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When billionaire investor Chris Sacca’s family spent New Year’s Day at their house in the mountains a couple of years ago, his dad, an avid Nintendo Wii tennis player, challenged Uber CEO Travis Kalanick to a game or two.
The encounter didn’t quite go as planned, with Sacca senior getting visibly frustrated with the scoreboard. To add insult to injury, Kalanick was sleep-deprived and not making much of an effort.
Ultimately Kalanick showed his opponent the global leader board, which placed the Uber CEO in the number two position for Wii Tennis overall.
“Who here wants to compete with a guy like that? He was also globally ranked – he was like a Top 10 Angry Birds player. The guy is a maniac,” Sacca told delegates at Slush, Europe’s biggest get-together for international start-ups and investors.
According to Forbes, Sacca, a venture investor and founder of Lowercase Capital, is worth an estimated $1.2 billion. He was an early-stage investor in Twitter, Uber and Instagram, among others.
“I seek out people who are not normal. I seek out weird people. I won’t invest in anyone who is not really weird. I think you need to have some kind of imbalance to do this well and that’s what’s exciting.”
But how does one invest like Chris Sacca?
Sacca, a former lawyer, said he didn’t start out to be a venture capitalist, but was essentially trying to find opportunities to be helpful.
“I think everybody feels their biggest and most fulfilled self when they are helping somebody and that would turn into opportunities to invest.”
He was very intrigued by the Twitter concept and since he knew Evan Williams, one of the founders, he lurked around the office and helped out even before he had any money in the deal. When he invested later on, he had to make sure that he would get his investment back.
The Uber story was similar. He and his wife worked on Uber for six months before they invested any money.
It was really hard for anyone to invest successfully in a “Shark Tank format” where they heard a pitch and had to dive in, Sacca said, referring to the American reality TV series where entrepreneurs pitch to investors in the hope of getting funding.
A company was not just about their product but also about the founders, he added.
“Are those founders working well together? And then can I work with those founders well and if we dive in are we complementary? Am I impressed by things that they can do that I can’t? And have we figured out the things that I can do that they can’t…? And do they accept my help and do I feel like we are making something awesome together?
“This isn’t the way I’ve always invested, but if you look at our biggest hits, they all started with a relationship orientated around help and rolling up our sleeves and getting involved.”
Sacca said he looked for companies that were great before he got on board but where he believed there was an opportunity to make it even better “and hopefully in doing so, de-risk and increase the likelihood that I have a good exit there”.
Often it was about helping the company tell its own story. Whereas business people and MBA-types were historically in charge of these companies, engineers and product people were now running the show.
While they tended to be technically proficient and great at building stuff, they were quite bad at telling their own stories.
Sacca said nobody could really afford to pay for marketing. Therefore, start-ups had to build something that was easy and compelling to use.
“We have to build something that an user can explain to another user. What it is, what it does, why they should use it.”
A lot of time was spent distilling concepts to something simplistic, he added.
A couple of years ago Sacca “retired” from the business for a while when he realised he was losing his edge. The Snapchat founders approach him to invest, but he turned them down, a decision that cost him billions of dollars. His junior partner, Matt, almost lost it when Sacca told him about the decision.
“I found I was really losing touch with that, so I needed to surround myself with some younger people and let them made those decisions.”
Sacca said in his line of work you learnt to say “no” for a living. When he first entered the business he approached each pitch with an open mind and some optimism, but after years of looking at proposals, most of them quite bad, he felt he wasn’t open to good experiences anymore.
Fast-forward a few years and his main concern is the younger generation of computer scientists that have been incredibly well trained, but who had never had a real job or exposure to real world problems.
“What we are seeing is the products are starting to reflect that. The products are insular. They are not based upon empathy. They are not based upon human connection and I am very, very worried about that.”
By Ingé LamprechtSource: Moneyweb