The New Palo Alto Is in Europe

A conversation with Saul Klein about tech entrepreneurship is in Europe, why London & Paris together are Europe's Palo Alto, and why we need a new "Entente Cordiale"

  
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Today’s episode of Building Bridges is my conversation with Saul Klein, a venture capitalist based in London and a prominent figure in European tech.

I’ve been connected to Saul Klein for quite some time, because he was a partner at Index Ventures when the VC firm invested in my firm The Family in 2013. But I really got to know him after I moved to London in 2015. His name simply kept coming up as the person I should meet.

  • Someone even told me “Saul is the London version of you”. I must say I’m lagging far behind in terms of track record, but it’s true Saul and I have many shared interests: not only startups, but also ecosystem building, the geography of entrepreneurship and venture capital, and the many (and overlooked) interactions between the worlds of tech and policy.

There’s a reason Saul’s name is mentioned so often in London, indeed. He was present at the creation of the contemporary UK tech system, as the founder of Lovefilm and an active angel investor. He then joined Index Ventures, arguably the most accomplished European VC firm, as a partner, before founding his own firm, LocalGlobe, with his father Robin Klein—another prominent figure in London tech.

  • In between, Saul was also instrumental, as a cofounder, in launching projects as diverse and impressive as Seedcamp (one of Europe’s most successful seed funds), Zinc (a mission-driven firm that aims to tackle societal challenges), and Newton (a training program for VCs, LPs, angels, accelerators, and tech transfer officers worldwide).

Needless to say he and I talked quite a lot over the years about many tech-related topics. Our conversation in this podcast, however, is focused on something that really stands out in my view: LocalGlobe’s investment thesis, which I wrote about in On Trains and Geography (October 2020), 

Part of Saul’s investment thesis is that his firm should invest in tech startups within a 4-hour train ride from London—which includes cities as diverse and interesting as Cambridge, Manchester, Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam. Here are his arguments:

  • 4 hours is far from being a random number. It’s enough time to reach a given destination without being away from the office for too long. You can travel 4 hours to your destination, have a 2-hour meeting, and then travel back to sleep in your own bed, back with your team the next morning. (A bit extreme, but it’s doable.)

  • You can actually be productive when traveling by train. Not only is it easier to get an Internet connection when on a train (either through wifi or 4G), but traveling by train also comes with many fewer interruptions than traveling by plane.

  • Finally, Saul’s is a bet on the future. From what he told me, he expects plane travel to be less and less tolerated in a business context due to climate change, and at some point governments could decide to revisit the whole cost structure (from tax and other perspectives) so as to make planes more expensive...and trains cheaper.

A key implication of this thesis is that tech people in London and Paris, which despite Brexit are still well connected by the Eurostar, can work on building The New Entente Cordiale 🇬🇧🇫🇷 (in reference to a famous episode in the history of European diplomacy): merging the two ecosystems into one, building on each city’s relative strengths and advantages and ultimately building what Saul calls the “New Palo Alto”. It’s a compelling vision which, I believe, really deserved an in-depth conversation!

In the podcast we also touch upon the following:

  • How Saul came to work in tech, what he saw in the growing London ecosystem over the years, and his vision of venture capital as a business.

  • LocalGlobe’s office, Phoenix Court, and why Robin and Saul decided to settle in the London ward of Somers Town.

  • David Ben Gurion’s lesson on innovation, and why Europe, long a frontier market, is finally becoming an emerging market.

This podcast and the related article were originally published at The New Palo Alto w/ Saul Klein. Grocery Delivery Startups. Thumbs Up/Down. as part of my newsletter European Straits (about the Entrepreneurial Age, viewed from Europe).

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  • Also Building Bridges is part of a network of Substack newsletters, which you may want to discover: there’s Laetitia’s Laetitia@Work (about the future of work, with a feminist perspective), and my own European Straits (about the Entrepreneurial Age, viewed from Europe).


(Credit: Franz Liszt, Angelus ! Prière Aux Anges Gardiens—extrait du disque Miroirs de Jonas Vitaud, NoMadMusic.)