The Sifted Summit — our two-day London event — is in full swing.
Over 1,500 founders, operators and investors have gathered for a full programme of panel discussions, workshops, roundtables and slightly windy queues at food trucks.
Wednesday saw former Monzo CEO Tom Blomfield reunited with his old frenemy, former TechCrunch reporter and now senior vice president at Zapp, Steve O’Hear, to discuss journalists, VCs’ “herd mentality” and angel investing.
Here’s a summary of the conversation.
‘I find the herd mentality of investment so surprising and shocking’
Blomfield opened up about the “pretty traumatic” first few months of the Covid pandemic, when Monzo had a £100m line of equity funding pulled by an investor — and had to make some employees redundant as a result.
“Our long-term investor relationships really stood up,” Blomfield said. “The new money got nervous and flighty… The irony is that Monzo is doing really well now — it’s something like tripled revenue since I left. It’s on an absolute tear.”
His advice for founders going through similar ups and downs: “When it’s going really, really well, enjoy it — but don’t believe the full excesses of the hype. When it’s going badly, it’s probably not as bad as it feels.”
Want to get into angel investing? ‘Speak to people who are really good at’
Blomfield has now done 77 angel investments — but said he isn’t doing anymore. (O’Hear, meanwhile, who’s on the Atomico angel programme, said he will happily take any early-stage founder’s emails…)
When he started out, he said he spoke to people who are already really good at it — name dropping his former cofounder Matt Robinson, superangel and now partner at VC firm Plural Ian Hogarth, and Carlos Gonzalez-Cadenas, former COO at GoCardless and now a partner at Index.
His approach? “Spray and pray — or, breadth first.” Building a breadth of portfolio guarantees you get better returns, he said; it’s the angels who do just four or five investments that get burnt. Two or three of Blomfield’s investments are already doing “phenomenally well”, he said — elderly healthcare platform Lottie “could return all the others”.
No digital bank is a ‘control centre’ just yet
When Blomfield set out building Monzo, he envisaged it becoming a kind of hub which gathered all kinds of financial services — and it’s definitely not there yet, he said.
“Your current account shouldn’t be a static store of money, it should be a hub around which all over services are controlled” — helping people do everything from switch energy provider to optimise their pension.
“I think Monzo is 10-15% of the way there… Revolut is a little further — it’s taken more of a chuck everything and the kitchen sink in approach.”
‘There’s a woeful lack of media literacy’
In the operator seat, O’Hear has learnt first-hand how much of a pain in the arse journalists can be. The Sifted team, he said, had caused him the “most hassle” of any outlet in his new role — and that’s a compliment.
“Journalists are there to hold power to account and get the tech industry to be more transparent — check and balances lead to a healthier ecosystem, and a better society,” he said.
Not all founders get that though. “A lot of first-time founders are slightly naive and quite immature — they go in with a transactional approach. They think the role of the press release and the journalist are the same… and they’re not.”
“The transactional approach doesn’t usually lead to results… you’ve got to lay the groundwork for long-term success.”
Blomfield, it seems, got that. “I realised that pissing you off too early wasn’t going to do us any good,” he said.
Amy Lewin is Sifted’s editor and cohost of The Sifted Podcast, and writes Up Round, a weekly newsletter on VC. She tweets from @amyrlewin