John Frankel is Partner at ff Venture Capital. We had an extensive discussion about Covid’s impact on the startup ecosystem, the changes we notice, so forth.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s catch up. How has the pandemic year been? What are you doing these days?
John Frankel: This is an important mission that you are on. I am a great believer that entrepreneurship is something that is much more accessible to more people than you can imagine. It gives me great pleasure to be in this show and talk a little bit about our experiences here at ff Venture Capital. I do want to want to thank you for having me here today.
Sramana Mitra: I read something earlier this week that Uruguay now has a FinTech unicorn. I just found that so thrilling to see. Entrepreneurship as a discipline is spreading worldwide as people are developing their expertise.
The basic building blocks of how to build a tech company are becoming much widely known and understood. It is now learnable. This is important. I think we have contributed greatly to this cause of breaking it down so that we can easily learn how to put one foot before the other.
Other people have done it, and it is evident in the successes that are coming out in different parts of the world. We also see a lot of small-town entrepreneurship show up on the radar through this program. We know someone in East Texas who does something very interesting in a small town.
We see a little ecosystem in Assam, India. The capital of Assam is in Guwahati and we recently saw a company that is doing some nifty work. It is nice to see the globalization of entrepreneurship. John, tell us what is happening at ff Ventures.
John Frankel: We are in incredibly interesting times. One of our underlying views and approaches here is an innate belief that the world is flat. It is unevenly distributed, but it is flat. There are certain areas and census that have advantages.
The advantages can be things such as a government looking to support entrepreneurship. It could be universities turning out engineering students. This is not to say that engineering is the only thing that contributes to that, but it is a key part of this modern economy. You also need sales, operations, and other aspects.
If you look at some of the largest tech companies that attract the best talents, they have offices all around the world. When those talented people leave those companies, they often go to work in startups or they do a startup. We think that the world is flat and is unevenly distributed.
The other thing to understand is where we are in time. I have lived through a fascinating period of time when an international phone call had to be booked a week in advance to everybody being instantly available globally.
When I was a child, my parents thought that it would help if we had the encyclopedia Britannica, but now people have the sum of human knowledge on their hands as well as the ability to tap into it. We had huge changes in that regard.
If you think about COVID-19 and the impact on the world and on the economy, it would have been worse in developed economies if it had hit in 1995. The reason being, we have all the tech infrastructure for knowledge workers to be able to work remotely.
We also have the use case that we could do it for a year without completely collapsing the economy. It is not the whole economy [that is affected] but only sections of the economy. Imagine a world where you don’t have broadband video, instant communication channels, and all the pieces we have put in place for systems.
When we stop talking about the paperless office, we actually enter the paperless office. You are able to work remotely, pay your bills, and keep your books on record. That infrastructure shows what we can do.
Because you have layer upon layer that has been built since the mid-90s when the internet started to go mainstream, you can now grow companies much faster than you could before in more remote places. I am not surprised that we are seeing unicorns in far-flung places.