If you find yourself in London near Oxford Circus, you need only turn down Balderton Street in order to find Balderton Capital, formerly Benchmark Europe – though the VC fund has certainly made a name of its own merit since separating from the American VC fund. Understanding Balderton Capital is easy enough: “We invest in European entrepreneurs with global visions” says Bernard Liautaud, one of Balderton’s Partners. Liautaud spent 18 years building Business Objects, a company which saw an IPO before its eventual sale to SAP in 2008, the year he joined Balderton. In Europe, Balderton Capital has identified itself as one of the three major VC Firms investing in tech startups, alongside Index Ventures and Accel Partners – the three funds occasionally co-invest, with all three having participated in short-term rental service Housetrip’s most recent round of funding.
“Balderton Capital likes to be the first institutional investor in a startup. That’s our sweet spot.”
Liautaud has been responsible for 9 of Balderton’s investments, including being the first institutional invest in consumer lending platform Wonga, as well as having invested in the series A round of Vestiaire Collective, which recently raised $20 Million led by Condé Nast. Liautaud says, “In the end, I have to be able to look them in the eye and say ‘I believe you can build a global company’” His views on investment and his personal Venture Capital strategy fascinated me. On the one hand, he, like many investors, is driven by a good team, considering himself as an ‘engaged’ investor, boasting Balderton’s particular skill at helping European companies like Talend relocate to the US – something he himself experienced with Business Objects in the 90s. On the other hand, he is a stickler for due diligence. “I just can’t make those ‘let’s go for it’ gut decisions, like some investors.” Nonetheless, with Balderton’s perpension (and evident success) for getting in as the first institutional investors, there is a certain amount of gut trust that clearly goes into his and his other partners’ decisions.
“As a former entrepreneur, when I hear Venture Capitalists saying ‘the company we built,’ it doesn’t sit right with me.”
While much of Liautaud’s success as an entrepreneur is attributed to Business Objects – he still sits on the board of SAP to this day – he has clearly showed that he’s more than just an Enterprise Software guy. While some of his more exciting investments include Scytl, a Barcelona-based startup selling election software to counties, countries & other democratic governments (including London), one of his more renowned investments is in Wonga, which has revolutionized consumer lending.
Liautaud also co-founded Dashlane, a startup based in New York & Paris, a password management tool born out of Liautaud’s frustration with remembering and creating passwords. Though it first started as a project Liautaud brought to his Alma Mater, Ecole Centrale de Paris, the startup has grown to 35+ employees, with Emmanuel Schalit serving as active CEO.
Sitting across from Bernard Liautaud, bouncing questions off him like “what great startups did you pass on?” (answer: Zendesk. ouch), what ultimately struck me is that, with every venture, investment, or other activity he has taken upon himself, he has sought to learn something new, do something he’s not done before. When asked if there was anything he wasn’t good at, Liautaud chuckled and responded “I don’t know if I’m a good investor.” Liautaud is coming up on the 5 year mark, around the time where his initial investments will be able to assessed as successful or not.
Despite being on the board of Stanford University, SAP & Dashlane, Liautaud admits 85% of his time is spent on Balderton investments. Looking at his portfolio of investments he’s led thus far, I’d say he’s about as good at building companies as he is at investing in them.