An interview with Sam Myers of Balderton Capital

Sam is a Principal with Balderton Capital, one of Europe’s leading early-stage investment funds, with US$2.3Bn in committed capital. Balderton has invested in more than 100 start-ups since its inception in 2000 and Sam is responsible for the Nordics, where previous investments have included companies like MySQL and Bookatable, and the current portfolio counts Vivino, Kobalt Music, Tictail, SoundtrackYourBrand and Recorded Future among others.

He has been been investing in venture since 2013, when he worked with the investment team at DN Capital and prior to that began his career as a strategy consultant with the Monitor Group in London, advising clients across Europe, USA and Latin America.

 

What start up verticals interest you most right now?

At the moment, I have a bit of an obsession with anything healthcare-related. Despite being a huge part of the economy, around 10% of GDP in Europe and far more in the US, it has done it’s best to avoid the digital tsunami, only now adopting the type of software that we have been using in other organisations for years. It is particularly interesting since innovation in healthcare is now shifting from being mainly driven by new molecules and devices to being driven by software and better use of data, meaning that the traditional line drawn between life-sciences and tech VCs is now blurring. Having spent a large part of my earlier career as a consultant helping Big Pharma launch new drugs, I’m now excited to work with startups looking to help tackle some of societies biggest problems, while also breaking into some very large markets.

Another vertical I am particularly interested in at the moment is cyber security. The new reality for most companies is that they are facing more and more sophisticated criminals who have platforms to share information and buy tools on the dark web, as well as organise and cooperate, using cryptocurrency to pay accomplices and accept ransoms. At the same time, governments are putting more responsibility on companies to protect their customers, making future breaches a lot more expensive than they have been in the past.  All-in-all, demand for security products is higher than it’s ever been and there’s a lot of room for new tech companies to play.

 

What are your biggest predictions for the next 12 months?

Apart from healthcare and security, I’ve spent the past 6 months or so looking into the next-generation of user-interfaces and software that automates the boring or time-consuming parts of white-collar work. Over the next year or so, I expect to see a lot of companies revisit speech as an interface, as it comes out of the infamous ‘trough of disillusionment’ and can support more sophisticated applications. The first wave will focus on platforms that support unimodal, one-to-one interactions à la Alexa, where the usual suspects will step up their efforts to attract third party app-developers in the battle for owning the new app stores. In the next wave, however, I hope to see new companies working on multimodal platforms that can support more sophisticated forms of interaction, with multiple parties involved.

I also expect to start seeing the first of our future ‘digital co-workers’, as AI moves into the workspace. This won’t take the from of bots, as many people claimed a few years back, but instead the form of nicely packaged applications, where automation is hidden ‘under the hood’, or the form of a new category of software we will be labelling ‘Robotic Process Automation’. For the next 12 months, however, our new ‘co-workers’ will be relatively basic and aimed at narrow processes where it can be trained quickly and by the actual white-collar worker who is doing the task today, usually someone non-technical who doesn’t need to use code to configure the software. Over time it will free up more and more of our time by automating more ambiguous tasks.

 

Are there any specific company ideas that you really want someone to build and would potentially fund?

I would love to see more technical teams working on products that can numerically estimate a specific company’s cyber-risk, which at some point can feed into models for pricing cyber-insurance. It sounds dull in comparison to companies building self-driving cars or using block-chain for X, but this is actually a perfect category VC investment. It was nearly non-existent only 2-3 years ago but is quickly becoming a billion-dollar market, there is a large technological advantage in aggregating data from multiple security tools and cyber-intelligence providers to accurately estimate risk, and the companies currently serving the market don’t have the capabilities they need to build the right products.

On the healthcare-side, I’m currently looking for any companies building tools for monitoring performance, quality of care and outcomes for patients, in order to build a pooled dataset across healthcare providers. There’s a big piece of the puzzle still missing in healthcare today, which is connecting the loop between specific treatments and longer-term benefits for patients, outside of controlled trial conditions. This is obviously a huge challenge due to privacy issues around patient data and how it can be used, but building these tools will be an important step to allow insurers and healthcare systems to pay for the value of a treatment rather than for each procedure, drug or hospital-visit. At some point, if the dataset is strong enough, it could also provide the best platform for running simulations to test different treatment plans side-by-side, which would be the holy grail of healthcare.

 

If you could wave a magic wand and instantly have any imaginable solution to a problem you’re facing (personally or at work), what problem would you solve?

The product I’m dreaming for someone to invent properly is a device to help improve sleep efficiency to the degree that we can stay as alert and healthy but with fewer hours in rest mode, rather than devices that just track how poorly we sleep. Unfortunately I’m a person who needs my eight hours to avoid being stuck in zombie-mode the next day and I’ve always envied friends and colleagues who function well with only 5-6 hours of sleep. Such an advantage and so very unfair that they have more hours in the day than I do.

Perhaps Apple’s acquisition of Beddit leads to something more interesting than tracking…

Neil S W Murray founded The Nordic Web in 2014 in order to provide the Nordics with the quality coverage it deserves. As well as being Founding Editor of The Nordic Web, Neil is also an active community builder in the region, participating in a number of initiatives, and has previously worked for Tech.eu.