Global Expansion for ICONIQ Growth
September 26, 2022
Meet our European leadership in a conversation between Matt Jacobson and Seth Pierrepont.
Back row left to right: Ritika Pai, Calvin Yeoh, Matthew Jacobson, Sarah Stebbins, Doug Pepper, Will Griffith. Front row left to right: Seth Pierrepont, Marie-Louise O’Callaghan
Since our founding in 2013, ICONIQ Growth has prioritized investing in visionary entrepreneurs who drive global impact and change – regardless of where they are based. We’re proud that our partnerships with over 120 companies span the globe from New York to London, Helsinki, Tel Aviv, Sydney, Bangalore, and beyond.
Our first opportunity in Europe was in 2015 when we partnered with Adyen founders Pieter van der Does and Arnout Schuijff as they built their payments platform into one of Europe’s most valuable technology companies. From there, our European and Israeli relationships expanded quickly as we partnered with the incredible founders of Intercom, Collibra, Dataiku, Wolt, Miro, Twistlock, Motorway, Orca, Axonius, and Primer. Over the years, we have deployed nearly $1.5B in the region, and now, we’re excited to accelerate this momentum by becoming a native part of the ecosystem with a permanent home and leadership in London as our launching point.
At the center of our efforts was building the right team of experienced people who have a deep understanding of the local ecosystem but operate with a global mindset. We were fortunate to find the right leader in Seth Pierrepont, who most recently served as a partner at Accel in London for close to a decade. Seth knows the European ecosystem intimately, is deeply trusted by founders, and shares our leadership values and ambitions for ICONIQ Growth.
We strongly believe that ICONIQ Growth’s differentiated strategy, unique culture, and disciplined investment approach are instrumental to our success as a firm, and it’s critical that this DNA runs through our European team as well. To that end, several of our talented San Francisco investment team members—Ritika Pai, Calvin Yeoh, and Sarah Stebbins—helped found ICONIQ Growth’s European office. We also welcomed Marie-Louise O’Callaghan from Point72. The team will work closely with Seth to identify and support our next stage of opportunities across the region.
To celebrate ICONIQ Growth’s newfound presence in Europe, I sat down with Seth for a freewheeling conversation about his journey, his eye for exceptional companies, and his vision for the future of ICONIQ Growth in Europe.
What are some of your formative experiences that led you to build a career in investing and supporting some of Europe’s leading technology companies?
I started my investment career in late-stage private equity and quickly realized that I enjoyed investing - but not at that stage. The motivation to shift my focus to earlier opportunities was primarily about being on the leading edge of category creation and working with the founders bold enough to do it. During my time at Accel, I crossed paths with many such founders and learned a lot in the process.
One of the first themes I researched as a venture investor in 2013 was Bitcoin. The community in Europe was just forming, and the energy was palpable; that said, it was pretty far afield from other areas I was evaluating at the time and extremely volatile, so I put it on the back burner. Through that work, though, I met some incredibly talented founders who went on to start consequential companies in the category, including Chainalysis, where Accel ultimately led the Series B in 2018. I have plenty of examples of passing on a company or dismissing a space early, and this one serves as a good reminder to always remain open-minded and humble enough to circle back if the initial view is wrong.
As venture capitalists, we’re developing a view on the future and, in many cases, uncharted markets without precedent examples of success. Many things matter when evaluating such opportunities, but people matter most, and great founders can create categories. When I first heard Guy Podjarny at Snyk talk about the paradigm shift happening within enterprise security–the responsibility of security shifting to developers, I remember trying to imagine what a developer security platform would even look like. Testament to the team’s authentic voice within the developer community, I believe they’ve been able to shape the category into what it is today, and Snyk, as a consequence, has become synonymous with developer security.
The founder archetype that I gravitate towards is an operator that has experienced a pain point first-hand and then steps out of her or his role to fix it, as it’s indicative of authentic founder-market -fit. Eoin Hinchy from Tines ran security teams at eBay and then at DocuSign. He built a version of Tines while he was at DocuSign to help automate repetitive security tasks and then left to bring that product to the rest of the world. I knew after our first meeting that I wanted to work with him.
What convinced you to join ICONIQ Growth? And since you have joined, what has surprised you the most?
I’ve always had the desire to start something. Joining ICONIQ Growth afforded me the opportunity to launch the European office while standing on a solid foundation of prior success. ICONIQ Growth has been active in the region for years, so I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to lean into that experience and help accelerate the momentum.
For me, the most important aspect to get right in this transition was cultural alignment. I knew Will Griffith, who founded ICONIQ Growth, through the engineering school we both attended, and always felt that we had a shared philosophy on venture capital opportunities and fostering a collaborative culture. I was also able to observe the quality of the ICONIQ Growth team and the benefit that the platform added to portfolio companies first-hand, given Accel has been involved with a number of the same companies as ICONIQ Growth.
What surprised me is how, despite ICONIQ Growth’s rapid expansion of activities over the past eight years, the portfolio has remained very focused: ~120 companies in total. As a consequence, thoughtfully supporting companies beyond the boardroom is a core part of the strategy. For example, in the case of Adyen, we’ve made over 100 high-impact and senior-level commercial and strategic introductions for the company.
What have been some of the most significant changes you’ve witnessed in the European technology ecosystem?
Moving to London from San Francisco in 2009 seemed contrarian to me at the time. There were a number of promising signals, but by most metrics, Europe was still early in terms of start-up ecosystem maturity. Home to a third of the top 100 computer science programmes globally, the quality of talent and ideas has always been there, which is relatively well-documented. Additionally, by virtue of the fragmentation in the region, there is independent and diverse thought, resulting in world-class expertise across a variety of domains. For example, Denmark is one of the most advanced countries when it comes to climate tech and sustainability, Finland in gaming, Israel in cyber security, the UK in fintech and AI, and the list goes on. The most noticeable change in the decade I’ve seen on the ground is the passion for entrepreneurship, company-building experience, and level of ambition.
What excites me is that the number of companies created in Europe that have gone on to become category-defining on a global stage is really just the tip of the iceberg. We’re now at the point where we’re seeing a critical mass of alumni from these success stories starting companies of their own. According to a recent Atomico report, there are 2,000 alumni founders from the top 15 unicorns, which speaks to the unrealized potential of the region. This next generation of entrepreneurs has the experience, the creativity, the global mindset, and ambition, plus the supporting connective tissue in their local ecosystems, to build extraordinary companies.
What are the sectors, trends, or themes that excite you the most right now as an investor?
The ICONIQ Growth sectoral focus is roughly 60% software, 20% fintech, and 20% consumer internet – which mirrors my personal experience as well. While there are sub-sectors on which I’ve focused more time in recent years– like cyber security and data infrastructure - I still consider myself a generalist and like to remain open-minded.
One area in particular that I’ve recently been thinking about again is data security and privacy. There was a wave of start-up activity a few years ago on the back of new data privacy regulations, like GDPR, which centered mostly around compliance. This ultimately took a backseat during COVID as priorities shifted to more burning corporate IT needs. Around the same time, there was a surge of investment into data infrastructure as enterprises felt the urgency to ensure data was accessible and of high quality. This provided tremendous tailwinds to companies like Snowflake, Fivetran, DBT, Monte Carlo, Collibra, and others. One of the new challenges is how to provision data securely and in a way that abides by regulatory standards. We’re hearing from our CIO network that investment in data security and privacy tools is again on the rise, so I’m eager to see how this space evolves.
What is your philosophy when it comes to working with founders? In your view, what’s the ideal role of an investor/board member during a company’s journey?
I was a mechanical engineer and designed and built race cars as part of my degree, so I often use the analogy of a car when describing the role of a venture investor in a company’s journey. The founder is in the driver’s seat and will make the ultimate decision about course and speed.; the investor is in the passenger’s seat, trying to help with navigation guidance and possible shortcuts along the way.
The genesis of ICONIQ was to bring together some of the world’s most influential people to drive positive impact and change. We strive to provide the founders we back with goosebump-inducing introductions that can catalyze a pivotal moment in their company’s journey - and ultimately help them get from A to B faster. Early-stage company building is far from linear and takes time, patience, and a lot of resilience to yield the biggest results, but the journey is incredibly rewarding.
Where do you see the most opportunity right now in Europe? What is your plan for expanding the team on the ground?
ICONIQ’s decision to have a more permanent presence in Europe was made nearly three years ago when the firm realized the team was collectively spending significant time on European opportunities. Obviously, COVID slowed this process down considerably, but the market has only become more exciting since then.
Teamwise, I’m fortunate to have Ritika, Calvin, and Sarah launch a European office with me, and we’re actively taking steps to further expand the team. In fact, we recently welcomed Marie-Louise O’Callaghan, who joined us from Point72.
ICONIQ Growth is a single team and single platform globally. The opportunity set we’re collectively evaluating is global, and the ambition is to work with leading companies regardless of where they may originate or operate from. From a stage perspective, we’ll continue to focus on Series B, C, and D rounds. We do like to meet founders earlier, as observing a company’s arc of execution is essential to building conviction; we’re investing in lines, not points.
You and your family have now lived in London for almost 15 years. What are your favorite things to do when you aren’t working? Favorite places to travel?
My wife and I were introduced in San Francisco over a mutual love of nature, and we’ve tried to foster that interest in our three young kids as well. London is an incredible city, and we enjoy building our family there, but we do try to balance our urban lifestyle with trips into the great outdoors. Two that stand out were exploring surf breaks along the Portuguese coast and kayaking through the Stockholm Archipelago.
In five years, what will be the state of the UK/European tech industry? What are the key challenges and opportunities?
I’m obviously bullish about the opportunity across Europe and Israel, which is why I’m excited to be part of ICONIQ Growth’s plans in Europe. While I hope the macro headwinds are transitory, the supply of great companies remains healthy. I think Europe now has all of the ingredients to achieve a similar scale to the US in the next five years.
* ICONIQ Growth is a trading name of certain ICONIQ businesses, including ICONIQ Partners (UK) LLP. ICONIQ Partners (UK) LLP (Registration Number: 973080) is an appointed representative of Kroll Securities Ltd. (Registration Number: 466588) which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. ICONIQ Partners (UK) LLP is a limited liability partnership whose members are ICONIQ Capital (UK) Ltd, Seth Pierrepont and Lou Thorne, and it is registered in England and Wales and has its registered office at 16-19 Eastcastle Street, London W1W 8DY. ICONIQ Partners (UK) LLP acts as an adviser to ICONIQ Capital LLC.
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