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The Family in London
European Straits #72
Most people still assume that The Family is a Paris-based firm. But while we prefer to present ourselves as a pan-European entity, we could just as well be described as a London-based firm.
After all, the parent of our entire group is a UK-based limited company. Two of The Family’s cofounders (out of three) reside in London—that’s Oussama Ammar and me. We have a superb team in the UK, with Naim Taleb-Dumortier, Pietro Invernizzi, and Mathias Pastor, who will soon be joining The Family as a director. And we’re currently hunting for a new, larger office to double down on organizing events and reaching out to the UK entrepreneurial community.
Your question may be, “You’re French. Why London?”. In a , I explained why my cofounders and I decided back in 2015 (less than two years after we started The Family) that it was critical to expand beyond the French market. The factors that specifically attracted us to London were the following:
First of all, we have many friends in London, not least Index Ventures, who was our first tier-1 investor. Since then, our network has expanded to include Accel, with whom more than one of our portfolio companies raised funds; pioneering VC firms such as Hummingbird and Backed VC; the PR firm Milltown Partners, who have become great friends; the team leading Public, a startup accelerator dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs trying to invent new government services; and not least many people in the vibrant London think tank and research scene, from the Royal Society of Arts to Policy Network.
Next, London has long been a hub for everything related to entrepreneurship and finance. My theory is that it’s due to the importance of the English language in the digital world, as well as the ease of doing business (in no small part thanks to the local corporate law). London is also the base for many global media organizations, including The Economist, The Financial Times, and Reuters. It’s home to world-class universities and the important thought leaders they host, chief among them UCL’s Mariana Mazzucato and Carlota Perez. London is also where large US tech companies have located their most prominent teams when it comes to policy.
Finally, London is the heir to a long and deep tradition of global connectivity. Through trade and financial services, it’s connected to India, China (), Africa, Russia, and obviously the US. It goes without saying that it’s also deeply connected to the European continent. As a frequent Eurostar user, I can testify to just how easy it is to travel from London to either Paris or Brussels. Most nationalities are present in the city due to the UK’s history with countries as diverse as India, China, Russia, Turkey, Eastern Europe, and, of course, France (with London being known as the 6th biggest French city in the world).
Now what exactly do we do in London?
When I moved to the UK in 2015, the idea was not to conquer the ecosystem (yet) but rather to reclaim the time and focus needed to establish The Family as a European brand. It’s in London that I wrote the first issues of our in-house series The Family Papers. On the family side, my wife and I did everything we could to live the full London experience. We settled in Islington rather than South Kensington where most of the French diaspora is located. We decided that our two kids would attend an English school. Although we’re still foreigners in many ways, we feel deeply connected to a city that we find more beautiful and vibrant by the day.
The role of The Family’s local team is not simply to take care of the UK-based startups in our portfolio. Rather, their mission is to own the local ecosystem. What Naim, Pietro, Mathias, and soon others are doing all day long is connecting with people to make sure that The Family is known as a community and that we know everyone—VCs, service providers, others—who could be useful to our entrepreneurs no matter where in Europe they’re based.
That being said, we do have several fast-growing UK-based startups in our portfolio that we’re very proud of, including Homie (a concierge-style service that promises to save Londoners time, hassle and money when going in search of their next rental property), Vestpod (which provides education and a community for women to start breaking taboos regarding money), Home Run (which offers a real time online grocery fulfilment service, helping London retailers reach customers faster and cheaper to gain market share and compete with Amazon), Aura Vision Labs (a breakthrough visitor analytics platform for retailers, advertisers and smart cities), and Emma Bank (a banking app that aggregates a user’s bank accounts and credit cards to give them a full picture of their finances).
Our next step in London is to accelerate the launching of arm’s length subsidiaries to provide relevant services to the local ecosystem. We have several of these in Paris, all fast-growing and successful: they include Pathfinder (advisory for corporate clients), Lion (professional training for startup employees and corporate managers) and Kymono (outfits for startups, large organizations, and restaurants). We plan on replicating this approach in London. Kymono is expanding in the UK at a very fast pace. The energetic Carl Martin, a veteran of the London ecosystem, has joined us to launch the equivalent of Lion for London.
Let’s close by addressing the elephant in the room: Brexit. Even before the June 2016 referendum, I had discussed the issue in a short note published on Medium. In some ways, I dare say it has stood the test of time. However, Brexit has since taken a frightening turn. The post-Brexit UK government has proven much less tech-friendly than that of David Cameron. And the uncertainty has been haunting the local ecosystem for almost two years now.
But we’ve decided that we don’t care. Rather than expecting much from governments, The Family has always assumed that entrepreneurs had to take matters into their own hands. The weakening of legacy industries due to Brexit can be a boon for startups in the UK. And private players like The Family can play a role in building bridges between the UK and the continent. If others did it in more troubled times, why not us in the current Entrepreneurial Age?
Warm regards (from the Gare du Nord in Paris, on my way home),