Corporate Finance

Alex Macpherson (Octopus): "An A-grade team will transform a modest idea into a successful company"

Head of one of the most recognized venture capital firms in the world, Alex Macpherson thinks the European startups shouldn't be ashamed of their American colleagues.

Head of one of the most recognized venture capital firms in the world, Alex Macpherson thinks the European startups shouldn't be ashamed of their American colleagues.

Leaders League. Octopus’ focus is to support entrepreneurs. How do you judge the current gender balance?

Alex Macpherson. One of the challenges that the industry is facing is to encourage more women to run companies. Within our portfolio, we have a fair number of women who are CEOs, although the predominance of men in the senior teams is a clear fact. This situation is a shame, particularly when you look at consumer businesses that actually have more than 50% of their clients who are women.


Leaders League. Does a talented entrepreneur always ensure a successful firm? Do these two factors coexist?

A. M. As a VC, our focus is, again, on people first. Our view is that an exceptional entrepreneur and the team around him can make a very special business. An A-grade team will transform a modest idea in a successful company. On the contrary, an exceptional idea with a sort of B-grade team to deliver, it is not really something that will ever become a great business. You know, the technology or the product can sometimes be excellent, but it's actually the people who work on it that render it as hot or not.


Leaders League. How do you analyze the European startups market compared to the American one?

A. M. The change that we have seen within the European entrepreneurial sphere these last five years has been enormous. The whole system has grown and developed a completely different magnitude than that which existed before. This tends to be built around certain hubs, like London, Berlin and Stockholm. As a London-based VC, our core market will remain the United Kingdom. One important thing is that today we have role models that we previously didn't have: Blablacar in France, Spotify in the North, and the gaming businesses in London help other founders and even VCs to create and orientate the growth.


As for the American market, we could think it easy for European firms, used to dealing with closeby regional entities, to get into the United States. But actually, even for a UK entrepreneur, it seems that America speaks another language. Attitude and mindset are very different. You seriously need Americans on your team to speak to Americans. It's just not the same culture. Still, I think that even adressing the Eastern markets for Europeans shouldn't be such a great step for them as they're used to handling crossborder relations in Europe.


Leaders League. Would you see yourself closing deals in the French market?

A. M. Although we haven't specifically invested in France, we did have look at a number of propositions. I think we will make investments in France. We have French team members that can help us a lot on that matter.


Leaders League. We currently see some specific moves from venture firms that decide to team up with buyout firms in the US. How do you this trend and is it something you would do ?

A. M. I think you have an established entrepreneurial system in the US. The venture capital scene has been around for a period of time and there are funds across very various stages of development. It also remains an active IPO market with investors that understand high-growth opportunities. In Europe, it is going the right way with more private angels and seed/early stage vehicles. With the same aim of this American alliance, Octopus launched its last fund to provide money for the businesses which we had funded at an early stage in the past. This is supposed to help the companies to scale up and really become global players because as for now, there aren't many opportunities for high-growth companies at a late stage to be financed outside the means of corporate M&A or IPO.


Firmin Sylla


Accenture's CEO and CFO interview by Leaders League Group

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