Elevator Pitch: Kevin Talbot of Relay Ventures on the future of mobile

Kevin Talbot is co-founder and managing partner of Relay Ventures, an early stage venture fund that describes its mission as “Strictly Mobile.” The firm actually began life as two VC firms, one of which was the venture capital arm of Royal Bank of Canada; last year, Talbot’s outfit rebranded under one umbrella.

In this week’s Elevator Pitch, we ask Talbot about the future of mobile — and what to think of that crazy Snapchat valuation.

Q: HOW’D YOU GET INTO THIS RACKET?

A: I was an entrepreneur before becoming a VC. From a young age, I was encouraged to create my own opportunities, and start-ups are where I got most of the experience — both failures and successes — that I bring to the entrepreneurs I work with today.

Q: WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT VC?

A: Every day is a new day when you’re surrounded by highly motivated, driven and intelligent people who are quite literally trying to change the world. I like the fast pace and simultaneous interactions with all of the entrepreneurs in our portfolio.

It is also a challenge to support portfolio companies while keeping current with new opportunities and the pursuit of new investments.

Q: WHAT KINDS OF DEALS ARE YOU LOOKING FOR NOW?

A: Since 2008, we’ve been exclusively focused on mobile computing. We believe mobile (which we define as the computing stack from the sensor to the cloud) represents the most significant computing paradigm ever, because it will finally connect every human and eventually every machine on the planet.

For the last year, I’ve been focused on opportunities in healthcare and education — two sectors that are ripe for significant disruption enabled by mobile computing and that will have a meaningful impact on our collective lives.

Q: WHAT’S THE BIGGEST MISTAKE ENTREPRENEURS MAKE?

A: When entrepreneurs are doing “big” things, pursuing quantum vs. incremental innovation, timing the market is very challenging. Entrepreneurs need to have an acute sense of where they are on the demand curve, so they know how long to stay in cash conservation mode and when to throttle up.

The biggest mistakes I see are where entrepreneurs burn through their cash ahead of “market pull” for their product or service. I counsel my entrepreneurs to focus on proving out repeatability, predictability and scalability first.

Q: WHAT’S THE NEXT BIG THING GOING TO BE?

A: Our healthcare system is challenged, and we are going to see the empowerment of consumers, using the technology they have in their pockets, to become more involved and responsible for their own healthcare. Today we can get analytics and data about our energy use in our homes and cars, and tomorrow we will have this information about our bodies.

Q: HOW DOES WATERLOO, CANADA COMPARE TO SILICON VALLEY?

A: Waterloo is home to a significant concentration of well educated and highly capable engineers and entrepreneurs who are building some great Canadian start-ups. They recognize that Silicon Valley has an unprecedented ecosystem for technology start-ups, and we tell them that they “don’t have to be in Silicon Valley, but Silicon Valley has to be in them.”

We encourage them to spend a lot of time in the Bay Area (working out of our offices) in order to be closer to their customers, channel partners and investors. For Silicon Valley VCs, Waterloo represents a huge untapped source of opportunity.

Q: ARE WE IN A MOBILE BUBBLE? I MEAN, WHEN SNAPCHAT TURNS DOWN $4 BILLION…

A: We are still in the very early days of mobile. One anomaly is not necessarily a trend.

 

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