Eileen Burbidge (@eileentso) is Partner at Passion Capital, the leading early-stage technology venture capital investment firm in Europe, based in London. She brings extensive operational experience to her investment activities gleaned from business and product roles at Yahoo!, Skype, Apple and elsewhere.
Premoney Miami is around the corner (March 20th) and 500 caught up with speaker and Passion Capital Partner, Eileen Burbidge.
Looking back on your last fund, what are your plans for going forward?
My partners at Passion and I are incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved with Passion Fund I — Nearly 4 years after we first launched we now have 41 investee companies, including outstanding examples such as Adzuna, DueDil, Digital Shadows, GoCardless, Lulu, and so many more.
Along with the phenomenal founders we’ve had the privilege to back, we’re equally proud of what we’ve achieved in terms of pushing the European/UK venture industry to be more transparent, founder-friendly and competitive on a global basis by being the first London VC to share its offices as a coworking office, and the first and still only VC in the world to publish and use a plain English language term sheet and/or not charge any fees (not even to recover legal costs) to our companies.
We look forward to continuing our efforts to back the best founders in the UK and across Europe — and to continue pushing the boundaries in founder-friendliness, -value-add and cooperation.
Do you think the venture capital industry today is innovative? Is there anything that needs or can be changed for us to keep momentum?
Innovation is relative. But I think we did innnovate (or at least slightly iterated) the industry a bit by translating our standard term sheet into plain English (and eliminating any legal jargon). I also think we were innovating in Europe when we were the first VC fund to publish our numbers on a public infographic. But there’s undeniably a lot more that we, as an industry, can and should do.
The two best factors to maintaining momentum for improving the industry are (i) healthy macro-economic climate (not another banking crisis, please!), and (ii) getting more successes/case studies and massive exits.
Lets talk about the 2 and 20? Is that something we as an industry can move away from?
Like any other industry, ours is based on supply and demand. If the LPs are happy with the structure then no one will move away. If they aren’t, there will be an evolution. As a very small fund, we’re aligned with our LPs and clearly not “milking” a massive management fee from only £37.5 million under management. We’re confident that our LPs know our motivation comes from our carried interest.
What are the top value-adds that VCs provide?
It totally depends on the context/parameters, but candor is something that I think we could see more of — and which would benefit founders, LPs and everyone involved in the tech/investor community. Sometimes that candor is negative, constructive or unpopular, but transparency and cutting through the bullshit would surely make for a better VC dynamic with its founders and other partnerd.
Once the communication channels and dynamics are more transparent/candid, then I think VCs can roll their sleeves up and help with team building, distribution, customer acquisition, brand/product marketing and building out core functions (ie, teaching founders to fish) — and by getting out of founders’ way.
How are you building a different kind of VC firm?
We conduct ourselves the way we’d like a VC to have behaved when we were still operational and on the other side of the table. Odd as it may seem, that’s a very different kind of VC firm from most in the European market when we launched, and has resulted in “industry firsts” as previously noted such a plain English language term sheet, being upfront/candid (even when it’s not great news), not wasting founders’ time, and taking great effort to not add noise or bullshit to a dynamic.
Are there common characteristics of someone who is a successful VC? Do you have any examples of people who you think are really pushing the envelope in the industry?
I think there are so many factors and variables (eg, location/region, vintage year, fund size, etc) that the sample size is not large enough to draw control-based conclusions. However, I can attest to the fact that a VC dynamic (successful or otherwise) is only as good as the individual/partner in question. A firm/fund’s brand only goes so far — and at the end of the day success with specific tactics or a business relationship comes down to the individual people involved.
How has the VC business changed since you joined Passion Capital?
In London, we were the first micro VC fund (when we launched in 2011). Now there are quite a few, which has been outstanding to see and support.
Let me ask everyone’s favorite question, are we in a bubble?
That question and term (bubble) suggests something that’s inevitably going to “pop” or is short-lived. In that case, no, I don’t think we’re in an unsustainable nor short-lived period of exuberance… I think the tech sector is creating genuine, meaningful and tangible value unlike the bubble that burst in/after 2000.
What advice would you offer to founder who is looking to raise capital for their new startup?
1. Choose/work with people whom you respect.
2. Be discerning with investors/prospective VCs.
3. Don’t try to over-optimise on terms, and don’t underestimate time/speed.
– FIN –
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