Co-founder of The Climate Corporation joins our growing team of entrepreneur-investors
We’ve always believed that successful founders can play a vital role in the growth of startups and the development of our ecosystem as a whole. That’s why we set up Atomico, and why we recently announced partnerships with a number of top European entrepreneur-investors to support our next generation of superstar founders.
Now we’re delighted to welcome Siraj Khaliq to our team in another major step forward for Atomico as the home for founder-funders in Europe. Siraj co-founded The Climate Corporation, a pioneer of precision agriculture, applying big data technology to build a new industry. Also one of our early investments, Climate was acquired for $1.1bn by Monsanto in 2013.
A computer scientist, Siraj was an early engineer at Google and later CTO at Climate. Siraj’s expertise will enhance Atomico’s ability to invest in and support cutting edge technology-first companies, including the new wave of machine learning enabled and Software as a Service startups.
On why he chose to join Atomico, Siraj said: “Since Climate Corporation was acquired I’ve devoted my time to angel investing and advising startups, and loved it. What surprised me the most was how much I’d underestimated the value of sharing my own experience with other founders. As I started to think about how to scale the support and investment I was offering, it became clear that Atomico was the place to go.”
Building a company from the start to become a global winner is a journey few founders have been on – Siraj is one of those few. We’re thrilled to be working together again.
We sat down with Siraj to find out why he made the move from entrepreneur to investor and what excites him most about European tech.
Why did you decide to move from entrepreneur to VC?
In the couple of years since my company (The Climate Corporation) was acquired I’ve devoted my time to angel investing and advising startups. I’d underestimated the extent to which my experiences were applicable to the journeys that other founders are on, and it’s a role I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. As I started to think about how to scale this I realized the most effective way was by taking a role in Venture Capital, and when I looked hard it became clear that Atomico was the place to do this.
Once I had made the decision I spent some time taking a hard look at the existing ecosystem. I had already moved from the Valley to Europe (my family is from the UK) and, besides, saw a lot of relative value and unsupported potential in Europe. Of the top-tier players here, Atomico had the most founder-friendly, egalitarian and culturally compatible approach for me. Though younger than other big firms, I found a great balance between structure but also room for the intuition and wisdom of crowds signals to come through in the investment process. In some ways it also reminds me of my time at early Google: innovative, long-termist, politics free and data driven.
Why do you think Atomico is different for entrepreneurs raising money?
The culture here is very founder-oriented. What that translates into is that Atomico has gone out of its way to build a fantastic “value creation” team that brings so much more than money to a deal. Now, a lot of firms say this, but what we’ve heard is that typically even the outspoken ones fail to deliver on this. Some of Atomico’s portfolio company founders that have the context of other big name investors have come back and said things like “we didn’t appreciate it at the time but know now that Atomico is different”. The amount of time the team here spends with portfolio companies is, I think, without parallel, and can materially impact a startup’s outcome.
What kind of deals are you looking at?
Atomico is unusual in that it runs large funds but is also multi-stage. This means the ability to invest early (series A) in companies and go on to support those companies through later growth, or come in new at a later stage and lead those larger deals. We don’t tend to do really early (seed stage) deals but encourage strong entrepreneurs to start establishing a relationship even then.
We’re also active across sectors, though avoid hardware-only plays or pharma / biotech since we feel we can provide the best support to software-oriented firms.
The investment guiding principle instead of stage and sector is location and ambition. Atomico invests in firms with global potential that have hit or are near hitting a business model inflection point. Where their plan includes international expansion we have built an exceptionally strong network of specialists (country partners, in Atomico parlance) to help portfolio companies achieve this successfully. Interestingly, even for later stage US startups, despite them having myriad local VC options, it’s something we’re often approached for.
Are there areas that you personally will cover?
Given my background as a computer scientist and CTO, I’m most interested in pure software or infrastructure companies, including AI and machine learning-based companies. And my Climate Corporation experience is also highly relevant to parts of fintech and agriculture.
I expect to spend much of my primary deal sourcing time on the UK, being from here originally and having ties to universities here (including Cambridge, where I did my undergrad).
How is the startup landscape in Europe evolving?
Big topic! I’ll try to do it justice in a short space. This is an exciting time to be in tech investing generally, and in Europe in particular. With some of the larger outcomes we’ve seen in recent years, we’re getting to the point where success can breed new success. Silicon Valley keeps delivering hits not because it has unique talent, but because people have the vision to see how it can all come together. They’ve often seen it happen at previous companies or with friends, and this provides a blueprint for successful execution of new projects. In Europe we’re further along than we’ve ever been in building that kind of institutional memory, and it makes a difference.
Similarly, there’s a stronger support network in place. Whether it’s access to experienced angel investors, accelerators or VCs that get what it’s about, the ecosystem is much stronger to help companies execute towards those big outcomes.