Eamonn Carey is the Managing Director at Techstars London, a partner at The Fund and an early stage investor, advisor and board member for companies across the US, Europe and Asia. He runs a regular deal flow email for 800+ angel and VC investors around the world.
Previously, he was the MD at Techstars Connection in partnership with AB InBev program in New York, and has worked as a mentor on Techstars and multiple other accelerator programs across Europe, the US, the Middle East and Asia.
He has invested in over 75 companies around the world, and is a regular speaker at conferences - including Web Summit, Collision, SXSW, Mobile World Congress, Slush, Slush Tokyo, Pioneers, Tech Open Air, the Pirate Summit, Arabnet, GITEX, the Global Apps Summit, the Mobile Games Forum and many others. He also writes for Wired, TechCrunch, Mashable and others.
What is Techstars and at what stage should I apply?
Techstars is a VC fund and accelerator. We invest in companies around the world, put them through 3 month accelerator programs where we connect them with lots of mentors, advisors, investors and others to help them grow and scale. We’ve invested in founders when they were still at idea stage. We’ve invested in others who have tens or even hundreds of thousands of users or MRR - so we’re pretty agnostic on that front. For us, the key things are team, team, team, market, traction idea - in that order. So we’re looking for great founders, who’ve got a real passion for what they’re building and a plan for how they can do something special, and how we can help them achieve that. you can find out more on techstars.com
Do you have any methods a founder should use to test or make sure the person investing in their company is a good fit? Is there a Glassdoor for VCs?
This is a big issue - companies get screwed over all the time by not doing their own DD on investors. I wrote about this five years ago - https://techcrunch.com/2016/04/30/startups-need-to-do-dd-too/, and have been banging the drum ever since.
I’m happy to be an advisor to the folks from Landscape
The other thing I’d say is to talk to companies listed on a fund’s portfolio page. I love hearing about people reference checking me, as it shows founders are serious about who they have on their cap table. So never be afraid to ask another founder for feedback on a fund - particularly if they’re getting close to investing. Also, don’t be afraid to share terms (I think Landscape have an anonymous founders Slack where people share terms etc), so that you can figure out if you’re getting terrible terms or not…
When you stressed the importance of the team when it comes to investing in start-ups - what kind of recruitment policy should founders adopt to further their company and attract investment and what are the biggest mistakes they often make?
Great question. I think recruitment policies are tough for very early stage companies - as you frequently just need warm bodies to take care of the challenges that you face. However - it’s always good to have a process in place to help you try and hire people who are smarter and more qualified than you for the different positions you’re hiring for. a) don’t be afraid to ask investors/advisors/ mentors to do some final stage interviews for you - as they will frequently uncover challenges/opportunities.
The biggest mistake people make is hiring someone too quickly and not reference checking or understanding the person’s capabilities. Lots of companies hire people who are really senior - and who can think, but don’t want to do. Or they hire people who are super junior, who want to do, but maybe don’t have the strategic side of things fully worked out.
I’d highly recommend reading https://www.recruitrockstars.com/ - I almost threw the book out because of the name, but I now refer all my portfolio companies to it. It’s a great resource and a great way of framing your thinking.
For undergraduate coders in the AI/ML space, where should they start looking for intern jobs?
I guess it depends what they want to do or what sort of experience they want. If folks are interested in working with earlier stage companies, I’d suggest they pick a sector or a specific company and just reach out directly to the CEO or CTO. I don’t know many companies that would turn down smart interns in that space.
f they’re looking for bigger company experience - Facebook, Google and lots of others have internship programs that they advertise regularly.
For the more middle tier, scale up companies, again - I’d go direct - but in that case, maybe to a chief of staff or VP of people. You can also go through networks - so posting here, or going via university recruiters etc can be useful.
For me though - the direct approach to a company that someone really likes is best - pitch yourself and why you love the company and what you can bring to the table - it pays off far more than folks think!
I was wondering what your most interesting investment was? And also what your worst investment was?
To me, they’re all interesting in different ways. I’ve probably learned the most from Lingvist - I’ve been on the board there for years, so have gone through funding rounds, strategic investors, highs/lows/ups/downs, people starting, people leaving etc etc. The CEO there is a genius, and the rest of the board have become really good friends, so that’s been an amazing experience.
I’ve had companies that have failed, but that’s more of a learning experience for the founders and myself. I guess the worst investment is less about the company and more about a personality clash. I try to back founders that I’d happily hang out with or go for dinner with, and I try to adhere to a rule of ‘don’t invest in assholes’ - but sometimes assholes are really good at hiding it.
I am mid-flow with applications to the EIC, leader & WDC here in the West of Ireland... I was wondering would TechStars consider being part of a conditional EIC round? (I hope the new arrival is letting you get some sleep!)
On Techstars - we only invest in companies that have gone through one of our accelerator programs, so unfortunately we couldn’t do the conditional round.
I've been struggling to find much happening in the Web3 space in Ireland. Do you know where I could find a community of entrepreneurs working in the Web3 or crypto space here or in the UK? I'm particularly interested in private AI and data finance.
Applications are open now - https://www.techstars.com/accelerators/launchpool-web3
We’re also investors in dev.to - theyhave a reasonably active community in that space.
There’s also lots and lots of Slack communities listed here that could be good - https://www.startups.com/library/expert-advice/full-list-slack-communities
Plus Outlier Ventures here in the UK do a lot in that space - https://outlierventures.io/
What's your thinking on the nocode opportunity that apps like Bubble & Softr present for aspiring makers?
I think it’s great. Means people can build out prototypes/MVPs quickly. That allows people to test, learn, iterate and make decisions far faster than was previously the case.
We’re looking at a couple of opportunities in that universe at the moment, as I think we’re only scratching the surface. I’d say right now, maybe 5% or 6% of company stuff is being handled by nocode tools. I think that number could get up to 30/40% in the next few years as they evolve. I think there will always be a requirement for hard coded tools, but the scope for no-code is substantial.
Are there any specific sectors that you have interest in investing in or sectors that perhaps you won’t invest in?
I don’t like stuff in the gambling space, or some vice investing - although I’ve done booze and cannabis, and have an interest in mushrooms.
More generally, I tend to not really do a lot in biotech as I’m not smart enough to understand that world, and my ticket sizes are too small to really help. Otherwise, I’m pretty open.
As a solo founder, having demonstrable traction and revenue with early-stage clients, how do I address the co-founder 'gap' when applying to accelerators like Techstars etc.?
For me, it’s not really an issue. Cledara, Banjo Robinson, myTamarin, Kencko and lots of my other investments have been solo founders.
The key thing is helping us understand that team you want to build around you. I certainly don’t expect people to just randomly bring on co-founders, but I do want to see that you’ve thought about the first one, two or three people you’ll need to hire to scale the business - so getting that across is really key.
Have you seen any great pivots from marketplaces to SaaS amongst early stage companies? And do you have a preference/bias when evaluating them?
It feels more sustainable and allows us to service international & enterprise clients without building up local network effects, which I think works well for those bootstrapping.
I don’t particularly have a bias when evaluating - the stage that I invest at means the company will pivot at least once, and maybe 10/15 times before it gets to PMF - so mostly, I’m backing the founder(s) and their ability to listen and learn and act accordingly.
I agree that it can feel more sustainable and open you up to bigger clients etc - but in the case of that last call I had - there’s a risk that the company ends up capping their potential if they’re seen more as SaaS or white labelling rather than a standalone brand of their own.
That was an interesting qn about the web3 and your answer re Launchpool Web3 accelerator. Our first phase, which you have seen already, enables the tokenisation of property. Should we be leading with that, rather than it being the tag-along? We have many percieved risks due to B2C issues around homebuyers.. Would it be fair to say that DeFi etc acknowledges the B2C risks?
DeFi investors would likely acknowledge the risks. more traditional proptech investors have probably written blog posts about how they’re excited about this stuff, but secretly, they don’t understand it, and in many cases, are terrified of it!
So I’d change my pitch based on who you’re talking to - with investors who have made investments in the space before - go with it. With more traditional investors, I’d have the tokenisation aspect in there, but perhaps in a supporting rather than leading role.
Running an investment process can be overwhelming, and there are many many VCs to talk to- what pointers do you have for startups, and scaleups who are trying to find the best fit VC for their company, team and sector to whittle down their target list into something manageable?
It’s a pain in the proverbial right!
Thankfully, I made this handy video walking through the investment process - how to build a pipeline etc etc - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KwghQKaf4IM
Effectively, you need to build a really structured investor pipeline. It shouldn’t have thousands of people in there. It shouldn’t have random fund names. It should be well researched.
Where can tech founders go to improve their sales capability & execution?
I think that’s a big part of what accelerators can help with.
Also, lots of folks like https://www.salesimpact.io/