Elevator Pitch: Tracy Isacke, Telefónica Venture Capital

Happy Friday morning — time once more for Elevator Pitch, the Q&A that puts Silicon Valley investors under the microscope. This week, we feature Tracy Isacke, who weighs in on the burgeoning trend of corporate venture capital.

Q: How’d you get into this racket?

A: I have lived and travelled around the world, from the UK (where I grew up) to Israel, Italy, Latin America and the US. Technology – and certainly, technology investments – were a long way from my early life focus, but 20 years ago I “met” a word processor and fell in love. I tracked down Xerox, who made those machines, and talked my way into a job despite having no formal qualifications.

Over the next two decades, I worked my way up to the UK board of Xerox, then left to join a VC-backed startup before joining Telefónica to run the corporate sales team in the UK. In 2006, I helped create a New Ventures division within Telefónica that saw us acquire a Silicon Valley startup, Jajah. Today, we have over 70 people in the Bay area, and I run the Venture and Global Partnership teams from Mountain View.

Q: What do you like about venture capital?

A: In the start-up world, ideas and execution are often considered “the first and last.” I disagree with this – my number one belief is that relationships and people are what drive great results! Venture capital allows me to meet wonderful people who are passionate about what they want to achieve.

As a driven person who has found my own unconventional path to where I am today, I understand what it means to “get your foot in the door,” and I get a lot of satisfaction in helping people on their way to success.

Q: What kind of pitches are you looking for now?

A: We have particular areas of focus, including M2M, cloud, big data, financial services and emerging communications. The companies we respond best to are those with a global – or at least international – vision, with a great team.

Q: What’s the biggest mistake entrepreneurs make?

A: Many entrepreneurs feel they have a magic and unique idea, then fail to back up their “instinct” with research. Don’t let your passion blind you to the (potentially) harsh reality of the industry you are considering – do you truly have a point of difference from competitors and/or a competitive advantage?

Every scrap of information that you can gather will help you make informed choices about your concept, whether that be to kill it, change it or start over again.

Q: What’s the ‘next big thing’ going to be?

A: There are some huge opportunities there for the taking — from mobile payments for the unbanked, to big data and mobile advertising, to the Internet of things. And wearable technology is at an extremely exciting stage.

Q: Why are we seeing such a rise in corporate venture capital – and will it last this time, or recede again like it did after the dot-bomb?

A: Every investor has to bring more than money to the table these days. In our case, we bring 320 million customers around the world, an enterprise and SMB sales team, and a whole lot of technology tools and infrastructure, such as the ability to collect and process mobile payments globally. The kinds of advantages these bring to early and growth-stage companies won’t really fade.

At a macro level, a corporation has to be clear on why it is undertaking venture capital and what it has to offer – it’s not for everyone, so if the current boom fades, we may see a number of companies lose their appetites again. But then, they weren’t into the VC side for the right reasons in the first place.

Q: Much has been written in the recent past about the dearth of women in venture capital. Are corporate venture capital shops more welcoming than stand-alone venture firms?

A: My experiences have proved that gender doesn’t matter — good ideas do. In general, there are more women rising to roles of influence in the tech world, and that extends from the entrepreneurial side through to the venture side.

Across the board, though, women are very underrepresented. We meet loads of great start-ups as well as co-investors, both institutional and corporate — and unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for me to be the only female in the room.


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