10 November 2017 Courier Weekly

The making of a modern investor. (Courier Weekly from Web Summit.)

PLUS: Voice platforms – Ones to watch – Tech giants – Eating in Lisbon

What it takes to be a startup investor today.

There were a lot of investors in Lisbon. There always are, but there were loads this week for the Web Summit tech conference.

The numbers reflected the sheer volume of money that’s been pouring into startup investment over the last couple of years.

New incubators, accelerators and angels, as well as many more seed, growth and venture funds, have been formed. Money is increasingly coming from a variety of sources; at Web Summit corporate funds, ‘funds of funds’, and a lot more public institutions than ever before were looking at investing chunks of their capital in the startup sector.

Having more investors has intensified competition, meaning landing deals with the very small number of exceptional businesses has become tougher.

As a result, there was a lot of debate on the attributes and skills the modern startup fund manager needs.

Jason Andris of Venture Investment Associates said: ‘You have to work on the basis you are one of many very smart people operating with pretty much the same data, so what do you have?’

Others said fund managers need to spot, coach and support founders as a bare minimum. But increasingly funds want to hire people who have ‘communities and infrastructure’ to tap into and identify exciting companies before others.

Part of the challenge at many funds is how the senior partners are mentoring and empowering a younger generation of fund managers to engage startup founders.

Voice is the talk of the summit.

Amazon’s CTO, Werner Vogels, was at the conference, talking about voice technology displacing how smartphone apps are used today.

‘It’s important to integrate human interfaces in our digital systems – that interface is voice,’ he said, adding that voice was set to become ‘the new standard’.

Amazon launched its Alexa voice service in the UK in September 2016.

Vogels also forecasted that by 2020 over 200 billion voice searches would be made each month.

Several startups are getting in on the act too. Snips – also attending this year’s Web Summit – is creating a platform which helps developers and hobbyists create their own voice assistants.

We’ll be analysing voice as a platform in our next print issue, out later this month.

Stand-out startups from Web Summit.

Several companies stood out among those that were in Lisbon for this year’s Web Summit.

  1. Unbabel. A platform that allows sales and customer service teams to translate their communications into any language. The company also has a non-profit arm – Unbabel.org – that offers translation services for charities.
  2. Mapwize. This software creates ‘indoor maps’ for shopping centres, offices and, of course, events like Web Summit. It raised £1m in September to build out its team.
  3. Hostmaker. Hostmaker is piggybacking on Airbnb by helping the platform’s users decorate, promote and host guests in their properties. The London-based concierge company announced an £11m raise earlier this week. It’s raised over £20m in funding to date.

Pressure on the tech giants.

The EU is the closest thing there currently is to a moderator of the four big US tech giants’ ambitions.

At Web Summit, Margrethe Vestager, the European commissioner for competition, made the case that their dominance was stifling innovation rather than facilitating it.

She said: ‘What if the thing that was holding back innovation wasn’t our own determination, but the actions of powerful companies? Well, then we would certainly need competition rules. Because competition makes innovation work.’

Although not at Web Summit, L2 professor Scott Galloway focused on the need to regulate Facebook this week, saying the company has been ‘weaponised’ by Russian intelligence. He made a powerful case against the company, asking why it has ‘embraced the celebrity, influence, and margins of a media firm, but not the responsibilities’.

Nuno Mendes on eating and drinking in Lisbon. 

The restaurateur behind the Chiltern Firehouse and Taberna do Mercado has given his top eating and drinking tips to the FT Weekend(paywall).

He says a day in Lisbon should start with a customary pastel de nata – the national custard tart – and be followed by lunch at Ze da Mouraria, which serves up steaks and traditional salt-cod stews.

At night, spots such as Tasca da Esquina and Insolito are best for small Portuguese plates and a cold beer.