Leadership

Focusing on Europe: A Conversation With GC’s London-Based Investment Team

On an early December afternoon, a team of investors convened around a table at General Catalyst's central London office. They represent varied sector expertise — healthcare, fintech and crypto, and consumer and enterprise technology — seniority levels, and lived experiences. Their diversity of thought, background and perspective is a unique mix within venture capital, but one GC purposely — and strategically — pulled together to build their office in one of top tech hubs and expand their European footprint, with a focus on early stage startups. 

“We want to make it very clear to European founders: We are a truly multistage firm and we want to be your first check-in,” says Zeynep Yavuz, an investor at General Catalyst focused on fintech and crypto, based in London. “We will be there at the ideation stage, partner with you to build a business together, and be there until you IPO, maybe even after.”

London is an epicenter of innovation, with more than 38,000 tech companies, a highly educated population and high-ranking universities. The city’s power position as a global leader in investment made it a natural choice for our European hub. After investing on the continent for over a decade, GC made its first on-the-ground hire in February 2021 with Chris Bischoff, a managing director and global healthcare team lead for the firm. Ten months later, the office officially opened along a stretch of Berners Street, in a light-filled building sculptured of stone and glass. 

In February 2022, GC closed its $4.6 billion fund XI family, including an $800M ‘creation’ fund–allowing the firm to double down on the hatch strategy that put them on the VC map over 20 years ago. GC is well known for hatching several important companies, including IT solutions company Datto, customer relationship management platform Demandware (now part of Salesforce), and travel search engine Kayak — all of which were conceived out of the firm’s Cambridge, Massachusetts office. “GC really got on the map by co-founding Kayak,” notes Juliet Bailin, an investor working with founders in enterprise software and healthcare. “Early stage investing and company building remains at the core of our business.”

GC has quietly expanded the London investment team this year with the additions of Juliet Bailin, Mark Crane, Alexandre Momeni, and Zeynep Yavuz. Each of them comes to the table with a unique personal journey that informs how they identify and support diverse entrepreneurs and founders.

Zeynep Yavuz lived and worked as an investor and fintech operator in developed and emerging markets. She understands that successful technology companies can emerge anywhere in the world. 

Juliet Bailen’s history degree spurred her passion for technology and venture capital, where she now studies time, data and geography in a different way. 

Mark Crane taps his research and analysis roots from studying history to create a mental VC roadmap, from investment memo to thesis to next steps, for each potential investment opportunity and prospective founder. 

Alexandre Momeni has worn both operator and investor hats, so he understands all levels of engagement with startups and what makes an ideal partner for an early stage founder. 

Europe team lead Chris Bischoff is taking lessons learned at the creation stage within healthcare, like co-opting existing stakeholders to drive change, to innovate other sectors.

Setting founders up for success

GC’s European expansion ushers in an opportunity for the five-member team to provide founders across Europe with support from a global network with deep thematic expertise. “Something that's very important at GC is that when we invest in a founder, you don't just get one person — you get the global team, the global thematic expertise, and the global connectivity,” explains Bailin. 

Bischoff elaborates: “We’re truly international and truly borderless in terms of how we think about our people and what we bring. We’ve got people in the US that are sponsoring and leading deals in Europe. We’ve got people in Europe that are leading deals in the US. We’ll find the best person for you and then we’ll coalesce around that person and support that person so that you have a consistent experience, whoever you partner with at the firm.” 

That “consistent experience” includes access to GC’s institutional knowledge, network, talent and marketing resources, and — of course — investors. The GC talent team helps founders think through operational design, hire senior leadership, and create advisory boards. An internal database, In Good Company, connects startup founders to strategic resources like board members, advisers and operators that have history in the development and growth process. The GC marketing team assists with brand building and PR. And the investors are omnipresent. “On a day-to-day basis, that means living on constant communications and asking questions, talking through ideas, and getting put in front of our investor networks,” Bailin says. 

The London team recognizes that founders in Europe face different challenges than those in the United States, and therefore, takes an approach tailored by geography and informed by their backgrounds. 

“I come from Turkey and I was a fintech operator in emerging markets. I now spend quite a bit of time looking into emerging European markets to find founders with a global mindset. If you are a founder from a smaller country, the advantage is not having a big enough local market — you have to think international from day one, which is a very different mentality to US founders who are in large markets and often build for their own markets.”

She continues, “"I understand and am motivated by the implications of a tech company being built in Turkey or another emerging market — versus a tech company in a developed market. The scale of their impact on their countries of origin can be drastically different and can create a new ecosystem of entrepreneurship.” 

Mark Crane, an investor focusing on the enterprise sector, shares the key to successful investor-startup collaborations: “Understanding that each geography, deal and sector is different, and that we need to bring the best we have to every single deal to push the company and founder forward.”

Creating meaningful transformations

As one of the global leaders in corporate social responsibility (CSR), Europe made sense as a must-do market for GC–especially given its very public commitment to leading on responsible innovation. (GC CEO Hemant Taneja wrote a book on the topic in 2022, and it remains a driving force behind the firm’s investment thesis.) “If you think about the countries that are leading in terms of ethical regulation, that’s all happening in Europe,” says Alex Momeni, an investor focused on healthcare. The continent’s rules and regulations governing data privacy, environment sustainability and socially responsible business practices are all raising the bar in CSR. 

The GC team in Europe embraces the firm’s mantra of ‘radical collaboration,’ a concept spanning industries from healthcare to technology — and a cornerstone of how GC strategically operates to seek to transform industries and create companies with societal value. “I wanted to join GC because when you look at it from a value set perspective, it’s really a European set of values — responsible innovation and radical collaboration,” emphasizes Momeni. “If you think about what European countries express as their core values, they match very nicely with GC’s agenda.”

Among GC’s many great European companies, UK-based Multiverse, for example, is a startup whose mission is to build a diverse group of future leaders by matching people to professional apprenticeships as an alternative to college and corporate training. Euan Blair, co-founder and CEO of Multiverse, recalls his meeting Joel Cutler, co-founder and managing director at General Catalyst: “We talked a lot about the issues we’re solving and why we’re excited about them, and I walked away from that meeting thinking, ‘These are people who think about the world in a very similar way,’ he says enthusiastically. “The more I got to meet and see people at General Catalyst, the more excited I was because they were a very values-led firm and they wear their conviction quite openly. Their desire to take a stance on social issues matters a lot.”

A bullish building strategy

Venture capital has faced significant economic headwinds in 2022, in turn cooling startup valuations and venture capital deals worldwide. But despite the current venture climate, GC remains bullish on long-term company building — and the ability of extraordinary founders to build meaningful companies that stand the test of time.  

“If you look at General Catalyst’s mission statement, our goal is to invest in powerful, positive change that endures,” says Bailin, “and that endurance piece means that we want to invest in things that last a long time and make a transformational difference over time.” 

Arguably, it’s a goal some might say rests on attaining and investing in the right founders. The London team carefully dissects the questions they ask founders to assess potential fit: Is this a product-led founder who can build some technology or product that is highly differentiated? Are they solving a pain point that we think is important? Or, are they solving a pain point they have a unique insight into? Can they attract extraordinary people who compliment them in skill sets they don’t have? What are the reasons they are doing this? 

Bailin and Crane agree a core question for the team is: “Why them on this problem?” Also, looking at whether the founder has a distinct point-of-view in understanding and clearly articulating the problem, and how they plan to go about solving it. “So often we are trying to solve hard problems. The reason why we want these gritty founders who are mission-aligned and who understand these problems authentically is because it’s really hard to build solutions for hard problems,” notes Bischoff. 

Explains Crane: “There’s no archetype in terms of background, how old you are, how you look, or where you’ve worked that necessarily precludes you from being a great founder or a great GC founder.”  

As GC expands its footprint and places talent where the opportunities are, Bischoff realizes the task at hand. “When we set out to build this business in Europe, we set out to build a business from the ground up and hire the very best talent that we hope would grow to be leaders of the firm over time,” he says. “That’s our expectation, and we think that we've got the right team to do that.”