Christian is co-founder and managing partner of e.ventures, an early- and growth-stage venture capital firm with over $1.5bn under management. He holds a master's in electrical and computer engineering and is a strong believer in no-asshole policies. He started at the company as an associate.
On the most important lesson taught to him.
What you learn in your childhood sets you up for life. My lessons were, if you wish, some very German and very protestant ones. I learned from my parents that being dependable and self-disciplined leads to success if you persevere. When I was in high school, I wanted a university scholarship since it was financially important for my family. For the last two years, I concentrated on this goal to reach a certain grade: a lot of focus for a then unclear output. I managed. I was suddenly independent and felt that tenacity truly pays off.
On the transition from engineering to venture capital.
Like every engineer who doesn't know what to do, I became a consultant after my studies - no, seriously: the entire telco sector was booming and it was a great way to get exposed to new things. I had the luck to get contracted for due diligence projects by one of my partners of today: that's how I first got in touch with venture capital. In 2002, I joined the San Francisco office as an associate, just as the dotcom bubble continued bursting. I quickly realized that being a VC at the time came with no job security: nobody knew what would happen. For venture capital, it wasn't the portfolio optimization or competitive bidding we see today: it was a fight for survival.
On the VC learning curve.
It was also an incredible learning opportunity. In those conditions, only the best entrepreneurs could pull through. In VC, the learning curve is always steep. I was not prepared for the crisis and felt frankly clueless. You learn on the job. There's the saying that it costs $20M to train a good VC: that's the amount you lose by doing bad investments. You are constantly interacting with founders that are both extremely passionate and knowledgeable about very specific topics. You absorb something from each conversation. Getting started as a VC, to me, means being respectful to entrepreneurs and a fast learner.
On what Silicon Valley in the 2000s meant to him.
In the first two years in my new role, I felt like a kid in a candy store. My very first meeting was with Hosain Rahman, the co-founder of the company that went on to become Jawbone. He was the kind of guy that the university would invite for an in-depth lecture. Being able to have a 1:1 conversation with someone of that caliber and learn how he plans to create his business was incredibly impressive. I had many of these events: in the valley, you could meet one great guy after the other, they all were so accessible - imagine stumbling into the CEO of Cisco at the buffet of a random event. Thrown in the deep end of the Silicon Valley pool, I felt I was able to truly understand the technology and innovations I had just studied. It was fascinating. These early impressions opened a new world that still amazes me.
On hard things that defined his career.
The hard moments came pretty soon. At that time, we had to write off multiple investments. Before being in charge of any investment myself, I was in board meetings to discuss the downsize or shutdown of companies. Those experiences were the most difficult. On one hand, you wish to maximize returns, on the other, you want to do what feels right. Getting the balance right isn't trivial. Being exposed to this early on taught me that investing other people's money is a very long term responsibility.
On biases, and dysfunctional partnerships.
At e.ventures we spend a lot of time reflecting on the concept of intellectual honesty. You need to have a clear set of values: the differences between a functional or dysfunctional partnership appear when tough decisions have to be taken. When spending time with a certain company or entrepreneur, we all develop biases that cloud our judgment. Those clouds can be removed with a fresh perspective from people who understand the business but have seen it from a distance. In a good partnership, this earns you positive feedback. A dysfunctional partnership starts when you wonder whether you can be open within the group. Without an honest process, follow-up investment decisions are where you can really lose money.
On decision-making and consensus.
When we have a pitch, everyone at e.ventures has to share their perspective, including the intern who may have just started. One or two entrepreneurs present, a group of us listens. To hear what everyone has taken in and put the pieces of the puzzle together is powerful. We rarely vote: usually, a certain consensus develops. Our interpretation of consensus is one where everyone had the chance to ask critical questions and, if not entirely convinced, still understands where the others' judgment stems from and respects it. This is important to prevent comments such as “I never wanted to do this deal in the first place” when a deal has gone sour - that is toxic. We don't believe we need to 100% agree all the time: we'd invest very little. It's healthy to allow discrepancy as convictions are not spread evenly.
On his ToDo and calendar setup.
I start the day by going through my ToDo list, I have a Moleskine with checkboxes where I write both little but important tasks and things requiring quality time. I start with the fastest ones first and reserve time in the calendar for the main tasks only. The key for me is to stay ruthless with prioritization. I travel often and optimize by matching tasks with the right surroundings to perform them.
On his understanding of the role of VCs.
When you raise a VC round as a founder, you get this shiny promise of VC endorsement. But over time, every entrepreneur starts to value the truly long-lasting, trustful relationships. As a firm that has navigated the massive shakeups of 2000 and 2008, we have learned patience. Overall, I wish investors would micro-optimize less on individual deals and terms and think more about the ecosystem as a whole. Both entrepreneurs and VCs are well-served if everyone makes this a long-term game.
On managing his inner critic.
I always have the nagging doubt of not doing things right, or not pushing hard enough for certain investments. It keeps me on my toes. Thinking you are great is the beginning of the end, as an investor. The paranoia is always there, but you have to make sure it never pushes you into negativity. I have enjoyed this job from the first day on and have never regretted staying in VC for my entire career.
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