1 year of Planet+ angel investing

In October 2018, I had the honor of joining the angel programme of the largest European venture fund.

I was therefore tasked with figuring out how to think about allocating the $100,000 entrusted to me by the fine folks at Atomico.

It turned out an easy exercise:

When we raised Mission and Market in 2014-15, we kept the most generalist investment attitude and thesis possible. This made sense as it was our first foray into investing, and we ended up with some wildly different portfolio companies: consumer and real estate, saas and deeptech, marjiuana and crypto, cancer treatments and smelling chips.

I understood fairly quickly that the companies that made me more excited were the ones doing what most would now define as deep-tech: synthetic biology and deep learning form a pretty big part of the portfolio.

But I also quickly realized that there was an underlying, maybe subconscious theme underlying my investments towards the end of the investment period of the fund: finding companies actually “making the world a better place” (for lack of a better phrase, as that’s one you’re bombarded with if you live in San Francisco, and one you can become completely numb to after having heard it used by companies creating flavored water, data analytics or a new DTC brand).

At the same time I started waking up to the vastness of the climate crisis, ecosystem degradation, soil health, water scarcity, lost appreciation for nature and biodiversity loss problems – and started wondering why every single investor was not already focusing on this, as it’s clearly the paramount problem to solve in the world.

Everything else doesn’t matter if we don’t have a planet.

So an investment thesis was born: I would only focus on Planet+ companies (and I promise a more in depth investment thesis post soon).

I could already classify some of my Mission and Market portfolio as Planet+

  • Clara Foods: ending factory farming.
    • We’ve been some of the earliest investors in Arturo and team since the seed stage. Producing brewed egg-white proteins from yeast is one of those ideas that immediately made it clear how the future would look like: one in which we didn’t have to imprison and torture billions of sentient creatures, and grind baby chicks to produce food, while at the same time having a massive environmental impact.
  • Aspiration: transformational finance.
    • Investing in a challenger bank still felt pretty crazy at the time, but Aspiration is once again a glimpse into the future, a vision of what banks should and will be: putting your money to work towards the common good, not the interest of the bankers.
  • Vitrolabs: ending factory farming.
    • Growing animals for their meat and leather is so medieval and inefficient, it still makes me incredulous we are not all working for alternatives. Vitrolabs creates in-vitro cell-based leather, a superior and much more environmentally friendly product.

and had invested in dozens of Planet+ deals on AngelList including drones for reforestation, cell-based fish, energy storage providers, turnkey net-zero energy homes, advanced energy storage devices and more

so that gave me the baseline of network to work with, but I was still pretty green to it.

My Planet+ angel portfolio

I spoke with countless amazing companies building solutions to save our planet, and ended up investing in four (with one more to close soon).

I can only share one name, but will publish specific investment posts when the companies announce their funding

  • 🇺🇸 Pachama: reforestation
    • Pachama is a company started by my W15 batchmate Diego, who is using satellite data and drone images to efficiently verify carbon capture by reforestation projects. Reforestation is one of the big solutions we must push for in order to restore degraded ecosystems, fix water patters and try to mitigate the impact of climate change.
    • I was honored to be joined by Chris Sacca, Paul Graham and other legendary investors in backing Diego.
  • 🇪🇺 Insect proteins for fish and animal feed: sustainable agriculture
    • Getting fishmeal and soy are two of the most destructive practices in agriculture today, and they are the main sources of proteins for farmed animals. Getting the same proteins from insects is a wildly more efficient and sustainable solution.
  • 🇪🇺 Fermented mycelium proteins: end of factory farming
    • The quest to find the best alternative proteins on which to feed the planet is already on, with plant-based and cell-based meats, but one I think holds a particular potential is to be found in the realm of fungi. This company uses the roots of fungi to ferment a protein that is the most sustainable of all the meat alternatives yet developed.
  • 🇪🇺 Mobile-first, millennial-targeted impact investment platform: transformational finance
    • Directing capital towards important topics and companies is one of the highest leverage activities we can focus on. It is mind-blowing the amount of capital invested in random companies destroying our planet – and climate change will make it shift so fast, it will be incredibile to watch.

As I met with amazing founders doing important things, I couldn’t resist wanting to deploy more capital, and thus ended up investing in three more companies with my personal capital, as my first real “angel-sized” investments.

  • 🇪🇺 Mid-range, fully electric airplanes: transportation
    • We all know we have to move most of our transportation to electric. The hardest is airplanes, for obvious reasons. While there is no solution in sight for long-range flights, we have the technology for some lower distance routes.
  • 🇪🇺 Molten salt nuclear reactors: energy
    • The consensus is clear: in the mix of energy sources for the near-future, we will need nuclear. We’ll need existing plants, new plants with existing tech, but most importantly we need to figure out new types of nuclear technologies. One option is fusion, and another one is safer nuclear with molten salt: this would be safe, decentralized, cheap and scalable. The holy grail.
  • 🇺🇸 AI prospecting tool for hydro, solar and wind farms: energy, data/efficiency
    • Getting more renewable plants out there, and lowering the cost of their projects should be one of the world’s #1 priorities. This company will contribute substantially to that goal.

What’s next?

Interacting with Planet+ founders has made it clear to me that this is my type of crowd.

At the same time, I’ve been completely baffled by the lack of investments in this area by the rest of the venture community. I’d honestly have expected most funds to ramp up substantially their funding to climate-related technologies by now, but that doesn’t seem to be happening.

Therefore, it’s clear to me that spending more time on this area would be a good use of my time.

If you are interested in any of the above companies, or on the thesis in general, I’d love to have a chat.

Hack Reactor presentation: “How to choose a company to work for”

I’ve had the chance to speak to the remote Hack Reactor class yesterday about how to find a company to work for when they graduate.

I usually don’t like to publish slide decks without all the context of the talk, but hope this can still be helpful to someone.

In the talk I explained how the choice of company is really the biggest thing that matters, especially at the beginning of one’s career, as well as how to determine which companies are on a breakout trajectory. It’s usually fairly easy to do.

Roles and titles are MUCH less important than you might think. A good friend of mine got hired by a unicorn who at the time was only 40 people but on a clear breakaway trajectory as a technical support person. He’s now a lead PM there and, if he were to leave, he could pick any startup or company in the valley, as well as most probably raise a seed round pre-product.

In the presentation, there’s an example where someone asked me which company to join in late 2010, and Airbnb was easily the top pick even if they had just raised their Series A at the time.

When I myself was looking for companies to join, I had a much more risky goal of becoming one of the first 5–10 employees , but still managed to identify a number of clear breakouts ones, and pushed hard to join Stripe and AngelList 4+ years ago.

It seems that identifying a company is just one of the steps 😀

More information and a great list of companies can be found on www.breakoutlist.com

Why I deleted Brad Feld and other 1000 high profile connections from LinkedIn

For the last years, on LinkedIn I’ve religiously only added people I met or worked together, but I wasn’t always so diligent: when I first tried to break into the tech and startup scene, I most probably went on a “connect” spree.

Weak high-profile connections are useless

The other day I was looking at a LinkedIn profile in order to see if I could get a warm intro to someone. When I saw I had 15 connections in common I thought: “awesome, this is gonna be fast and easy” — but after looking at each one of them I realized I didn’t really feel comfortable asking for an intro to anyone of those.

Some of the people I had met 4+ years ago, some I had only exchanged a couple of emails with and some I literally had no idea who they were.

That quickly made for a loss of time.

But more worryingly, what if that other person was checking on me and looking for references? He would have reached out to most of these people and they’d all have responded something along the lines of “I have no idea who that is” or “Yeah, met him a long time ago, don’t know him that well”.

That’s not good at all.

I love Brad Feld, but I’ve never met the guy. I spoke to him on Skype more than 6 years ago about how to replicate TechStars in Italy — but he’ll never remember it (I almost didn’t!). What if someone had seen Brad as a mutual connection and reached out to him asking what he thought about me?

I probably need to do a better job of keeping in touch with people, but the reality is that I’ve probably been too liberal in adding people.

So, today I took some time, went through my 2.5k connections and removed more than 1000 of them.

Criteria I used

I decided I would remove anyone of the following:

  • I didn’t know / forgot who it was
  • I doubted they would remember who I was
  • I only exchanged a couple of emails with
  • I had never met

I removed more than 1000 but I still will probably need a second pass.

Why you should do it too

  • You’ll have a much better LinkedIn experience.
  • You’ll get better warm introductions.

But most importantly

  • When people will backchannel you they will only reach out to people that know who you are and can answer questions.

Removing high profile connections you might have added out of excitement in the past may sound crazy — and I had some reservations before removing partners at A16Z, Founders Fund, tons of entrepreneurs, etc. — but the reality is that they are completely useless connections and can oftentimes even hurt you.

The importance of being in Silicon Valley

Google Maps

The real reason behind WhatsApp’s acquisition

Short post. Mostly a note to self.

The WhatsApp acquisition story, being one of the biggest M&A exits the internet sector has ever seen, has been obviously covered by everyone from every different angle: “rags to riches”, “Facebook overpaid”, “Erlang!”, “price per employee off the charts!”, etc.

As everybody knows, there are tons of similar messaging services, with great user traction, insane growth and higher revenues, but Facebook still acquired WhatsApp.

There are some product and fit reasons: focus on growth, great diversity of markets, highest number of users, no marketing, and so on, but I believe the main reason for the choice is their location. 7.4 miles between the companies’ headquarters and probably less than a mile between the CEOs’ houses.

The other companies’ CEOs couldn’t grab coffee and have dinner with Zuck’s at a moment request. Much less develop a friendship over a 2 years period.

This exemplifies perfectly what still makes Silicon Valley the place to be. No matter what New Yorkers and other “startup hubs” enthusiasts want you to believe.

The simple truth is that if you want to build a world-changing company and you’re not here, you’re just making it much harder for yourself to succeed.

How to be a great startup employee


Hint: it’s not “rest and vest”.

Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness.

It’s common knowledge that startups move incredibly fast. In such an environment, asking for permission is not even an option.

The best employees will just figure out what needs to be done and go ahead and do it. If you were hired in an early stage team you’re supposed to be smart and be able to figure out by yourself what has the highest priority or if someone else on your team needs help with something.

Be aware of what other people are doing.

You will not be able to effectively impact your company if you just sit down and pound through your to-do list without knowing what the rest of team is up-to.

This might be the leadership team’s responsibility, but you still should try to get insights into what other departments are working on and how your work will help or block anybody else in the company.

Clearly communicate what you’re working on.

Obviously, as you’re expected to know what everyone else is working on, you’re also supposed to clearly let others know what you’re up to.

Some people tend to only communicate updates on tasks and projects which they think will impact others, but it’s much more effective to give a (daily || bi-weekly || weekly) update about everything you’re doing.

Ask your colleagues for help.

Never be afraid to ask for help. If you’re stuck on something and you know someone else can help it is much, much better to ask for help instead of spending time trying to figure out stuff on your own.

You’ll undoubtedly have to do so oftentimes, so when you can, ask for help. You’ll get stuff done faster, learn faster, foster collaboration and build morale all at the same time.

People sometimes hesitate to ask for help, worried what others might think. In reality, team members are happy to help and appreciate it when others ask for it.

Over-promise, over-deliver.

Startups are not an environment where you can under-promise and over-deliver.

Whether you’re talking with customers, partners or your team, you should always over-promise and then work your ass off to over-deliver on those promises. Startups move fast and you often have to sell more than you really have. That leaves you with no choice other than doing whatever it takes to actually deliver.

Learn to prioritize.

In my opinion, the #1 skill for a startup employee is the ability to prioritize.

You will always have a ton of stuff on your plate, probably more than you have time for, so it’s really essential that you’re able to effectively decide what needs to be done first and what can wait just

Curate the details when needed or just get the 80% done when it makes sense.


No matter your role, there are three things you should constantly be doing for your startup:

Always be recruiting.

If you’re in a high growth company, one of the biggest challenges it will face is definitely recruiting smart people.

When you go to meetups, pubs, weekend BBQs, anywhere, always try to recruit. Tell your friends what positions your company is looking for and ask them if they know someone. If they don’t, incentivize them to ask their network anyways. Expanding your recruiting reach by even one degree will help immensely with your company’s recruiting efforts, which is one of the best things you can do.

Always be closing.

Even if you are an engineer, you should still be selling your company’s product all the time. Consumer product? Have your friends go to your website or download the app. Enterprise or B2B? Always mention what you and your company do when you meet new people, you’ll eventually meet someone who’ll become a customer.

Bringing in customers for your company is one of the biggest joys, especially if you’re not in sales.

Always be marketing.

This one goes without saying: as an early startup employee you’re expected to be proud of where you work and do all you can to make it succeed.

Always talk about and market your company’s product. Post news on your social networks, wear your company’s swag, put a sticker on your laptop and give out stickers to your friends.


Enjoy.

Remember to have fun. You won’t be able to do all of the above if you’re unhappy or overly stressed and not looking forward to every work day.

It’s a hell of a ride, it’s fun, it’s rewarding and it’s much easier than being a founder, so enjoy it and try to learn as much as possible.