In search of angels

Earlier today, I read and shared a post which recounted the recent seeding of the, so called, drachma startup (congrats on this) and expressed, in the form of a wish, the following thought:

We need a paypal mafia of sorts. There’s enough old money in Greece to put this together, but it’s mostly in shipping and trading businesses, so it’s not connected to the tech scene in meaningful ways. This connection must be made and nurtured. I don’t know how this problem will be solved, I am not the right person to solve it. But here it is, laid out for the more creative minds out there to ponder.

At first, the thought seemed right to me but, pondering on the subject a bit longer, I finally  came to a different conclusion. History  and experience elsewhere (not only Silicon Valley but even in our continent) teaches us that it is the entrepreneurs themselves that become angels and VCs. And not any kind of entrepreneurs but the ones that have, broadly speaking, worked in the same areas and the same fields as the those they later opt to fund.

I don’t think we will see money from shipping flowing in internet startup investments in Greece anytime soon. And if we do, the expectations will most probably be wrong and the management of the investments not appropriate.

There is nothing wrong with the shipping people. They are not morons of some sort that miss to see the ‘lucrative’ opportunities of the Greek startups. On the contrary. They are extremely cunning and capable businessman, used in dealing with bigger and harder issues.  But they happen to have have shaped their mindset, practices and goal setting in an entirely different sector. And this makes all the difference.

Tech startups and internet startups are not traditional investments that can easily fit to appraisal models and have clear cycles and signs of rise or fall. A startup is not a vessel. Its business model is, in most cases, unknown. Or, changing too often. It is unlikely that, if it doesn’t proceed according to plan, it can be sold as scrap. The money that a ship owner can put into startups is money wasted for him as there is no shortage of investment opportunities in his sector with more foreseeable returns.

In my career I have experienced something like this twice. Not from ship owners but from bankers. Once as a simple employee, in the beginning of my carier, and the other as the executive who was supposed to run the ‘investment’.
In both cases the investor was a banking institution and the investment an IT company.

If there is one thing I can immediately pin point as the reason of failure (as they both were failures) it is this: the banking people thought of these companies (:their investments)  as mature businesses and tried  to manage them accordingly. Actually, for a long time,  I thought the same way. It was only after a lot of effort and pain that I realized that my role was not to run the business (as per my job description) but to find the business I was assigned to run. Unfortunately, Steve Blank had not come up yet with the The Four Steps to the Epiphany and he did not save me valuable time.

If there ever is going to be a crowd of angel investors from Greece, for Greece and in Greece, it must arise from the Greek startups and their successes. Which means it is going to take some time. It will not appear before we see some substantial exits and some real wealth  transfered to founders’ pockets. Once we have them both, then there will be angels.