Plug and Play is a global startup ecosystem and venture fund specializing in the development of early-to-growth stage technology startups. Founded in 2006 by Saeed Amidi, Plug and Play has helped over 3,000 startups to date, with the help of its network of over 200 corporate and investor partners. At any moment, 350 startups can be found working out of Plug and Play Tech Center, the global accelerator’s Sunnyvale HQ.
Leaders League. How did Plug and Play differentiate itself from the competition?
Saeed Amidi. At Plug and Play, we provide customized roadmaps for startups, helping almost 200 each year. We support entrepreneurs right from university through our oldest accelerator, Startup Camp, and our attention to each startup’s needs has given us an edge over our competitors. For us, an early-stage startup with 2 founding members straight out of college with a great idea can have the same value as a 250-strong startup with over $200M valuation.
Business verticals that we currently focus on include Internet of Things (IoT), Fintech and Security, amongst others. We are broadening our scope every year. I believe that we got lucky with our investment in PayPal 20 years ago, and in Dropbox and Lending Club. The way consumers buy products and services, has been transforming rapidly, and our differentiation has resulted from our ability to predict these changes over time.
Leaders League. Where do you see Plug and Play in the next 5 years? What are the growth plans, internationally?
S.A. In the next 5 years we would like to expand to 10 verticals, and invest in at least 100 startups per vertical that have the potential to change the world, perhaps finding the next Uber, Dropbox and Airbnb. The banking sector is on the brink of a massive transformation, with complete disruption through incremental innovation. Plug and Play will be continuing its search for the biggest players in the market, with opening of new offices in Paris and Indonesia, among other places in the pipeline.
Leaders League. Is it easier to become an entrepreneur now than 35 years ago when you started your first business?
S.A. I think now is the easiest time to become an entrepreneur. Take for example companies like ZenMate or Number26 which have been able to make use of the tools and opportunities available at Axel Springer Plug and Play in Berlin, to accelerate their businesses and scale rapidly. The possibilities of creating a global company today are much higher. Conversely, if your product is not good enough, or team members do not work well together, the market will not hesitate to accelerate your failure. Overall, I think right now it is Utopia to be an entrepreneur.
Leaders League. Having set up accelerators and tech centers in Singapore, Brazil and Germany, don’t you wish you had invaded the Israeli market as well?
S.A. I have funded over 20 Israeli companies, which are headquartered in California or Berlin. The founders have turned out to be some of the smartest and the hardest working entrepreneurs I have ever seen. However the market, or the lack thereof in Israel, tends to force its top entrepreneurs to move to California, where we intercept them. We may have missed some opportunities, but frankly there are only so many hours in a day I can work, right?
Leaders League. What are the recent trends in the startup sphere that you have noticed in the countries where you operate?
S.A. According to what I’ve noticed, the entire world market is going to see transformative development in the fields of B2B services, Industrial IoT, social and productivity tools and products that lead to smart cities. Very soon, we are going to have a company like Amazon in insurance, or an Airbnb in banking, thus bringing technology to traditional industries. Berlin has one of the fastest growing startup ecosystems helping us tap into the European markets through our German accelerator. Brazil has a huge market, even for products that are not the most innovative or original. Some startups like TruckPad, comparable to an Uber for the trucking industry, have done much better in Brazil than in the U.S., showing the potential of countries with large populations in creating startup marketplaces.
Leaders League. Out of Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data and Wearables, which one do you think has the biggest power to change the future?
S.A. Wearables are very interesting and will find more use in our daily lives. I am fascinated by industrial IoT and will keep investing in this field. Personally, one of my goals for 2016 is to invest more in Big Data and Machine Learning, because I believe that it has the potential to completely change the financial and insurance sectors.
Leaders League. Name 3 early-stage startups who you think will disrupt their respective industries in the next couple of years.
S.A. I have already spoken about TruckPad in Brazil, which connects truck drivers to their respective cargo and is currently moving $18M worth in frieght through its platform, monthly. The other two startups which I believe have incredible potential are Germany-based Number26 which is going to revolutionize the banking system and US-based Active Hours which is completely changing the way companies deal with salary payments.
Leaders League. In hindsight, what would you have done differently, if you were given the chance to go back to the past?
S.A. I started my first business, 35 years ago in Palo Alto packaging bottled water while my friend Pierluigi Zappacosta started Logitech. Our paths have taken very different terms. Today, Logitech is one of the largest players in consumer technology. Innovation in technology is more scalable at a faster pace, impossible with traditional industries like manufacturing or automotives. So firstly, I believe that if I had given as much importance to technology innovation as I should have, then my company today would have been 50-100 times bigger. Secondly, when I was starting, I didn’t have a great mentor or an advisor other than my father. If I had, I would have been better able to leverage my skills to become a successful entrepreneur much earlier on.
Lastly, I wish I had invested in Airbnb and Facebook when I had the chance. But in the investment world you cannot regret a lost investment opportunity, or a bad investment. At the end of the day, it’s all part of the game.
Photo Courtesy: Plug and Play
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