LØRN Case #C1070
EdTech for future learning
In this episode of #LØRN, Silvija meets Alex Spiro Latsis, the managing partner of Brighteye Ventures. Brighteye Ventures is the leading EdTech fund in Europe, and its goal is to find and invest in technology companies that help people learn. In the conversation, Alex describes Brighteye Ventures’ ambitions for the future of Edtech, explains what is so special about the Nordic Edtech community, and reveals why Brighteye Venture chooses to invest in European entrepreneurs and startups. This episode is a Warm-Up for OiW, and Alex is a speaker on the track Startup and Entrepreneurial

Alex Spiro Latsis

Founder and partner

Brighteye VC

"Tech is business now, and its room for everyone"

Dette er LØRN Cases

En LØRN CASE er en kort og praktisk, lett og morsom, innovasjonshistorie. Den er fortalt på 30 minutter, er samtalebasert, og virker like bra som podkast, video eller tekst. Lytt og lær der det passer deg best! Vi dekker 15 tematiske områder om teknologi, innovasjon og ledelse, og 10 perspektiver som gründer, forsker etc. På denne siden kan du lytte, se eller lese gratis, men vi anbefaler deg å registrere deg, slik at vi kan lage personaliserte læringsstier for nettopp deg. 

Vi vil gjerne hjelpe deg komme i gang og fortsette å drive med livslang læring.

En LØRN CASE er en kort og praktisk, lett og morsom, innovasjonshistorie. Den er fortalt på 30 minutter, er samtalebasert, og virker like bra som podkast, video eller tekst. Lytt og lær der det passer deg best! Vi dekker 15 tematiske områder om teknologi, innovasjon og ledelse, og 10 perspektiver som gründer, forsker etc. På denne siden kan du lytte, se eller lese gratis, men vi anbefaler deg å registrere deg, slik at vi kan lage personaliserte læringsstier for nettopp deg. Vi vil gjerne hjelpe deg komme i gang og fortsette å drive med livslang læring.

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Who are you, and how did you become interested in innovation and technology?

I’m Greek and British but grew up in Switzerland. I’m a serial entrepreneur by background. Started my first company at 26 yrs old, in the publishing and media space. I took it to profitability and then launched a content licensing company, which sold TV and film rights to Disney, Dreamworks, Netflix, Sony, and others. I Co-developed one of the first 5 Netflix Children’s originals, which went on to win multiple awards including multiple Daytime Emmys and BAFTAs. I then moved into software as the kid’s media space began its transformation and developed learning games for android and IOS, with a focus on early numeracy, literacy, and STEM. During my executive MBA, I noticed the gap in the funding market for early-stage Edtech in Europe and teamed up with partner Ben Wirz, who had been running an edtech and media fund out of the Knight Foundation to found Brighteye in 2017.

What is the most important thing you do at work?

Evaluating early-stage companies, advising on boards.

What do you focus on in technology/ innovation?

EdTech.

Why is this important?

50% of the world is learning online, yet just 5% of spend is online. We are at a turning point similar to Mary Meeker’s media gap, which gave rise to success stories like Google and Facebook.

Why is it exciting?

There have never been so many exciting and innovative companies in the space.

What do you think are the most interesting controversies?

Because of covid, much of k12 learning is happening online, producing a boom in this sub-sector of edtech. What happens next, as kids go back to in-person schooling?

Your relevant projects in the last year?

Funding more than 10 companies. Kahoot is a great example of how Scandinavian companies have excelled in producing engaging products at the intersection of learning and play.

Do you have a favorite quote?

“The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.” Aristotles

Who are you, and how did you become interested in innovation and technology?

I’m Greek and British but grew up in Switzerland. I’m a serial entrepreneur by background. Started my first company at 26 yrs old, in the publishing and media space. I took it to profitability and then launched a content licensing company, which sold TV and film rights to Disney, Dreamworks, Netflix, Sony, and others. I Co-developed one of the first 5 Netflix Children’s originals, which went on to win multiple awards including multiple Daytime Emmys and BAFTAs. I then moved into software as the kid’s media space began its transformation and developed learning games for android and IOS, with a focus on early numeracy, literacy, and STEM. During my executive MBA, I noticed the gap in the funding market for early-stage Edtech in Europe and teamed up with partner Ben Wirz, who had been running an edtech and media fund out of the Knight Foundation to found Brighteye in 2017.

What is the most important thing you do at work?

Evaluating early-stage companies, advising on boards.

What do you focus on in technology/ innovation?

EdTech.

Why is this important?

50% of the world is learning online, yet just 5% of spend is online. We are at a turning point similar to Mary Meeker’s media gap, which gave rise to success stories like Google and Facebook.

Why is it exciting?

There have never been so many exciting and innovative companies in the space.

What do you think are the most interesting controversies?

Because of covid, much of k12 learning is happening online, producing a boom in this sub-sector of edtech. What happens next, as kids go back to in-person schooling?

Your relevant projects in the last year?

Funding more than 10 companies. Kahoot is a great example of how Scandinavian companies have excelled in producing engaging products at the intersection of learning and play.

Do you have a favorite quote?

“The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.” Aristotles

Vis mer
Tema: Digital strategi og nye forretningsmodeller
Organisasjon: Brighteye VC
Perspektiv: Gründerskap
Dato: 210909
Sted: OSLO
Vert: SS

Dette er hva du vil lære:


Founding in EdTechDirect consumer education
The Nordic EdTech community
Innovation in the Nordic

Litteratur:

Secrets of Sand Hill road, The Waning of the Middle ages, Guns Germs and Steel.

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Video for Case #C1070

Tekst for Case #C1070

Velkommen til Lørn.Tech - en læringsdugnad om teknologi og samfunn. Med Silvija Seres og venner.

 

Silvija Seres: Hello and welcome to Lørn Tech,  Oslo Innovation Week. My name is Silvija Seres and I'm speaking today with Alex Spiro Latsis, who's the managing partner at Brighteye Ventures. Welcome Alex.

 

Alex Spiro Latsis: Thank you very much for having me.

 

Silvija: Alex. You have a Greek name. And my question is this: is Spiro a middle name you use or not?

 

Alex: No, it is. In Greece, the tradition is to take the name of your father as your middle name. So if you are the second born son, you have a novel name and then you have your father's name and then your surname. If you're the firstborn son, you have your grandfather's name and your father's name and then your surname. So if you're the firstborn son, you're going to have the same name as all of your ancestors who are the firstborn son. It's a very strange tradition, but I'm the second son. So I get to have my own name, which is Alex. 

 

Silvija: But your older brother, is that Spiro? 

 

Alex: No, he's called John. So he's called John. His son is called Spiro. John. So it goes back and forth. Back and forth. So I'm Greek. I'm Greek and English by background. But I grew up in Switzerland so I'm quite mixed up.

 

Silvija: Yeah. I'm a born Hungarian and grew up in Yugoslavia. That doesn't exist anymore. And I have been a nomad in Norway and England and France and Saudi Arabia and China and the US. And then at some point, Alex, I decided that my kids should grow up in Norway because I believe this is probably the best place in the world if you want to combine an interesting job and an interesting or a whole private life, at least for women. So it'll be really interesting to hear your perspective on Norway. Let me just say a couple of words about the series that we are putting this conversation into. So Lørn is creating five conversations digitally as a warmup and the teaser for the Oslo Innovation Week, and there will be one for each of the five main tracks at the conference. And this conversation is a part of the startup and entrepreneurial ventures track where you will be speaking. And now it is time for me to ask you if you could please introduce yourself and also tell us what are the most important things that you'll be speaking about at the Oslo Innovation Week?

 

Alex: So I'm Alex, I'm managing partner of Brightside Ventures, which is the leading EdTech Fund in Europe. We have around 120 million USD in assets under management. To date, we're on our second fund. We invest at seed in Series A stages, and we really look at any technology that helps people. So we have a number of companies in the corporate education space. We have a number of companies in blue collar skills training. We have companies that address K12 and post-secondary. So we run the whole gamut of learning applications and, and we invest across Europe. So, one of the things that excites us about also Innovation Week is, for a country that has a comparatively small tech ecosystem, it's produced, obviously, one of the leaders in Europe in the space and very curious about the the ability in Scandinavian countries for for founders to sort of leverage the best parts of interactivity and play in order to make experiences engaging, whether that's in the learning application or whether it's in another. So that's one of the things I would hope to address.

 

Silvija: So, Alex, I want to take just one step back. So in Norway, like the rest of the world, we look up to Silicon Valley and their optimism, technical talent, endless money and the paid forward way of working with each other. How is the European setup? Where is the European setup better? I think we need to kind of understand a little bit about our bigger home (Europe) before resuming in Norway. What do you like about European ventures?

 

Alex: Well, it's a good question. When I first thought of biotech ventures, I was actually working out of Manhattan. So I was based in the US and I had a career as an entrepreneur before starting the venture fund. A serial entrepreneur. And essentially in the US I saw the sort of growth of the tech scene and, and all of the capital that was available, the smart capital that was available to entrepreneurs on the ground. And there was no such capital available in Europe. And yet having a background in, amongst other things in, traditional media but also in traditional media for K 12 demographics, but also in new media developing mobile games for kids and teens. I knew many of the people who are starting to address these sort of gaps in the market in Europe. But the big American funds were just not comfortable to back these entrepreneurs because Europe was seen as quite a fragmented market. And the attitude back then was the Europeans will figure out the European market and the United States is a large enough market for us to just focus on the opportunities here for now, which is a perfectly sensible approach to take. But that obviously allowed us to step into the gap, the sort of funding gap in Europe back in 2017 with my partner Ben Wirtz, who had been running an EdTech fund for the previous six or seven years, focused on that tech media.

 

Alex: So he had been investing in this space before we started Brighteye. And so when we set up the first fund, which is a €50 million fund, we were the largest. We were the first. But also, we saw this massive opportunity in Europe, which I think was diminishing in terms of importance in the US, which was that there was all this talent in Europe, entrepreneurial talent, engineering, talent, marketing, talent, design talent and all these companies that were starting up that had the potential to build scalable products that could be applied to challenges throughout the world. But they weren't getting past the early stages of development because there was no capital to support them. And so what we've seen since then, which is what we anticipated, but we're glad is the case is roughly a 10 X increase in VC funding in EdTech from 2014 to 2021. So a huge explosion in funding. And what prior to 2017 was mainly generalist funds making bets. And the sort of learning technology space is now more than three funds that are specialised in Europe.

 

Alex: Focus on the space generalist funds, investing increasingly at the latest stages, taking companies to very significant valuations. And this kind of proves the thesis that European entrepreneurs were being undervalued. Right. And there is a degree of valuation arbitrage that is possible and is still possible investing in European entrepreneurs, European startups that have the potential to scale globally. And that's really not our personal debt, but it is an interesting attribute of this notion of investing in European entrepreneurship. And I'll say one last thing, which is that I think the idea of Europe's fragmentation is mainly based on linguistic and cultural heterogeneity. It's those things are not always applicable to technology applications or to technology tools. There are, for example, interesting plays in infrastructure, in technological infrastructure that bypass those barriers. But equally, the vast majority of people and vast majority of educational institutions in Europe function in very similar ways. So there are actually lots of parallels. And so I think this perceived complexity of the fragmentation of Europe is something that gave us the opportunity to kind of be there and to try to unwind it ourselves. And maybe we didn't have the fear because we're European to do that. I don't know if that makes sense.

 

Silvija: It makes sense. I think you have identified whether it's a market failure or a valuation arbitrage opportunity, but my impression is that the pricing that technical talent gets in Europe is growing at least much slower than it is in America. Things are just too expensive in the US, especially in the hot spots of entrepreneurship and innovation and so on. And so it's easier to get talent. And I think we also have both our welfare state and our work life politics that I think to some extent take the risk or make the risk somewhat smaller in being an entrepreneur. The problem we have in Norway perhaps, is that the alternatives to entrepreneurship are simply too comfortable, too attractive, too well-paid and even for investors, the alternatives to investing in genuinely new socially disruptive technologies, which is what we really should be looking at. It's so much easier to invest in property or in something related to energy or shipping in a company in a country that really has that as the main inheritance. So I just want to play with you a little bit around the whole edtech space because until very recently it was a space that at least I perceived as service toys. There would be colorful ways of going through a book or creating something new. And then something really interesting started happening, maybe five years ago, where people first realized that gaming is serious fun and that corporations and grownups need edtech technology as much as kids do. How does this transform the investment space that you are looking at?

 

Alex: Yeah, that's a great question. So if we're talking about the opportunity set in EdTech and where it is today, one of the downsides of the European framework is that sort of the institutional side of K-12 education is relatively difficult to penetrate...

 

Silvija: K-12?

 

Alex: For our story K-12 being kindergarten through to year 12. So preschool to primary school, and then secondary school and so on. But having said that, there are still opportunities Europe wide. But we think that is approximately 25% of the opportunity set, if you look at opportunities for very large companies to be built in Europe around education, technology. And this is because of institutional barriers to entry for the company's long sales cycles, which make it very difficult to build venture scale businesses within the right time frames. It’s possible but difficult and that's not the case for the US, for example. And you'll see that in the case of cohorts. Johan says this often when he says they always knew that they would have to go to America quite early on to get significant scale. And they knew that that would be their primary market and then they could come and address other markets afterwards. And that was because in the US the distribution can be done in a much more bottom up fashion. And then school districts or superintendents can then adopt technology after the base has already adopted it. And that's something that could be experienced by another company we invested in, which is actually a US company back at the beginning of the fund, which is called Epic, that was recently acquired by Byju's for half a billion dollars. So that company had a very similar approach of sort of bottom up adoption and then top down once there was adherence from the populations of the schools.

 

Alex: So that's something that can happen in the States but is a bit harder to achieve in Europe, but it can happen in Europe as well. But that's about 25%. The far larger opportunity set, in our opinion, Pricey Ventures is the sort of the remaining 75%, which is consumer and corporate. So about 25% corporate and then 50% consumer. There are loads of opportunities in direct to consumer education because in spite of the quality of educational institutions in Europe, in spite of the considerable funding that nations invest into developing those infrastructure, there are still huge gaps between the skills that are required in the workplace and the skills that traditional institutions are developing. And so in Europe last year, for instance, around 750,000 jobs were not filled because of a lack of adequate skills in the ICT sector. And so that skills gap is actually something that addresses not just higher education or post-secondary education but also lifelong learning. It's a question of reskilling people who may have been in a job for 10 or 15 years and all they require is a very small pivot to to actually be relevant for the ICT sector. It's changing someone from being head of marketing in a traditional business to a head of digital marketing and an ICT business. So, those opportunities are far greater and the lag between where the educational institutions are and where the market demand is for a qualified professionals is so great that the only way to to cover the the deficits and supply is through potentially high growth technology companies that are trying to speed up the sort of transition of the workforce from not having relevant skills to having relevant skills. Does that make sense?

 

Silvija: Not only does it make sense, but I just think you did the pitch for a Lørn for me. But what I don't understand are the numbers here because you're saying something like 25% currently corporate and 50% B2C and then the rest children if I understood correctly? So 25% is traditional institutions just to be clear.

 

Alex: Yeah it would be K-12. So that would be from three until 18 years of age and then post secondary. So that would be 25% of the opportunity set. So I'm not talking about where the spend is. The spend is overwhelmingly, obviously in the first sort of 21 years of one's educational life. But in terms of the opportunity set of where we're looking to invest, of where we think the biggest companies will be built, that's what we perceive the opportunity set to be. Now, there are other funds and there are other folks who are very smart who will look at it in a completely different way. But that's our perspective.

 

Silvija: So this is where I wanted to challenge or ask because I think that the corporate sector will be wanting to educate people not only to pivot them to ICT, but basically every job, including every last foot soldier, not just the head of digital marketing and marketing, but from the receptionist to the person in the canteen to the person behind every screen, will have the jobs changed, but also will need to understand the new direction of the company. So I sit on a number of boards and what I notice is that the board and perhaps the top layer of leadership has this idea of our future disruptive strategy, but the company doesn't. And so you need to educate them in order to give them a sense of direction and a sense of relevance. And what I'm missing at the moment in most corporations and I guess this is something that you need to help business develop with your invested companies is creating a really transparent total cost of ownership for employees budget because people are so incredibly sceptical of investing in people's education. So I keep thinking of that old adage or joke where the CFO tells the CEO, what do we do? What happens if we invest in all of these people and they leave us and the CEO turns back and says, Well, what if we don't? And they stay? And until now we've been trying to push people out and put in new heads. But it's really a terribly short term strategy.

 

Alex: It is a short term strategy. And in many countries in Europe, it's a very expensive strategy because it's very hard to let people go in organisations and there are very high costs to letting people go and acquiring new talent. So in many respects the most cost effective thing is to actually retrain your workforce or at least to pivot your workforces capabilities in order that they remain more relevant to your needs today. So I would agree with the sentiment of what you said, which is that sort of keeping human capital, you know, there's a limit. There's a limit to which you can do the same old thing, and you can extend past practices just because of inertia. And that will lead to the eventual demise of a corporation if they don't address the sort of very deep structural changes that are happening in the economy. But I think it's a mistake to think that human beings can't adapt, that only engineers can be involved in ICT, that only people who've studied computer science can found tech companies. The number of people who come from architecture backgrounds or graphic design backgrounds or marketing backgrounds or content backgrounds, who've started successful tech companies.

 

Alex: And in some cases, they have nothing to do with their education or their training. Tech is business now. They're interchangeable. So there's room for everyone. But I agree with you that the culture of technology companies, things like understanding agile software development or the principles of Agile software development and trying to understand some basic things about how to be productive in this sector, how to get the word out there about your businesses. Those are things that can be applied to so many different businesses, not just in the ICT sector. So I think the much larger job is that of tech literacy. That's the big job. It’s tech literacy and kind of understanding where the world is going. And that's the biggest challenge. And actually, I think if we address even part of that, we'll be in a much better place.

 

Silvija: So that's just the very short answer to that. And then I have two questions for you. I think that addressing tech literacy starts with making people unafraid of it and AI and hardware and gadgets and, if you think about it, people are not afraid of their mobile phones and they're not afraid of their cars. And what I'm really dreaming of is creating a set of driver's licenses, you know, which really teach you these things how to use your tool efficiently, how to use it responsibly and how to test drive it a little bit for things like AI or VR or drones, and then figuring out or networks or Iot and figuring out how those tools can help you solve your problems in new ways. And the existing or the traditional educational organizations don't want to view it that way because they feel that they are kind of being challenged on what good education is or should be. And so it's going to be a really interesting shakeout, I believe.

 

Alex: It will. 

 

Silvija: So you said something very interesting in our warm up to this conversation, and it was that you are fascinated by the Nordics ability to make playing profitable. And we mentioned companies like, you know, King and Epic and Rovio and Supercell, many of them finished. Then you have Spotify, for example, which is a really kind of gamified music media platform. And then you have the Kahoots and Dragon boxes and CapEx that you invested in in Norway. So I'd like you to just say what you think is really good about the Nordics and how we can perhaps be better at doing even more of that.

 

Alex: Yeah, I love the Nordics and, as you know, I'm Greek by background. So, you know, my country is very beautiful, especially in the summer. And I actually took two weeks of my summer holiday before the COVID crisis to go to Denmark and Sweden for my summer holidays, with my wife and my son at the time. And now we have another son. And, I love the Scandinavian countries because I think that there's a real respect for design and for playfulness. And I think that that's something that's maybe cultural. I don't pretend to understand why, it may have something to do with the long winters and being indoors and having to find ways to entertain ourselves, who knows? But if you are talking about furniture design and or lighting design on a Jacobsen where you have this incredible understanding of light, form and function, or you're talking about the incredible game designs of a company like Supercell, or you're talking about Lego. And this idea of having a brick that allows you to design and to build anything that you want. And that has spawned generations of architects, I'm sure, and engineers who've gone on to invent and develop beautiful and amazing things, or kahoot that makes learning, engaging in a classroom. In every single case, there's this sort of idea, that playfulness, being in a sandbox, having the ability to make mistakes and to learn from your mistakes is a great way to engage with entertainment.

 

Alex: It's a great way to engage with learning. And I think that's something that time, and time again has been proven in the Nordics. And all of these startups that have been founded in the Nordics have had this very profound interest and also understanding of the importance of play. And I think that it's akin to this sort of idea of move fast and create things or fail often, fail quickly, where you can explore ideas. You can explore skill sets in a safe space. And that actually opens your mind to lots of different associations that you may not make otherwise. And that's really what leads to innovation. And I think that's something that happens naturally in the entrepreneurship sort of space in the Nordics. And I can't, as I said, I can't quite put my finger on why, but it's been proven multiple times. And so that's what fascinates me about the Nordics. And so I think it's this combination of things that means that very often some of the most innovative companies that combine learning and play do come from the Nordics, and obviously my background in first children's media and then mobile gaming aligns very closely with the sort of the character of the Nordic edtech scene.

 

Silvija: Yeah, I will shoot in a little bit. So I have four children aged 8, 10, 12 and 14 and I was a bit worried when they were about to start in a Norwegian school. I thought they'll be all play and no homework or discipline. But I am very impressed. And I think that a part of the answer to your question is that the education system in the Nordics, imperfect as it may be in terms of how much theory it teaches children or discipline, perhaps it teaches them a lot of social responsibility and self motivation. And that kind of a growth mindset that people pay huge amounts of money to send their children to, I think is a core. Part of the way that they educate the kids here. The kids believe that they can do anything. They believe that the world is their oyster, but also that they're responsible for it. And I think that dynamics where you learn to motivate yourself fits really well with the whole idea of gamification and personalization and reward systems. And maybe there is a good understanding of the drivers that create good services driven by gamification.

 

Alex: Yeah. I think that's right.

 

Silvija: But the one thing that we are not so good at is monetization. So is there anything there that you could give us as advice to all the different ERs that might be listening to you? From my experience from building companies here is that we create great stuff. And in Norway, we are exceptionally good at industrial tech. Everything works. But we are not really positioning it as world leading until we've checked absolutely every possible bug which of course is never.

 

Alex: Monetization is a very tricky subject. I mean I think at Variety where we're quite conservative actually compared to other funds. For instance, if a company has very interesting user growth metrics and retention, but no strategy for monetization, that's a problem for us. It's a flag and it's something we need to address and ask the company how they seek to address it. And so it's definitely a challenge. And I would encourage every entrepreneur to think about it from day one, because it's very difficult to optimize a product or service for a free audience and then to try to understand where willingness to pay comes from. Once you reach, you know, 50 million users or 100 million users. And very often the answer when you haven't really thought it out at the beginning is some form of advertising or some. Which is akin to the way that all entertainment has been monetized for the last 100, possibly even 100 years. And so that business model is not new. And I know some very large companies have been built on that, specifically as to why are companies in the Nordics not historically good at monetization in that respect.. I don't know if I would totally agree because I think models in the gaming industry have very much been written by companies in the Nordics, and that's an industry that's very successfully monetized entertainment without just making recourse to advertising models for revenue.

 

Alex: But that's not the majority of what we're looking at in EDTECH. It's a very small subsection of the sort of opportunities I think the vast majority of them are trying to find where they're successful, they're trying to find pain points and they're trying to monetize essentially a pain point. So access to very proprietary knowledge is a great lever for monetization or expertise, trying to make process more efficient and trying to reduce red tape or bureaucratic sort of barriers to processes. Those things can yield significant willingness to pay. Those are just a few examples. But I think when you're talking about something as broad as tech. The ways to monetize an edtech company are so varied that it's really as many companies as you can come up with in tech as a whole. I'll give you just two brief examples. So one company that we invested in France made learning how to drive more engaging, cheaper, faster and also took away some of the bureaucratic barriers surrounding actually getting your license, going to the driving school. And they've grown spectacularly over the last four or five years, and they've become a very large company. I can't speak in specifics, but they recently raised this as public, a large round. We invested at Series A, they raised a Series C, I believe, from KKR, $120 million Series C. So they've done very well, and they've done that by basically making an experience better, faster and cheaper. So they've saved people money. And in saving people money, they've obviously driven a huge willingness to pay from consumers.

 

Alex: In another case there are companies where they've given people access to knowledge or they've widened access to knowledge that is often very hard to access. And they've asked for a premium for that privilege. And I think that that's another great way to do it. Again, I'm not going to enter into any specific examples, but I think that that's a great sort of case for monetizing an educational experience. And as we discussed earlier, because of this skills gap, there are plenty of things that people want to learn that they're not getting access to through traditional educational institutions. So there's this entire industry that is being built today as we speak around filling those gaps. And I think that that's a huge opportunity. So I don't know that the Nordics are any worse at addressing this sort of particular challenge that anyone else, I think it is a challenge for everyone. Having grown up in the French speaking part of Switzerland and being a native speaker in French, I understand the French ecosystem relatively well. The French are also great engineers, and have a great education system. They very much tend to think about what's in front of them rather than what could be. And so the challenge for the French, for example, is they're fantastic at building very good businesses that can reach significant scale, but they often think about what's in front of them as opposed to what could be.

 

Alex: And I think maybe the attribute of the Nordics could be they think about what could be and maybe less about what's in front of them in the opportunities directly in front of them. But again, that's based on sort of very biased and unreliable data, anecdotal data. So, I think that it's difficult to make generalizations about regions of Europe, but I think there are particularities to every startup ecosystem. And it's our challenge as venture capitalists to try to sort of equalize the opportunities for everyone, to try to get everyone to have that mindset of, I'm a French company, but I could be a global company. I am a Norwegian company, but I could be a global company. And the thing that differs between the Nordics or, for example, Greece, where my family's originally from, that's interesting, is because they're relatively small countries and by the way, have many similarities in shipping and things like that. You're forced to go outside of Norway or you're forced to go outside of Greece pretty early on in your entrepreneurial journey in order to build and get access to a large market. So that kind of forces you to think internationally from day one, which you maybe don't need to do if you're in Germany or you're in France. And because those markets are so huge that you can address what's in front of you and build a big business. 

 

Silvija: Very cool, Alex. Last couple of minutes. One is I want you very briefly to tell me about your recommended books. I think that usually people find your conversation interesting. They will probably enjoy reading the books that you recommend as well. So Guns, Germs and Steel. I know and absolutely support the recommendation of the history of our history. But what about the secrets of Sandhill Road and The Waning of the Middle Ages?

 

Alex: I think the secrets of Sandhill Road, just to put it succinctly, it's a great way for entrepreneurs to understand the basics of how venture capital works, which is really important because you're taking capital from a very particular type of institution that has very particular expectations. And so it can be quite an opaque world. And so I think it's just a really good introduction to that world. And I think it's important for entrepreneurs to understand how VCs think. And because we spend our whole time trying to figure out how entrepreneurs think. Then Guns, Germs and Steel is one of my favorite books. I had the opportunity to meet Jared Diamond at a dinner a number of years ago. Fascinating person. All of his work fascinates me. But what I thought was really interesting was just the sort of big question of why if gunpowder was invented in China, why were guns not developed in China? And this idea of it's actually the thing that stood out for me the most was the fragmentation of Europe, which we spoke about before, was actually of some benefit to Europeans, because it meant that you had populations that were separated by natural, extreme natural barriers, but in close proximity. So the amount of time that they could develop new technologies in order to fight each other was sort of almost determined by the geographical features of Europe.

 

Alex: So they would get to a certain point where they would be resource constrained or they would have some other reason for going over those natural barriers and attacking the neighbors. But they also had enough barriers between them and enough opportunities in enough time to develop increasingly more innovative technologies, technologies of war. Principally, that meant that you had this very rapid rate of innovation and iteration. And that's something that I think is extremely interesting and very applicable to technology in general. And if we think about the old adage of the world being flat, but of course, it's not flat at all. And there are lots of little principalities even in technology. And there are little walled gardens. But I think that we're all in competition with each other all the time and just kind of understanding what drives innovation and what drives competition in a broader sense is kind of interesting. And then the Waning of the Middle Ages, it's just about having an understanding of theend of the dark ages, the beginning of the Enlightenment, the sorts of things that led to a transition from an old, very established sort of way of living and thinking.

 

Alex: And what was essentially just before a period of great innovation and the Enlightenment, both in language, literature, the arts and architecture and art, so understanding how you go from a dark age into an age of enlightenment. And I think that's also relevant for where we are today because industries have been very similar and they've operated in very similar ways for the last 200 years since the advent of industrialization. And now we're entering into a completely new era, I think an era of greater enlightenment. And there's a similar fear that there was back then, that somehow this means doom and gloom for everyone. And there were pandemics and there were plagues, just as there are today. And there was a lot of fear, but they were on the cusp of something really fantastic. And I think understanding how the Middle Ages ended and what the circumstances around that were and how people were thinking and what was happening historically is very relevant to us today. And I'll say, when I was at Oxford, I read history. So obviously a lot of my interests stem from that academically. But that's why I was interested in those books.

 

Silvija: I think history is a great backdrop, but also kind of the front story of very much of what's happening today as well. And I love your point about China and gunpowder. I think culture creates technology to a larger extent than we are aware of. And it goes back to your point about what Nordics are good at and why my final question is for Norwegian entrepreneurs or for that case, any entrepreneur is listening to our conversation and being curious about how they might get in touch with you and in what case they can get in touch with you. What's your advice?

 

Alex: So we are a growing team, but the best way to get in touch with us is still to go to our website and where we have a lot of information about how to share projects with us. And we have a Typeform to make it easy for everyone and to help us stay organized. We evaluate lots of lots of deals. But I think in terms of when to talk to us, we're not really pre-seed investors, we're sort of early seed investors. We have two components ready. One is something called Blink, which are small, small tickets in early seed companies, which have proven a degree of product market fit. So they will have had to have done some market testing on any scale. It can be even on a small scale, but they will have had to have validated seven things around engagement, willingness to pay a variety of different vectors of measurable success, but they don't necessarily need to have significant revenues. And then the larger component of the fund and what we're focused on is a really kind of late seed and Series A, which are typically companies that have more, I would say more than a million in annual revenues that are growing, you know, ideally three X year on year or at least have a plan to grow three X year on year.

 

Alex: They could have lower revenues, but they would need to have sort of a more compelling growth story. But really, the main thing is that they've proven strong product market fit, they're running and they need someone to kind of run alongside them and give them water and towels and advice and stewardship and capital to help them grow. And for all of those companies that we support, we're very active. So we often take board observer seats or board seats, depending on where the company is. And we try to play an active role in all areas, recruitment, strategy, etc. Just helping the company with the companies, with whatever they need and then trying to be a real partner to the companies.

 

Silvija: Excellent. Alex, thank you so much for an inspiring and insightful chat.

 

Alex: Thank you very much for having me. Very nice to meet you.

 

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Quiz for Case #C1070

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C1070 EDTECH EdTech for future learning - med Alex Spiro Latsis

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