Published on Oct 03, 2023
Essays

Why I moved into venture

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This past year has been marked by big changes in my life. The most important one is the birth of our beautiful baby girl, Zoï. She was born in July and has brought so much joy in our lives. It wasn’t easy for my wife and I so when you can imagine how happy we are. Zoï means life in Greek and she’s brought lots of sunshine in our lives.

The other big news was that I left PNR, the company which I co-founded and joined a new venture capital firm Amiral Ventures. I want to share more on the journey and what I learned along the way.

Point of No Return

My co-founders Jean-François Leduc and Martin Gourdeau and I launched PNR, aka Point of No Return in 2015.  It was the first time we were starting something from scratch and I learned so much (especially what not to do!)  

The opportunity we saw back then was that technology was having an enormous impact on every industry and yet many big companies were not acting fast enough. We looked at what we can do and determined that management consulting would be a good way to help leaders steer the ship. The only hiccup is that we didn’t have a CEO rolodex or a proven model. 

Necessity being the mother of invention, we came up with the idea of applying the principles of agile from software development to strategic planning.  Using software + professional services was a huge unlock and allowed us to really make an impact. 

Once we had built enough credibility, we had the chance to work with many important investment funds. We would act as their value creation arm which is a fancy way of saying, we would help their portfolio companies after an investment. 

Our team would come in and help a leadership team with two issues, aligning everyone around the table on the growth plan and more importantly, supporting them with the execution. 

It wasn’t about venn diagrams or buzzy consulting slides. It was about helping customers with their most pressing challenges. I learned just as much about strategy & execution as I did about human psychology and getting teams to perform at a higher level.

Embryo of an idea

In February 2020, my partners and I met with a fund manager over dinner and the conversation turned to transforming PNR into an investment fund itself.  We contemplated the idea very seriously. It was a crucible moment in our history. 

Then something happened in March 2020 that you may recall had a big impact on world events 🙂 “PNR Capital ” was unfortunately put on the shelf. The idea of a fund was really exciting because I had just started angel investing again and had forgotten how much fun it was. I had invested in a few startups in my previous life at Google and really enjoyed learning from founders. The prospect of a fund stayed in the back of my mind despite the ongoing apocalyptic pandemic. 

The first principle is not to fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.

Starting a company gives you the chance to learn a lot about yourself. Who you like working with, clients, partners and managing your own rollercoaster of emotions.  As PNR grew, we moved away from younger & dynamic tech companies to bigger more established companies. This was great, because it helped the business become more stable & profitable. But I realized that I didn’t enjoy more mature industries as much. 

The pandemic also took its toll. We lost a few customers and many of our team members sought greener pastures. It was hard but we rebuilt the team and got the company back on track. 

I also learned about managing self perception, blending my identity with the performance of the company. I poured my heart & soul into the job and it became a part of how I saw myself. When things started going poorly, I thought I was the failure. Reflecting back on this now, I realize that more distance between the two was needed. 

One of the creative projects that kept me motivated was our podcast. It became a great way of meeting brillant founders, investors and smart people. As our client base shifted to mature industries, the podcast lost its center of gravity. I kept talking to early stage tech founders I found interesting. If I had properly prioritized my own company, I should have been interviewing mid-market & enterprise CEOs! I was fooling myself and didn’t even realize it.

Earlier this year, I made up my mind. I told my partner JF in February of this year that it was time to move on (almost three years to the day of that fateful dinner).

I wanted my next challenge to be in the world of technology investing. I didn’t know how or when. 

Enter Amiral Ventures

I first met Fred because of the podcast and that interview led to a mandate for PNR. I got to work closely with Fred and his team at Mnubo over the course of a few months. We kept in touch after his exit and reconnected last December. He was excited to talk about Amiral Ventures, a new scale-up and growth VC firm he co-founded with Dominic. I knew Dom from his time at XPND capital where he invested in some cool companies. 

“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen”

As luck would have it, the three of us met just a few weeks after my decision to leave PNR. The premise was to talk about a partnership between our companies. The meeting took a slight turn after I told them about my future plans. 

The conversations progressed and I became more & more excited about the mission. They saw a big gap in the market. A majority of Series A & B rounds were led by investors from outside of Québec.  A new VC fund that focused on bridging the funding and expertise gap was sorely needed. The mission strongly resonated with me; work with the best founders to build the next generation of Canadian technology flagships.  It was exactly what I wanted to do. Partner with a world class team, build from the ground floor and work on an impactful mission.

Seeking purpose

I started my career twenty years ago and stumbled into the world of technology. I didn’t know what I wanted to do professionally, there was no master plan.  As it just so happened, the internet was new for businesses and they needed expertise. There was no 10 years of previous experience necessary. Just work hard, show up everyday and you can progress quickly. It was plain luck that landed me into a dynamic & ever changing industry that just so happens to be reshaping the world for the better. Of course, it’s far from perfect but progress never follows a straight line. It’s always messy. There are plenty of reasons to be wary of technological progress. I prefer to be an optimist. Working in technology has felt like the best kept secret. It provides this sense of wonder you obtain from learning everyday and seeing the future before it arrives. 

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the joys of life but also death. What do I want to work on in the time that I have left? I didn’t give much thought to this when I was younger and I wish I did. The concept of finding one’s life’s work has been growing on me. Pro tip: check out the Founders podcast if you want to listen to someone that embodies that concept and shares some great lessons for entrepreneurs.

I asked how I can make a positive impact in the next phase of my career? Venture feels like the most natural path to contribute back to an industry that’s given me so much. So far, it feels like the right choice. 

Uncomfortably excited 

This past week, we shared the Amiral Ventures manifesto and would love any feedback if you’ve read it. It feels that we are at an inflection point where so many aspects of society & our economy are going to be rewritten in the coming years. Our manifesto explains why we think it’s an unrivaled opportunity for our economy and great timing to invest.

As part of the new gig, I’ve had the chance to start meeting founders over the past few months and the entrepreneurial energy is quite palpable. The economic slowdown hasn’t stopped ambitious people tackling important problems. 

I am deeply convinced of what we are trying to accomplish at Amiral and emboldened by our mission, team and strategy. We’re ready to contribute to our ecosystem. I’ll share personal lessons and insights along the way, warts and all. For now, I’m uncomfortably excited for what lies ahead.

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