In honor of the one-year anniversary of the reopening of our London office, we are highlighting three Europe-based managers with whom we have the distinct privilege of partnering. For our second installment in the series, we sat down (virtually) with Saul Klein, Founding Partner at LocalGlobe, to discuss the investment landscape in the UK and Europe, trends he is seeing in portfolio companies, how venture capital can contribute to our collective path forward in a post-COVID world, and more. 

The UK has produced as many unicorns as France, Germany and Sweden put together and more than two and half times as many as Israel. It’s been a very well-kept secret: if you're going Unicorn hunting outside of the Bay Area and Beijing, London is your number-one destination. If you’re not just deciding to come to Europe because you're fleeing the U.S. or China, it's actually, now, one of the top ecosystems globally. And it's not just for unicorns, but for “future-corns,” a term coined by my partner Suzanne to describe companies valued at between $200 and $800 million. If you look at the “future-corn” distribution in Europe, including Israel, London and the UK are significantly further ahead.

There are several reasons, and one of them is we definitely owe it to the US. Historically, if you were an American tech company looking to expand outside of the U.S., often the UK and London would be your base for European or international expansion. If you look at most of the U.S. public tech companies, going all the way back from IBM through HP, Cisco, Microsoft, Intel, and now the newer cohort which includes Amazon, Google and Facebook, all of them have between 5,000 and 20,000 employees in the UK. So we've been the beneficiary of very significant U.S. investments over the last 20 to 30 years, and that has been accretive to the ecosystem.

From an R&D perspective, the UK is home to two of the best universities in the world: Oxford and Cambridge. Moreover, seven out of the world's 30 top universities are in the UK. The UK, on a per capita basis, massively outperforms both the U.S. and China in terms of peer-reviewed citations in R&D. So, the base of technical talents in the UK is profound.

Ironically, because the government isn't often credited for being helpful within ecosystems, we've had very progressive, open-policy environments to support tech and the growth of tech over the last 20 plus years, regardless of which administration is in office. These factors have collectively contributed to a successful ecosystem where now, 20 years later, people no longer see the UK as simply a place to visit museums and go on holiday in Europe, but rather a place to build and grow amazing tech companies. You can even have decent food nowadays!

I’ve been in this business since 1993, so I've seen Netscape go public, two years later the Asian financial crisis, few years after that 9/11 and the tech bubble bursting or the telecom bubble bursting (or whatever you choose to blame), Lehman, Brexit in our little micro economy, and now, obviously, COVID.

I think one consistent theme throughout those 25 years is the strength and resilience of tech. If you look at what has performed from a returns perspective, whether over the last six months during COVID, or the last 10 years since Lehman, or even going 25 years back to the Netscape IPO as the starting gun for the Internet, early stage venture-backed businesses have not just delivered amazing returns in the private markets, but a lot have also delivered venture-type returns in the public markets. So, I think tech has been incredibly resilient.

I'd say what's changed in the last six months, or through the pandemic, is the realization of how fundamental technology is within society. COVID has massively accelerated this realization to a point where there is no corner of society or the world that hasn't experienced how tech can facilitate lives in our new reality. Whether it's healthcare, education, payments, ecommerce or food delivery, there’s not an area of the economy that hasn’t been impacted fundamentally by tech. A lot of things that maybe those of us inside tech have seen for 5 or 10 years have just become self-evident to people outside our little bubble. I think that's really exciting for tech, and it's why, in a sense, our thesis has been that it's taken 20 years for the UK and Europe to get to the starting line and the next 20 years are going to be the most interesting. Because that's when technology is actually going to impact fundamental parts of our lives like health, education, food, security, energy, and so on.

The shift to tech being mainstream and being a horizontal across all industries, rather than a vertical, was already starting to happen, and COVID has just accelerated that further and faster. We're seeing innovation across the board, but quite frankly we were seeing that anyway. I think what's changed is the broader societal acceptance of that, with investor interest accelerating accordingly. If you look at returns over the last 10 to 20 years, if you weren't in tech, you just didn't get great returns. If you were in tech, you could be in almost the most mainstream of tech and have doubled your money over the last 12 months.

Sonali Graphics (9)

Saul Klein is a serial entrepreneur, operator and investor with over 25 years experience building and exiting companies in the US, Israel and Europe.  He has a passion for working with seed and early stage businesses and the positive impact that technology can make on society.

Saul is currently a Founding Partner at LocalGlobe and Latitude Ventures. Previously, Saul was a General Partner at Index Ventures from 2007 until May 2015. In 2012 David Cameron appointed Saul to be the UK's first Technology Business Ambassador to Israel and in 2016 he was awarded an OBE for services to Business.  For almost five years, Saul has been a trustee of Comic Relief. He currently serves on the UK Government’s Digital Economy Council and is a member of The Council for Science and Technology which advises the Prime Minister on science and technology policy issues across government.  

Most recently Saul co-founded Platoon (acquired by Apple in 2018), Zinc (co-founded with the LSE), Kano and Seedcamp (seed investors in UIPath and Revolut), as well as being co-founder and original CEO of Lovefilm International (acquired by Amazon in 2011). He was also part of the original executive team at Skype (acquired by eBay in 2005). 

In a previous life he created the role of Chief Privacy Officer at Microsoft, having exited Firefly (a spinout from the MIT Medialab) to Microsoft in 1997. In 1994, he helped to put the Daily Telegraph online, a week before the San Jose Mercury News. 

Sonali Graphics (11)

LocalGlobe is a UK-based venture capital firm that focuses on seed investments. Seeding ambitious UK founders since 1999 including Transferwise, Zoopla, Improbable, Citymapper, Algolia and Robinhood. Visit https://localglobe.vc/.

More Insights

In honor of the one-year anniversary of the reopening of our London office, we are highlighting three Europe-based managers with whom we have the ...

Read More

In honor of the one-year anniversary of the reopening of our London office, we are highlighting three Europe-based managers with whom we have the ...

Read More

In honor of the one-year anniversary of our London office's reopening, we are highlighting three Europe-based managers with whom we have the distinct ...

Read More