Startups are raising less, and less often, right now, and some portfolios are buckling under the weight of write-downs from lower valuations and startups closing for business. But the venture industry continues to swim, and a number of firms are setting up to invest more, even as we swing through the downcycle.
In the latest turn of that dial, GV, the VC backed by Google parent Alphabet, is announcing a new partner for its London office, Luna (Dai) Schmid, along with the news that it’s hit a milestone in its efforts in Europe, with $500 million invested across some 40 startups in the region since opening for business in 2014. European companies in its portfolio include GoCardless, Nothing, Snyk, Scandit, Vaccitech, Lemonade, and CurrencyCloud, and from what we understand it will be announcing more in the coming months, with several deals already signed since the start of this year.
The figure, and the appointment, are significant shifts for the firm and the London office.
Dai (who will soon be going by Luna Schmid, we understand) is joining as an investment partner, working alongside Tom Hulme — one of the founders of the London GV office — and Vidu Shanmugarajah, who quietly came on as an investment partner after initially joining as its legal counsel.
After years of Tom Hulme as GV’s sole face and partner out of London, it looks like the firm is ready to invest in itself a bit more.
Dai’s appointment is an interesting bet for GV, as well as a new frontier for Dai herself. She has not lived in Europe previously, nor has she previously gotten involved with startups in what sometimes can feel like a very clubby atmosphere (Old World, Old School, etc).
Most recently, Dai worked as VP in the Menlo Park office of Summit, a firm known more for large private equity and later-stage deals than the kind of early-stage startup investing that GV has been doing in Europe.
Prior to that, Dai was a VP at SoftBank Investment Advisors, where she worked from 2018 to 2020. Those dates put her right in the middle of the firm’s most heady investment period, swimming in the nearly $100 billion raised for Vision Fund 1 that saw the firm investing on average $100 million per day between closing the fund and tapping out the money. Dai was a little under the radar while at Softbank, which is probably not a bad thing in retrospect.
All this essentially spells tabula rasa for Dai at GV. She tells me that some of the areas she wants to focus on are enterprise and fintech, two categories that have long and successful track records out of Europe, and that have potentially some recession-proof qualities built into them. In enterprise, her interest is in productivity software, especially tools built around automation and AI that might come in useful in the current environment.
“We’ve all seen the headlines…about layoffs across the board,” she said in an interview. “Companies need to do more with less people. I think that’s going to result in an uptick in productivity software.”
And while a lot of the buzz right now seems to be focused on AI, and specifically generative AI-based services and technology, Dai also thinks that there is an opportunity to invest more pragmatically in startups focused on the work behind the scenes to turn that tech into actual products, “the picks and shovels, the middleware layer” in her words, between those concepts and actually getting products built and out into the market.
The news is a welcome move forward for the firm after years of not quite cycling in place, but trying to do more with less.
GV — initially more directly branded Google Ventures, funded by Google but not built as a strategic fund — made a splash when it first opened its office in London eight years ago. It was one of the first moves from a Silicon Valley firm to set up shop on this side of the pond to directly tap into the wave of startups emerging across Europe.
Startups previously would have felt pressure (in some cases even a requirement) to relocate to the U.S., specifically the Valley, if they wanted to tap into U.S. investors, get on the radar to attract talent and big tech acquirers or partners, and to aim for growth and scale. That was slowly starting to change, and GV assembled a star team comprised of local, well-known names, plus a fifth high-profile partner from the mothership in the U.S., to take on the opportunity, backed with its own dedicated fund.
Only a year later, though, things took a different turn. First one partner departed, then Google folded the separate fund investing into its bigger global coffers, then another partner left, and another, and another, until just one, Tom Hulme, remained. But if you’re going to have only one partner, Hulme is a solid pick. He’s been with the firm since and has slowly built on the initial thesis of discovering more seams of gold, while digging deeper into areas like life sciences alongside more traditional areas of tech. But he’s largely been doing it solo with a small support team around him.
“It was pretty much me on my own for a while,” Hulme said.
That showed in the activity, too. To put some of GV’s European growth into context, overall the firm tells me it has more than $8 billion in assets under management, 650 all-time investments and over 400 active portfolio companies since first starting out in 2009, only a four year head start on the London office. It’s been a backer of some of the biggest names in tech in the last decade, including Uber, Nest, Slack, GitLab and One Medical Group. In other words, at $500 million and 40 investments, GV in Europe has not really been proportionately a massive part of the overall operation.
Now GV appears to be taking on a different posture out of London. Hulme said the plan is to add yet another partner soon, but that it’s going to do this deliberately.
“We want to be consistent, and one thing we will not do — and something we would advise our portfolio companies not to do — is damage culture,” said Hulme. “We have an amazing kind of culture where the investors at GV are partnering with their founders. And so we’re not going to break that for anything, which means that we hire slow and we are comfortable with that. I don’t believe we’ll hire anyone else in the next quarter in GV in London, unless an exceptional opportunity arises, but I would not be surprised if we hired someone in Q3 or Q4 of this year.”
GV’s moves come at what feels like a crossroads in the venture world, and in tech. Some of the most exuberant investors of the last several years have seen massive hits from the devaluations of their portfolios. SoftBank Vision Fund, which had raised outsized funds to go aggressively after a wide swathe of interesting tech opportunities, was at its peak pouring billions into startups each quarter.
This week, it disclosed nearly $6 billion in losses and said that it invested less than $300 million in the period (relatively speaking, a pittance for SBVF although still a giant sum, bigger than many investment funds will raise and invest in years of operation). Others like Sequoia are restructuring their funds and looking to take a more joined up approach in how they view and manage their investments after a tough couple of years.
GV’s parent is also going through some big changes, too. Amid laying off 12,000 in January, Alphabet is restructuring a number of its operations while still needing to fight all of the usual fires that you encounter in the world of tech. The latest is the sudden / renewed buzz around AI and generative AI, which is being driven not by Google but — for better or worse — startups like OpenAI.
That’s led to a few launches and will drive a bit more of the news and product cycles as we watch to see what catches and genuinely disrupts the market longer term.
What will be interesting to see is how and if it touches an organization like GV, which was set up to be at arm’s length from Google’s strategic interests up to now but nonetheless will want to respond and be a part of whatever is going to shape the tech landscape tomorrow.