

In the beginning, we started with a direct sales approach. So, we were knocking on doors, sending emails, asking for introductions, and just reaching out to companies for them to get to know us. At the time, we were having an average of 3 meetings in person before closing a customer. After closing, we had an average of 3 other meetings for the onboarding process. Our product is very complete so it’s not like to implement a CRM where you have 2 concepts to understand, deals and contacts, we have 7 or 8 concepts to interpret, so this requires a (simple yet necessary) training process. But, just for you to have a comparison, our competitors take an average of 6 months to implement their products, while we take around 3 weeks.      

But that’s not a scalable model, right?

Yeah, right. But, with this direct sales approach, we grew our portfolio of customers and we were already rising as a reference in the market because we were more innovative and efficient than any other solution. So, this allowed us to evolve into an inside sales approach, which is scalable, and right now, we have a bunch of customers that we have closed 100% online. With this sales model, we’re doing demos online and then negotiating by skype and phone calls. As for the onboarding process, so far, we’ve had 4 customers that did everything online except for the last meeting which involves training their technical staff, that one is still done in person.   

We have a churn rate of 0%. We have more than 50 customers, and our oldest customers have been working with us for 2 years, except for the 2 initial partners that have been with us for 4 years now.

And what about the customers that you already have? Have you been able to keep them?

One of the metrics that we’re most proud of is our churn rate. We have a churn rate of 0%. We have more than 50 customers, and our oldest customers have been working with us for 2 years, except for the 2 initial partners that have been with us for 4 years now. On the other hand, and still related to this metric, our negative churn, which means the percentage of customers that we somehow managed to upsell (more users and/or more services) is around 25%.

That’s impressive. How is that even possible? Are there any tricks up your sleeve, or is it just the product that is very good?  

Well, when we started to hire people to join our dream we had kind of a philosophical epiphany. We started thinking about why would anyone work for us and why does that make sense. So, at that time, we began drafting the vision of Infraspeak, not in an economics point of view but, in a cultural point of view. In the end, we decided that Infraspeak exists to be a source of good life, a source of good life for our customers, as we relieve the technicians and managers from stress, and a source of good life for our team, for our partners, for our investors, and for anyone that is in touch with us.     

So, we bring this motto to everything we do at Infraspeak. We created the role of a customer success lead in a very early stage. In the beginning, it was my partner Luís, but now as we have more people in the team we have had more support in this area. So, the mission for this person is to support our customers constantly and to be kind of an advocate for our customers within the team, when for example we need to define the priorities in product development. I think that this focus in customer support was an added value to the product itself, and in keeping our customers happy.

 I’ve never thought that receiving investment was a success indicator. It is an indicator that you have a good pitch, and the ability to convince investors to believe in your business. To me, the true metric comes from customers.

You have only received investment quite recently, and until then you bootstrapped. Why and how were able to do that?

I’ve always been against the kind of entrepreneurship purely focused on investment. I’ve never thought that receiving investment was a success indicator. It is an indicator that you have a good pitch, and the ability to convince investors to believe in your business. To me, the true metric comes from customers, and from bringing value to these customers. So, since the very beginning, we’ve had this mindset. When I joined Infraspeak we started setting milestones, and we would look at a certain milestone in a specific time frame and we would analyse if we had enough resources to go that far. For example, at that time, our milestone was to validate the product and the market, so the challenge was to close our first 5 customers, and it’s not like you need investment for that, it was just the personal effort from the founders. When we closed the first customers, our goal was then to get to product market fit, and we were able to do that ourselves with our own resources. We were just 2, we worked from home, and we had no salary. We were really betting on Infraspeak with our savings (and the cost of opportunity) and luckily (at that stage) it was enough.


The founders of Infraspeak, Luís Martins and Felipe Ávila da Costa

And how did that bootstrapping, the ‘no salary’ kind of thing, turn out for you?

It went well, I guess. Our focus was to close paying customers from day one, and we became profitable in 9 months. We actually became “ramen profitable”, the concept elaborated by Paul Graham from Y Combinator, which refers to the point where the founders are able to pay their bills and eat ramen soup every day of the month. So, the company lives and its founders don’t starve. But, right after reaching this point, we had to take a strategic decision. We would either get a salary ourselves or we would start hiring. So, we decided to invest on product and build a team, so we hired our first employee, João. It took us another 4 months to return to this type of profitable, and we had to take the same decision. We ended up doing the same thing as before and we hired another engineer, Pedro. When we joined Lisbon Challenge we were a team of 4.            

So, the first year and a half we bootstrapped in the best possible way, which was through paying customers and with the personal effort from the founders.

But, if you were profitable and if the company was growing, why fundraise? When have you felt the need to get investment?

When we were going through Lisbon Challenge and we were profitable again, including the minimum salary of the founders, and when we actually got to product market fit. At that point, we realised we had a good product, we had an unsatisfied market, and we felt the need to maximise that opportunity. And obviously, at that time, it wasn’t just a matter of getting to the milestones but getting there fast. That’s when we started drafting a pre-seed round with investors, which was also one of the reasons why we joined Lisbon Challenge. Throughout the accelerator, we wanted to define our growth strategy and leverage the program’s network to set up our investment round. In Lisbon Challenge, we got the help we needed from mentors and investors, and this was what we were expecting when we applied.

We met Marvin Liao from 500 Startups at LIS and 2 weeks later they sent us a proposal for us to join their program, and another 2 weeks later we moved to San Francisco. It was incredibly fast.    

How did Lisbon Challenge work out for you?

It opened a lot of doors for us. We had access to a relevant network of corporates, partners, and investors through Beta-i and Lisbon Challenge. I have known Beta-i for a long time now, and I know the founders have a lot of contacts so, to us that was the key factor when going through the program. However, the big highlight of this journey was the Lisbon Investment Summit that happened right after Lisbon Challenge, and it was really a launch pad for Infraspeak. Through the Lisbon Investment Summit, we met several investors, mostly international, including 500 Startups. We met Marvin Liao from 500 Startups at LIS and 2 weeks later they sent us a proposal for us to join their program, and another 2 weeks later we moved to San Francisco. It was incredibly fast.    

Since Marvin Liao from 500 Startups is coming back this year, do you have any advice for the entrepreneurs that will be attending the Lisbon Investment Summit and that want to follow your footsteps and join 500 Startups?

That’s a hard question. My advice is pretty general for anyone that wants to join one of the best startup programs in the world such as 500 Startups, Y Combinator, or Techstars. Go and build a good product that the market is interested in, look for a market that is big enough and with enough growth potential, and set up the right team to take your business forward. To me, it’s not really a matter of what you say and how you talk to investors, but what you’re building. If you’re building a good product then it’s much easier to sell it to investors. I’m personally not a fan of those networking hacks because I think the focus of the founders should be on the business itself.  

it’s not really a matter of what you say and how you talk to investors, but what you’re building.

How was your experience on 500 Startups in San Francisco?

To me all the accelerators kind of offer the same thing on paper, just like an MBA. They offer mentors, a network of investors, support, a space to work, and perks. But, what changes is the league you are playing, and 500 Startups is like the Champions League. Regarding mentors, it was amazing, regarding the network of contacts we got all the contacts that we wished for, regarding exposure and support it was incredible, and so on. 500 Startups delivered everything at the highest level. It was a great experience and actually it’s still running because when you join the program it’s not like the relationship ends there, it was just a first step. So, we’re still in touch with them because they are our investors, and it still opens many doors. At the moment we’re very focused on expanding to different countries, we already have operations in Portugal, Brazil, and Angola, and now we’re focusing on expanding in Europe, and they have lots of contacts for us here too. And of course, when we enter the American market, which is part of our plan for 2018, they will be a huge help.

The Infraspeak team

Did getting investment change your mindset? Do you notice any difference in terms of your own company culture?

Well, yes. It’s completely different for you to set up a company while bootstrapping, where you have your own timings and flexibility than setting up a VC backed company where you have specific metrics and milestones that are aligned with the investors. The founders need to be ready and they need to align their medium and long term goals with the investors, or they will end up bumping into each other.

Was that the most significant change you’ve experienced so far at Infraspeak?

Not necessarily. I think that the most significant change didn’t have anything to do with investors but with the growth of the team. When we first got the investment from 500 Startups and Caixa Capital and when we were going through Lisbon Challenge we were only 4 and now we’re 12. This was really a transition phase.

Getting to product market fit is really an accomplishment of the founders, but scaling and becoming a successful company is an accomplishment of the team.

And how different was it working with a bigger team?

Well, in the beginning, it was the founders doing everything, from product to sales, from legal stuff to finance, or even cleaning the office. But, when you have a bigger team, the whole thing changes and the founders need to be more focused on growth, setting up the structure and being one step ahead of the company. So, the challenge here is to build a team that is proactive and efficient in order to maintain the growth of the company. I usually say that getting to product market fit is really an accomplishment of the founders, but scaling and becoming a successful company is an accomplishment of the team. So, at that point, the role of the founders is recruiting a talented team and above all provide the support so that these people can do their job well. We’ve been really learning a lot, this transition is not easy, but so far we were good enough, or lucky enough, to hire very talented people. This allows us, the founders, to focus a lot more on the next steps.

And what is your biggest challenge?

I think it’s setting up a growth strategy. Right now in April, we’ll be entering the Spanish market, and this is very important because we’re actually validating our expansion strategy. We have operations in Brazil through a partner, and for Spain and other European markets we’ll set up our own teams. We’ll be facing the challenge of having a multilingual startup with different teams in different locations, and this is what we need to validate. Spanish market will be like a test lab for us where we’ll see if this model makes sense, and if it all goes well growing into 10 other European markets will be like replicating this expansion strategy.  

Why have you decided to set up local teams instead of managing it all through Portugal?

Our market/customers are somehow language oriented. If we want to enter Spain we need to speak Spanish, if we want to enter Italy we need to speak Italian. So, our goal is to do exactly what we did in the beginning. First, we’ll start with direct sales, with the meetings in person, and have a dedicated team in the country. And as soon as we get a portfolio that gives us credibility in the market we’ll dive into the inside sales approach. This inside sales approach won’t require a local team but we can get local partners instead to deliver the support to our customers mostly during the implementation process. This is obviously a complex process because we are disrupting an industry that has been buying software in a consulting model, where it takes 6 months to define the project and another 6 months to implement. So, this industry is used to closing deals in person but we’re actually turning something that is very complex into something simple and we’re simplifying the buying and selling process, and that’s why we’re growing so much. However, this definitely implies credibility, these companies don’t just change their processes with a product that doesn’t have a credible portfolio, unless they are early adopters, but that’s really a minority. In the end, it’s about understanding the curve of technology adoption and the diffusion of innovation. We have to reach out to the early adopters and innovators through direct contact, and as we conquer those first customers migrate into a more efficient model to reach the majority of the market.

And how do you see the evolution of your product? What will the future be like with Infraspeak?

The segment of property tech, which is our technological segment and that includes infrastructure technology, is currently very hot. This segment got left behind in terms of technology and innovation for so long that there are many opportunities in the market now. So, in our opinion in the future, we’ll see a growing number of technological and intelligent buildings. In parallel with this artificial intelligence, we’ll see a growing number of data collection on the buildings’ operations and it will be more complex to manage all these big infrastructures, and this is where Infraspeak will be. We will be an interface between the building and its managers. So, we’ll be chewing on these volumes of information on operations and deliver it in a simple way. Obviously, this is a big challenge but this is the way to go and we are really excited to go there first.

In terms of technology, today Infraspeak is already a solution with multiple interfaces that allows the several players to centralise all the information and communicate efficiently. However, the next step will be to integrate IoT in this process. We already have proofs of concept working and we’re now evolving on a few projects with some of our customers by adding sensors in the buildings and by automating failure processes and so on. And from here on, we’ll be entering the world of big data. Right now we have more than 1 million tasks performed through Infraspeak, 75.000 pieces of equipment being managed but, when we start implementing sensors we’ll multiply these numbers by the thousands and we’ll put artificial intelligence to work for our customers. So, instead of reacting to these maintenance issues, we’ll be able to implement models to predict failures according to the available data. Instead of reacting to a problem we will be proactive and act on these failures before they happen. All of this is part of our product roadmap for the next 2 years. So, we still have a long way to go before we call this a success. When we hire people for our team we usually say that happiness is in the day to day life, and not at the end of the process. We’re very happy with our journey so far but it’s still a long way to go.

Lisbon Challenge has now open applications. Get 10k to develop your product in 10 weeks. Apply here.  

5 Tips on How to Reach Investors at Startup Events

5 Tips on How to Reach Investors at Startup Events

If you’re an entrepreneur, you have to network. You talk to people, you exchange business cards, from customers to investors, from founders to aspiring entrepreneurs, because that’s part of your job. But from all those, we mentioned above the one that concerns most startup founders is definitely investors. Going after investors and reaching out might be tricky, though not as tricky as you may think. But how should you do it? And how can you seize the opportunity of attending an event like the Lisbon Investment Summit where well-known investors from some of the top VCs in the world such as Accel Partners, Atomico, Index Ventures,  or Balderton Capital, will be present?

To give you some tips on the matter we spoke to some of the investors in our network to tell you all there is to know about raising the interest of an investor and building a relationship that will hopefully lead to a closed deal.

1. Do your homework and make a list of potential investors

There are many investors for you to choose from, however, you shouldn’t make a list of 30 people you want to talk to because you don’t want to give the impression that you would take anybody’s money. Do a short list instead. But in order to have a good shortlist you need to do your research and see who is the right investor. Check their portfolio, their style of investment and see if you fit the profile before reaching out. In the end, courting an investor is pretty much like dating so if you feel like talking to 300 people on Tinder maybe you’re not too serious about intensifying the relationship with anyone. So, when it comes to fundraising as a startup there’s really no such thing as a one night stand.

2. Reach out before the event – ideally with an intro

This is definitely a must-do. Remember that you’re building a relationship and that at the event you have a limited amount of time and that many others will also contact the person you want to talk to. So, how can you reach out to them before the event? Don’t just submit to the VCs website or email, what you need is an intro. Ideally, you’ll get intros from one of the partners and from a successful portfolio company. In fact, intros are kind of a natural selection mechanism for VCs to see how resourceful the entrepreneur is. At the end of the day if you don’t bother to find 2 intros you’re not that serious about getting that investment from that particular VC.

3. Engage on Twitter conversations

Twitter is a powerful networking tool and you should use it as such. Follow the investor on Twitter and check their interests and what they’re passionate about. Just don’t go for the shotgun approach that is not personalized and engage in conversations. For example, if you’re a travel startup engage in a conversation about traveling because that’s what you know and the VC will take notice. So, go ahead and give Twitter some credit. We’re tweeting about the Lisbon Investment Summit already through the hashtag #LIS17 so feel free to reach some of the speakers and talk to them about the conference.

4. At the event – be confident but not too aggressive

What people sometimes forget is that investors are just like everybody else. They have their own interests and passions so what you need to do is build a relationship. However, it is a common mistake amongst entrepreneurs to just go for the elevator pitch and sometimes they’re too aggressive, which makes the investor skeptical. If you’re too aggressive and hectic with your pitch you’ll get very critical comments. Instead, you should engage in a conversation about something that you have in common. The investor will most likely remember you if you two had an interesting conversation other than just a regular pitch. The truth is, you have to be confident but respectful and think that there’s a normal person on the other side.

5. Follow up after the event – send regular updates

At #LIS17, you’ll most likely meet with international investors and even if they’re interested in your progress it’s not like they can meet with you in Lisbon often. It’s definitely crucial for you to follow up on the contacts you made and send them regular updates. And remember that as a founder you’re always fundraising, even when you’re not, so keep investors close because you never know when you might have to drop them a call or send them an email for them to jump in on your next round.

So there you go. We hope these tips were useful and we hope you get to put them into practice at #LIS17 – Lisbon Investment Summit this June 6th and 7th. See you there!

P.S.: Remember to get your startup ticket here and get the 2 for 1 deal while you still can.

Infraspeak joins 500 Startups and lands investment from Caixa Capital

Infraspeak joins 500 Startups and lands investment from Caixa Capital

Our Lisbon Challenge alumni, Infraspeak, was recently accepted into one of the best startup programs in the world, 500 Startups. And if going to San Francisco wasn’t enough… they’ve also secured an investment from Caixa Capital.

Following the footsteps of Portuguese startup Talkdesk, and after meeting 500 Startups partner, Marvin Liao, at the Lisbon Investment Summit, Infraspeak is now the second startup born in Portugal to join 500 Startups.

After joining Lisbon Challenge during this last edition, this promising startup has also landed an investment of 113.000 euros from our partners, Caixa Capital.

Infraspeak has developed a facility management software that helps companies with large infrastructures, such as hospitals, banks, hotels or markets, and we bet this is just the beginning for this promising Portuguese startup, born in Porto.


Sumon Sadhu: “The Portuguese are really good problem solvers”

Sumon Sadhu: “The Portuguese are really good problem solvers”

The Lisbon Investment Summit 2016 is getting closer and to tell you the truth, with so much that’s going on, so many awesome speakers who are coming to Lisbon, I can’t really tell who from our team invited Sumon Sadhu, top investor and founder of, to speak at #LIS16. I just remember sitting in the office the other day while Isabel Salgueiro and Inès Dartiguenave from Beta-i were telling me that I had to interview him because he had a very interesting investment philosophy as he only believed in working on things that will make a deep and meaningful impact on the world – often going against permission.

That short description was more than enough to get me excited about this interview. So, I took this suggestion and had a 40 min chat with Sumon where I pretty much just listened and felt like Jon Snow (I really knew nothing about artificial intelligence, big data or how to extend humanity’s lifespan). Sumon really has an exciting story full of minor funny details that make you wonder if anything in life is often due to chance.

The man who moved from a promising career in science in the UK to be an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, because Paul Graham from Y Combinator misunderstood his business idea, has really a lot to tell. But, I’ll let him explain it through his own words in the interview below.

Why did you become an entrepreneur?

Because it was the only thing that allowed me to express my ambition. So, I was originally a scientist, and one of the things when you have an ambition and you’re a scientist trained in biochemistry, you normally want to publish a paper or cure a disease. And that’s a very noble goal, but the reality of being a scientist is that even though you have big ideas and big aspirations, which keeps attracting people to science, is that the end result doesn’t come with the same freedom as if you’re an entrepreneur. If you’re an entrepreneur you can imagine something that you want to do or something that you want to change, and there is no one but yourself to stop you from really doing it. So, being an entrepreneur comes down to taking things that you imagine and bring them to the world, without asking for permission.

How was it like having your first startup, Snaptalent, and going through Y Combinator?

At Snaptalent we were essentially students at Imperial College London and we observed the way that the world worked had sort of changed in terms of behaviour of young people online. And when Snaptalent came about, Paul Graham from Y Combinator reached out over the summer and the email he sent me essentially changed my life because it created a new opportunity. The idea we applied to Y Combinator with was very different from the idea that we did Y Combinator with. So Snaptalent was prompted by a conversation we had in East London. Paul Graham likes to reason about ideas and he misinterpreted something that we were saying. He ended up saying: “What if you guys built the adsense for jobs?”. So, we then explored that and built a prototype and brought that idea to market. Moving from the UK to having a fully funded company in Silicon Valley gave us the permission to do something – Paul Graham kind of gave us the permission and legitimacy to believe in yourselves and go after this. I dropped out of my Phd and we built Snaptalent through the duration of Y Combinator and started advertising. We made 30k during this period and we ended up raising 1.5 million dollars after YC. But it was a remarkable transition of us not believing in our ability in Europe and then being told like ‘you guys should do this and I give you permission’. For me this is the interesting relationship of permission with being able do something.  

You ended up shutting down Snaptalent. What were the main lessons learned?

Well, first, it’s really important for you to understand your co-founders in crisis, as well as in success, because people’s response in crisis is often different from their response in success. So, that’s the first thing. For us as a team when the chips were really hard we wanted to go in different directions. Another lesson is around market timing. Some things cannot be changed and market timing is one of those things. You can’t build a product that it’s too ahead of its market. There’s just too much friction to bringing something like that to existence. For example, building Snaptalent in 2016 would be very different to building it in 2008. In 2016 most of the impressions on the web can be purchased on an auction basis, there’s also increasing amounts of data about users. And so the funny story with Snaptalent is that in 2013 I became an advisor to a company called Worked For, which is now the top recruitment solution based out of France, and they were literally saying ‘we learned about what you did with Snaptalent and we want to bring this back into the market’. So, market timing is absolutely critical and it’s just one of those things you cannot change as an entrepreneur.

What about Quid? How did you end up joining them?

It was right after Snaptalent. I had actually been advising the guys from Quid because we were friends from Oxford University. That’s the big thing about my career, it has been very held to relationships. Bob Gudson, the founder of Quid, was actually the first person from the student entrepreneurship societies we created in the UK, to move to the Valley. He was head hunted by Max Levchin, the founder of Paypal, to join his incubator, which had companies like Yelp or Slide. I had known Bob for while, we were friends and we would help each other out with our ventures, so when we had to shut down Snaptalent I asked Bob if I could help out with Quid. I also needed to get a new Visa because in the US your Visa is tied to your company, so if your company runs out of business you have to go back to your country. So, at the time, the important thing for me was to stick around in the US and for that I needed to join another company. I told this to Bob, ‘listen, can you hold onto my registration and I’ll help you with what you’re working on?’. But obviously I also had something pretty significant for me to contribute in the development of Quid because of what I knew in terms of my background in science. Back at Imperial I was studying the evolution of the malaria parasites and the way you do that is you look at data for each of the different stages of the malaria parasite infection and the key part of looking at this data was looking at networks of information. So, with Quid I understood how to analyse networks from my scientific background and I also knew about how to analyse venture. And as it turns out Quid was trying to put those things together. I was in a unique position to help in tuning algorithms and figure out how users could use these insights and bring it to market.

What essentially is Quid? How does it analyse all those amounts of data?

So, the human brain is really good at understanding connections. For example, if we were to map the startups in Lisbon some of them would be fashion startups, others would be softwares for developers or computer vision companies, and so the way the brain works is it groups information together in clusters and then is able to visualise the arrangement between them. So, if I gave you a thousand pages printed out about the Lisbon companies you would manually read each one of them and you would then group together those who were very similar into piles and you would end up with sort of maps. And Quid just automates that. Quid reads information and then groups it into a map, that allows you to understand the connections between that information. If you want to read all the news about the Portuguese economy and you have a 2 day deadline for a talk you’re doing, you could have Quid do that for you and then present back the mapping of all that information for you. Quid automates the reading and the summarisation around any topic, and that automates the way humans do research.

Right now you’re starting a new company based in Lisbon and San Francisco. Can you tell us more about

Yeah, sure. The company is called and it focusses on the problem of video. There is an increasing amount of video content on the internet and artificial intelligence can help you understand the content inside a video, like you can understand speech, vision, objects, motion, sound. So, artificial intelligence has reached the point where we can comprehend video to a similar level of comprehension of the human brain. At Muse, we’re building new ways of discovering video content by leveraging artificial intelligence. At the moment we’re focussing how to to analyse video and then later we’ll also see how to create new experiences around that. In the future you’ll be sitting in front of your TV watching a football game and you’ll say ‘show me all the goals by Messi’ and the TV will just take you straight to those highlights, through voice powered video search. And there’s always opportunities to create around how people can interact with video content.

Why build a startup in Lisbon?

My co-founder, António Roldão, is a friend of mine from Imperial College and he’s Portuguese. So, we decided to build an AI Lab in Lisbon because Lisbon has two main advantages. The first one is that the Portuguese are really good problem solvers, they are very pragmatic, and they’re open to exploration. And I think that another characteristic of the Portuguese is that they’re very honest and when you solve very hard engineering problems you need to be honest. The second advantage is that we noticed that there’s a real hunger to do something big, mainly because there’s been hard economic times but in general there’s a real optimism in doing something great. And I guess it’s also a matter of location. It’s the combination of weather, and food, and people.

And as an investor, in which industries are you particularly interested in?

I invest in a very mission oriented fashion. I’m genuinely interested 4 main types of advancement for humanity as a whole. We live in a really complex world so, can we build tools that augment our intelligence? The intersection of artificial intelligence, big data, as well as systems to sort of visualise information and be close to the human brain, like extend its capabilities, are absolutely fascinating. So, that’s the first focus. The second focus is on life extension. You know, I’m a biochemist so I have a fascination for how our bodies work and how that impacts our well-being. There are many ways in which we can build systems to extend our lifespan or sort of improve our well-being, and if we can do that we can spend more time on this planet doing better things. I’m really interested in novel mechanisms to prevent disease and ways in which we can change environmental stimulus to prevent disease in the first place. For example, what you eat has an impact on your overall lifespan and so that’s the reason for my investment in Zesty, which has gone to raise 17 million dollars. They changed what people eat at work, which is a place where people spend a lot of time. So, when you do that at scale it’s actually impacting the nutrition habits of people and that has a direct impact in their lifespan. But there are also ways of doing that indirectly. For example, I’m an investor in a company called Benchling, backed by Andreessen and Horowitz. Benchling is an extraordinary company that everyone should know about. It makes life science more efficient and it’s being used by some of the world’s top scientists as well as pharmaceutical companies. Like, there’s a great technology called Crispa, and it’s a gene editing technology so, it’s like if you wanted to turn the genes of a bird and convert it into a dinosaur. And this allows us to manipulate the genome, it can be used for a lot of negative things but also for quite positive therapeutical effects. This gene editing technology requires a lot of skill to come up with the right ways of manipulating the genome and so Benchling software helps scientists design experiments with this Crispa technology in a really efficient way. And that is really transforming the way some companies do genetic engineering as well as manage their life science experiments. I mean if you can accelerate science you can then lead to the creation of new technologies that extend the human lifespan, because it has an extraordinary net effect.

The third main theme is companies that are able to improve or accelerate digital economies. A couple of examples in that area is my investment in ClearTax, which is optimising tax return in India. Like something really great happens when you digitise the transactions that are going through an economy, it becomes more efficient. Most recently I got involved with a company called Bonsai, from Y Combinator, and Bonsai created a software to allow anyone to work anywhere in the world. So, if you’re an american company and you want to hire a Portuguese freelancer and you don’t have a Portuguese entity, you can hire them. You can hire freelancers from any part of the world. So, in the same way Transferwise makes currency conversion easier between countries, they do the same thing for labour. I’m really just interested in things that can change economies, because if you transform an economy you can create jobs and efficiencies that didn’t exist before, and as a consequence that has a net impact for humanity.

The fourth big theme is that I love companies that are building national empires. An example of a national empire is like Alibaba, a giant company that made the Chinese economy more efficient, attract the best talent in China, and then was able to create such a powerful company that they were able to go global. These national empires are companies who have grown so big within their original market that when they go global they just scare others, because they’re so big. So my goal has always been to invest in the next Alibaba. My investments in Mobius Motors in Africa, in Clear Tax in India and Chaldal in Bangladesh, are for this reason, because these companies have a chance of building a monopoly. They’re just extraordinary companies at scale.

What are your main contributions as an early stage investor? What can entrepreneurs expect from you?

Well, I actually have a methodology. I work with entrepreneurs who are in phase 0, which is typically the first 1000 decisions that a company has to make. So, within these first 1000 thousand decisions are some of the most valuable contributions you can make. The first thing is choosing an idea and making sure market timing is correct, to get the entrepreneur straight on. They also need to be the right type of entrepreneur in terms of psychological profile. They have to be irrationally ambitious and want to pursue something with deep intensity, they have to be very talented, and feel like they could walk through walls. They need to focus and be precise when they chase the opportunity,a and that’s the first thing I help with. The second thing is getting that narrative straight to help them fundraise, and typically I would join those rounds but they need to convince other investors that they’re capable of pursuing the mission they’ve articulated. And the third thing I provide value with, is that being an ambitious entrepreneur is actually a psychological game, you have to keep your head straight. You need to have courage but also be encouraged. For example, I’m a very ambitious person so I like to surround myself with ambitious people so, naturally there’s an affinity between these ambitious people, the excitement and they’re sort of motivated in high times and low times. They can always call me for that psychological council. I have all my entrepreneurs on whatsapp. If they ever need anything like an email introduction, or advice on strategy I’ll always there to help and they we all go back to work. And then the fourth thing is that I’m really good at strategy and sort of understanding how a market may unfold, like what’s the chess game you have to play to get to the end goal. My main goal in general is to help entrepreneurs understand if they’re heading in the right direction and if they’re not feeling good about their work I try to help see how I can make them feel better. And because I’m an entrepreneur myself I can be very tactical but also pragmatic. For example, looking at product and understanding if the flow is intuitive or not, or editing a pitch-deck and telling them how the narrative should be better. And once you make these things right then the entrepreneur takes over and is ready to go out. So, it’s making things that are imperfect perfect.              


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

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

‘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.